Another favorite saying was “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Oh, how she adhered to that. She scrubbed her hands so well that my doctor husband would ask her if she wasn’t secretly a surgeon in training.
She had a beautiful voice and filled our home with song. When I would come home from school or a Bnei Akiva meeting with a new song, I had to sing it over and over until she learned it by heart and then we harmonized together. I loved singing with her.
The last birthday of her life fell on a Shabbos in July. I wanted to celebrate with her but because of her physical state there was little I could do. And then I had an idea. I went to her house Shabbos afternoon and said, “Happy birthday, Ma.” She sat in her chair with her eyes closed and didn’t acknowledge my presence at all. It was just the two of us; my sister, who spent part of every day with her, was not there at the time. I started to sing and her eyes opened wide. She turned to me and her lips were moving. She was trying so hard to sing with me. And so it continued for the next hour. It was difficult to keep my voice from cracking while the tears were trickling down my cheeks.
They say the wife is the power behind the throne, and so it was with my parents. My mother was truly a helpmate to my father. She encouraged him all the way as he started on his great life venture, The Jewish Press. She suggested that he publish the Tales from the Medrash and Gaonim he used to tell us at the Shabbos table and that he start a Question-and-Answer column for everyday halachic issues.
It was my mother who brought both Rabbi Meir Kahane and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis to the paper. “I loved Irene,” the Rebbetzin told me when I recently interviewed her. “I continue writing in The Jewish Press because I see your saintly father and your beloved mother before me.”
Five years have passed. How often I speak to you, Ma. How I miss your guidance and your wisdom. How I miss your honesty in a world of falsehood and how I miss feeling your deep emunah envelop me. How I miss you just being you.
Mom, your passing was a true loss for Am Yisrael but even more so for your children and grandchildren. And as for your great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren (some of whom are named for you) who never had a chance to know you, we will make sure these little ones learn all about you and continue the mesorah you worked your whole life to transmit.
May the neshamah of Yitta bas Reb Raphael have an aliyah.