May 4, 2020
By Arthur H. Gunther III
There had been many quick jumps across my childhood street in Hillcrest, N.Y., to see my friend Matthew but also to sit down with his grandmother, Molly Weissman. This bubbe, in her late 80s, a survivor of Russian pogroms and with the shared DNA of relatives lost in the Holocaust, offered few words in mixed English but wisdom as plentiful as the promised land of milk and honey. And as with Exodus 3:17, it was all in the journey.
It was part of my journey. I was then a seventh grader, a goy, not of Molly’s faith, but because she listened to a young fellow and treated me as an equal philosopher, which clearly I was not, I sat.
There was talk of life, of hardship, of mitzvahs and trying to do good, of respect for humanity. I was polite, I listened. But also, perhaps unwittingly, I took some wisdom, putting it in my pockets for another day. That would take a long time to arrive.
The seventh grader grew, there were other interests, I did not see the bubbe. One day came word that Molly Weissman had passed. There had been the quick burial, as required by her Orthodox faith. I could not mourn her.
Matthew, her grandson, was sent to the local funeral home on State Street to buy a memorial candle, which would be lit for a year. He and I went for that as the family sat shivah for the seven days of respect. The mirrors were covered in ritual, and there were simple orange crates to sit on.
Today, as so many must mourn without seeing loved ones and friends after their passing in the time of the coronavirus, when even a shivah cannot easily take place, or a funeral Mass, or mosque tradition or memorial, it will have to be lingering and repeated memories that offer respect for those we lose.
Yet perhaps that is the best recognition of lives that impact us, as Molly’s did mine.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. email@example.com
I wonder if we all had a listening and advising older Jewish woman in our lives as kids. Mine was Mrs. Schwartz, he husband was a partner in Schwartz and Gross’s Liquor store on Franklin St in Nyack. Ya don’t even know what her first name was. My aunt and uncle lived next door to the Schwartz family…I was hired to cut their lawn each week when I cut my aunt and uncles…My Schwartz would almost every time come out on her back screen porch and offer me some Ice Tea and like your friend we would talk for some time. She was a wise lady and grew very of her and looked forward each week to our talking…Like your experience…Mrs. Schwartz passed on and I didn’t get to say good bye..I was in the Navy by then..Ya know I put a single rose on her grave stone along with a pebble several times in the summer and remember a wise ole Jewish lady
What a fine comment, Jim. Happy you followed the Jewish tradition and left that pebble. Be well.
That was a beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. To be sure we all had a person in our lives (I hope) whom without formal education had wisdom to depart. Mine was maternal grandmother, Tillie Silverstein. I had the great fortune of living with her during my first year at graduate school at LIU in Brooklyn. Grandpa was gone by then and learning about her when I was an adult we would sit up to all hours of the night talking life philosophies and the importance of family. It was a side of my grandmother I never knew as a child. Listening to her speak one would believe she had earned a doctorate. She came to America as a teenager without a word of English.
Well-put, Howard. I am certain you became the fine teacher and author you were and are because of your bubbe. Please stay well.
So true. Thank you Arthur,
Thank you, anonymous. Be well.