Sunday, April 1, 2007

My grandfather...

I told you I'd write a little about him, so...
My grandfather was born in 1917, in Bisztre, a small town then under Austrian- Hungarian authority. His father died when he was only two years old, and his mother was left to raise him all alone, but with the help of his uncle. After his bar mitzvah, he learned in a prestigious yeshiva in Viseu-de-Sus ( Ober- Vishiva), for a short period of time. For an orphan to stay in yeshiva at the time was very difficult, aside from the possibilities of being drafted, due to financial reasons.
In an effort to prevent my grandfather's being drafted in the regular infantry, which would mean definite spiritual death, if not physical, a relative procured for him a commision to join the calvary of the Rumanian army, whose quality of life seemed better. However, at the offset of the war, he was drafted into the Hungarian slave labor detail. Eventually, his detail was captured by the Russian army, and he served out the rest of the war as a P.O.W. He was lucky, though, as he was assigned to kitchen duty, which kept him out of danger, and more importantly, let him get food.
Once the war was over, he returned to Rumania (by then his hometown was under their authority), and married my grandmother, who happened to be the daughter of the Rosh Hakahal in Ruskove. In any other circumstance, it would be unheard of for an orphan to marry such a girl, but due to the war, things had to change. He always marveled at this stroke of fortune.
But life was hard in the old country. It was very difficult to find work, and the economy was basically non existent. So, when the communists took over the Rumanian government, the newlywed couple picked up and fled first to Budapest, and from there to Vienna. Finally, in 1948, they settled in Italy, where their eldest was born: my mom. During this whole time, my grandfather was working on getting a visa to the United States. It was only after they moved to Germany in 1951, and their second child, my uncle, was born, that they got a visa. They quickly picked up and set sail for the States, where they settled in Cleveland, where his brother in law (my grandmother's brother) was living. The two entered into a partnership as mason contractors, with my grandfather starting at the bottom as a bricklayer, and slowly working his way up.
My grandfather was very instrumental in helping build the original jewish community, especially the shul there. Later in the years, when all our extended family moved further out, he once again was heavily involved in the development of the community, and even had the new shul in his house for a brief amount of time.
Everyone respected him, and not out of fear. It was an appreciation of someone who strived to keep things the way they were in a time when modernization was on the lips of every newcomer. He also understood the meaning of hakaras hatov, reciprocating the chesed done to him as a child when his uncle helped raise him by in turn taking care of his cousins who struggled in later years. His greatest earthly joy was us, his grandchildren. All of us have fond memories of shabbos afternoons spent in his house, listening to his stories, every week the same one. He was always available to lend his car out, or to help smooth things over with a little cash.
I called him for the past three years every erev shabbos. He predictably asked the same three questions every week: "How's the learning?" "How are the chavrusas?" and "How's the weather?" After answering him, and then a brief chat, he'd always end off with "You make me proud.." For some reason, I always took that as a command, that I should make him proud. Now, as I think about it, I realize he was saying that I do make him proud.
I hope so, Zeidy...I sure hope so....
Originally posted Monday, 21 November 2005

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