Tirtza Leiss

Name: Tirtza Leiss 10/04/1947-6/21/1995

Family: Husband, Jack, sons, Asher and Jonathan

Tirtza was born in Tiberias, Israel, but spent her early childhood on an army base located on an undeveloped piece of land near Tel Aviv. There, she cultivated a mystical connection to the earth. In later years she would rue the overdevelopment that destroyed the natural habitat of her youth.

When her father retired from the army, the Nachmani family moved to Haifa and Tirtza grew up in an affluent neighborhood atop Mount Carmel called Achuza. She served in the Israeli Defense Forces during the Six Days War. Wartime was a traumatic experience for her but she never liked to speak about it. After her army service, she completed a bachelor's degree in psychology from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Later, she worked as preschool teacher. But her love for the land never left her and she dreamed of one day becoming an organic farmer.

She met Jack Leiss, an American Jew from Newport News, Va., at a yoga class in Jerusalem. Later they ran into each other on the bus, and Jack asked Tirtza for her telephone number. On April 1, 1981, they married in the garden she had cultivated outside her Jerusalem home. They bought a car soon afterward, and traveled throughout the Galilee searching for a cooperative farm or "yishuv," where Tirtza could pursue her dream of organic farming. They never found it. Organic farming was still a novelty then, and agriculture was highly regulated by the Israeli government. Instead they started a family. Their first son, Jonathan, was born in Jerusalem in 1983.

In March 1984, the Leisses moved to Chapel Hill, NC, so Jack could complete his doctoral studies in public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A year later, their son, Asher, was born. Tirtza stayed home with the children, while Jack went to school, and later, work. Tirtza bonded with the children, just as she had with nature. She knit a doll for Asher and embroidered faces on the children's pajamas.

In 1989, the family joined Beth El Synagogue so Jonathan could attend Hebrew School. Though Tirtza was very proud of her Jewish identity, she was more of a Zen Buddhist spiritually, and attended synagogue sporadically.

In January, 1995, Tirtza was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was stoic about dying and never expressed any fear, or complained of any pain, though she hated to leave her children behind

Late into her illness, she told a friend who was caring for her, "Take me outside. I want to sit by the garden," A chair was placed there and Tirtza sat in silence near the flowers she had planted years earlier. She died the following morning. She was 47 years old.