Thursday, April 12, 2018

My Daughter's Grandfather

Zaidy Marcus and Dovid, a great grandson 
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel every Jew with any sense of respect for the dignity of Holocaust survivors upon hearing the call of the siren - stops  for a moment of silence in memory of the six million Jews that perished.

As a child of the Holocaust I am particularly sensitive to anything to do with that time. My parents and my wife's parents all experienced its horrors and survived each with their own story to tell. 

I just returned from a poignant program at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School where some of my younger grandchildren still attend. My 84 year old sister in law, Anne Maryles spoke. She told the assembled children about her experience surviving that terrible time. It was both the horrific and inspiring at the same time.

My daughter Rivkie Greenland has written a powerful and beautiful tribute to my father in law reminiscing about her personal memories. He was indeed a very great man. Someone that personified both Torah scholarship and humility. In honor of this day, her words follow in full.

I grew up with 4 survivor grandparents. Three of whom were at my wedding. Today, none are left.

ALL of my grandparents z”l lived through unspeakable horrors.

This post is dedicated to my Zadie Mordechai ztl, or as we lovingly called him, Zadie Markus. In his book “מיינע ליבע קינדער”(My Dear Children), he emphatically instructed us to understand the details of his story of survival and to never forget it.

I thought you might like to meet him first.

There is not one of us who did not adore him or think of him as a great person. He was a quiet man, and only spoke when spoken to, or when there was something very important to say. But with his very few words, we knew he loved my Bubbie (a”h) and Mom and Auntie Ruthie. We knew he loved all of us. I don’t know how we knew it...he wasn’t kissy or huggy or mushy.... but we just knew.

I vividly remember Zadie eating Farina in the kitchen of his house in Detroit, Michigan, on the corner of Dartmouth and Westhampton. As a very young girl, I remember visiting him in Bornstein’s Bookstore where he worked. I also remember visiting him at the place where he worked as a mashgiach. I remember asking him if he was allowed to take food from the caterer’s kitchen any time he wanted and he quickly said “no.” I couldn’t understand why. Im sure no one would have minded if he ate an egg roll or two if he was hungry.... But it didn’t belong to him, and he didn’t need it, so he didnt take it. It was as simple as that.

I remember the hot stamping machine he had in his basement. Zadie used to hot stamp things like benchers and Kippahs. I always wanted to try that machine. Something about creating detailed things intrigued me.

I vividly remember Zadie sitting at his Shabbos table and singing this niggun called.... well, I don’t know what it was called. I guess we called it “Zadie’s niuggun.” I don’t know where it came from, or if it had words. Did Zadie sing it at his Shabbos table with his family before the war? Was it passed down from generation to generation? Did he hear it somewhere? Or was it just ringing in his head? If I close my eyes tight, I can faintly remember the tune.

I vividly remember Zadie learning Torah. A lot. My mother said he learned most of what he knew after the war, beginning in his 40s. He was a huge Talmud Chacham (Torah Scholar). We all knew it. Yet, he was understated, never haughty about the Torah he knew. Often he was our Posek; usually because he was makil (lenient) on everything. And it wasn’t because he didn’t know the halacha. Zadie was makpid (stringent) to not make our lives any harder than they needed to be. He was that kind of person.

When we were older, we use to play “Stump Zadie with Torah Questions” at the Pesach Seder. As you can imagine, he won every time.

He was a man of simple needs but not a simple man. He lived through the horrors of the Holocaust. His ENTIRE family tragically perished. His ENTIRE town heart-breakingly destroyed. He survived by living in the attic of a righteous gentile for 4 years.


He lived there together with 6 other Jews from his town. All that time, he Never saw the light of day. But the 7 of them survived and were eventually liberated. They were the only surviving 7 from their entire town.

He got married to Bubbie (a”h) soon after the war and was blessed with two beautiful daughters whom they sent to learn Torah in Bais Yaakov, without question of sending them to public school.

Like others post-war, he had many jobs. And not because he had many interests. Zadie Mordechai was THAT Jew... the one who got hired on Monday and fired on Friday because he was unwilling to be m’challel (desecrate) Shabbos. But he did not let that stop him. On Monday, he got up and got another job, the next week another, and another, and did whatever it took to retain a Jewish home with Torah values, always learning Torah, never speaking lashon hara, all this even after all the horrific years he had been through. This was Yaharog V’al Ya’Avor (not to be given up for anything) with him. His dedication and perseverance to maintaining a Jewish home with Torah values was unwavering.

I was lucky to be the first grandchild to name a child after him. My Mordechai, my Marcus (yes that is his real English name though we changed the “k” to a “c”) is the complete antithesis of Zadie’s personality. But there is a commonality between them and it may be the most important character trait of all..... perseverance and determination even in the face of difficult challenges.

I’m know he beamed with pride about the daughters he raised with Torah values who gave this mesorah over to their kids, who gave this mesorah over to their kids and, Bezh one day will give this over to their kids.

He loved and honored my Bubbie.He loved and honored his family and relished in their successes. He loved Torah.
That was it.
That was all there needed to be.
לעלוי נשמת all 4 of my grandparents a”h

Mordecahi Ben Yitzchak Isaac
Tziril Bas Avrohom Meyer
Shimon Ben Chaim Noach

Bayla Bas Tzvi

who survived the Shoah, dedicated themselves to rebuilding and living a life of Torah values and are no longer here with us to tell their stories. It is incumbent for us now to tell their stories for them.