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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Bit More Bubbie Blogging and an Amichai Poem

The funeral this afternoon was brief but powerful, a testament to a life well-lived. After the jump are some reflections I had the chance to share about my extraordinary grandmother.



Bubbie Helen was a woman of valor, and thus by our tradition, someone to be cherished especially and deeply so. But more than her valor during a life of hardship, her life was marked by its incessant buoyancy of spirit. Her life, which we celebrate and commemorate today, was audacious: for how many others do we know who only lived with joy, optimism, and gentleness despite a life in which others would find turmoil, sadness and tragedy?

 

 

Piha patchah v'chochma v'torat chesed al l'shonah

She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the lesson of kindness is on her tongue. 

 

This line from Eishes Chayil reminds me of Bubbie Helen. Someone who gained wisdom over the years through grueling encounters: leaving her parents behind in

Europe

as a teenager; an immigrant to a new country and new language; an early widow of Sam. Twenty one years as a single mother before she found her second life-partner, Maurice. Working in the shmatta business many long years, and doing so as a woman, as a mother, sister, and later a stunningly effective and loving grandmother.

 

I will leave to others the task of describing the many contributions she made to our community and our people. I have only the comparative advantage of the perspective of a grandson who was best known to her, and many in this room, for his juvenile banditry – most often launched at her expense when I was a toddler chasing her with brooms and various handheld appliances.

 

As her grandson, I remember a few things distinctly.  First, my banditry was often followed by the threat (sometimes credibly exercised, but always justly so) that a putch in tuches geht arein in kopf.  And second, the imperative: Zei a Mensch! (Also said as: “It doesn’t matter whether one’s a doctor or lawyer, the important thing is: Zei a Mensch.)

 

It’s the second instruction toward menschlichkeit that I still find most powerful and in some sense most mysterious.  Most powerful because being a mensch set a standard for conduct that was high but not impossible.  It put an end to most dither and blather. Put simply: what would a decent and thoughtful person do? If I gave that matter at hand some consideration, and applied this standard, I found I often reached a pretty good resolution to whatever squabble I had somehow embroiled myself in. 

 

But over time, and especially during my twenties, I found the instruction to be a mensch was not always a self-executing concept; I wish I had Bubbie closer to ask her guidance. In matters of love, for example, one might find oneself puzzled by the demands of menschlichkeit. Would a mensch try to make one foundering relationship last a little longer or determine that it was time to cut things off?  In other spheres I often wondered: how is a mensch supposed to respond to those who unambiguously wrong him? With proportionate retribution or with disproportionate mercy?

 

But even as I struggled with this Yiddish Yoda-like instruction, I knew that, at least with matters of courtship, the kind of person I should be with was someone that would pass muster with Bubbie Helen.  I am saddened that my beloved, and now six and a half months pregnant, wife Wendi only had a chance to see Bubbie Helen as Bubbie Helen herself was seeing the dusk of her days.  But even during the period of that dimming light, Bubbie Helen greeted us with reliable joy and ebullience -- and songs of love and hope, peoplehood and peace.

 

That is how I will remember her.  Never slavish or servile to people or conventions but duly respectful of tradition; quick to kindness, even to strangers; willing to work, toil, and mend our broken world one day and one person at a time, with song and spirit to accompany the journey even through the darkest hours. This woman called Mammele, Khashki (the diminuitive of her Hebrew name Khasia), Bubbie, Bubbles – she was a ray of bright, shining light. 

 

A great Irish poet grieved upon his mother’s death: “The space we stood around had been emptied/Into us to keep.” Into us now pour our memories of Bubbie Helen.

 

I will always love her, and be inspired and consoled by the blessings of those radiant memories.

 

I’d like to close by reading one poem from my rebbe, my poet, Yehuda Amichai—it seems like Bubbie Helen might have enjoyed this, might have even shared these words were she able to right now.

 

I, May I Rest in Peace

 

I, may I rest in peace – I, who am still living, say,

May I have peace in the rest of my life.

I want peace right now while I'm still alive.

I don't want to wait like that pious man who wished for one leg

of the golden chair of

Paradise

, I want a four-legged chair

right here, a plain wooden chair. I want the rest of my peace now.

I have lived out my life in wars of every kind: battles without

and within, close combat, face-to-face, the faces always

my own, my lover-face, my enemy-face.

Wars with the old weapons – sticks and stones, blunt axe, words,

dull ripping knife, love and hate,

and wars with newfangled weapons – machine gun, missile,

words, land mines exploding, love and hate.

I don't want to fulfill my parents' prophecy that life is war.

I want peace with all my body and all my soul.

Rest me in peace.

Posted by Administrators on April 21, 2009 at 09:28 PM in Dan Markel | Permalink

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