From Purim to Passover, who do we always think of? Why Queen Esther, of course! Did you know that the Hebrew version of Esther is Hadassah? Well, it is! Hadassah is also the Women’s Zionist Organization of America: Over 350,000 women who devote their time and energy to heal and educate and, of course, fundraise for the various obligations that Hadassah has taken on. This includes Hadassah Medical Organization which comprises two hospitals in Jerusalem, where everyone is welcome, youth villages, reforestation, and more. In the US, Hadassah provides education about health, Zionism, and advocacy regarding Israel. At the United Nations, Hadassah has NGO status and a representative.
So now back to Purim. My mother’s name was Esther Malke (that means Queen Esther). Not only that, but my father’s name also was Mordechai. At this time of year, I miss them more than usual. To honor their memory, I’d like the world to know about them. My mother was love personified. I feel like the most fortunate person to have grown up surrounded by her love. Here are some examples: She knew I loved cheese Danish, so every day she went shopping for one cheese Danish. It had to be fresh from the oven, so that when I came home from school, I had my Danish with a glass of milk. My girlfriend once said that she wished she had a mother like mine. In her final years she lived in a senior residence for two years. Whenever a new person came to look the place over, the management invariably introduced them to my mother. This was supposed to show the new potential resident what fine people lived there. And my mother never failed to give them a pep talk about adjusting to the situation and being happy. She told them that they should do that out of love for their children.
My father was incredibly handy and self- educated. He was always reading. My mother used to joke that if there was nothing to read, he would read the labels on whatever was on the table at mealtimes. When I was in HS, he couldn’t wait for me to come home so we could study the physics homework together. He kept that up until the math got too complicated. At the time of his passing, he was studying the German philosophers. He would finish one and go on to the next one. Every day after breakfast, he walked to the library. There he studied his “assignment” until lunchtime. Then he walked home, had lunch and took a nap. One day he woke up from his nap, stood up and fell. He was gone. It took a while, but my mother concluded that he must have been a saint. He certainly didn’t suffer. He just went too soon.
Both my parents were born in Poland. We spent World War ll in the Soviet Union. First, we were deported to Siberia as “enemies of the State”. I was included. At the age of 6 I was also an “enemy of the State”. In Siberia, my dad built our log cabin (together with another man). He made all the furniture and dishes. Even the Soviets were impressed. They called him a Stachanovite. This entitled him to extra bread. You must know that prior to the war he was a businessman. I don’t know where he got the knowledge how to do these things. He knew that eggs won’t spoil if you pack them in salt. So that is what he did. I was the only kid for miles around who had an egg every day. He traded a watch for a goat, so I also had milk. He lost a toe to frostbite, but overall, we did all right. No one got sick. I think it was too cold for any bacteria.
Later, we were no longer considered enemies because Poland had a communist government-in-exile.
We went to Uzbekistan and settled right across the border from Afghanistan. My father made shoes (illegal) and my mother sold them on the black market (also illegal). They had legal, take home jobs. One was cranking a machine to make stockings, the other was cranking another machine to make sweaters.
It was my job to crank those machines. Legally, a person earned in a month enough to eat one day. So naturally everyone did something illegal to survive, which gave the authorities an excuse to arrest anyone at any time. The point is my father always found a way.
My children called him grandpa-fix-it to distinguish him from the other grandpa. Whatever they needed, all they had to do was ask grandpa-fix-it. He could sew, make birdhouses, you name it. My mother was there to provide love. God, I miss them!