October 21, 1927 – June 15, 2020
It was love at first sight.
From the moment her flight touched ground and taxied to the terminal zone at Israel’s Lod Airport on a January morning in 1962, Barbara Checkoway could see, feel and hear the Promised Land calling. And it would beckon her and her beloved husband Norman, of blessed memory, to return again and again over the next half-century.
Barbara, who was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on October 21, 1927, passed peacefully in the early morning of June 15, 2020. Reared by her parents, Harry and Rose (Shore) Snider in Haverhill, Massachusetts along with sisters Selma and Marcia, Barbara graduated Haverhill High School in 1945 and married her childhood sweetheart and budding artist and art teacher, Norman Checkoway, two years later.
In post-war fashion, Barbara and Norman soon settled into a newly built ranch home in Framingham, Massachusetts where they would spend the rest of their lives together. There they raised three boys, Nelson, Steven and Martin, who eventually married and brought seven grandchildren into their lives: Emily, Chloe, Laura, Michael, Eva, Spencer, and Daniel. But from the outset, Barbara knew she wasn’t cut from the cloth of a 1950s suburban homemaker, and Norman’s seven-month sabbatical leave from Brookline’s Driscoll School to study and paint in Israel would prove to be a pivotal turning point in her life.
The family joined Norman’s parents, Chava and Dov, on Kibbutz Einat, a community they had helped to found during the pioneering days of Israel’s statehood. Barbara worked with Chava in Einat’s gladiola nursery and immersed herself in Israeli life and culture. A second sabbatical stretching a full year between the summers of 1969 and 1970 cemented this love affair with the land. Afterward, Barbara kept the connection intact stateside, staying in touch with Israeli friends and family through letters and phone calls, and yielding to the pull of this vibrant young nation, time and again.
Meanwhile, she embarked on an administrative career in higher education, first at Wellesley College, then at Brandeis University and finally at Boston University, where she managed the office of the Creative Writing Program run by novelist Leslie Epstein. Always regretful that she did not go on to college herself after high school, Barbara was determined to earn her degree. After a decade of part-time evening study, she finally donned a mortarboard and gown in her late 60s, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Metropolitan College of Boston University.
Among Barbara’s return trips to Israel were volunteer stints at the famed Hebrew immersion school for new immigrants, Shulamit Katz-Nelson’s Ulpan Akiva. In Framingham, Barbara became the go-to Hebrew tutor for Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. And she continued to revel in Israeli culture, from music to folk dancing.
Always thirsty for knowledge and new experiences, she and Norman traveled extensively, frequently audited courses together at BU, and were avid museum visitors and theatergoers—continuing well into their 80s until a pair of bad knees and Norman’s declining health slowed them down. After Norman’s passing, she lived in the home they had built together for another year with the help of loving caregivers, before spending her final 18 months at the Daggett-Crandall-Newcomb home in Norton, Massachusetts.
Barbara was fierce, she was demanding, she loved her family, she loved life, and she will be missed. And on June 15th, for one final time, she heard the Promised Land calling her home.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Abraham Initiatives, a non-profit organization that promotes Jewish-Arab partnership across all facets of Israel’s society. To contribute, visit www.AbrahamInitiatives.org