Morris & Cynthia Ullman: Committed Zionists

Morris Ullman (1912-1982)
Cynthia Ullman (1911 -1989)
Carmel (11)
Annette (8)
Kiryat Anavim, Tu B'Shvat 1954

Morris and Cynthia Ullman met in the Zionist movement and remained committed to Zionism for the rest of their lives. Morris moved from his native Buffalo, NY, to Washington DC to work as a statistician for the U.S. Government, where he held several positions before arriving at the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Cynthia was a DC public school teacher, a career that she continued throughout the Depression, World War II, and postwar years. During this period they married and had two daughters, Carmel Ullman Chiswick and Annette Ullman Selmer, that they raised as Conservative Jews.

By the early 1950s Israel was sufficiently established as an independent country to turn its attention to building civilian infrastructure for the new state. Among its first tasks was to set up what would become the Central Bureau of Statistics, and one of its earliest requests for foreign technical assistance was for statistical expertise to create this capability. Morris joined the team of American experts who went to Israel with their families in 1953-54 to work for a year on this project, and would spend a second year in 1956-57 to follow up. Many of his Israeli colleagues and trainees would develop successful statistical careers and years later would remember fondly the kindness and expertise with which Morris mentored them in the beginning.

For American Jews to visit Israel was exceptional in 1953, much less for a family to be able to live there for an entire year. Despite the hardships of daily living in the post-independence years, Morris and Cynthia grabbed at this opportunity to implement their ideals by contributing to the Zionist enterprise and at the same time experiencing Jewish life in the new state. While Morris worked in the Prime Minister's office, Cynthia worked for Hadassah as a volunteer driver for the medical teams serving immigrant communities (ma'abarot) outside Jerusalem. In addition to their colleagues at work, they made life-long friends among their Israeli neighbors and connected with cousins who had immigrated to pre-state Israel directly from Europe.

Morris and Cynthia lived a Jewish family life in America but living in Israel added a broader perspective on old customs and new traditions. Morris admired the Zionist revival of modern Hebrew; he had taught modern Hebrew in a high-school language course as a young man and chose a Hebrew school for his children where they would learn conversational rather than liturgical Hebrew. Experiencing the Jewish holiday cycle in Israel was an interesting and exciting experience for everyone in the family, not least because new adaptations of ancient Jewish traditions enlivened and added depth to our modern religious observance.


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