Elizabeth Saphir 1827-1854
Elizabeth was the youngest daughter of Israel Saphir, who became a believer late in life. He was a pillar of the Jewish community in Budapest, highly respected by all for his learning, piety and wisdom. One after another, his entire family followed him in faith. We are perhaps best acquainted with AdolphSaphir, who from a young age evidenced a very active mind and spiritual understanding well beyond his years: he would today have been considered a genius. Adolph wrote many books that have been re-published in our time by Keren Ahvah Meschichit, in both Hebrew and English. As follows the story of Elizabeth, as written by one of her two older sisters.
Elizabeth was not only remarkable for her manifold gifts, but also for her refined mind and her humble, loving disposition. She was naturally devout, and very religious in the observance of Jewish rites and ceremonies, and a visit to one of her uncles, an orthodox Jew, during which she scrupulously endeavoured to observe every tittle of the rabbinical law, served to bring out still more strongly this feature of her character. This uncle was very devoted to her, and having no daughter wished to adopt her, but to this her father would not consent, although he allowed her to prolong her visit. During her absence the event occurred which brought about such great changes in the Saphir family.
Elizabeth received an urgent summons from her anxious father to come home, as he wished to remove her without delay from her uncle’s influence. Though sorry to leave her uncle, she was very glad to rejoin her family, and the first few days of her return slipped away very happily. Coming as she did from an emphatically Jewish house, she could not fail to notice the great changes that had taken place in her home, and desired to know the cause, whereupon her father told her that they had found Jesus of Nazareth, and that He was none other than the promised Messiah — the Christ of God — the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. She was grieved, in fact stunned, on hearing this. The thought of “apostasy” on the part of those she loved was terrible to her, and she emphatically declared her intention to have nothing to do with it!
Her father, being a very judicious man, thought it best not to press her, but only asked her to read the New Testament carefully, trusting in God’s power to open her eyes and touch her heart. He also requested the other members of the family not to interfere with her. Thus she was left for a time quite to herself. How great was her father’s joy and delight when she intimated to him that she had found the New Testament Scriptures to be the very Word of God, and looked to Christ as her Saviour ! Though she was not yet fourteen years old, no one who knew her could have the slightest doubt as to the sincerity of her desire to yield herself up to the Saviour, and to walk in His light. Her shy, retiring disposition led her to take great delight in solitary meditation and Bible study. Many long hours were thus spent alone with God. Soon there arose in her a steadfast desire openly to confess Him whom her soul loved. She had a full conception of the supreme importance of such a step, and of the responsibility of those who bear the Redeemer’s name.
The writer of these lines remembers the saintly expression of her countenance, and her concentrated attention during the baptismal service. It was a day never to be forgotten! All present could only say, ” This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” Soon after, she and her younger sister were sent to a large boarding-school at Kornthal, in the south of Germany. This place was renowned for its high Christian training, as also for its good teaching in all modern branches of knowledge. Elizabeth applied herself zealously to her studies, and did her best to satisfy all her teachers; and in this she fully succeeded. Her gentle, loving manner attracted all with whom she came in contact, and soon she became a great favourite with both teachers and scholars. She was admired, not merely for her many good qualities, but chiefly for her loving, sympathizing character, which deepened and developed day by day. Her ardent desire was to exercise a good influence over those who were her fellow-students, and the first thing she endeavoured to bring about was a weekly prayer-meeting. She met with many difficulties which threatened to frustrate her wishes. However, her perseverance gained the victory; some of her young friends came forward, wishing to take part in the meeting.
For this purpose they could not find any place but a very small garret at the top of the house. There they met, and Elizabeth conducted these meetings. She was the means of bringing young souls to Christ. This small prayer-meeting did not always pass off very smoothly. Those who joined it were often scorned, laughed at, and called “Pietisten” but the “mad” Elizabeth was only the more zealous and persevering. The pastor of the place, a most devoted Christian, had much intercourse with her, and was her teacher in Hebrew.
A missionary, who was at the time staying there, took a great liking to her, and asked her to make his house her home. He also taught her English. After a stay of two years, the sisters had to leave for Pesth, and a general regret was expressed at Elizabeth’s departure; but a lively correspondence which she kept up with her teachers and young friends served to unite them still more. She evinced great concern and anxiety not to lose their love, and pointed them especially again and again to the truth as it is in Jesus. Thus she was not forgotten. The sisters were joined on their way home by their brother Philipp, who was staying at the same time at Carlsruhe in a seminary.
After a time of rest Elizabeth resumed all her studies, and tried her best to make herself useful, in and out of the house. She had much blessed intercourse with her beloved teacher, Mrs. Smith, to whom she was most devoted, and to whom she looked up with no common regard.
When Philipp started the idea of opening a school for Jewish children, she took it up at once, and looked forward impatiently to its commencement. When at last the great work was achieved, and children came crowding in, her happiness knew no bounds, and she threw herself at once with all her strength and energy into the work assigned to her. She and Philipp were the pillars of this remarkable school, which became such a success and blessing, and which excited no small stir in the place. Elizabeth had a large class of girls, which she managed in a masterly way, to the astonishment of all her friends. Both the pupils and their parents were soon devoted to her, and greatly admired both her teaching and her dealings with the children. She visited the parents weekly, among whom she had free scope to speak of her personal experiences. Many were deeply impressed by her testimony, and could not fail to notice her anxiety as to their soul’s salvation.
At the annual examination her results with her pupils were simply amazing. Superintendent Torok, who presided on these occasions, could not express often enough his thorough satisfaction and admiration at her handling of the subjects, which he taught with so much cleverness and understanding. She was however little accessible to praise, and was often unaware of the influence she exercised on those around her. Her mind and thoughts were concentrated on one point — to her the most important in her life — namely, to love and serve the Master, and to help to minister to her fellow-creatures as much as she could. She was known among Jews and Gentiles. All loved and honoured her. Philipp’s death was a great sorrow to her. She missed him intensely; at the same time, she tried to do her very best to endear his memory to the pupils he had left, to whom he was deeply attached.
After his death, Elizabeth was more than ever devoted to her work, and the school was in a most flourishing condition. Subsequently she became engaged to a man who professed to be a Christian, and expressed a great interest in the mission school. Unfortunately this marriage turned out to be a very unhappy one. Poor Elizabeth suffered intensely from her husband’s ill-treatment. Her parents, though not aware of this, could not fail to notice her sad look and deep depression. On being asked for the reason of this change, she was most reluctant to give a satisfactory answer, only mentioning that her husband did not quite understand her, but she hoped he might improve.
In the meantime things seemed to get worse, and her father, who was deeply devoted to her, took her home, in order to protect her from further bad treatment. Her health had by this time suffered severely, and soon she became very ill — past recovery. All was done to make her last days happy and bright. Day and night her father nursed her; — but, alas! she passed away in her twenty-seventh year, in 1854, chiefly from a broken heart.
Elizabeth’s Bible knowledge was remarkable. Her prayers were singularly beautiful and expressive. Her death caused great sensation among Jews and Gentiles. It was most touching to notice her pupils’ sorrow and disconsolateness. All came to take the last farewell of her. One of her friends, Countess Brunswick, begged to be allowed to see her. She was struck with Elizabeth’s happy expression; she put a New Testament in her hands, and remained for a time in silent prayer with her.
When the writer of these lines was the last time at Budapest, in 1884, she met some of Elizabeth’s old friends, who informed her that Elizabeth had never been forgotten, but was still living in their memory, loved and honoured. A lady, rather indifferent towards Christianity, but a great admirer of Elizabeth, said she considered Elizabeth was a Saint, and every year, on “All Saints’ Day,” she laid a wreath on her grave. Her life was hidden in Christ. Her end was peace.
Adolph thus refers to the death of this sister: — My good sister Elizabeth died about a fortnight ago. We know she died in faith, love, and hope. The grief and bereavement is on our side only. She was very noble, and knew how to deny herself for the sake of God’s Kingdom. She felt as much as a man that her life ought to be of use to the Church. Next to Philipp I always admired her most. We are all going home — sooner or later; but may God grant us a long life, if it please Him!
Carlyle, Gavin. Mighty in the Scriptures: A Memoir of Adolph Saphir, 1893, London: John F. Shaw and Co