Our Highly Unusual Houseguest

Our Highly Unusual Houseguest

A comment from a reader and my husband have caused me to rethink and rewrite this post. I initially described this woman as mentally ill, but on second thought, maybe she was just extremely eccentric? That’s why I’ve toned down the title and some of the language in the article.

Right after our oldest daughter, Hadas, was born, an eccentric elderly woman moved in with us for a few weeks.

At that point, we didn’t know just how unusual our guest was. We just knew that a famous rebbetzin, the wife of a former Chief Rabbi, had contacted us (I have no idea how she found us) to ask if we could host an Austrian convert named Moriah* [I am changing identifying details]. Pre-Moriah, our apartment was already quite squished, but I guess that at the time we felt that if this big rebbetzin was asking little Josh and Jenny to do this favor, then we couldn’t say no.

It’s been a long time, 18 years, but Moriah was the kind of person you never forgot. Moriah always wore all white, and the only thing I ever saw her eat was carrots sauteed in olive oil. Most people walk at a right angle to the ground, but somehow Moriah rushed about leaning forward, at about 80 degrees. That’s how intense she was. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes raving about her newest plan. Sometimes attacking, if people didn’t go along with her newest plan.

She was a woman on a mission–on several missions in fact.

She believed that she was the only person in the world who knew the exact location of the Holy of Holies, and she would go and camp out near Temple Mount for forty days at a time, fasting and praying that the world would come see the wisdom of her claim.

She also believed that she knew who the Moshiach is– the son of a famous rabbi who was raising a young family abroad. For many years, whenever she was in Israel, she would attend that famous rabbi’s classes, and probably (speaking from personal experience) drove him quite crazy. After she moved out of our apartment, she bought us a copy of the rabbi’s newest book which she had gotten autographed for us.

But Moriah’s biggest mission, the one which occupied most of her time, was getting religious leaders of various faiths together to sign various declarations which she believed would bring about world peace. This was not Moriah’s strangest mission, but it was the most opaque, involving incomprehensible letters in rocky English regarding the Crown Prince of Japan, the leader of Syria, and the World Court in The Hague.

Moriah would spend weeks making phone calls in order to get religious leaders to attend her meetings to sign her nonsensical letters. And at one of those meetings, she insisted that I attend with Hadas, who was just a few months old. Moriah was insistent I attend, and seeing there was no way out, one afternoon I took Hadas in her stroller to the lobby of the Kings Hotel.

In attendance in the lobby was the Propst– the head of the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land, the Patriarch– the head of Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and also a great Torah scholar who was the chief rabbi of a city.

The Propst and the Patriarch knew that Moriah wasn’t fully normal, and I guess they attended her strange meetings to sign her incomprehensible letters because they knew that Moriah had a mysterious ability to bring together other influential people they wanted to meet. But the chief rabbi who attended had no idea that he had traveled several hours in order to sign some eccentric woman’s incomprehensible letters.

Seeing this noble rabbi sit down in his regal rabbinic hat and frock as he slowly realized he had been duped by somebody not fully in touch with reality was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life.

And in general, you can imagine how out of place I, the 26-year-old student and mother of a newborn, felt at that gathering of religious leaders.

But yesterday, when I heard the news that that distinguished rabbi from the meeting had passed away, I remembered something that happened at that meeting…

I remember how Moriah leaned over to me and said, “Jenny, I am so very pleased that you brought Hadas. She is the younger generation. She is the future!”

At the time it seemed quite surreal, next to the Propst, the Patriarch, and the Chief Rabbi, Moriah saw Hadas as a great leader in her own right. The crawling, babbling, drooling baby on my lap! Moriah, you are SO weird, I thought.

A year or so after that meeting, Moriah passed away (and we found out from the Austrian embassy that she had been, in fact, 77 years old, even though she had thrown herself a big 70th birthday a few months before). Friends arranged for her to be buried in accordance with her final wishes on the Mt. of Olives, overlooking her beloved Holy of Holies. The Propst and the Patriarch are also no longer among the living.

In fact, 18 years later, the only people left from that surreal meeting at the Kings Hotel are Hadas and I.

Which makes me realize that while Moriah did a lot of confused things and said a lot of confused stuff during her lifetime, regarding Hadas she was right on.

Today Hadas is an 18-year-old woman taking her first steps into adulthood.

Today, we all can see what Moriah saw then.

No longer a crawling, babbling, drooling baby.

She is the younger generation. She is the future.


  1. Poor Moriah! It’s not easy being mentally ill. it really isn’t.

  2. Kathy Lipkin

    Great article, Jenny!

  3. I loved this story!!

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