Mike and Sam.
Sam and Mike.
They shared a driveway, a protective love of their oldest sons, a spirit of can-do optimism about the future, and a past that was pained by losses they suffered in the Shoah.
Mike (Michael) was my father, and Sam (Sammy) was my brother, and they were next-door neighbors of Sam, who lived with his wife, Miriam, and their son, Mike. It was cute that my father’s neighbors had names that criss-crossed. But even better to have neighbors who were so kind.
Sam, the neighbor, was a loyal and fierce friend.
When my father was ill and spent much time at my house, without fail, Sam would telephone daily to see how my father was, and keep an eye on his house. When my father needed anything, Sam was always there, willing to help out.
Likewise, my father also was there for Sam. One time when his wife, Miriam, became sick and had to go to the hospital, my father accompanied her in the ambulance. Miriam would call my father “her brother” for his effort.
Mostly, though, they were two men cut from the same cloth — or made in the same mold.
Both from Poland, both were survivors through and through. They survived not only the Shoah, but also their own lives. Lives that were not so easy. Lives that they built not from zero, but from less than zero. They came to new countries, with little language, but with heart and soul, and the grit to work and rebuild. To rebuild a life, to rebuild a family, to build a business, and to be engaged in the Jewish community.
And build they did. Without fanfare. Without expectation. Without grandstanding. Both were humble — and both were happy men.
My father died a few years ago, but I remained friends with Sam. Not only because he was such a delightful and spirited man, but also because in so many ways he reminded me of my father. His positive attitude. His love of his family. His great and sensible advice from a life lived long and fruitfully.
When I would visit him, he would cut roses from the bushes in his front yard to give to me when they were in bloom.
“These are for you, but don’t tell your husband,” he would tease playfully. “I don’t want to make him jealous.”
Jeff, the children, and I would go to my father’s house each year for Rosh Hashanah and there would be Sam, Miriam, and Mike. We got to see them, wish them a healthy and happy new year and sometimes find them at shul or on the walk home.
In the summertime, they often would be out on the porch, enjoying the night air and chitchatting with neighbors.
When I visited Sam with the children, they would always offer a drink or an ice cream. In fact, the snack was mandatory.
“Please eat something,” Sam would insist. “Don’t worry. It’s kosher.”
If I got too busy to call him — I kept in touch with him — I would hear about it.
“What’s a matter, Heidi?” he would ask. “You don’t call? You forgot about us?”
This past week I went to pay my final respects to Sam, who after 93 years of a vibrant life, died. In fact, he had just celebrated his birthday. A righteous person, it is said, finishes out the last year of his or her life.
The rabbi who spoke at his graveside funeral captured Sam’s essence.
“A little man” — he was short in stature — “who made a big impact.”
A big impact on his daughter and his son. A big impact on his wife, who before she died, a year before he did, spent more than six decades married to him. A big impact on his three grandchildren. A big impact on his friends.
And a big impact on me.
As we approach the New Year, I wish, in the spirit of Sam, and in the spirit of my father, that the year be a sweet one of hope, joy, and good health for all.