When Esther Ticktin’s daughter Deborah took her mattress shopping — Esther had been told by her doctor to buy a new one for her back — Esther sat on a mattress and tears formed in her eyes.
She was thinking about the victims of a recent tsunami “who had no home, no beds of their own anymore,” she told her daughter.
“That was who she was,” said her other daughter, Ruth Ticktin.
Esther Ticktin, a Holocaust survivor, longtime Washington resident and therapist, died Friday. She was 92.
Well-known for decades of dedication to the Fabrangan chavurah since she and her husband of 70 years, Rabbi Max Ticktin, who died at 94 last year, moved to Washington in 1972, she also was committed to the people and issues that were near and dear to her heart.
“She was very warm and very welcoming,” said Ruth Ticktin. “And she was very passionate about issues important to her.” She had great empathy for people in need, especially refugees, her daughter said.
She was born Esther Kelman in 1925 in Vienna. She was 13 when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938 and her life, as she shared in a memoir in 2012, changed drastically. She and her brother were barred from school and her family was later evicted from their apartment. She watched life get more difficult for Jews, but trusted in her parents to get them to safety.
“I lived with all this wonderful life, receiving and giving love. … Now it’s all supposed to be over,” she had written in her diary in July 1938. “Gone are all the joys and everything really. … We want to get away, absolutely far away from here. As of now we have no news from America. We will probably go there and then we too will be refugees.”
Unlike a lot of her friends at the time who were sent away by their parents to safety, her father wanted the family to stay together. He was able to get them visas to Belgium, where they lived for about a year before they were sponsored by her father’s cousin in New York. They came to the United States in 1940.
“I know she is considered a [Holocaust] survivor, but she was always quick to say, ‘We escaped,’” Ruth Ticktin said.
In the United States, she met Max Ticktin, and by the end of 1945 they were married and embarked on an “extraordinarily close 70-year relationship filled with tenderness, respect and constant companionship,” Rabbi Gilah Langner said in a eulogy.
The couple moved to Jerusalem for about a year in 1947 to study. The state of Israel was coming into being with Arab forces descending upon the nascent country, and the couple joined the Haganah, a precursor to the Israel Defense Forces.
Her mother was always supportive of Israel, Ruth Ticktin said, but she and Max were careful to give their money to organizations like the New Israel Fund so that it would be supporting issues they cared about and not the settlements.
Returning to the United States, the Ticktins followed his job as a rabbi for Hillel, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to the University of Chicago, before landing in Washington.
During that time, in her 40s, Esther Ticktin decided to get her doctorate in psychology at the University of Chicago, and she practiced as a psychotherapist for many years.
The Ticktins were “intellectual seekers,” Langner said, who “brought so much love and thoughtfulness into all of our lives.” In an interview she conducted with them in 2000, she called them “the heart and soul of the Fabrangen havurah.”
“Esther, we have so missed you these last years of your illness, and we will miss you all over again now,” Langner said during the eulogy.
She is survived by her brother, Herbert Kelman (Rose), daughters Deborah McCants (Blair Goodman) and Ruth Ticktin (Eric Rome), 11 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. In addition to her husband, a daughter, Hannah, preceeded her in death.
The family requests that memorial donations be sent to Fabrangen Tzedakah Collective, c/o Goldman, 4530 38th St. NW, Washington, DC 20016.