I was young when I met my mother-in-law for the first time. I knew she was a survivor – well, so were my parents and most of my aunts and uncles. I also knew she was an almana – the father-in-law I never met succumbed to illness before my husband’s bar mitzvah. That was a new situation for me, one that I could not identify with. I only saw a friendly, charming, intelligent, strong yet giving person. She was gracious, and served a lovely meal, which she said was all leftovers from Shabbos! It was quite a spread; I was very impressed. She allowed me to help serve and clear off, and I felt confident that we would get along… and we did.
When we got married, we were certain Los Angeles would be a great place to visit when possible, but that was it! Hashem had different plans. Four years after our wedding, we relocated to the West Coast. Although we did not live in her neighborhood, it took us only about twenty minutes to drive over, and we visited regularly. We even walked there on some Yomim Tovim – an enjoyable one-hour plus excursion.
She was a model grandmother. She loved each one of the children, and couldn’t wait to see them. She was especially close with my oldest daughter, and loved baking with her, helping her with her homework, having her sleep over; they had a very special relationship. When we all came for Shabbos, she had all sorts of delicious delights, and I was so very glad to get the leftovers, usually enough for a couple of meals.
I recall her inviting us for a visit one Sunday afternoon. I had so much to do, I tried to beg off. “We were just there on Thursday,” I explained. “So what?” was her immediate response, “that was last week!” Of course we drove over. She kept a large freezer near the back door where we usually entered, making it very convenient to enjoy a few of her delicious oatmeal cookies. Although the family business was wholesale candy, chocolates and wafers, she respected my no-sugar rule. Truly, I did not appreciate how hard that must have been for her. I was, however, pleased with her cooperation.
Unfortunately our time together was cut short – about five years after our move she suffered a heart attack from which she never really recovered. Towards the end, as weak as she was, she was still determined to help me. I cannot forget how she lay in her hospital bed, assuring me that she would host me for Pesach. True, she had little to clean, as her home was always sparkling and she had help in the house, but would we really be able to go? We were not zoche; she was niftar before Pesach.
I only began to value her extraordinary behavior years later. One day I contemplated how much I owed this woman who, although all alone, allowed my husband to study in Eretz Yisroel for a few years. Of course she valued Torah study, having been raised in such a home, but how did she continue it, and how did she personally make that great sacrifice?
In those days, and in that area, extended Gemara learning was unheard of. She was a true trailblazer, allowing her firstborn son to learn in Lakewood and her youngest to fly halfway across the world to learn in Yerushalayim. She was home alone. She did not make them stay home to keep her company; although she suffered from post-Holocaust nightmares, she toughed it out herself. She did not keep them home to help run her business; she chose to work long hours instead. She did not keep them home due to her dislocated hips and the pain she endured. She did not hold them back due to the expenses involved.
As I considered all this, I was filled with deep regret. I had never thought to ask her how she had the mesiras nefesh to make such sacrifices, nor to thank her. This was due, at least in part, to the fact that I hardly recall her speaking about her hardships, and certainly not complaining. This is a middah we can certainly try to emulate l’ilui nishmas Faiga bas Ephraim a”h.
But it is never too late. Thank you, my dear mother-in-law. I am sure you are watching us from a beautiful place and feeling nachas as you see how your investment paid off. Please help us be strong in our challenges, and continue pulling the strings for us up in Shamayim.
Yehi zichra baruch, may her memory be a blessing.