Rav Hershel and Chana Nudel, a’h

This Sunday, the 28th of Adar II, is my mother’s seventh yahrzeit. As some of the readers know, she is interred side by side with my father in Eretz HaChaim Cemetery in Bet Shemesh. A week after my mother passed away, my father-in-law Rav Hershel (Ahron Tzvi) Nudel was niftar.

It was a busy week when you consider that in between the two levayas, we celebrated the wedding of our children, Nison and Shayna. So, it was a busy, conflicting, befuddled time, and a combination of mixed emotions was the order of the day.

My mother, Sora Rosa or Rosalind, as some people called her, was born in New York in 1921. She met my father at a friend’s wedding some time in 1943 and they were married in June of 1944. My mother’s father, Aaron Berger, came to the U.S. from Klausenberg around 1910. My grandmother, Chaya Malka, came to the U.S. two years later in 1912.

Rav Nison and Rosalind Gordon, a’h

So, my mother was an American girl. My father came here from Belarus as a teenager with his mother in 1934. His father, Yochanan Gordon, arrived in New York two years earlier in 1932 to establish himself and set up a home, paving the way for his wife and children to escape what would become an impossible existence once the war began in 1939.

My in-laws endured the hell of World War II in Eastern Europe. They were both from Poland. My father-in-law survived with his Yeshiva in Siberia while my mother-in-law, just a child at the time, survived by hiding in the forests until the Nazis were defeated.

So, my father-in-law passed away a week after my mother in the same year, 2017, so it’s his seventh yahrzeit too. On the first day of Pesach this year we will be observing the first yahrzeit of my mother-in-law, Chana Nudel. Her passing marked the end of an era in our lives.

In 1939, my mother-in-law Chana saw her parents and siblings murdered in front of her eyes. She was nine years old. It was unfathomably horrendous and difficult to relive that experience, and I think most of us thought this type of brutality belonged to a long-ago distant past.

But these last few months since the events of October 7 have shown that what we, the Jewish people, have endured brought 1939 crashing head on into the present. Many will think or say that the parallels between then and now are unfair or disjointed. There is no question in my mind that things are different today mostly because of the presence of the media.

I used to always think that our generation was living inside a crease or a ridge of sorts in Jewish history, that as a people, we found a relatively quiet spot whether in the U.S., Israel, or other locations around the world, where life was generally civil and quiet. But with each passing day, it has become glaringly obvious that that line of thinking was illusory at best, deceptive at worst, nothing more and nothing less.

Of course, not to chas v’shalom minimize the plethora of difficulties facing Israelis, along with the wrongheaded leadership they have endured. Still, despite the setbacks, it looked as if the world was moving in the right direction.

Thinking back, I believe my mother lived for 95 years in that time in history when it seemed as if life could be lived normally. And I think it was basically that and I hope it doesn’t just all turn into a product of my imagination.

Last week we observed the fifth yahrzeit of our son-in-law, Moshe Hirsch. Despite the passing of time, his loss is still difficult if not impossible to fathom. Still, we plod ahead, watching his and Malkie’s children growing up with the important contribution of Malkie’s husband, Jeremy.

Frankly, when I was writing the first few lines of this piece, I was thinking of my mother and father-in-law who, as I stated, passed away a week apart in 2017. But as you can see, it all took a new, broader, and all-inclusive direction. That is because as I was reflecting on my mother’s and father-in-law’s yahrzeits, it occurred to me that our son-in-law Moshe’s yahrzeit was the other day, and then we came to the realization recently that even though my mother-in-law passed away from pneumonia on Pesach Sheni, which was May 5 last year, because we are in a year with two Adars, the twelve months of mourning would come to an end on the first day of Pesach in about three weeks.

My mother lived a good life. She had parents who lived near us until the mid-seventies when they passed away. Our Bubbe and Zaidy were our automatic, built-in babysitters. That was especially true when my parents disappeared to Israel every summer for six to seven weeks.

But then she lived as a widow for 27 years until 2017. Those were hard years for her as she missed my father fiercely. For all those years she was her children’s top priority. Just about every day our main focus was, what is Mommy doing?

Each of these people who were part of our existence can fill pages and pages and thousands of words to describe what they meant to us and what they contributed to the world in their own special and distinct way.

My in-laws carried the mantle of being survivors at a time when the number of survivors is dwindling. And despite their personal experiences, there are many attempts around the world to engage in denial about the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Today, we do not have to look back all that far to see how Jews can be savaged and killed and how seemingly ordinary people are quite comfortable siding with the killers.

When I say Kaddish next Sunday for my mom I will recall the year that I recited Kaddish for her without a minyan because of the pandemic. I was torn and twisted at the time about what to do and I chose not to take action, against conventional wisdom.

Now, upon reflection, that might have been the most meaningful and emotional Kaddish I ever recited for her. I stood there facing a wall in my study, reciting the words slowly and carefully with tears running down my face. I trembled at the time thinking that I was denying her something she deserved and expected. I was afraid that I was letting her down.

I know we are living in a technologically advanced time and probably the most transitional time in the history of the world. But looking back, I don’t think any generation faced the traumas our parents and grandparents faced during the entirety of the 20th century.

Left out of this seasonal group of yahrzeits is that of my father, which our regular readers know dominates our attention during Chanukah. Nevertheless, he played a central role in the lives of all of the above personalities, including of course, we, his children.

One of the gratifying aspects of these yahrzeit observances is my ability at these times to take stock or do a personal inventory of sorts.

I recently spoke to a rabbi in Israel after sending him the electronic copy of this paper. He asked to what he owes the distinction. I told him that I expanded my email and WhatsApp lists to include those who live outside our physical distribution area, so they can read the paper too.

Somehow, without going into too much detail, the conversation turned to my father. I suppose he might have been comparing my work to his, and at one point he said that my father, Rav Nison Gordon, was “a savvy, balanced writer.” He related that his father used to read my father’s weekly column in Yiddish at his Shabbos table.

I asked him if he read the articles in Yiddish or if he translated them into English. He said that his father tried to teach him to read Yiddish by going through those articles. He added that most of the time his father just summarized the gist of my dad’s articles.

His parting advice to me was: “Be like your father.”

Which reminded me of the following that I don’t mind sharing with you. When I was dating my wife, Esta, the whole thing kind of evolved in an unconventional way for her, not so much for me. At the time, I was just 24 and she was going out with yeshiva guys, and while I was in yeshiva, I wasn’t the stereotypical yeshiva guy.

After we dated a few times, her mother and father were growing concerned about this guy with the thick, bushy hair (not so much anymore) and the not exactly yeshivish way of dressing.

They wanted to know what she was doing and who she was talking to and seeing so often. They were genuinely concerned.

She allayed their fears, especially those of her father, by saying, “He is Rav Nison Gordon’s son.”

She told me when he heard that. he was pleased and all was well and good and as you can see, it turned out abundantly well.

Soon after, my parents and in-laws met as a prelude to our getting engaged and married. They are all in the next world now, looking down at us while we down here think of them often and live up to their examples.

For those whose yahrzeits are coming up over the next few days and weeks, may their neshamos have a great aliyah. We hope we are all giving them the type of nachas they can feel and enjoy on high.

I explained to the older Hirsch boys last week before their father’s yahrzeit that I lost my father too, though many years ago. I pointed out to them that I was much older then, but one’s father always lives in your heart and mind.

And it’s not poetic or sentimental. It’s real and true.

 

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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