Saturday, January 12, 2008
Rose Feldman, 1907-2007
My grandmother, Rose Feldman, passed away just before Christmas. In July, we had celebrated her 100th birthday. She was lucky enough to have remained quite healthy (both mentally and physically) until just before her death, having survived her entire generation of relatives (and many of the subsequent generation). Everyone who met her said she was "a wonder" or words to that effect. I had always imagined that she would pass away in her sleep--peacefully and without any pain--because she had "earned it." Unfortunately that didn't quite happen, but at least she was looked after by some amazingly caring Hospice workers during the few weeks her illness lasted. I saw her over Thanksgiving and again a week or so before her death when I flew out to Phoenix after it became apparent that this might be the end. She was still pretty aware of everything and told me that my coming out to see her was a mitzvah. She really was an amazing woman who used to take my sister and me on trips when we were young, put up with us (well, mostly) when we became teenagers, and doted on her great-grandchildren after we had kids.
Although she lived in Phoenix near my mother and sister during the last years of her life, she was buried in West Palm Beach, Florida, next to my grandpa Jack, her husband of more than sixty years. It's difficult for me to adequately convey the type of person she was and how many people she touched over her long, full life. So I've chosen to post the wonderful eulogy read by the Rabbi at her funeral service.
It didn't take me long to decide to fly out to see my grandmother while she was in the hospital. But still, there was work and other responsibilities at home. And my mother told me that there really wasn't any reason for me to come. But I did it anyway because I wanted to see my grandmother at least one last time. Clearly, that was the right decision. Just before my father passed away (about 4 years ago), my wife and son and I had made our yearly “pilgrimage” to Phoenix to visit my folks during my son's Spring break. I had actually considered not going that year because things were hectic at work and I didn't know whether I could afford the time. My father died suddenly about a month later. Moral of the story? If you find yourself in a similar situation and you're wondering whether to go...don't even take the time to think about it...just go.
Eulogy for Rose Feldman (Chana Rayzel bat Yitzchak v'Malka)
Dear Isabel, Dear Family and Friends All:
Although it is not always usual to deliver a eulogy at a small graveside service such as this one--on such a warm early winter afternoon as this--at a service at which just about everyone present is known and just about everyone present knows--our Jewish tradition teaches us that it is still a mitzvah--a religious obligation of the highest order--to eulogize the deceased. Indeed, we are not allowed to say our farewells--to begin the process of shivah and mourning - without telling the story--the story which no longer speaks for itself. Indeed, even at the very end - at the very moment of goodbye -we cling to the story of life.
The challenge then--the opportunity--is to try to capture in a few words the essence of the spirit of our friend, Rose Feldman. Our obligation then is to try to tell the story not only for ourselves but for those who will follow after us--l'dor va 'dor--from generation to generation.
But how does one tell the story of this very strong woman -- this family matriarch--this very interesting woman who was interested in just about everything from ballet and opera to plays and concerts to bridge and volunteering to the very end of her life--this woman who was a teacher of children through much of her life and who loved her students and her family and her friends and who was, in turn, truly loved by them - this woman who was, in the final analysis, a gutte neshuma--a good soul - and how does one do all of this and still reflect the love which was felt for her by each of you who are gathered here this afternoon - and by many who could not be here - and the love which fills our hearts for you Isabel and for your family?
And so, as I sat down to think about the words which you shared with me as we spoke an the telephone on Tuesday, Isabel, to describe your mother's very long life - words which reflected the sentiments spoken about her at her hundredth birthday celebration last July - I did, as I always do, search for the proper image - the correct frame with which to describe her life - a life which did, indeed, far exceed the "four score years" prescribed by "reason of strength" promised by the Psalmist - and as I did I began to think of our tradition which tells us that each of us writes a Sefer Chayim - a Book of Life - by our actions and by our words - and the legend that God opens each book as we die and reads in it who we are and what we have done with the years He has given is upon the earth. And it occurred to me that so much of Rose Feldman's life was, indeed, an open Sefer Chayim--an open Book of Life--which lies before us most vividly and most poignantly this afternoon. So let us together briefly read from that book and together gather strength and consolation from what is written on its pages.
And so I suppose that one could begin by saying that Rose was born Rose Suffis one hundred years ago on July 13, 1907 in Warsaw, Poland. That she was the youngest of eight children and that her father had immigrated to America and brought his older children one by one to Brooklyn where he settled in Williamsburg with them until he could finally bring his wife and the four youngest Suffis children to these shores--that Rose and her siblings--Max and Bella and Eva and Joe and Lilly and Sam and Abe--were finally united and grew up in Brooklyn where her father--who was already fifty years old and had been somewhat of an intellectual in Poland--and her mother--that they had a rather difficult time making ends meet in this new land--that Rose attended New York City public schools and graduated from Eastern District High School in Brooklyn and then from the Teachers Training School where she was awarded her teaching certificate and received a teaching appointment just before the beginning of the Depression in 1928 and taught generations of New York City public school students until she retired in 1966.
And one should surely speak of Rose's long relationship with Jack Feldman--her best friend's cousin--with whom she grew up in Williamsburg and how that friendship developed into something more and that they were married on July 7, 1929 just after Rose's twenty-second birthday. That she and Jack shared more than 60 years together in a marriage in which Rose made just about all of the decisions and Jack did just about everything that Rose decided to do. And that they never really fought—that he worked in the New York City Transit Authority--and that he suffered from osteomyelitis for many years and was, therefore, in and out of hospitals often and in and out of work while Rose continued to teach and care for him and their family. And that they lived modestly, but happily, in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn--and that they traveled together often by ship since Jack would not fly--all because that was Rose's decision and that their home was always organized and that their lives were always on an "even keel" because that too, was the way Rose wanted it.
And then one should, of course, speak of Rose as a mother to her only child, Isabel--how close and caring they were—that Rose always made sure that there was a plethora of intellectual stimulation for Isabel--that they attended the Brooklyn Academy of Music and listened to the Metropolitan Opera together on Saturday afternoons. That she took piano lessons and, of course, practiced appropriately. "Some day you will thank me," she always told Isabel--and that her daughter always had her own room and a very full life.
And then one must speak of Rose and Jack's long retirement together which began in 1969 and lasted for thirty years. Of the many good years they shared in Century Village here in West Palm Beach. Of the many friends they made and how she outlived just about all of them. And that Rose was left alone here in Florida with only one surviving cousin when Jack died seventeen years ago. And that finally Rose made the decision to move to Arizona to be near her daughter, sold her apartment by herself, took care of all the details on her own and, in her nineties she moved into an independent living facility—a move which she said nearing her hundredth birthday had been a good one for her.
And one must speak of Rose as a grandmother to Brian and Stephanie and their spouses, Patricia and Dean, and a great-grandmother to Lucas and Leigha and Jackie and L.B. How she saw her grandchildren often when they were growing up on Long Island and she and Jack were living in Brooklyn. How the many Christmas and Easter vacations they all spent together here in Florida following Rose and Jack's retirement to Century Village became memories which will live through the generations. Of the wonderful memories she left not only for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but for her many, many nieces and nephews and their children and of the special relationship she shared with each of them. How she never forgot a birthday or, indeed, how much each had weighed at birth. That she was an authority figure and a maven on just about everything to them and that when one did something wrong one did not want Aunt Rose to know and that when one accomplished something worthwhile, Aunt Rose would be the first to know. That all of them--grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, and nephews and great-nieces and nephews and beyond--felt very close to Rose and they, in turn, became her tomorrow--her bit of eternity.
And so finally one must speak of Rose's final years in Arizona--very good years, indeed. That she continued to play the piano and the organ and attend concert series with Isabel and Isabel's friends whom she considered her own friends and that she was very special to them as well. That they often took Rose out on their own because they enjoyed her company so much. That, despite some problems with chronic bronchitis, Rose lived a very full life being feted at a wonderful hundredth birthday party in the one hundred degree plus heat of Arizona last July by generations of family and shared Thanksgiving with Isabel. That when she was cared for by Hospice, the doctors expected her to recover and eventually return home and that she fully expected to attend a family wedding this coming April in Brooklyn. And that she died unexpectedly and peacefully having lived a very long and very full life.
And so when Rose Feldman's Sefer Chayim was closed but a handful of hours ago, it was closed with the knowledge that she lived her life as she wanted to--devoted to the people who meant the most to her--fulfilling whatever desires she had out of life and leaving a legacy of love and caring to those with whom she shared life. Shalom l'afro oo-l'nafsho--may peace, God's own sweet peace, ever be with her soul. And may God grant each of you who mourn so deeply this day a time of quiet healing.