Remembering Geula Pariser

Posted on Thursday March 10, 2011

On February 17, Wayfinder Schools lost a long-time friend and supporter, Geula Pariser, mother of Wayfinder Schools co-founder Emanuel Pariser. As we keep Emanuel and his family warmly in our thoughts and close in our hearts, co-founder Dora Lievow asked us to share the following, from The Boston Globe.

Geula Pariser, 91; linguist worked with husband at MIT

Geula Gilutz and Ernst Reinhardt Pariser married during an air raid in wartime London in 1943. Soon after, they “stood together on a rooftop in London to report the location of fires started by Nazi attacks,’’ to direct firefighters to them, said their son, Emanuel of Waterville, Maine. Once, he said, they had to move out of their London apartment because an unexploded bomb in their ceiling had to be detonated. “Together,’’ he said “they shared a happy and stimulating life — in England, Turkey, and the United States.’’

That life slowed 11 years ago when Mrs. Pariser suffered a stroke. She died Feb. 17 at the Brookhaven at Lexington skilled nursing center. Her son said the cause of death was “a gradual and long decline following a serious cerebral hemorrhage and stroke.’’ She was 91. She lived in Brookline and Belmont before moving to Brookhaven.

Although Mrs. Pariser was a linguist — fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and French — she once worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology while her husband, a biochemist, was on its staff. Her work “was observing photographs of atomic collisions,’’ her husband said.

“My mother’s job was to look carefully at the photographs taken by an electron microscope of these high-energy beams and to identify the points at which the beams collided with particles and what happened next,’’ her son explained.
“Geula, herself, was not a scientist,’’ her husband said. “She was particularly interested in languages and in Hebrew and especially in the different ways that different words in the Bible could be translated. This impressed me. She knew the Bible by heart and was extremely erudite.’’

After a hiatus with her husband in Washington, Mrs. Pariser volunteered for 10 years to teach English to families of foreign MIT faculty members. “She was really a genius at making people feel welcome and at home in a foreign country,’’ Emanuel said.

She was born in what was then Palestine, one of five children of Menachem and Deborah Gilutz. Her parents, Emanuel said, were two of the founders of Tel Aviv. Mrs. Pariser graduated from Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1936, majoring in history and Arabic. She then enrolled at the University of London, graduating in 1944 with a degree in phonetics and pre-Islamic poetry. She also met her husband there. He recalled their wedding day in a synagogue on the outskirts of London. “It was during an air raid and guests who were coming by bus never arrived because they were so involved in conversation, the bus overshot the synagogue.’’

From 1947 to 1957, with their young family, the couple moved to Izmir, Turkey, where Ernst was a chief chemist at a factory owned by Lever Brothers, according to another son, Amiel, of Montreal. “It was very idyllic, very Levantine, a mix of Europe and the Middle East,’’ he said. “My mother was a great cook and great entertainer and an athlete in her younger years, winning a medal for javelin throwing while a student in Israel and playing lots of tennis in Turkey,’’ Amiel said. Emanuel described her as “an intellectual with a very exquisite sense of design and esthetics who dressed in beautiful clothes.’’

The family came to this country in 1957, when Ernst Pariser was asked to be a research scientist at MIT. He took leave from MIT for a government job in Washington, where he worked from 1960 to 1967 on developing a fish protein concentrate as a nutritional supplement for underdeveloped countries.

While in Washington, Mrs. Pariser administered support services for Peace Corps members working in South America.
Though in frail health, Mrs. Pariser never lost her interest in life, her family said. Her caretaker for 10 years, Chafia Malek of West Roxbury, said they still conversed in several foreign languages and that Mrs. Pariser made attempts to walk. “There was not a single wrinkle on her face,’’ Malek said. In the last several years, she said, Mrs. Pariser often told her, “I want to go home,’’ referring to Israel. Her family plans to take some of her ashes there.

“Geula was also a proud Israeli,’’ said Tatiana Goldwyn of Belmont, who met Mrs. Pariser in 1973 when they worked to raise funds for victims of the Yom Kippur War. She recalled her intelligence and her “extreme curiosity about many things. You always had a dialogue going with Geula,’’ she said.

Mrs. Pariser still has a large family in Israel. “For many of them, she became a second parent, though she lived a great distance away,’’ Emanuel said. “She had this gift of connecting with people.’’ Although she had to use a wheelchair since her stroke, Mrs. Pariser visited her family in Israel three times since being stricken, Amiel said.“I’ll always have the picture in my mind of her and my Uncle Ami, each in a wheelchair, holding hands. It was very sweet,’’ Amiel said.

In addition to her husband and sons, Mrs. Pariser leaves two brothers, Ami-Shalom Gilutz and Yehoshua Gilutz, and a sister, Tehila Gilutz, all of Tel Aviv; and five grandchildren.

A celebration of her life is planned in Lexington in April and in Israel in June.