When I think of Zita…. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since I last saw her.
When I think of Zita I think of a dear, good friend. I think of someone who touched the lives of many people around the world. I think of her smile that so easily charmed those she met before even speaking a word, laced with her wonderful Hungarian accent. I recall her stories about her two children, Tom and Sofi, whom she adored above everything else. I remember how little Sofi at times would come with her ima to work, before the two of them would head out for swimming lessons, and how Zita would come back to the office the next day, eyes shining with pride as she would tell us what a fish in the water her daughter was.
When I think of Zita I think of the young Hungarian girl who barely knew of her Jewish roots and after a visit to Israel decided that this was where she wanted to live her life. I think of her Aliyah, of her wedding, of how she built a home in Jerusalem, a family in Jerusalem, and found her profession in Jerusalem.
When I think of Zita, I think of the Holocaust history of her own family; of how her father had been saved during the Shoah; of Zita’s efforts to gain recognition for her fathers rescuer, Janos Jurinkovits, and I recall her incredible excitement as she was informed that he had been officially honored as a Righteous Among the Nations.
When I think of Zita, I think of her incredible professional accomplishments. Yad Vashem, where we both worked, was a richer institution with Zita on its team. Her achievements were so extraordinary that in November 2005 she was honored by the Hungarian Government with the Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary for her work on Holocaust education and remembrance.
I think of our coffee breaks, of our talks about life, our kids, the future, of everything that mattered, and everything trivial that mattered less.
When I think of Zita I think of the last lesson plan she worked on at Yad Vashem which focused on the educational aspects of the efforts and actions of the Righteous Among the Nations.
I think of when I started to work at Yad Vashem, not long after my own Aliyah in 2001, and how quickly Zita became one of my closest and dearest friends. I never got around to telling her that though. Because, you know, its not the sort of thing you go around telling your friends…
Today is Zita’s yahrzeit. She was murdered by her husband 10 years ago.
When I think of Zita I remember all too well what she told me and her other friends about her home situation, and about the divorce she wanted. We were all concerned, offered help, asked if he had been violent. As friends do in times of such a crisis. She described a situation of clear emotional abuse, but little did I know how lethal emotional abuse can be, or even what it really was. After her death, in one of so many attempts to try to understand the impossible, I realized that there had been so much writing on the wall, not seen or comprehended by anyone close. Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, is nothing to trivialize or diminish. Emotional abuse can be deadly, even in cases where no physical violence has preceded it. Emotional abuse doesn’t have to end in murder or murder-suicide, but it can. And it did on this dreadful and horrible day 10 years ago.
When I think of Zita today I think of what she taught me. I think about the implications of being a bystander, based on what that enabled during the Shoah and other world events, and I think about what that means in our daily lives as we live them today. I think about how being a bystander can be connected to seeing a friend who might be a target of psychological abuse, possibly without her even realizing it herself (because yes, it is most likely going to be a ‘she’). I think about the importance of awareness. Be aware!
I think about how convenient it is to avoid telling someone you care about, that you do care about them. Because doing that seems awkward perhaps, and may also be received with suspicion about alternative motives. But forget about all that – give compliments! Do it today, because there is no better time than now.
When I think of Zita I think of her parents and her sister in Budapest, and I think of her children, of course. Zita’s family has just concluded commemorations for their Zizi, their ima, in Hungary, and it pleases me to see them all and what they do.
When I think of Zita I think of how lucky I was to know her, and I think of all the things I thank her for. In her 33 years of life I know that Zita contributed to making the world a better place. And that is pretty cool. Missing you still my friend. I hope you are resting in peace.