Latest update: August 13th, 2013
After my son Moshe got married in Israel several years ago, I decided to keep in more frequent touch with my cousin Ruzah. I would call her on a weekly basis (a good opportunity to practice the Ivrit I learned in day school), speaking to a woman who was of an older, wiser generation – rendering her more like a mother. Ruzah, like all my first cousins was indeed my parents’ age, married with children before I was born. Her experiences mirrored my father’s generation, although she really was from mine. Her mother and my father were siblings and my unknown grandparents were hers.
My father was the youngest of a family that included eight sisters and two brothers. A ben-zakanim, he grew up with his many nieces and nephews. My conservative guess is that he had at least 50 of various ages – including several who were born when he was a toddler/pre-schooler.
When his family was swallowed by the Holocaust, only four nieces, who like him had been slave laborers in their late teens/early twenties, survived. A nephew and niece in Canada were spared because their parents, my father’s brother – 19 years his senior – had moved there years before the war to join his wife’s brothers.
Ruzah had been married in a DP camp and she and her husband Romek (Avraham) decided to move to Israel. I have no doubt that my uncle wanted them to come to Toronto – he had sponsored my parents as soon as he discovered his “baby” brother had survived (the only sibling to do so) but Ruzah, even as a young bride was wired by an “es kimpt dir” attitude.
In other words, instead of feeling that she should be pampered and taken care of by family in Toronto (justifiably so after years of intense suffering and loss – her immediate family had been wiped out) and having help in adjusting to a new country and language, she opted instead to take the “hard way out” and give of her strength and energy and devotion to the newborn, struggling State of Israel. I imagine that in her mind, she felt the people of Israel were “entitled” to the fruit of her hard labor, as opposed to her being the recipient of someone else’s sacrifice.
By traditional standards, Ruzah was not frum. For whatever her reasons, post-Holocaust she shed the many rules and regulations she grew up with and did not keep Shabbat or kashrut, yet she had a huge and consistent hakarat hatov that she often expressed. I remember when I would eat lunch at her house (she went out of her way to ensure that any visitor who kept kosher would have mehadrin food on plates and cutlery that were kept separate or made of plastic) she would sigh deeply in content at having a full belly and thank Hashem for the food. Having experienced long-term starvation as a slave laborer in a Nazi death camp, Ruzah truly appreciated having as much food as she wanted. Her brief todah (thank you) to God was of a sincerity that is rarely palpable in the speed–bentching I am accustomed to hearing. Seems like there is a rush to get the words out as fast as possible and be done with it.
Ruzah’s husband had also been raised in a yichusdik home, and his knowledge of Talmud was considerable – much to the amazement of those who did not see beyond his bare head – and his erlichkeit, integrity and middos matched those of his wife. Unfortunately, his Charedi business partner did not share his values and embezzled the money that was supposed to sustain their business – leaving them without a parnassah and having to start all over again. (Guess he had a “kimpt mir” attitude.)
While Ruzah may have been lax on some of her observances, the ones concerning ben adam lechavairo – those that govern how you treat other human beings – she was absolutely machmir on.
Her unwavering outlook was “Es kimpt dir – you are entitled to the best I can do for you,” and Ruzah did not take any short-cuts, nor did she expect to get back what she so fully and unconditionally gave to those who crossed her path.
My father was her uncle, not her parent, and he was just a few years older than her, yet the kibud av ve’aim she gave my parents (and my uncle and aunt when they visited) were beyond description. Though so many years have gone by, I remember my first time in Israel at age 11. I had gone with my father and a group of survivors from his area of Poland for some kind of commemoration. We slept at Ruzah’s for a few days – I guess her sons doubled up and we used one of their bedrooms. One night we were supposed to sleep somewhere else, but for some reason it did not work out and we returned to Ramat Gan and Ruzah very late at night. When she realized we were back, she woke her husband up, stripped the beds, placed clean sheets and blankets on them and gave us their bedroom. Nothing would deter her from doing so.
Ruzah gave freely and unconditionally. Many people do go out of their way for others– but they do it with “half a heart,” grumbling and complaining to their friends how hard it was and how much time they spent cooking or cleaning and about the great expense – and it’s all true. But these sentiments would never have occurred to Ruzah, because in her mind – “es kimpt dir.” You were entitled to “the red carpet” treatment, so how could she cut back in any way?
Though she might not have agreed with her guests’ politics or religious affiliation (her sons and grandchildren have been or currently are in the Israeli army), she did not define them by their views.
Everyone was of the right “schnit” in her eyes. I imagine a scenario where she would have said Shabbat Shalom to all passerbys. How many of us have been ignored or rejected because we did not look “the part” or because of a social status, like being single/divorced/widowed/poor, etc. and weren’t deemed important enough to be acknowledged?
I remember an incident decades ago that still saddens and infuriates me. I was chatting to a friend after shul when another woman walked up to us and greeted my friend, giving me her back. Other people have told me similar stories. My “non-observant” cousin would never have humiliated someone that way. She would have risked being hit by a car while crossing the street to make someone feel welcome. Because “es kimt dir – because you deserve it.”
To me, Ruzah was one of the frummest individuals I have ever known. I have no doubt that she is now in Shamayim, “rolling up her sleeves” and putting all the courage and gumption she can muster to approach the Heavenly throne. She will bend Hashem’s ear to be kinder to His children – to be more forgiving of their failings and to answer their desperate prayers for relief from their many troubles. She will be a passionate bater because “es kimpt dir.”
Ruzah was niftar on Shabbat, the 14 day of TammuzCheryl Kupfer
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