02.23.05 Much like his beloved spongecake and kichel (a simple tasting dry crumbly cookie sprinkled with sugar crystals) my Zeida Nathan had a sweetness and resilience to his personality. Even after he grew blind from macular degeneration, he always had a sparkle in his eye. He would great you with his hands around your face, kissing you gently on both cheeks and say "How do you doodle dee doo bubele?"
He insisted on making guests feel at home. I can still picture him shuffling around the living room, a bowl of grapes cradled in his arm, refusing to sit down until you succumbed and had a little nosh.
From him I learned patience, charity and my aleph bet. His fierce devotion to judaism and tradition were admirable but it was his open-mindedness that humbled me most. For a man of his background, I was always surprised at how he would encourage me to join my brothers and father in singing the kiddush at Shabbat dinner. I was usually too shy to join in but flattered by his support. Traditional orthodox judaism is very specific as to the roles of men and women. My Zeida did not refute these roles but strived to make everyone feel comfortable and involved.
He grew up in a world quite different from the one we live in now. No mobile phones or Internet, tools which I rely heavily on to keep in touch with family and close friends.
For Zeida, the shul was his connection, both spiritually and physically. It was how he stayed in touch. His devotion to judaism helped weave our family's tight pattern.
Holidays were always an exciting time growing up. Pesach seders at Baba Rose and Zeida Nathan's were always packed with cousins and family friends. We grandkids would plot for days on the perfect hiding spot for the afikomen, knowing full well that even the most extensive game of "hot and cold" wouldn't prevent Zeida Nathan from slipping us with a few folded bills post yom tov.
Zeida Nathan passed away on Friday morning. I went back to Montreal on the weekend to attend his funeral on Sunday and comfort those sitting shiva. The funeral was packed, nearly 1000 people attended, some were forced to stand. For such a quiet man whose kept his charitable gestures anonymous he clearly made a large impact. My uncle Ruby and my youngest brother Les spoke at the funeral. Their tributes would have made my Zeida proud, although he would have insisted in his modest way, that no one should make a fuss. They both spoke so beautifully, especially Les, who is not usually much of a talker.
I cried a lot that day. It is heartbreaking to see my father and his three sisters, my now widowed grandmother, and my many cousins stand together in mourning. It's also tough living in another city. I am very lucky to still have three grandparents and dozens of other aunts, uncles and cousins living in Montreal.
I hope that I won't have to make another visit like that one for a long time.