Over the past month, my husband and I said goodbye to three of our grandparents. We went from one house of mourning to the next, exchanged stories and experiences and even found the best place to park at Har Hamenuchot Cemetery. Now, at the end of the last week of mourning for the time being (do you hear me up there?!), I had a chance to think about how privileged we were. If I think about it in terms of the future generation, our three children lost three great grandparents, three very important people who lived in a generation that is quickly disappearing.
The first to pass away was Grandpa Moshe, Matan’s maternal grandfather. Grandpa Moshe was from a family that had been deeply rooted in Jerusalem’s Old City for five generations. The family’s origins are unclear, but seem to trace all the way back to the Spanish Inquisition. The stories tell of Grandpa Moshe’s mother’s family, who left Jerusalem during the great famine that ravaged the land of Israel during World War I, descending to Egypt like our forefathers Abraham and Jacob after their grandfather died of old age and malnutrition. After the war, they returned to Israel and to the Old City; Grandpa Moshe had been a fifth-generation native Jerusalemite.
A few days after the week of mourning for Grandpa Moshe ended, my grandmother, Zohara-Zahava, passed away. Grandma Zahava emigrated from Morocco after the establishment of the State of Israel, with her blind mother and a supply of unbelievable determination. Here in Israel, she married my dear Grandpa Nissim, who had also emigrated from Morocco a few years earlier. The history of the Jews of Morocco and the harsh attitude that was prevalent toward women in general and divorced women specifically are interwoven in her story. It is a story of courage, and of the ability to take your life into your own hands and emerge victorious.
Grandpa Zvi, my paternal grandfather, waited patiently for my mother to come home from the week of mourning for her mother, and then passed away on Friday night. Grandpa Zvi’s story is the story of the Jews of Europe. A wealthy Jewish family in the heart of a predominantly non-Jewish village that underwent turbulent changes of government between Romania and Hungary, only to then face the terrible war. This was the end of Hungarian Jewry, who were shipped out in several consecutive transports on the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) in 1944. Grandpa Zvi experienced the atrocities of the Holocaust and then suffered at the hands of the Communists. He succeeded in immigrating to Israel only in 1951. After serving as a dedicated soldier in the Israeli military, he courted my beautiful, enchanting grandmother and raised a wonderful family with her.
When I think of my children, and their parents’ parents’ parents whom they lost in such a short period of time (“Mom, a lot of people are dying lately, right?”), I think about the fact that we are losing an entire generation that lived a story that is almost unbelievable. A generation that experienced both exile and redemption at impossible proportions. A generation of pain, of loss, of courage, of heroism and especially, of perpetuating the Jewish nation. These are people who lived in the four corners of the earth, and what drew them together was their Jewish identity and the distant dream that one day, they would be proud grandparents to these shared descendants. After all, what does a Sephardic Jerusalemite and dedicated postal worker have in common with my Moroccan grandmother who dragged trays to support herself and her mother? What does a Holocaust survivor from a tranquil family in a small village in Transylvania share with a descendant of Jews expelled from Spain?
There is something interesting about our generation. There are hardly any heirlooms. It’s very rare to see expensive silver items or rare artifacts that were passed down from generation to generation at my friends’ homes. If such an item does exist, it arouses awe and wonderment. Why? Because our grandparents left their past behind them. Some emigrated with few or many of their relatives, and others without any of their family members at all. Some established this country from nothing, and some risked their lives on refugee ships. There aren’t many items from past generations that were successfully brought to Israel. Families weren’t able to keep precious items for themselves in this difficult country where surviving came with a very high price tag just seventy years ago.
But here I am, holding a silver box that belonged to my grandfather. My father didn’t have the privilege that I had, because he only had one grandfather, who immigrated to Israel without any belongings to his name. But I was privileged to grow up with four grandparents for almost thirty years, some of whom were even able to lovingly stroke their great grandchildren. I am privileged that my children have an almost impossible combination of genes that is a mixture of Iraqi, Yemenite, Romanian, Hungarian, Moroccan and longtime Jerusalemites. Their mocha coloring testifies to the story of the generations that brought them here, to be born in a strong Jewish country to a glorious dynasty with a history of trials and tribulations.
So how do you say goodbye to a generation? Three more grandparents are now buried at Har Hamenuchot Cemetery, overlooking the entrance to Jerusalem. Three rare representatives of a generation that is disappearing, along with stories that will be shared for years to come. Yet, here we are, continuing their story with pride and feeling compelled to show our appreciation to those who once were and are no more. We must make their voices heard. We must write the next chapter of the story of the Jewish nation.
In the prayer services for Israel’s Independence Day, the following verse from Psalms 107 is read: “Give thanks to the Lord because He is good, for His kindness is eternal.” This goodness is then elaborated in the following verses: “…And gathered them from lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the sea. They strayed in the desert, on a road of desolation; they did not find an inhabited city.” Sometimes it seems that King David, in his infinite wisdom, sat and foresaw this exact generation, the one that we are parting from now every day, and succeeded in describing all of the suffering that they underwent: “Those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, prisoners of affliction and iron.” Then, the redemption arrives, and I am already the third generation to experience it: “For He broke copper doors… He sent His word and healed them… And He strengthened the needy from poverty and made him families like flocks.” Here we are, those same families that God chose to make like flocks. He collected all of the refugees from the ships or from their iron shackles, and turned them into one family. The lesson of the final verse in the chapter shows us what we must do: “He who is wise will keep these in mind, and they will ponder the kind deeds of the Lord.”
So after this difficult month, I am left contemplating and seeing the eternal kindness of God, who gathered our family from all corners of the earth and brought us to experience redemption here in the land of Israel. Grandpa Moshe, Grandpa Zecharia, Grandma Shoshana, Grandpa Nissim, Grandma Zahava and Grandpa Zvi, we will choose to see God’s ways just as you chose to see, and we will preserve your stories. This is how I say goodbye from your generation, promising in my heart that I will never really part from you.