I write this on the 86th anniversary of the marriage of Samuel Litwak and Ida Bauman. The catering hall which hosted the wedding still stands on Willoughby Avenue in Brooklyn, right around the corner from the bride’s family residence on Vernon Avenue. Called the Gold Manor, its gilt is now tarnished and it is but a shadow of its former glory. Nonetheless, many Jews relive the excitement of their special moments commemorated in that very place. Kosher catering and the Jews themselves have moved elsewhere but the structure itself serves as a reminder of what was once a Jewish hub in Bed-Stuy. And now reports are that the neighborhood itself is once again attracting young Jews who are settling into the old brownstones. Perhaps the Gold Manor will join the renaissance!
Ida, the bride was beautiful, exquisite, and elegant, carrying a bouquet of lilies. The groom, Sam, handsome and bedecked in a tuxedo, an outfit that he would never again be seen wearing throughout his long life. Their picture on their wedding day is framed on the wall in our kitchen and from that perch I can review the lives they went on to live. I often gaze at their photo and see their future, as they could not, as the photographer closed the shutter. They would have been delighted to learn that their dreams were all to come true.
Together they both now rest in the shaded shadow of a shared gravestone, in a far corner of the Old Herzliya Cemetery, in peace forever, for eternity. They are my parents, whom I share with my sister. And it seems to me that the Yahrzeit candles which we light for each of them on the anniversaries of their deaths, might be also lit today, now in celebration of their magnificent lives together, lives of love and tenderness. Theirs was truly a marriage made in heaven. It behooves us to remember the delight they always found in each other, and to rejoice in the magically fulfilled promise of the Sheva Brachot recited under the chuppah.
Their lives together would be long and joyous. This can only be said now, after the fact. Only now can I tell you that their future was filled with happiness. Neither of them ever suffered from any chronic disease. Neither of them spent time together dwelling on perceived insults. They always agreed, remarkably, and they lived in harmony. They needed no therapists, lawyers, surgeons or medical specialists of any kind except for Mom’s broken hip in her 80’s. Their rare doctor visits were confined to successful pregnancy and very occasional very minor illnesses. They were wealthy in the best possible way; they had their health. Their Newark general practitioner, Dr. Harry Brotman, did not get rich from their care! Both died with full sets of teeth. They were never in an auto accident or violent altercation. Their lives were lives of peace. And neither one of them ever ever ever regretted the marriage which brought joy and simcha and jubilant dancing to the Gold Manor and the streets of Brooklyn. After the wedding that love and joy was transported to Aldine Street in the Weequahic Section of Newark where they became active supporters of the Jewish community, their shul and Hadassah. Life was good and it stayed that way.
They were adventurers, these parents of ours. Even until old age they were still able to spring surprises on us. Not many Jews from New Jersey have parents who announced, when Dad had already celebrated his 80th birthday, that they were moving to Israel. The formidable aspects of the move, the paperwork, the language, the packing, the sheer indomitable forces that might work against them, were thrown to the winds, casually, without the momentum that might have dissuaded others. And knowing that this was not an escape but an eagerly anticipated new path for two aged pilgrims, put a wonderful patina onto their lives. They were fearless and intrepid. They thought, Aliyah, why not? The obstacles disappeared and within months they were settled in a flat in Herzliya, a short walk from their other daughter and her husband and the Sabra grandchildren.
Now that I too am old I appreciate their valor even more. Things don’t come as easily to the elderly as to the young. It was truly remarkable for them to have done it, and done it so well. When each of them died, years later, their funerals were attended by numerous new friends that they had made in Israel, in their new shul, in Mom’s new chapter of Hadassah, in Dad’s days at Achuzat Bayit, a senior living center whose praises can not be overstated and where we can state that his final home was truly a happy home. They were known in the streets and shops and apartments of the new people in their lives. They were, rightfully, cherished by all.
They never made decisions separately. They always found unity and they often made enormous announcements casually. We’re selling The Bauman House. We’re moving to Clark or Union or South Fallsburg. We’re buying a new car but, at age 80, Dad will give up his driver’s license. We’re going on a trip or hosting a big dinner or better yet bringing you a home-cooked big dinner! And always, we will be here for you as much and as long as we possibly can. Do you need us to pick up the kids from school or babysit for them? No problem. We can and we will do it, for as long as we can. Do you need us to dog-sit? Happily.
Not always so easy. There was that summer that our two dogs, Major and Gringo, went to Parksville while we and our kids vacationed in Israel. Mom said not to worry. It would be fine, even though we all knew that Major, a large collie mutt in search of a wife, loved nothing better than being chased onto highways and byways. A great escape artist he was, always! Fearful of becoming a roadkill, he just wasn’t.
Mom showed me their security plans, how it would be handled with a tightly fenced area, roomy enough for both dogs to spend their days watching the world pass by the house on the way to the Village of Parksville. All would be well. Of course that’s not quite how it went.
Major got loose early in the stay. There were hills and roads and woods and fields to explore. Major greeted them all exuberantly. There were cars and bikes and trucks, big trucks sometimes. Major was excited with his freedom and Dad, a man already over 70, gave chase, while Mom screamed Major’s name into the wind, and was, of course, ignored. Somehow, I don’t know how, Major returned alive, as did Dad. Security in the fenced area was improved. Major never got out again. But, would they ever agree to watch the dogs again? Of course. And they did!
Babysitting the precious grandchildren was their pleasure. No was a word never used. Of course, if there were conflicting plans, they would just figure it out, seamlessly, smoothly and always to our advantage.
And when they arrived in Israel they had the Israeli grandchildren, my sister’s progeny, ready and waiting to be nurtured and loved.
In Herzliya, in the wintry chill and the summer’s crushing heat, they kept busy. Dad was an avid reader of nonfiction, one of the best and most prolific English readers the town’s library had ever known. Mom kept busy editing the Hadassah Newsletter or challenging her mind with crossword puzzles. In New Jersey she always did the Sunday New York Times puzzle, always finishing and completely in ink! There was no better gift from America than a collection of those puzzles.
Together they would prepare meals with Dad being the sous chef and frequent shopper at the market a short walk away. He loved to walk and did miles every day, often in the heat with no water and no hat. It never seemed to hurt him. And then there were the gin rummy games. They kept a running tally of who was winning and who owed the most money to the other. Their bookkeeping was scrupulous but no one ever was paid. I can still hear the echoes of Dad’s big wins when he would giggle like a schoolboy at some amazing victory.
They loved to do ma’asim tovim, bringing Mom’s delicious soup to a recuperating neighbor or helping set up the kiddush at shul. They had big and generous and full hearts, these parents of ours. Always.
Thus, when we visit their graves, she the ayshit chayal and he the honorable man, we share the stories of our lives and we tell them about the great grandchildren they will never meet, and the smachot they cannot attend, and that we ourselves are now ancient, that fact which I know they would not believe. We always avoid discussing anything that might cause them angst or worry so we never talk politics because they, both liberal romantics, would find them hard to fathom. As do we!
No. We are those optimists, filtering our lives today so that they can rest in peace. And they do!