Sarra Livovna (née Jolkover) Smith, a twenty-three-year resident of Cottonwood, passed away
March 22, 2023, age eighty-one. Born of a Romanian mother of Austrian extraction and a
Russian father, she grew up in Soviet controlled Moldavia (now Moldova) speaking Russian and
Romanian. She graduated there and practiced as a midwife before her family moved to Israel.
There she learned Hebrew and became a nurse while attending Tel-Aviv University as part of its
first graduating class. She met her future husband there and after marrying eventually moved
with him to the United States where she resided for half a century.
She was appreciated by all for her generosity and hospitality. She embraced people whole-
heartedly and could never do enough to try to make others happy. She bore childlessness with
patience and fortitude and consequently adored children, doting especially on those of her
niece. She loved the outdoors, especially the unique Arizona landscape and enjoyed nothing
more than creating a perfect home and garden for her family and others to enjoy. Originally an
accomplished seamstress and needle pointer she became fascinated with computers when
making her own cards to send to friends on special occasions became possible at first with fixed
programs and later entirely of her own creation. As photography became digitalized she taught
herself everything she needed to take and develop pictures, primarily to share with others,
whether of her garden or her many travels, adapting them to her self-taught computer skills
and card making. She took pleasure in the arts in all their forms, and especially loved to dance.
Of late she enjoyed watching and reading mysteries when she wasn’t entertaining, travelling, or
working on some photographic or greeting card project of which she had many.
The date for a memorial service will be announced in the near future.
Sarra was a kind of gypsy. Not just because of where she grew up but because of the
circumstances of her birth and the direction her life took. She lived in three different countries and was
born in what is now a fourth. Her mother was Romanian with Austrian heritage. Her father from Russia.
They were evacuated during the Nazi invasion of eastern Europe and Sarra ended up being born in
Uzbekistan. When her mother was asked by the native medical staff to name the child her mother gave
her name as Israela, a good Jewish girl’s name. Misunderstanding and thinking the intent was for a
good scriptural name, the locals recorded her name as Sarra, spelled with two Rs as it would be in the
Uzbek language. This has occasioned no end of variations among friends, businesses, and government
agencies all her life.
After WWII her parents were able to move back to their home in the Soviet republic of Moldavia
(today’s Moldova) where she grew up with her younger sister, Roza, to be the dutiful daughter expected
of her, which she was. A little bookish, she loved language. She had a passion for the poetry of her
native Russian. Later she discovered the beauty of English and its poets. Before that happened she had
to take her place in society and found she was suited for Health care. She graduated medical school as a
midwife and commenced her new career by successfully delivering twelve babies, all boys, when a
combination of events disrupted what had until then been an ordinary childhood, youth, and early
Her parents, at an age when they eligible for retirement made the decision to emigrate to Israel.
A bureaucratic mix-up with the daughters’ photographs meant the issuance of their passports was
delayed. At just that time, in 1967 the threat of war between Israel and its neighbours was imminent.
The family made the decision that the parents should leave while they still had the opportunity and the
girls would follow in due course. War broke out shortly afterwards and all travel to Israel from the
Soviet Union was halted. Because emigres were considered disloyal to the state the family home and
most of their belongings were confiscated and the girls refused further employment opportunities
Since the Soviets supported Israel’s enemies the official response was to prevent the girls for their own
safety the state said from going to a war zone. Their request for passports was denied. The two young
women found themselves thrown out of work and with n prospects of any in the future.
They lived a year with relatives until the girls’ plight become a cause celebe with Amnesty
International and they were eventually, due to such communal efforts, finally allowed to join their
parents. They travelled on a special flight from Moscow to Amsterdam without passports having been
issued special transit documents for the ongoing flight back to Tel-Aviv. There Sarra immediately found
employment as a nurse. She dutifully turned her salary over as she always had to her parents to help
the family’s precarious financial position as new immigrants. Here Sarra began to enhance her English
skills and love of languages by enrolling in the English literature faculty of then newly created Tel-Aviv
University, eventually finishing in its first graduating class. Naturally, working as she did, she acquired
Hebrew and became comfortable using any of the four languages she knew.
Before classes commenced, the university had a program for new students to visit and stay at
various kibbutzim (Israeli collective farms) to learn about Israel and help them learn Hebrew. This was a
time when Israel was still a relatively poor country where agriculture was the major industry. She ended
up in Kibbutz Re’im, in the south of the country on the border with Gaza. It produced a variety of crops,
mainly grain but it also had vineyards and orchards. The student groups there were primarily assigned
to pick bunches of grapes and fruit from the trees.
One day she was up a ladder on one side of an apple tree and a young fellow from America was
on another ladder on the other side of the same tree. They actually met as they both reached the top to
get the highest fruit on that tree. Later that day during a break the fellow was sitting under the one
shade tree in the kibbutz central complex reading a book. She briefly commented on the scene he
presented and walked away. Intrigued by the encounter he made sure to meet her later at suppertime
and since that time their conversation continued non-stop. The ease between them was more than
mutual attraction. Enough so she was comfortable introducing him to her family though she had to act
as interpreter because her family knew no English and he no Russian, Romanian, or Yiddish and not one
of them yet knew more than rudimentary Hebrew.
English talk between the couple progressed to a proposal of marriage which she refused. In her
mind she wasn’t marriage material. First, she was almost seven years older. Such a pairing was
considered by most people at the time to be not only unacceptable but downright scandalous. She also
pointed out her physical imperfection. She had been born without a fully developed left hip joint. The
best pediatric surgeon of the day had done reconstructive surgery at a young age, keeping her away
from her family for over half a year. As a result, she walked with a slight limp, another stigma in the
society of the day and in her own opinion.
Added to the differences of religion, culture, and language which others thought
insurmountable, she eventually agreed. Her family and later hid had serious doubts about how two
such impetuous, stubborn, and impecunious young people could possibly succeed together. Her father
commented the union wouldn’t last two days. And there were other obstacles. Then as now, inter-
denominational marriage is forbidden in Israel. The legal workaround is to marry in another country,
whose unions the state does recognize. At the time, Cyprus was the popular destination for couples
who needed an overseas marriage license. Unable to afford such a trip the couple hired a local lawyer
who in turn engaged several overseas lawyers to act as stand-ins to accomplish a proxy wedding out of
the country. Once accomplished the local authorities recognized the result as a valid wedding ceremony
conducted overseas. As it transpired their wedding certificate showed they had been wed in Tlaxcala,
Mexico and the certification of it was returned all signed, sealed, and delivered in Spanish from the local
authorities in Mexico.
This formality allowed them to acquire a tiny flat with a big mortgage in the suburbs of Tel-Aviv.
They made a go of it for almost four years before deciding that a better future might lie in leaving Israel
and finding better job prospects in America. As boldly as she had defied convention in marrying as she
did, Sarra agreed to leave her family and travel halfway around the world to an unknowable future.
She arrived in America on the day Richard Nixon was elected president, a fact that stuck in her
mind. A recession was underway and the couple went on to southern California where her husband’s
family lived in eastern Los Angeles County. Luckily, they were able to quickly be employed. They
elected to live nearby in Orange County when it was still largely filled with orange groves and Johnny
Carson made rural hick jokes on television about the people who lived there. Renting inexpensive
apartments and gradually improving their employment skills, life became settled and routine until the
late seventies when inflation began to make rental living less affordable and the wisdom of home buying
became presented the prospect of a better future.
Fortuitously her in-laws owned an apartment in Laguna Beach in what was officially known as a
condominium. It could not be rented out under the terms of the covenants but it could be used by
family. During those years of impossible inflation because of not having to pay exorbitant apartment
rent, the couple was able to save enough to afford to by a house of their own in nearby Mission Viejo
where she lived for fifteen years, making many friends who remain so to this day despite her having
moved so later on far away.
During all that time Sarra’s only expressed regret was not being able to have children of her
own. She adored babies and children and always lavished special attention on them, whether of friends
or family, especially those of her niece in Israel. Despite a willingness to do so, even adoption proved
impossible due to cost and bureaucratic complications. She always counted family closeness as a
blessing and necessary to a fulfilled life. Accordingly, she always treated friends as if they were family.
A chance vacation took her to Arizona where along with sightseeing she had the idea she might
find a new place to live for her widowed father-in-law who was seeking to relocate. The beauty of
Sedona proved seductive to her. While looking for housing for another she happened upon a model
home she fell in love with. Without any hesitation she willingly uprooted herself, yet again, from a
house and garden she loved and had laboured so hard to perfect in order to start another that
conformed more to her dreams. Her father-in-law ended up moving to Reno, Nevada, but Sarra had
found her dream house in Cottonwood, Arizona.
For twenty years she furnished and decorated that new house inside to make it comfortable and
welcoming. She worked equally hard outside in to make her garden a delightful place to be in or just to
look at. Inside her home’s eclectic decorations reflected her tastes. She didn’t follow fashion. She
loved things that were beautiful or cute, regardless of style or material. The result was homey,
cluttered, but ordered and always clean and tidy. Bears and Southwestern things predominated but
there are objects that caught her eye from all over the world and almost everyplace she travelled to.
One friend calls her home an Aladdin’s Cave.
Though she was unreligious she loved the secular aspects of Christmas. Seasonal decorations
she adored and she took special delight in decorating her tree. Through the years it grew in size to
accommodate the increasing number of ornaments she acquired from her travels. The festivities, the
family gatherings, the joy of season appealed to her and were quite enough for her without adding any
religious aspects to it.
She didn’t shirk from any sort of necessary work, whether it was digging in the garden or
scrubbing her floors. She never bothered with make-up, only trimmed her nails for neatness, and visited
a hair salon just a couple to times in her life for very special family wedding occasions. She had good
taste in clothes but hated clothes shopping sometimes having to be forced to it. What she did enjoy
shopping for were beautiful things to decorate her home with: rugs, baskets, paintings, colourful rocks,
matroshka dolls, miniature native American pottery and Zuni animal carvings, even a Lladro sculpture.
And bears in many shapes, sizes, and forms from an alpaca rug to a chainsaw creation at the front door.
She was an accomplished cook and delighted in entertaining. To that end she acquired every
kitchen gadget ever made and used them all. She had more cooking tools than all those in the garage
for car and home repair and the garden shed combined. She liked nothing more than making people
happy with good food and conversation. Her creativity in picking gifts and wrapping them imaginatively
were both talented and always done with the recipient’s tastes in mind.
She was opinionated and often blunt. She did not bother with many polite or so-called correct
ways of address, preferring to be direct and unambiguous. Dialectic was her love. She might argue
forcefully but never despised anyone who disagreed, revelling instead in the use of language. Neither
did she ever hold grudges after a heated discussion, though she could be slow to forgive if she thought
herself insulted. She was passionate about life and the consequences of one’s actions. She had no use
for religion or the clergy, finding love of humanity and nature sufficient excuse for life and the
enjoyment of it.
Equally, she distained fashion. She dressed in the same eclectic way as she decorated her home.
Early on she had shocked her family while still in Israel when she decided to go braless at a time when
such a notion was considered daring and even revolutionary. She was so much a part of the pageantry
of humanity she marvelled at and loved. Equally she was fascinated by the variety of the natural world
that she discovered as she began to travel outside the sheltered world she had grown up in.
She ignored photography until it became digital. She was immediately aware of its possibilities
and took to it avidly. She loved the instantaneousness it allowed and its easy adaptability to her own
greeting card making projects which were always of her own creation. She especially liked that she
could share her pictures immediately with friends and family. She not only became an accomplished
picture taker, she also taught herself Photoshop. She worked on her pictures and cards with such
enthusiasm she gave up sewing and needlepoint, hobbies at which she was quite adept but found she
didn’t enjoy as much. A running joke with friends was that no matter where she went, if Sarra got
separated from anyone she was with, they could find her my listening for the clicks made by her camera
since she took so many pictures.
A literature major who enjoyed reading, she gradually became a fan of cinema and television.
Most of all she loved mysteries. Her love of the arts also extended to the theatre and dance. She was a
natural and captivating dancer but had been prevented from pursuing it professionally because of her
leg defect. She was always self-conscious of it because she was constantly in pain. The original hip
operation never healed correctly nor did a subsequent modern hip replacement. She was a determined
woman who could and did ignore her pain with indifference and the help of Aleve or Tylenol.
Pancreatic cancer however was not to be treated so simply. She put up with chemotherapy but
after six months when she was told it had done no good at all and nothing more could be done for her,
she made her peace with the terminal diagnosis and decided she would do as she had always done,
what she thought best; live as much as she could. Against all professional advice she used the last of her
waning strength to make a final trip to visit her family and friends in Israel. Despite the distance and the
cost she had always visited every couple of years and made the long trip dozens of times. Her final wish
was to spend time with her sister, other relatives, see her niece’s children again, and her oldest friends
from the time when she had called Israel her home. Though a proud American citizen she retained dual
citizenship and was equally proud of her Jewish heritage.
Her last trip tested her strength but until the cancer advanced enough that she could no longer
ignore the pain she continued enjoying life though at a slower pace. She stayed with regular medical
care as long as could provide relief but did not want to die in a hospital. She has seen the inside of them
far too often. By the time she accepted hospice care she had not given up on life; her body had given up
on her. But only part of it. Her vitals were all strong: heart, lungs, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels,
kidney function. Only her pancreas prevented her from living well into her nineties as her mother had
and as she had fully expected to do. She was married fifty-four years and had celebrated her eighty-first
birthday just months before in Israel with her family around her as she wanted and with friends of half a
century she was unable to visit with enough.
Her legacy is that of a true homemaker: her attractive home and garden which she created to
please people as well as herself, the love and warmth she was so generous with, and the happy
memories she left those who knew her best.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Sarra Livovna (Jolkover) Smith, please visit our floral store.