BY CHUCKY GARTENHAUS
On Taanis Esther of this year, my brother Yossi and I drove from Lakewood to Brooklyn to read Megillah for our parents. As we drove down the Prospect Expressway we decided to stop by the home of our Savta in Crown Heights to wish her “Happy Purim”. While we were calculating whether we had the time to make the stop, one us mentioned that if this was the last time that we would be able to see Savta and we passed on the opportunity, would we ever be able to forgive ourselves?
We ended up going to Crown Heights to visit Savta, as we have done so many times over the years. She was resting in her bed, having just come down with a small fever. The doctor said she probably had an infection and they were scheduling a chest x-ray for the next day. As the doctor was checking her out we sat and spoke to our uncle, Reb Don Yoel, who happened to be there as well. Who knew at that time that it was the last time we would see him?
The image of Savta lying in her bed with her finger pointing to the chair next to her bed, beckoning me to sit down next to her, is indelibly etched in my mind. She just looked directly into my eyes, took my hand, and thanked me for coming to visit her. We sat for a while, mainly in silence, because she was too weak to talk, and then she smiled and told us to go on our way so that we would not be late to our parents.
Savta did not have an easy life. At every turn, as long as I can remember, she was faced with adversity, pain, loss, and heartbreaking suffering. I had the
zechus to visit her in Crown Heights very often and when I would ask her how she was able to move on during these times, she would look straight into my
eyes and tell me: “This is what the Aibishter wants from me; who are we to question His ways?”
Savta was a fountain of emunah. As a young girl she understood the importance of growing in Torah and observance and every time Savta spent Yom Tov at my home, I would tell my children how special it was that a large family can descend from one person who sacrificed everything to marry a yeshiva bochur and lead a life of Torah and avodah.
Anyone that would spend a few minutes with Savta would inevitably hear about her “gems” – her great-grandchildren. She always had tremendous pride in her family and would let everyone know about it! Savta knew the names and birthdays of practically all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as if they were her own kids. I would always get a call around Pesach time, every single year without fail, wishing me happy birthday and telling me, “I can’t remember the exact date but I know it was around Shabbos HaGadol.”
Savta had a special ability to watch a child for a few minutes and understand what that person needed from her as a grandmother. My daughter Rocheli is very artistic and Savta never ever missed the opportunity to ask her to draw for her and bask in Rocheli’s smile as if it was the only important thing in the world. Anytime she would see my son Meir she would remind him of how well he treats her in our home, always offering her a drink anytime he would pass by her. Savta used to always ask me if I could get my boys to learn next to her so she could hear the sound of their Torah learning. It didn’t matter if she could follow along in their learning; just watching them sit and learn was all the nachas she needed.
For the past twenty years, Savta spent the majority of the Yomim Tovim in Lakewood at the home of one of her grandchildren. She would call me before each and every Yom Tov to discuss whose turn it was to host her. She told me that, chas v’sholom, she would not want to insult someone by skipping their turn to host her!
Savta always spent Purim at my house. She would sit by the table watching groups of people coming in all day, one after another, saying Divrei Torah, and you could just see her eyes light up when they would ask her if she would like to listen. No matter how hard it was for her to walk, Savta insisted on going down the block to our neighbor to hear the Megillah. She was never one to use her age or her condition as an excuse to pass on a mitzvah, whether it was Megillah, eating in the sukkah, Chanukah candles, etc. The last time she was in my house for Purim, two years ago, she was in no condition to walk to hear Megillah. I came up with a plan that I would bring Zaidy’s Megillah that was sitting in her house, untouched since his petirah, and I would get someone to read from it for
her in my home. Tears come to my eyes when I picture the scene of her standing over the Baal Koreh as he slowly unfolded the Megillah from the silver case. Her body shook and tears flowed freely down her face as she listened to the Megillah and recalled memories of Zaidy Berel Levy.
Savta lived alone after Zaidy’s passing, never asking anything from anyone, but commanding everything through the pure respect and love she showed all of us every day of our lives. She left us in the same manner as she led her life, no fanfare, no running after respect, humble as can be. What she did leave us with is a life full of sweet memories; her sharp gaze will never be forgotten, her mesiras nefesh to build our family will never be underappreciated. Like my mother said to us shortly after Savta’s petirah, “The trio of Savta, Zaidy, and Reb Don Yoel up in shamayim, davening for our family, is not to be underestimated.”
FROM ESTHER TABAK AND HER FAMILY
“When I think of Savta, I think of her graced with royalty, sparkling with Simchas Hachaim; a regal and dynamic individual. Every one of her grandchildren and great grandchildren were her favorites! She loved each one of us and we loved her. She was everyone’s beloved Savta not only ours.
FROM SARA ROSENFELD
What sticks out in my mind about Savta is a life always with a purpose. Whether involved in the kashrus field, or to put her life in danger to help Yidden in Russia, or to be an unbelievable grandmother, great grandmother, and great-great grandmother to all of us children. She showed us that the purpose of life is not to be for oneself but to do whatever one can to help others.
The day Savta was nifteres, I came home early from work. I walked into my house crying for Savta. My housekeeper was there at the time. She asked me what happened. I told her Savta passed away and she started crying bitter tears. “I remember Savta,” she said. “She always referred to me as ‘Kristina’, not housekeeper’!”
This incident is only a small example of the profound impression Savta left on other people!
FROM RABBI YOSSIE GARTENHAUS
We were zoche to have Savta in our home for ten years for the Yom Tov of Pesach. She was already in her nineties and would stay up for the Sedorim from beginning to end, following the Haggadah and adding her words of chizuk and emunah. She would refuse to go up to sleep until the end of the Seder at 3:00 A.M. Her days of Yom Tov were spent davening, saying Tehillim and giving her einiklach words of chizuk.
Another memory comes to mind: I went to visit Savta in the Rehab Center in Boro Park. She was telling me what she eats. I asked her, “Savta why don’t you wash and eat some bread?” Her reply shocked me. She had trouble with her eyesight and had difficulty reading. She told me that she was always makpid to bentsch from a Siddur. Since she couldn’t read, she didn’t want to wash because she would then be unable to bentsch from a Siddur. This is who my grandmother was!