Photo Credit:
The next generation, in 1937. Left to right: Muriel, Shirley, Bernice, and Sheila.

“Atheist or not, you will say Kaddish for your father!” Freida Sima whispered to Max as the funeral procession reached the Minsker Old Men’s Benevolent Association section in the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, the landsmanschaft Abraham Kraus had joined upon his immigration to America over twenty years earlier.

For the first time in their life together Max gave her a stony look. “As if I would do anything else,” he responded, gesturing toward his very religious mother, Chana, a long black lace kerchief covering her sheitel, walking with the women.

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Less than a year later they were back at the cemetery to bury Max’s mother, who had passed away on the seventh day of Pesach 1933, two days after her sons had finished eleven months of saying Kaddish for their father.

Earlier that afternoon she had been fine, standing in Freida Sima’s kitchen and vigorously beating up a snow of egg whites by hand for a holiday dish. Bidding her family a “gut yuntif” and a good night, the eighty-three-year-old grandmother went to sleep and never woke up. Because of the holiday she could only be buried two days later.

It was not an easy time for the Kraus family. Since Max was out of work, he had spent a lot of time helping his elderly parents. Now that they were gone, when he was not on an occasional paint job he would spend most of his day with friends downtown at the Workmen’s Circle or the painters’ union, talking about world news or how they hoped the new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would change things for the better.

Freida Sima, however, was busier than ever running her boardinghouse, and in spite of her in-law’s deaths, more content than she had been in years. After much pleading by her three children in America, in 1932 their mother Devorah had finally agreed to come on an extended visit to New York to see her family.

For the next year and a half Freida Sima had a mother she could hug, kiss, and talk to face to face. How did she cope with being mother, wife, and daughter at the same time? That is a tale unto itself, deserving of its own telling.

(This installment of the Frieda Sima series is dedicated to the memories of Devorah and Nachman Enzenberg, Freida Sima’s parents, whose yarhzeits are 27 and 28 Adar, which this year coincided with March 7 and 8.)

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Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz is director of the Schulmann School of Basic Jewish Studies and professor of Jewish History at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. She is the author of, among several others, “The ‘Bergson Boys’ and the Origins of Contemporary Zionist Militancy” (Syracuse University Press); “The Jewish Refugee Children in Great Britain, 1938-1945” (Purdue University Press); and “Perfect Heroes: The World War II Parachutists and the Making of Israeli Collective Memory” (University of Wisconsin Press).