Today is my grandfather’s 4th yartzeit (anniversary of death). It’s obviously unbelievable to truly recognize that, but when he passed, I had just been a year out of high school, unsure yet of where the future would take me. A lot has happened since then. I’ve changed. But, in passing, my grandfather has been a constant, and I still remember him exactly the way he was when he left us. I lived with my grandparents for my final two years of High School, in New York. I lived side by side with my unassuming Zeidy, getting to know him well between quietly shared breakfasts at 7 am, or through conversations in the living room, as he spoke Yiddish and Hebrew fluently, and I stumbled through attempting to use my tiny knowledge of those languages, always resulting in me just speaking in English, much to his chagrin.
The truth is, I don’t see a lot of myself in my Zeidy. Perhaps it’s simply the generation gap, or because I was born in America, and he in Israel, or perhaps because my life has been nearly bump free, whereas he persevered through challenges to get to where he was. Whatever it is, I know that I can learn from my grandfather in a lot of ways. As I was thinking about this day coming up, I thought about the things that so personified my Zeidy, and that I felt I could do well to learn from him. Here are 5:
From what I’ve heard from the old days, and what I saw for myself, was that my Zeidy didn’t have much he wanted for himself. He had a simple diet, made up of simple, tasty foods. As I rooted around in my grandparent’s kitchen Saturday night, looking for something new, and different, and exciting to eat, my grandfather sat down to the same exact meal, each Saturday night. Food is a big part of my life, and I am not ashamed to find it enjoyable to explore new flavors and cook up a storm. But – it would do me well to remember more often, as my grandfather clearly knew, that we don’t live to eat, we eat to live.
I’m a serious girl. I like big conversations and real life things. There are things in life that I believe should not be joked about. My grandfather was a serious man. He dealt with issues of great importance on a daily basis. He was constantly surrounded by people who were going through difficult times. He knew, better than most of us surely, that life was no fun and games. But if you ask any of his grandchildren what pops into their mind when they think of Zeidy, I will assure you that right up there on the list is the memory of his practical jokes and teasing. He had a light spirit and found joy in putting his grandchildren and many guests at ease. He would try on our sunglasses and jackets that he found laying around, he’d tease us about all kinds of things, and I will never forget the infectious grin on his face as he did so.
3. Talking less, but talking when you should.
I talk a lot. Not everyone believes this about me, but then there are times that I’ve met people, and when I told them I’m an introvert, they did not believe me, because when I’m excited about something, I could go on, and on, and on. I know I talk a lot. My grandfather did not. He could sit at his Shabbat dinner table, and not utter a word, just listen and observe. But, at the same time, if something came up, or someone did something that he did not find appropriate, he would speak up. His silence was not a result of fear, or being shy, or not having what to say. He simply recognized the value of words and did not waste them.
4. Doing good things, quietly.
I like doing good things. I get a lot of joy from doing things for people. But that doesn’t exactly make me special – it’s a human thing. What made my grandfather special, is that no one else in the world, other than those he helped, knew about it. After he passed away, our family heard countless stories from all over the planet about people that had been quietly assisted by my grandfather, whether it was financially or emotionally. He never bragged, he never even mentioned anything. He was the worlds greatest secret keeper, and his secrets only began to leak when those who had been touched could not hold it in any longer.
5. Overall, I think about myself way too much.
Clearly, I think about myself all the time, as this blog post shows. But, even if one is thinking about themselves in regards to making oneself better, I’ve learned that the less we think about ourselves, the better. When we keep our focus on others, we naturally become better versions of ourselves. By making our lives about others, we correct our flaws so that we can be a better friend, child, employee etc, in a way that obsessing about our flaws can never help. My grandfather lived a life for others, and today, he is deeply, and warmly, remembered by all those who had the privilege of knowing him.
Always, on this day, I remember the last moment I saw my grandfather, as I left his house after dinner on a Wednesday night, as I waved goodbye to him, as I called out “Good night, Zeidy!”. He smiled and waved, and two days later, I found out that those were the last words I’d ever say to him in person.
I’m just one of his many, many, grandchildren, yet, then and now, I still have a relationship with him that I cherish. I am forever grateful that my genes stem from this great man who lived a full and generous life, never chased honor or attention, but left a legacy that the wealthiest men on earth would be envious of.