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. firstname.lastname@example.org