Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rosalie BirnbaumMissionary, Volunteer

Rosalie Friedman Birnbaum, who served as a missionary in Israel and later knitted thousands of scarves and mittens for the Red Cross in Washington, died of pneumonia Jan. 12 at the Washington Home hospice four days before her 103rd birthday.

She was born in Jackson, Ky., where her father kept a dry goods store. She converted from Judaism to Christianity when she was 16 and throughout her life always made sure that everyone knew she was of Jewish heritage, a daughter said.

She graduated from Flora Macdonald College in North Carolina (now St. Andrews Presbyterian College) and attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where she met the Rev. Solomon Birnbaum. He was her professor in a Jewish missions course. They married in 1927 on the day she graduated.

Mrs. Birnbaum worked with her husband in teaching and ministry, first in Chicago and then in New York City. In the 1930s and during World War II, they opened their home to many Jewish refugees from Europe.

In 1959, they went to Israel to jointly assume the directorship of Bethel, a children's home in Haifa, where they remained for 11 years. Bethel was a memorial and successor to an orphanage in Lodz, Poland, for Jewish-Christian children. All of those children had been sent to concentration camps, and none were thought to have survived.

In 1970, because of failing health, the Birnbaums left Israel for St. Petersburg, Fla., where their son lived. Mrs. Birnbaum's husband died in 1972.

Today, Bethel in Israel operates a youth hostel, shelter, relief ministry and other services.

Mrs. Birnbaum came to Washington in 1973. She lived in Thomas House, a retirement home, where she did her knitting and on Sundays played the piano for the nursing unit's chapel services. She helped care for disabled patients until her 99th year, when her physical abilities lessened.

She was a member of the First Baptist Church of Washington, where she was active in a Sunday school class.

A son, James Mayer Birnbaum, died in 1997.

Survivors include three children, Eve Tetaz and Ann Barnet, both of Washington, and Paul Birnbaum of St. Petersburg; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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