Monday, November 24, 2008

An Inspiration to All

There is a famous Pasuk in Tehillim (45:14) which reads: Kol Kevudah Bas Melech Pnimah. If there was ever a phrase that describes my mother that is it. She was the ultimate Tzanuah - never wanting the grandeurs of the “outside” ...always preferring the Tznius of the “inside” ...working in and for her home and family.

She was a most spiritual woman with few material needs. Her sole concern was for the welfare of her family. Like many other great women in Klal Israel she also exemplified the verses from Mishlei of Eyshes Chayil immortalized in song - sung in so many homes every Friday night. These two expressions - from Tehillim and from Mishlei - are what my mother was all about.

My mother was not that well known in the Chicago Jewish community. Oh, she was known... people knew who she was, but very few people knew what she was really all about. But I knew who she was. My father knew. And my brothers knew. That is because she exemplified the classic definition over the millennia of what it means to be a Jewish wife and mother. Her whole life revolved around the well being of her family.

She had literally no interest at all in her own material well being. As long as she had the basic necessities of life taken care of she gave absolutely no thought to - or had any interest in money or material things.

She did not own fancy clothes nor was she interested in fancy furniture or fancy houses. My mother’s primary concern was for my father whom she idolized from the moment she met him. My father was not a demanding person. But she nonetheless defined herself through her service to him and her family. She saw her role as a Jewish wife and mother in the way most of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did. The term “Ezer Kenegdo” is what you would see when you looked at her. Her entire ego was wrapped around his. His needs... were hers. His Hashkafos... were hers. His views of how to raise children... were hers.

When I was a young boy growing up in Toledo, I had gone to public school. The environment there was not conducive toward a positive outcome for my Judaism. I wanted to be like my peers, most of whom were either non Jews or non-religious Jews.

By the time I was ready to go into fourth grade my father saw me negatively influenced by my peers and decided I was going to go to school in Detroit to a day school. My mother could not bear the thought of having me leave home for an entire week only to return home for Shabbos. But she knew that my father was ultimately right and when he made the decision to send me to day school sixty miles away, she was stoic.

She supported him 100% without uttering one word of protest. I later learned of how much crying my mother did - how much she missed me - her 8 year old son, but she never let on. I never knew how sad she was. She felt she had to give my father the kind of support that required her to be silent so as not to make me even more homesick then I already was. She knew that she could not dare add to that.

Because of that commitment all of her grandchildren are today Frum Bnei Torah as are all her many great grandchildren. I attribute that as much to my mother as to my father. She sacrificed her own happiness in seeing me on a daily basis so that I could grow up to be a Yiras Shamayim.

Years later when I was already married and had two of my children, I thought finally, my parents would be able to see the daily Nachas of my own children, their youngest grandchildren growing up Frum and in the day schools. Once again the ship of fate intervened and it was not to be. My father on a particular visit to Eretz Israel had fallen in love with the city of Bnei Brak which reminded him of his youth in pre-war Europe.

He decided that moment to buy a Dirah there – planning to move to Israel within two years. And so it was. I didn’t want them to leave in part because I knew that my mother did not want to leave her grandchildren behind to begin a new life yet again. But once again, she was stoic. She said she would do only that which would make my father happy.

My parents left Chicago to begin life a new. It was not an easy adjustment for her. I knew that my mother really didn’t want to go because when I discussed it with her she would tear. But it didn’t matter because that was what my father wanted and she loved him so! They lived there for 18 happy years..

In the meantime my four children grew up. Now it is true that we saw each other often but it is not the same as being able to share a Shabbos table or a Yom Tov with the family on a regular basis. I know that she really missed her family but again - she never said a word. Her goal was to make my father as happy as possible. And she succeeded.

My mother had no easy life prior to my birth either. She lost her own father, my namesake, when she was only two years old. She never knew him or that much about him. My grandmother re-married a widowed cousin who had children of his own and the extended family lived in near poverty in Poland.

That poverty segued into the holocaust where she lost her entire family. She saw her mother step on a landmine and ultimately die from that. She and her parents and siblings were hidden at first, by a kind gentile family. But later...fearing being caught and killed for their efforts... my mother and her family were forced to leave. They survived living in a forest for the rest of the war living on a diet of raw potatoes.

After the war she met my father through a Rav who was a mutual friend of theirs and they immigrated to America. My father ended up in Toledo for the next 15 years as a Shochet and a Chazan for one of the three Orthodox Shuls there. While my brother Jack was learning Chazanus in New York, my brother Barry was learning his trade in Toledo. These are my brothers from my father and his first wife.

Barry told me that my mother would go to great lengths to allow him the space to to learn his craft. She let him turn part of our small apartment into a virtual dental laboratory - helping him in any way she could. Including cleaning up after he went to bed late at night so that he would have a clean space to work in the morning. My brother tells me that he owes her a debt of gratitude that he will never be able to repay.

My mother exuded love and warmth to her family... and to her grandchildren. Treating them all like flesh and blood. And all of the grandchildren felt it. They knew the depth of their Bubbie’s love and that love was sincerely returned by all of them. She never demanded a single thing of them yet they were willing to do anything for her.

She was the world’s greatest home cook. Every Friday she would make “Erev Shabbos Kugel” just in case one of her family would come over. It became a semi- regular feature for us on Erev Shabbos. Her roast chicken is yet to be duplicated as are her gefilte fish and Kreplach. But it wasn’t the recipe that was unique. It was the loving care that she put into every morsel. She made certain that the food would taste “out of this world” every time she cooked. Yet she was always very modest about her cooking and never thought she was all that good. But everyone else knew differently.

It wasn’t only cooking and devotion to her family that defined my mother but her great spirituality. She loved to Daven and did so every day. After my father passed away she never missed saying an entire Sefer Tehillim!

If I may paraphrase the Pesukim from Mishlei as they apply to my mother... She... WAS that Eyshes Chayil. My father placed faith in her as I did, and we both profited. She brought him only good... and never evil all the days of our lives together. She willingly and lovingly did the work of her talented hands. She prepared the food for her household, never complaining... always lovingly with great strength taking whatever time each task needed to do it right but always in time, never allowing my father or her family to have to wait... or want... for anything.

My father was known and beloved by the community. She reveled in strength from that knowledge and exuded dignity through it - always the exemplary Tzanuah. When she spoke, words of Chesed poured forth from her tongue. She looked after the welfare of her family. Laziness was not a word in her dictionary. I was in awe of her - as was my father.

But most of all she exemplified the closing statement of this famous Mishlei: Sheker HaChein VeHevel HaYofi, Isha Yiras HaShem, Hee TisHallel. This is her ultimate epitaph.

May she be a Meiltz Yosher for our family and all of Klal Israel.