May 48 birthday forges Israel link

Gertrude Bleiberg was lying exhausted in the delivery room of a four-bed hospital in rural Quincy, California, when her husband burst in with the news.

The state of Israel, he announced excitedly, had been formally established.

For the Bleibergs — the only Jewish family in a small lumber town nestled in the Sierra — the good news was as welcome as the birth of their new daughter, Deborah. In fact, they believed it was more than mere chance that Deborah's birthday coincided with Israel's.

"My husband and I have always been so proud of our Jewish heritage and being Jewish," said Gertrude, who is now 77 and lives in Palo Alto. "So the timing was wonderful and spiritual."

That connection has colored the life of the baby girl born on that May day 50 years ago. Admittedly not the most observant of Jews, Deborah Jacobson said she nonetheless feels intimately tied to Judaism by the very fact that she shares a birthday with the Jewish homeland.

It was a connection made all the more potent by the fact that the Bleibergs were the only Jews in Quincy and took extra steps to embrace and celebrate their Judaism. For example, the family traveled to a synagogue in Reno, where Deborah celebrated her bat mitzvah, and they always invited neighbors to their Passover seders.

"More than anything else, my birthday has always given me a sense of pride," said Jacobson, now a psychologist living in Aptos. "It's given me a sense of identification — a tie to Israel that affirms a sense of Jewish identity."

Psychologist that she is, Jacobson also sees many parallels between her own life stages and Israel's — especially as both reach the half-century mark.

"At 50, I feel like I'm at a crossroads," she said. "I'm well aware that life has its challenges and complexities. I see Israel is at a very searching time now, too."

The feeling of pride is evident among the Bleibergs and the Jacobsons.

Gertrude Bleiberg is a member of the Quarter Century Circle of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation meaning that she's made a contribution to her local federation's annual campaign for at least 25 years.

"I've always felt that we've been very fortunate," she said of her Quarter Century Circle membership. "An important part of being Jewish is helping others if we can."

Jacobson's 23-year-old son, Adam, is youth group director at Temple Beth El in Santa Cruz.

Her 21-year-old daughter, Naomi, was recently accepted as an Otzma participant. Later this year, she will travel to Israel as part of a 10-month fellowship program for recent college graduates.

"The sense of identification with Judaism and Israel is something special," Deborah Jacobson said. "It will go on through my children and perhaps my grandchildren as well."