“Is wisdom with aged men, and understanding in length of days?”- Job 12:12 (JPS)
“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will declare unto thee, thine elders, and they will tell thee.” -(Deuteronomy 32:7)
“The hoary head is a crown of glory, it is found in the way of righteousness.”- (Proverbs 16:31)
My beloved Zaidy died recently. I received the call at 6:38AM from my parents in Beit Shemesh, and knowing the odd hour, I intuited the nature of the call. And so, this writer who usually prefers to type provocative articles, who hits trees for strength conditioning, and tears playing cards in half because he fancies that he is strong, this 40-year-old man broke down like a baby.
Men such as my grandfather are the equivalent of foundation stone. The world exists because of such people. When they are gone, our job is to appreciate their legacy and to share some of their essence; to derive strength, and to perhaps inspire myself and others to become better people. I am broken hearted and there is no comfort, save for the beautiful memories and lessons I lived and learned.
I pen this article with tears. And yet what pain and anguish my dear grandmother must feel, when her life-long partner of 71 years is suddenly gone? Zaidy was such a rock, he was around forever, and the assumption was that as the sun rose each morning, so would our Zaidy. How can we fathom the soul-searing void of such a loss? How they loved one another, my Bubby and Zaidy, with a love so few of us will ever know. May Hashem grant my dear Bubby the strength to endure such an impossible loss. To my mother and her brother, I offer similar comfort. To be so fortunate to have a father (and mother) for so many years of their adult lives is truly a brachah. In their own way, each perpetuated Zaidy and Bubby’s legacy, as best exemplified by the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who will be their true legacies.
In truth, my eternally youthful grandfather got old overnight, as so often happens with those Hashem blesses with long life. As a man of reason and wisdom he kept his strength well into very old age, slowly tempering his regimen as the need arose. But there comes a time when Hashem decides that it is time. With my grandfather’s passing, Am Yisrael suffers as well. The inevitable yeridas hadoros continues. People like my grandfather don’t grow on trees.
Bernard “Bernie” Brickman was the unquestioned Patriarch of our family, a man who was loved and respected by everyone who met him. He lived a life of Torah, chesed, and love, and sustained a disciplined life of avoda that would put 20-year old men to shame. How does one have so much mesirat nefesh to undertake such a disciplined lifetime, well into old age?
I am at a loss of words, since even the most deliberate effort renders it impossible to capture the essence of the man. Impossible to even try at this saddest of moments. This isn’t a history lesson on his fascinating life. Perhaps in time, I will recount some memorable stories of his early years in vineland, NJ, his experiences in the US Army, and his lifetime of service to his family, and his communities. Yet an entire encyclopedia could never capture the richness of his life. These are just a few memories.
- When I was very little and my grandfather came to our home every Thursday night to help my mother slice the meat for Shabbos. His meat-slicing skills were impeccable. But in truth, he came to see my mother and us grandkids. Zaidy, when you entered from the cold, so dapper and dignified in your tweed overcoat, we came running and screaming with delight as we smashed ourselves into you and hugged you with our life. “Zaidy”, I would scream as I peppered you with kisses. Drunk with silliness and uncontrolled love for my delightful Zaidy. Nothing could be better.
- When I was 5 and I watched the old black and white B-horror movie, THEM, about giant radioactive ants run amuck. I must have recounted the entire movie for him a hundred times, and he retained his endless patience and amusement.
- My grandfather had a Dental Ceramist business back in the day. In their old house, his laboratory was in the basement. On occasion, he would send me upstairs with a very important message with brought tears of laughter to my grandfather and grandmother. “Bubby, I would say with the requisite seriousness of the message “Zaidy said you should get the lead out!” I never learned what THE LEAD was, but the running joke amused them both.
- Wearing your oversized (on me) auxiliary patrol officer’s uniform and hat, and parading around with pride to show the family. Visiting the old attic with you and exploring. Old keys and flashlights as souvenirs.
- Staying in Bayswater with Zaidy and Bubby for Shabbat with my older brother. Precious memories of long ago. Everything so exciting and delightful. Going to shul and being doted on. Because if you liked Bernie Brickman (and everyone did) you were going to appreciate his grandchildren. Years later as adults when visiting my grandparents in Florida for Shabbat. Zaidy, as a gabbai, you displayed such sensitivity to everyone in the shul, balancing all the needs of an older community. Not an easy chore for most people. But you remain beloved by everyone. Who didn’t love Bernie Brickman?
- As a teenager, Zaidy ensured that any sifrei kodesh I needed he would provide for me. “Just tell me what you need, and your Zaidy will get it”, he would say. So committed to the mesorah. So full of love for Torah.
- And throughout the challenges of life, when I sat with you on the couch and you would give a light clap on my leg and say “Donny, you’re alright in my book.” What better compliment in the world? What more strength could one derive from being good in Zaidy’s book?
When I was little and the classic Moshe Yes “Zaidy” song was playing on “The Art Raymond Show”, I was convinced that the song was written for my grandfather. True we were certainly not on the cusp of assimilation, nor could my child’s mind intuit that message, but the bittersweet tone of the song touched my heart. The beauty of a Zaidy. the beauty of the mesorah and of love and laughter despite the haters who pull our black coats and burn down our shuls. The beauty and fragility of life.
And one thing I do remember was that it foreshadowed my Zaidy’s death because we all live with the reality of the world. My child’s mind picked up on the sadness of the song, since all Zaidy’s appear old to their grandchildren. And the Zaidy in the song suddenly disappeared. I was fortunate to have my Zaidy for another 35 years. When I look at the attached picture today, I see a shockingly young man, barely a shade over fifty. A man who had so many more years to share his beautiful essence with the world.
So perhaps the song truly was about my Zaidy. Because men like Bernie Brickman don’t grow on trees. And our Zaidies are all special, as are our Bubbies. They are a testament that Am Yisrael lives forever, and that the covenant with Hashem will never break. Their lives were forged with fire and blood of one form or another. And while we live our lives, and fulfill our obligations, we can still appreciate the beauty of grandparents.
No one could have had a better grandfather. What a blessed life. We were all so fortunate to have you in our lives for many years. Few are so privileged to reach early middle-age with their grandparents. You were everything that was right with the world. A rock of stability and responsibility. You kept the world real by exemplifying what it means to be a man and a Jew.
A member of the greatest generation who ever lived, a veteran, a committed, disciplined, Torah Jew, a friend and confidante of talmidei chachamim and Rabbanim. A loving father, husband, and grandfather of impeccable character. A man of chesed, Torah, and avodah. A funny man who had the most delightful stories and the talent of a gifted storyteller. Bernie Brickman was a walking Kiddush Hashem, for both Jews and non-Jews. He brought dignity and honor to the Jewish people. He was a great man in so many ways. I never met a person who knew him and didn’t adore him. Everyone loved Bernie Brickman.
And that wonderful laugh. If you never heard him laugh, or made him laugh, you will never understand the meaning of joy and happiness. I will never hear that laugh again. But I will never forget it.
With wishes of comfort to my precious Bubby, my mother and my uncle, and to the entire family of grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren who mourn his loss. We will all remember Zaidy and pass on his teachings and his memory. These are his legacies, a testament to the eternal truism: Od Avinu Chai. And one last statement, because I know that Zaidy always enjoyed reading my articles in “The Jewish Press”:
I love you Zaidy. I will never forget you. You taught me right from wrong.