Eulogy for Aunt Sarah Gorelik, May 7, 1909 – August 4, 2016
Given by Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky at her funeral, August 7, 2016, 3 Av, 5776
We are gathered to pay our respects for Sarah Gorelik, Sarah bat Nachum VeShifra, wife to Dr. Aaron Gorelik of blessed memory, sister, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, friend.
The Talmud in Tractate Megillah 27b and 28a devotes almost an entire page to the question: במה הארכת ימים How have you lived so long?
Different elderly sages provide various answers. Their responses run the gamut from matters of ritual law, they never used the synagogue as a shortcut, for example, to study, they were always the first to arrive at the house of study each morning, to interpersonal relationships, they never accepted presents from others or carried a grudge but rather freely gave of themselves and their money to their fellow human being.
My dear Aunt Sarah told us her answer to this question often, even when she wasn’t asked. “You know I am still here,” she would say. “Because God doesn’t want me yet. He knows that I would have quite a lot to say to him.” I’m sure the one above is hearing an earful right now. Aunt Sarah had an intense belief and devotion to Judaism coupled with honesty, intelligence, and outspokenness. She was not afraid to ask questions and always spoke her mind.
Never use the synagogue as a shortcut.
To Aunt Sarah, there were no shortcuts in life. The formula for success was straightforward. She lived by a few simple values, devotion to family, Judaism and Israel, and education. She could fix anything, she organized everything, and helped everybody. She was kind.
Always be the first to arrive at the house of study.
Education was paramount. Aunt Sarah reminisced on how she entered school coming from a Yiddish speaking home knowing no English. After the first day of kindergarten, she came home and said to her mother that she did not want to go any more because all they did was play. She wanted to work and she worked hard to succeed in school with little help since she was the oldest. Her father could help in math but due to the language difference her parents could not help in other subjects.
Sarah was a good student. Sarah used to get up early to do her school work and her mother would go shopping before she left for school. Once her mother complained that she saw a woman shopping who said she was running to school because the school had called. Her mother asked why the school never calls her. Sarah responded, if they are running to school, it’s because her child had gotten into trouble.
When Sarah graduated elementary school, many kids went to work at 13 or 14. Sarah asked her father what would be with her. Her father told her, “You’re going to high school.” That meant so much to her. She always got a special feeling when recalling this seminal conversation. Her father said, “There’s no difference between a girl and a boy. You’re going to high school and later on, you’re going to college.” In order to earn her degree Sarah had to hide the fact that she was already married since married women in the 1920s were not allowed to go to college. Sarah graduated from Hunter College, something very rare for women back then.
At the time, Sarah could not finish her teacher’s certificate because of her thick Yiddish accent. They were very particular back then about spoken language and in addition to her immigrant upbringing, Sarah had a great deal of difficulty distinguishing different sounds, what we call phonemic awareness today, which made her speaking in English without an accent even more of a challenge. However, when her dear husband Aaron passed away at the age of 58, Sarah reinvented herself. She went back to school at aged 50 to finish her teacher’s exam. She took a special class in English for teachers and private lessons to correct her speech.
Sarah began a teaching career spanning over two decades working in the biology, chemistry and physics labs in the James Monroe and Julia Richman High Schools. She used her personal experience to help many immigrant children while working in school. She remembers working with one girl who came from China for two years. She would teach her how to pronounce the words during her lunch period. She influenced her assistant to go back to get her degree and this woman is still a chemistry teacher in a prestigious private high school today. Sarah only retired as an act of kindness. The school reported that they had to get rid of somebody in the lab and Aunt Sarah felt the other woman who was widow with a young child needed the job more than she did so Sarah retired.
Never accept presents from others or carry a grudge but rather freely give of oneself and one’s money to help her fellow.
Aunt Sarah was a giver, not a taker. She gave most of all to her family. My Bubbie Bea says that Sarah was her caretaker, confidant, teacher, and friend. She was her sister. They were always together, visiting, talking on the telephone. Aunt Sarah came to Bubbie or Bubbie came to her every week. Sarah would drive to Long Beach and you could not even see her above the steering wheel. It looked like the car was driving itself. They helped each other. Sarah always looked out for her siblings. She felt an obligation to her brother Max who was close to her in age and especially to their much younger siblings, Dora and Bea.
Sarah’s help extended to others as well. This she learned from her family. Even growing up in a tiny apartment, her house was always full of guests. They would just put down a feather mattress on the floor and house guests. Later when she built a home of her own with Aaron, they would always host people who needed a place to stay. They had weddings in their house to help marry people from Israel. They held rent parties to help people pay the rent so they wouldn’t throw them out during the Depression.
Sarah’s help not only extended to the people in her neighborhood but to the entire Jewish people. She and Aaron and the entire family were very influential in the formation of the State of Israel. They went to Israel several times even before the foundation of the state when it was still Palestine and were involved in many acts on behalf of the nascent land. Even later, one of Aaron’s last acts before his early passing was a flight to Israel to help plan a hospital to serve heart patients which would serve heart patients of all races and faiths regardless of their ability to pay.
All Sarah wanted was peace in the world and family was most important to her to the very end. We will have never-ending love and admiration for Sarah for all of our lives.