Obituary: Miriam B. Halachmi, Heart and Soul

Miriam Halachmi
Miriam Halachmi

Miriam Halachmi, a lecturer in modern Hebrew at Vanderbilt for 31 years, died Feb. 28, 2015, at her home in Nashville. She was 70.

Halachmi attended school in Binyamina, Israel, where she grew up, and went to David Yellin Teachers’ College. She earned degrees in education, counseling and psychology before joining Vanderbilt’s Hebrew faculty in 1982.

In addition to her work at Vanderbilt, Halachmi served as director of the West End Synagogue Religious School for 32 years. For her service there, she was awarded the prestigious Grinspoon–Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education by the Jewish Education Project in New York. The West End Synagogue recently renamed its school Beit Miriam Religious School in Halachmi’s honor. (“Beit” literally means “house” in Hebrew, but in Judaism “house” and “school” have common characteristics.)

Colleagues in the Program in Jewish Studies called Halachmi the “heart and soul” of modern Hebrew education at Vanderbilt who, with warmth and a sense of humor, nurtured her students as individuals with diverse needs. She took pride in her students who chose to pursue Jewish studies and went on to be active leaders in their respective Jewish communities. She retired in 2013.

In Halachmi’s memory, the Program in Jewish Studies inaugurated the Miriam Halachmi Prize for Excellence in Modern Hebrew, a cash prize to be presented annually to a Vanderbilt graduating senior. The first of these prizes was awarded in May to Savannah Shepherd, BA’15, who majored in Jewish studies and political science.

Shortly before her death, Halachmi donated her library of Israeli Hebrew literature to Vanderbilt’s Jean and Alexander Heard Library, ensuring that future generations of students may explore the treasures of the Hebrew language.

She is survived by her daughter, son, father, three sisters, two granddaughters, and many nieces and nephews.