On the flight to the U.S. for the funeral of my Zeidy, Harry Rosenthal, I saw a man wearing a cap that read ‘Proud Zeidy.’ I complimented him on the cap, and he joked, “You know, people have told me that the words ‘proud Zeidy’ are redundant.”
Those people are right; what Zeidy isn’t proud of his grandchildren? And yet, there is proud and there is proud, and I realized that the comment was the perfect background for my reflection on my own Zeidy’s life.
A person, we are told, carries several names throughout his life: the name he is given at birth, and the names he makes for himself. Zeidy made a name for himself as a caring son, a devoted husband, a loving father, a dedicated worker and a faithful Jew, but I think the name he was most proud of was ‘Zeidy,’ the proud, doting grandfather who thought I and my brother and sister were simply the greatest.
Zeidy was born in 1917 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, growing up in an America where it was not easy to be a frum Jew, and not at all a given that you or your descendents would remain Orthodox. Yet to Zeidy, it wasn’t a question; being Torah-observant was as clear and natural as breathing, and throughout his life he remained a faithful Jew, even as a soldier overseas in the U.S. Army. It was this simple, clear-headed faith, the attitude that you do what you’re supposed to do, no matter the circumstances, that he transmitted to my father and, subsequently, to me and my siblings. The fact that we all, baruch Hashem, are raising Torah families today is thanks to his dedication and sacrifice.
Serving as a soldier during World War Two was one of the most transformative experiences of his life, and he loved telling us stories from that time. In his last years, when he sometimes had difficulty remembering more recent events, he still told over his army experiences with amazing recall. The anecdotes we knew by heart; yet the pride in his voice when he told them over was a story in itself. Because what he spoke about was not battles, or feats of valor. Every single one of his stories – all his favorites – were about him being a Jew. About organizing a minyan for Kaddish at the burial of a Jewish soldier, when he realized no one else was doing so. About making the unheard of request from a commanding officer for permission not to carry out the order to sew up a hole in his blanket, as it was Yom Kippur. (When the commander refused, a fellow Irish soldier offered to sew it instead, and Zeidy loved inserting at this point in the story how, when he told over the incident to Rabbi Yisrael Reisman, Rabbi Reisman called it a neis mishamayim.) All his cherished stories were about being a faithful Jew even in the U.S. Army in the 1940’s, and it was this lesson and legacy that he passed on to us.
Zeidy was a true anav. He never boasted about his accomplishments, preferring to work hard in the background. When his brother-in-law, Rabbi Sholom Klass, z”l, founded The Jewish Press, Zeidy joined him in his fledgling endeavor, dedicating heart and soul, throughout his working years, towards building up the paper as its advertising manager. In those early years, he would often work through the night, and his success is reflected in the paper you read today, yet he eschewed kavod, always remaining behind the scenes.
The same was true for his many acts of chessed. He learned from his own parents both the love of helping others and the modesty of not talking about it. He would tell us that he never knew how many people his mother had helped out through the years until her funeral, when crowds of strangers showed up to pay their respects. Zeidy, too, performed his many chassadim without fanfare. It was only through Bubby that I learned how he took care of his older single sister for many years, dedicating hours every Thursday, week after week, to drive from one end of New York City to the other, picking up food for Shabbos from his younger sister and delivering it to his older one. Zeidy never mentioned it, just like he never spoke about the sacrifice he undoubtedly made to bring his in-laws to live in his home, with he and Bubby caring for them until Bubby’s mother, my Bubby Ethel, passed away 25 years later. It was not Zeidy’s way to complain; he always had a smile on his face, and everyone loved being around him. He had a large group of friends; his friendly, easygoing personality attracted people. Even in his last few weeks, when doctors coming to examine him asked how he was doing, his response was always, “I’m fine.”
Yet he had his opinions, and things he felt strongly about, he was not afraid to express, both verbally and in his op-ed pieces in The Jewish Press. He was a strong supporter of Israel, and many was the time when I saw him read an article in one of the several New York dailies that he bought every day, mutter in disgust, and then grab a notepad to write a JP editorial in response. He eventually stopped buying the New York Times, because their attitude towards Israel bothered him so much.
Bubby and Zeidy are my model of what the perfect marriage should be. For nearly 66 years, they have been an inseparable unit, caring for each other, anticipating the other’s needs, enjoying each other’s company. They traveled the world together, yet, to me, there was nothing that so poignantly expressed their closeness as when they sat together at their kitchen table late at night, each reading his or her own book, no conversation necessary, yet wanting to share even the individual experience of reading, because every activity was so naturally done together. Bubby and Zeidy in my mind have always come together as a pair, and it seems so strange to think that now it will be just Bubby.
Bubby and Zeidy were world-class travelers, and must have visited over a hundred countries over the years. Yet I think one of their favorite trips – and certainly one of my most cherished experiences – was when we traveled to Europe together, the summer that I was 16. We toured Switzerland, France, Holland and England, and had our share of adventures, including getting our passports stolen in Zurich, but above all we had so much fun together, and not every teenager can say that about her grandparents. I’ve always felt so close to Bubby and Zeidy. My brother, Elie, sister, Tali and I looked forward to our visits with them every Sunday and, later, our own children felt the same way.
Some men, as they get older, have trouble being around the noise and activity of young children, but not Zeidy. Just as he’d delighted in us, his grandchildren, when we were young, his greatest joy was to spend time with his great-grandchildren. My older boys in particular, who knew Zeidy when he was more active, fondly remember Bubby Rivi and Zeidy Pop’s frequent visits when we lived in Passaic, and how Zeidy Pop had a special activity that he played with each one, whether it was a game of checkers or throwing a ball back and forth (how many great-grandfathers do that?). And, of course, they always ended their visits by taking us out to pizza. But even in the last few years, when he did not have the energy to play games, his biggest pleasure was in seeing Elie’s, Tali’s and my children.
One of the most difficult aspects of making aliyah was telling Bubby and Zeidy that we were leaving. I knew how much they would miss us (and we, them), and it hurt to know that I was giving pain to people who’d done nothing but shower me with love all my life. Yet Bubby and Zeidy rose to the occasion magnificently. Yes, they were sad and disappointed, but in typical fashion, they said that if this is what makes us happy, then they understand it’s where we need to be, and if they’re unable to fly out to Israel to see us, they’ll just have to fly us in. And they did, though the expense to fly in our bli ayin hara growing family was great. Each year they brought us in to the U.S. to visit, and I’m so grateful for the gift they gave us, of allowing my children to continue enjoying their special relationship with Bubby Rivi and Zeidy Pop. It’s a special zechus that he had the arichus yamim that his three oldest great-grandsons are able to learn mishnayos now in his memory.
Zeidy loved his in-law children and grandchildren, treating them like his own. My mother was like a daughter to him, and my husband Meir, my brother’s wife Chaya and my sister’s husband Yosef were like grandchildren. Special mention must be made of my brother-in-law Yosef, who, living nearby in Flatbush, was a frequent visitor, both helping out and keeping Zeidy company as they watched baseball and football games together. I know how much Zeidy looked forward to these visits.
If Bubby and Zeidy are my model of the perfect marriage, my father is my model of kibbud av v’eim. An only child, he has always been a son par excellence (my cousin Naomi Mauer put it beautifully at the funeral when she said that my father was worth many sons), and he has always made my grandparents’ welfare, both physical and emotional, a top priority, with the help of my mother. Thanks to them, Bubby and Zeidy were able to be a part of so many facets of our lives, whether it was Sukkos at my parents’ home, Pesach together both at my parents’ home and at a hotel (which continued for me even after I got married, as my in-laws joined us for a beautiful extended-family Pesach, a tradition which continued for many years); at our school events, or simple family get-togethers. And Zeidy, who loved his family so much, always sat there kvelling.
Zeidy traveled extensively throughout his life. Now, his neshama has finally returned home. He brings with him a lifetime of accomplishments, but his greatest one is the generations that he’s built. May Aharon ben Yehoshua Zelig be a meilitz yosher for us all.
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