Photo Credit:
Freida Sima, Max, and the author.

Max had suffered a heart attack complicated by emphysema, caused by sixty years of smoking. “Give me a cigarette,” he told Shirley from his oxygen tent, determined to enjoy life, or at least his definition of enjoying it, to the very end.

Freida Sima spent every day in the hospital with Max while Shirley ran between hospital and home, where Chaskel was in a wheelchair with a full leg cast.

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Two and a half weeks later Max suffered a second heart attack. Freida Sima was at his side in the hospital and called Shirley to come before it was too late. Shirley arrived ten minutes after her father passed away.

When Freida Sima came back to Queens that afternoon, she went straight to the kitchen, put on her apron, and spent the next four hours preparing fish. Knowing her stepsons would be coming in from California for the funeral the next morning, she wanted them to have something to eat. The kitchen was her domain, the place where she felt safest, and her apron was her armor. Whether it was to celebrate or mourn, the family needed to eat.

Because Max died on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of) Sukkot, the funeral was held the next day but shiva first began a week later, after the holiday.

It was an end of an era for Freida Sima, one that had lasted more than forty-two years. She had lost her Mordche, the love of her life, but she still had her children, her grandchildren, her brothers, her sister, and their families. Sheindl was widowed the same year and the two sisters mourned together.

“What can I look forward to anymore?” a despondent Freida Sima would ask herself, not realizing that one of her greatest adventures was ahead of her. But her decision to move to Israel was still in the future and is worthy of its own story.

 

This installment of the Freida Sima series is dedicated to the memories of Benny (Benzion ben Nachman) and Betty (Berachah bat Natan) Eisenberg, Freida Sima’s brother and sister-in-law, whose yahrzeits are 22 Tammuz and 18 Av (July 28 and August 21 this year), and her brother Nathan Tuleh Eisenberg (Naftali ben Nachman), whose yahrzeit is 25 Tammuz, July 31 this year).

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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).