Date of Birth: September 24, 1903
Date of Death: August 8, 1999
Place of Birth: Zhiradov, Poland
Early Zionist and Educator
In an interview in 1993, Esther Bookstein LaMed described her early years: "I was born in a small town in Poland - Zhirardov. Due to anti-Semitism, my father left in 1913 and eventually our entire family followed. My father picked Detroit from a map of the United States; he felt that New York City was too crowded and Chicago was too far west."
This decision was a fortunate one for the Detroit community, Esther and her seven siblings, ardent Zionists in Poland, contributed in many ways to Jewish life in Detroit and Israel.
At the age of 14, in 1917, Esther was already a driving force - literally - as a young driver who brought women to fundraisers for Israel. She also made trips to Michigan Central Train Station to pick up visitors to Detroit, including a young woman later known by the name of Golda Meir.
Esther learned English at Bishop Elementary and Commerce High School. She attended Detroit Teachers College (now Wayne State University), where she majored in health and physical education. In the Hastings area in Detroit, she taught at Moore and Maybee elementary schools.
In 1921 Esther Bookstein met Louis LaMed, a new arrival from Ukraine who spoke Hebrew and Yiddish and had a teaching position waiting for him. Louis later earned his law degree. Education was paramount to both Esther and Louis. Together they had two daughters, Barbara Rosen and Renah Bardenstein, and seven grandchildren.
Esther and Louis began the Foundation for Hebrew and Yiddish Literature, giving prizes for the best works written in both languages. Later they established a Chair in Jewish Studies at Wayne State.
After Louis' death in 1979, Esther continued her contributions to fundraising and education. She established the Esther and Louis LaMed Fund for Yiddish Studies at the University of Michigan in 1997.
Esther was involved in many organizations including the Sholem Aleichem Institute, the Institute for Retired Professionals, the Music Club, Red Mogen David, ADL (Anti-Defamation League), Bar Ilan University in Israel, and she was a lifetime activist with Pioneer Women (later known as Na'amat/USA).
Once asked about her generosity she stated simply, "It gives me pleasure." Late in her life Esther established the Esther LaMed Scholarship Fund through the Agency for Jewish Education to support high school students studying in Israel - a perfect vehicle for her to promote education to Jewish students in Michigan who were involved in Israel.
Education and the security of Israel were driving forces to a young Esther and they were important to her throughout her life. Her generosity and support of major Detroit institutions demonstrate that she was a Michigan Jewish woman who made a difference.
Written by Jeannie Weiner from materials provided by Barbara Rosen, Esther's daughter.