Monday, December 5, 2016

Zeidie Jack ob”m

Tonight, the 6th of Kislev, is the 38th Yahrtzeit of my grandfather ob”m, Jack Weiss (Yaakov Yoel). Finally, after all these many years, I am taking the time to write about my Zeidie.

First and foremost, all my memories of Zeidie are very much intertwined with my memories of Bobby, Shirley (Chana Sarah), his beloved wife of 47 years who passed away almost 20 years after he did. The reason for that is that for most of the 19 years that Zeidie knew me, they were always at each other’s side. If I had to encapsulate in one single word the impression that I had growing up of the relationship between my Bobby and Zeidie, that word would be dedication.  Dedication to each other with no end. And selfless dedication to the family.

My Zeidie immigrated to the United States from Hungary with his family as a teenager in 1920. His father had already arrived alone before WWI and was living on the Lower East Side in New York.  He became a painter (not the Artist type) or like he would say, a “shmearer”, just like his father.

My Zeidie would marry his first cousin, American born Shirley Weiss, when he was already 28 years old. My Zeidie might possibly be the first “American Baal Tshuva” I ever met, long, long before the term became familiar. You see, Isadore (Yitzchak Isaac), his father, was not observant. But Isadore’s brother, Yaakov Yoel (Shirley’s father) very much was. Very, very much.

Yaakov Yoel was serving in the Hungarian army as an interpreter when he overheard how all the Jewish soldiers were going to be sent to the Front. Taking that as his cue, and with the blessings of the Munkatcher Rav, he emigrated alone to the United States in 1904, sending funds later on to bring over his wife as well.

Back in the early 20th Century, when the United States was referred to as the “Goldeneh Medina” with its streets paved with gold, many Jews threw off the yoke of observance. “America is different” was often stated by these many Jewish immigrants arriving on American shores from the Old Country, Europe.
But not Yaakov Yoel. He was from the few that even decided, even in America, to keep his beard, something that was not especially in vogue back then (although I hear that it’s making a comeback in Brooklyn today! A man ahead of his times).

And it was to his Uncle Yaakov Yoel that my Zeidie was drawn to. Although Isadore and Yaakov Yoel maintained good relations, contact between the cousins was restricted. But still, my Zeidie was willing to make a lifelong commitment to Jewish Orthodox observance in order to gain the hand of his beloved Shirley.
And committed he was. Whatever it took, he would make sure that his children received a proper Jewish education even if it meant painting the school building to pay off the tuition. At a time when sending your child to Yeshiva was not in vogue.

Committed. Dedicated. To his family. To his Faith. And most of all, to the love of his life, his beloved wife Shirley. A simple Jew.

Zeidie painted everything; buildings, bridges, you name it. And it took a heavy toll on his health. The “famous” family story about him was how he was once hospitalized enclosed within an oxygen tent suffering from the paint fumes he inhaled regularly. The prognosis was not good. My father ob”m was a teenager at the time. Seeing his father in that state, my Father assured his father that if anything should happen he would step in to support the family.

My Zeidie would have nothing of the sort. “This won’t kill me” he told his son. “You leaving Yeshiva would.”
The personal relationship with my Zeidie was for the most part a long distance one. He lived in Far Rockaway, New York and I lived in Miami Beach, Florida. I also enjoyed the status of being his oldest grandson. His visits to Florida (via train! They avoided Air Travel) were special treats as were our summer road trips from Florida to visit both sets of grandparents living in New York.

Fortunately, I enjoyed four especially close years with them when I studied in Brooklyn, New York during my High School stint there. I would sometimes enjoy a cozy Shabbat in their modest Far Rockaway apartment, walking ever so slowly together with him, sometimes in the freezing winter, to daven in one of the local Shuls. He wouldn’t complain about the pain he suffered as he walked, again due to all his years working as a painter. In fact I never, ever heard him complain about anything.

And most of all, as he sat in his recliner after dinner, I enjoyed his retelling of stories of my father during his youth.

And even the times when I didn’t make it out to Far Rockaway for a Shabbat, he would make the long drive (of course together with Bobby!) to Brooklyn in order to visit me and to deliver to me my favorite, tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches!

And then (like all Zeidies and Bobbys) they moved down to Miami Beach. He even once loaned me his beloved automobile to take a road trip to New York with some friends. I never had the heart to tell him that we broke down one god forsaken night in North Carolina and replaced the water radiator.
As a teenager, having an elderly grandfather around made me nervous. What would I do if something happened to him while I was around? Would I know what to do?

That was the impetus to learn CPR. And sure enough, one year after receiving it, I had the opportunity to use it on an elderly gentleman who suffered a heart attack in front of my father’s bakery on Washington Avenue. I saved a life. But that’s another story.

So Zeidie moved down to Florida, and I moved to New York. Three months after I moved to New York my Zeidie died. I came back to Florida until the end of my father’s shiva and returned back to New York to continue my studies, eventually receiving Rabbinical ordination, just like my own father.

Eight years later, almost to the day, my 4th child would be born and be named after my Zeidie, Yaakov Yoel. 29 years later he would name his 4th child after my father Meshulom ob”m.


Unknown said...

Mordechai, thank you for posting that. I regularly think of very nice memories I have of zeidy. As a very young child, I remember his overwhelming love towards all of us. I told over that story at my son's Yaakov Yoel bris of when zeidy was sick in the hospital. Yaakov Yoel is one special name in all of our families and we see it in the ones named after him. A very special neshama!

Uncle Heshy from the Golan said...

Mordechai, thank you fot that lovely story. My father, A"H, was in my opinion a tsadik.

FLAMSHLO said...

please ignore my previous comment. i thought the article was written by meshulem dickman but it now seems to me that it was written by mordechai weiss, a cousin of meshulem. my apologies.yours, shlomo

Jacob Dickman said...

Beautiful story. I always enjoy learning about family history. I am Jacob (Yaakov Yoel) Dickman. Your grandfathers uncle (my Aunt Shirley's father) is who I am named after. I knew the Weiss family came to New York in the early 1900's but I never knew the year was 1904.

Kelly Taylor said...

My mother told me that Uncle Jack used to eat bacon before he married Aunt Shirley😂

sw said...

Mordechai, thanks for sharing this beautiful story. I remember the special trip Isaac and I made with Zeidi on AmTrack when we accompanied Zeidi from NY to Miami. My family enjoys a special treat on occasion, usually Pesach, that Zeidi taught me how to make. Farmer cheese salad. I also get constant compliments on the best cucumber salad ever; Zeidi's too. Zeidi and Bobby also taught me how to make great gefilte fish from scratch. I even still have their curved wooden bowl and curved hand chopper to make it. I miss Zeidi's "shaved" stubble face.