These lines are written in loving memory of our dear father, Reb Shlomo Zev ben Reb Baruch Yehudah Nutovic, a”h, whose first yahrzeit is 7 Menachem Av. May the positive lessons learned from this essay be a zechus for his neshamah.
Nearly fifty years ago our mother’s life was turned upside down with the shocking passing of our father one spring evening in 1963. Suddenly she was transformed from a happily married young woman to a single parent of three children under the age of five. With the active support of both extended families, our amazing mother made it through those difficult years with incredible dignity and grace.
In the summer of 1965, she married Abba, as we called him, and for the next 46 years they built a beautiful home together in an environment of mutual respect, tranquility and joy. Abba had a son from a previous marriage, and in 1966 Hashem graced them with a daughter together – so our blended family had the quintessential “Yours, mine and ours.”
To their enormous and eternal credit, they raised three sets of children as one seamless family – so much so that people often could not tell which children “belonged” to whom. Over the years that Hashem granted them together, they were a source of strength to us during our challenging times, walked each of us to our respective chuppahs, and celebrated the lifecycle events of our children and grandchildren.
When Abba passed away last summer, the three of us individually and collectively decided to honor him for his dedication to and involvement in our lives by tearing kriah at his funeral and observing shiva alongside our mother and our two siblings who were his biological children. We felt that since he never distinguished between the five of us, it was only fitting that we all honor him the same way: together.
Word of our decision spread and we each got positive feedback from friends and family – especially from members of blended families. With that backdrop, we thought it appropriate – and with the hope it will help others in similar circumstances – to record and share with the public our recollections of how our parents made their blended family a seamless nuclear unit in the. While some of these qualities are critical in any marriage, the fact that our parents achieved them despite the challenges of raising three sets of children is all the more remarkable and noteworthy.
As we collected and distilled our thoughts, the bedrock principles of their marriage (and indeed their lives) emerged clearly through our minds’ eyes – respect, tolerance, selflessness, emunah, yashrus, ehrlichkeit and yishuv hada’as (faith, integrity, honesty and an overall sense of reflection and strategic planning in their decision making).
Abba and tlc”t our mother were so different in nature that one might have wondered how they ever met, let alone married and raised their families together. Abba was cerebral, reserved and proper; while our mother, tlc”t, is upbeat, funny, and spunky. Nonetheless, they navigated life’s ups and downs together in the most harmonious way. They genuinely respected each other and never disagreed in front of us. They modeled derech eretz in their reverential treatment of their parents during their golden years and in their interactions with all three extended families where we all attended each other’s lifecycle events, biologically connected or otherwise. They “kept” the Horowitz surname for the three of us, (which was not common practice at that time) and always encouraged us to maintain our close relationship with our father’s siblings and their families.
The term “step”child/parent/sibling was never used in our home and they both did their utmost to be even-handed, never distinguishing among their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren based on which part of the family they came from. In fact, when Abba’s first biological grandchild was born and our mother remarked how happy she was for him now that he too had reached this wonderful milestone in life, he said, in all sincerity, “Dovid [born twelve years earlier] is my oldest grandchild!”
As we all reflect back with adult eyes, it is clear that everything our parents did was selfless and well thought out. Abba realized that kids never forget their birth parents and he very wisely never tried to “replace” our father. In fact, he encouraged us to respect and nurture the place our father held in our hearts and lives. Abba attended every one of the yahrzeit gatherings held in memory of our father, a”h, while our mother did not – out of respect for Abba. He drove us to our father’s grave on his yahrzeit and even occasionally took us to the shul where our father had davened to say Kaddish so we would benefit from the affection our father’s friends showered on us.
About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.
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