Sunday, August 21, 2022

My Brother Jack, ZL

My brother Jack about 3 weeks ago - shortly before his passing
My brother Jack was  Nifter (died) last Sunday at age 93. He was my link to the past. I’m not talking about the Holocaust. Although he was surely that. I’m talking about Jewish life in Europe. The kind of life we read about in stories about the Gedolim of yesteryear.  

Barring adjustments for technological progress, Jewish life had not changed in any substantial way for hundred of years. Jews lived the same way during in my brother’s childhood as they did generations before. Although the enlightenment and assimilation had caused a massive amount of Jews to drop their Judaism, those who stayed the course lived pretty much the way their parents and grandparents lived. 

I had a direct connection to that life through my parents and brothers who lived it. Jack was the last surviving member of my family that had that connection. Europe is now a closed book to me. Having been raised in America, that is the only Jewish lifestyle I know. A lifestyle that differs radically from that which my brother lived pre Holocaust. A lifestyle he spoke of warmly. Unfortunately that life did not last long. Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany in September of 1939 when Jack was only 10 years old.

After that he did not have an easy life. My brother Jack, or Koppel as my father used to call him  survived the Holocaust. But he paid a high price. He did not have the benefit of a day school education that would have enabled him to fully lead a life that those of us who did - take for granted. His formative years were spent  hiding from the Nazis in several bunkers built by my uncle. Although he was fully observant most of his adult life - full Mitzvah observance was impossible under those conditions. His Bar Mitzvah was celebrated there by my father telling him, ‘Today is your Bar Mitzvah.’ That was it! 

The atrocities against fellow Jews he witnessed at the hands of his Ukrainian neighbors at the beginning of the war - were unimaginable. Nor can I begin to imagine what it was like for him to lose his mother during an escape from one of the bunkers they had occupied until it was discovered.  Or losing an older brother who sacrificed himself to save him, his father and his younger brother, Barry.

After they were liberated by the Russians, my father sent his two surviving sons to Torah VoDaas, in New York.  That is where Jack lived for several years. It was there that he honed his considerable skills in Chazanus – later finding a job in Chicago. 

There – together with Barry - he opened up Maryles Dental Lab – a successful business that provided a good living for their families. They worked hard ! So hard in fact - that I believe it took its toll on their heath in later years. But through it all my brother Jack remained a joyous person. Never complaining about anything. Always mindful of his family’s needs.  Always in good spirits. 

Even a devastating illness affecting his oldest child did not prevent him from his cheerful countenance. When he suddenly lost Ann about a year and a half ago, it gave him unbearable pain. He missed her dearly on a daily basis. But that too did not dampen his spirit. He carried on knowing that he had a lot to live for – a lot more Nachas to experience. 

I don’t know too many people that had the kind of positive attitude about life that my brother Jack had. Especially after having such devastating, life changing experiences.

Jack was so proud! …of the beautiful family he built with Ann. Theirs was a relationship that one could only envy. They never fought – even on those rare occasions when they disagreed. Serving as role models for their children on parenting and Mentchlichkeit. 

Which is why their children each have their own beautiful families. My brother had so much Nachas - from his children, grand children, and great grandchildren. Always anticipating the next family Simcha.

The love Jack had - and the Nachas he got - did not begin and end with his own immediate family. He loved his entire family including mine. He felt the same sense of Nachas from us.  Our Simchas - were his Simchas. 

When Jack felt the need, he did not mince words in giving us all Mussar. Whether it was about my not doing enough to get a Shidduch for my daughter or grand-daughter. Or - after having yet another biking accident and seeing me hobble into his hospital room - telling me to stop riding my bike. That it was too dangerous. That was practically the last thing he ever said to me. 

In his later years he suffered a lot of physical pain. He could not hold up his head without terrible neck pain. He could barely walk. He had pulmonary issues and blood pressure issues. He had trouble with his eyesight and hearing.  And a variety of other ailments all about which a lesser person would not have been able to handle without bitterness and gloom. 

But not Jack. He never said a word. Never let on about all his pain and suffering. Always greeting people B’Seiver Panim Yafos – with a smile on his face. 

This attitude about life is what endeared him to people less than half his age. His Daf Yomi Chaburah used to call him ‘Zadie’. They loved him and would do anything for him. 

That was my brother Jack. A man that no one could get down. It simply was not in his genes. 

May his memory be a blessing.