In our apartment building on the same floor we have two neighbors, husband and wife, not “elderly” but old. Mr. Rozmanovsky is 95 and his wife is 93. He is from Moldova. She studied medicine in Uzbekistan where she hid during the Second World War. She does not speak Hebrew, only a few words of greeting. Otherwise she speaks only Russian and Yiddish. Mr. Rozmanovsky speaks limited Hebrew but he and I converse in Yiddish while he and his wife communicate only in Russian.
Early each morning I walk to the corner to pick up my daily copy of YISRAEL HAYOM and occasionally I see Mr. Rozmanovsky coming out of the local makolet carrying a bag of two tomatoes, one apple, and a small container of milk. “What more do we need”?, he asks me. “We are old and we don’t eat very much. Growing old is not good. What are we living for?”
From time to time I buy a bag of challah rolls, some cheeses, several pieces of assorted pastry, and oranges. I carry them home and ring his doorbell. It takes some time before he opens the door. He doesn’t hear the bell. The Rozmanovskys share an apartment with two other families.
They have a small bedroom with one bed and a wardrobe closet. They share a communal kitchen and bathroom with the other occupants. There is a small television set in the kitchen which they watch and if they are lucky, to get a Russian-language channel.
Mr. Rozmanovsky takes the bag from my hands and blesses me each time I hand him a small bag of groceries. “God should bless you,” he tells me. “No one else ever brings us food”.
I ask him about family. He tells me he has one son living somewhere in the north. He doesn’t know exactly where. And the son visits him once a month or once every two months, he can’t remember exactly, and brings him nothing but aggravation, so he tells me. “Kleine kinder, kleine tzorres; groisse kinder groisse tzorres”. Small children, small troubles. Big children, big troubles. “Azoi iz der leben”. Such is life.
One evening, he rang our door bell. He had never done it before. He told me that his wife had fallen off a chair and was lying on the floor. He couldn’t help her up and he begged me to come. My daughter came with me and we tried to lift Mrs. Rozmanovsky up but were not successful. I suggested to him that we should call for an ambulance. She heard the word “ambulance” and cried out “ambulance nyet nyet”.
But at her age, a fall could be dangerous. So I telephoned the Magen David Adom, explained the problem and informed the operator that they were not Hebrew-speaking. Within minutes, an MDA ambulance and a crew of three strong men accompanied me into the Rozmanovsky apartment. They lifted her up and carried her to her room and laid her on her bed. They asked in broken Russian if she wanted to go to the hospital and again her reply was “nyet nyet”. They were not permitted to transport her to a hospital against her will and they were of the impression that her mind was clear. And so she remained lying on her bed in her one small room.
As they were leaving, her husband thanked them in his limited Hebrew and told them how lucky he was to have such a caring neighbor.
I am almost 83 and he is by this time 96. If I had an old father or grandfather, I would be grateful for any care or help someone could offer. Just to shake his hands when I see him and listen to him repeat the same stories in Yiddish which he had shared with me many previous times gives me pleasure. And it makes him happy and he smiles. “Ich hob kainman mit wemen zu reden” I have no one else to talk to, he tells me.
Our Torah teaches us “v’ahavta et rayacha kamocha”… you should love your neighbor as yourself. It is not for the sake of earning a mitzvah. It is because I feel sad for a very old and frightened couple whose days are numbered and who are alone. It costs very little to love a neighbor. And their thanks and their smiles are my best reward.
I know that one day I will carry a bag of groceries to their apartment and ring the bell. And ring the bell a few more times. But then there will be no one left to open the door. No one else to enjoy freshly-baked rolls and white cheese. No one else to greet me in Yiddish, hold my hands and bless me.
So I bring the groceries into our apartment, share a roll and cheese with my wife, sip slowly on my cup of tea, and tearfully and silently weep for my neighbors who are no more. As Mr. Rozmanovsky would have told me “Azoi iz der leben”… such is life.