Shimon Apisdorf

Parshat Shelach and My Late Mother

I’m a baby boomer who grew up in suburbia.

My mother was a remarkable woman who, despite the storm winds of assimilation that whirled about us, and within us, was able to instill in me a deep love of “being Jewish,” a gut level sense of belonging to the Jewish nation, and an almost mystical tie to the Land of Israel.

My mother was born and grew up in America, and despite having minimal Jewish education, she did everything she could to insure her children knew that first and foremost, and above all else—we are Jews, and that our true home wasn’t in the Midwest, but in the Middle East. Together with her love for all things Jewish, was her deep concern and active care for any and every human being that had the good fortune of crossing her path in life. I’ve always said that no one liked my mother. No, they loved her. This might sound cliché or impossible, but it’s 1000% true, she was loved by all. Period. The stories are many, very many. Here are a few.

From Harry to Israel

My brother Harry was also a remarkable person. His life was noble and tragic. My mother and brother had a deep, sometimes dark, otherworldly connection. They also made jewelry together.

Harry died on Shabbat afternoon, two days before he was scheduled to receive a liver transplant from our son-in-law. We were planning on him living, not dying. There were certainly no plans for burial. Now is not the place for the story of what transpired that night, but what I will share is this: My sister-in-law decided to bury Harry in Israel, but insisted that I first go to my parents and ask their permission. I’ll never forget that night. In an instant my mother responded, “On one condition. You bury us there too.” My father concurred. Plans were made to bury Harry in Israel. His daughter Zoe, our son-in-law, and I, accompanied him to Israel for burial.

Six years later, Zoe would accompany my mother’s body to Israel to be buried alongside Harry.

In the last fifteen years of her life, my mother made it clear to me that she wanted to live in Israel. Years before we made Aliyah, she would say to me, “Sam. It’s enough. Get. Me. To. Israel.” I failed to do so.

Our House is Your Home, Our Family is Your Family

Back in the seventies, if you lived in Cleveland and were friends with Sam (that’s me), Harry, or Ann Apisdorf, you were in luck. If you were having trouble at home, then the kitchen or couch of Mrs. A., as she was fondly referred to, is where you went to find a listening ear, a comforting presence, and an open heart. Mrs. A. was a woman of very few words, yet everyone found in her a presence that somehow breathed a sense of self-worth into them, and a source of simple, clear, priceless wisdom. If you were down and lost when you entered our house, you invariably left with a fresh perspective and a new hope filled spirit. Mrs. A. didn’t just tell you that everything would be okay, she enabled you to see that you possessed the inner ability and resilience to actualize the okay in life, despite its enormous challenges. And if you needed a safe place to return to again and again, you didn’t need to ask, because you just knew: you just knew.

At the shiva, Bobbie Palmerio, a dear friend, who, like my mother, lost a son to addiction, said that, “I never met anyone that knew how to navigate life like your mother.” No words ever rang so true. To this day, my sister and I, our children, and many others, when enmeshed in the confusing travails of life, yearn for just a few minutes in my mother’s presence because “Bubby would know what to say.”

After the Islamic revolution in Iran, many young Jewish children were forced to flee and found themselves suddenly far from home and family. They were lost, traumatized, and frightened. Albert and Reuven, twelve and thirteen at the time, were two such children. Within this story are countless other stories. Suffice it to say that our family went from three kids to five, that they got a lot more steak than I ever did, and that their children became my parents grandchildren. I’ll never forget sitting in the funeral home in Cleveland the day after my mom passed away. “You had three children,” the gentleman preparing the newspaper death notice said to my heartbroken father. He looked up, and without hesitation said, “No. We have five children.”

The Rabbi, His Wife, and Their Children

Forty-six years ago, I returned from Israel as a young Jew on a new path to discovering a life of observant Judaism. I enrolled at Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland. Over the course of the next few years, my mother learned to make a legendary cholent, and her Shabbat table, and the Sukkah we built, became something of a spiritual pilgrimage site for suburban Jews that had never heard of cholent, or heard kiddush in their lives. Our house on South Woodland became the Sedona of the Midwest, and my humble mother was a cross between a tribal elder, soul-healer, and royal Rebbetzin.

During those years, I became close to the family of Rabbi Yossi and Mrs. Judy Abrams, two of the most genuinely wonderful people I’ve ever known. I spent many Shabbatot and holidays in their home. And so of course, Mrs. A., as a way of saying thank you, absorbed their children into her heart. Before Yom Tov, she would take them all to buy new shoes. Before the oldest Abrams daughter got married, she naturally wouldn’t decide on a wedding gown without consulting with Mrs. A. Years later, after making Aliyah, I was walking in Jerusalem and that daughter spotted me. She was visiting her daughters that were studying for the year in Israel. “This is Mrs. A’s son,” she said. Their jaws dropped. With hushed reverence they said, “You’re Mrs. A’s son?” You would think they just met the messiah.

At Starbucks

My mom kept every report card, every birthday and Mother’s Day card, every aerogramme from her frummie son who morphed from Sam to Shimon, everything: she kept it all. After she passed away, I found long letters from a woman whose name I didn’t recognize. I asked my father who she was. “Oh, she works in Starbucks. When we would come for coffee, she would sit with your mother and I and pour her heart out. She loved Bubby.” Of course a young barista found a surrogate grandmother at work, don’t they all?

The Chofetz Chaim of Saks Fifth Avenue

The Chofetz Chaim, a legendary 19th century leader of European Jewry, is best known for his ethical teachings related to the harmful effects of gossip, slander, and negative talk.

A Rabbi walks into Saks Fifth Avenue at Beachwood Place. Seriously. This isn’t the opening line of a bad joke. A young saleswoman says, “Rabbi, do you mind if I ask you a question?” “Please do,” he replied. “Rabbi, do you know what Lotion Hayrah is?” The Rabbi was stumped. “You know,” she insisted, “How you’re not supposed to gossip about people.” “Ah, you mean Loshon Hora.” “Yes, yes, that’s it.”

“And do you mind if I ask you a question,” the Rabbi said?” “Please do,” she replied.

“How do you know about loshon hora?”

“Oh,” she said, “Bernice Apisdorf used to work here, and she taught all of us about not speaking lotion hayrah.”

Bubby Raised Me

The end was drawing near, and I was at my mother’s bedside.

My daughter from Israel called. “Bubby raised me,” she said.

Our children may have only seen Bubby three or four times a year, but Bubby raised them. Of course she did. And today, whenever my wife needs wisdom and comfort, it’s not me she turns to, it’s a photo of my mother, because Bubby is still raising us all.

The Minister

My parents last stop together was on the third floor of an apartment building at Fairmount Circle. I think there were four suites on each floor. At the end of the hall lived an autistic man in his forties. An African American Minister worked as his parttime caregiver.

During shiva, the Minister came to see us. He was crestfallen. No, he was broken. He too was mourning. I asked about his relationship with my mother. With tears in his eyes he said, “Sometimes your mother would see me in the hall, and she knew when I was having a hard time, so she would invite me in for a cup of tea. She didn’t say a lot, but when I left, things didn’t seem as hard anymore.”

Of course they didn’t.

The Camel and the Bee

My mom had a vast collection of camels. Glass, olive wood, jade, silver; every sort of camel you can imagine. What was it that drew her to the camel? I don’t think any of us know for sure. But one thing I do know is that we all have some of her camels, and others we have gathered along the way, because, well, because that’s what Mrs. A. did.

My mom’s English name was Bernice, though she went by Bee. Her business was called Bee Unusual, and the logo on her card was a golden bee. She also had a satin pillow with golden bees on it, and other such items, kind of like the camels, but in a different sort of way. Bees and camels. Bees and camels.

My mother passed away on Friday afternoon. When my father and I finally made it back to the apartment, her walker was next to the couch, where she left it. On the carpeting, inside the area of the walker legs, was a dead bee. I had never seen a bee in the house before. I called my sister. “I’ve cleaned that house countless times,” she said, “and never once did I see a bee.”

In my mind I can picture that bee’s last moments. It was buzzing around the flowers outside the building when it decided to go inside. It waited in the lobby for someone to press the elevator button, rode up to the third floor, got out, broke into my parent’s apartment, flew over to my mom’s walker, landed just there, and died. That’s what happened, right?

Rav Kook and My Shiva, Day One

This is a story about my mother, and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook.

It begins in the heart of Jerusalem, just off Jaffa Road, in Rav Kook’s home, beit medrash, and office. The premises has been virtually untouched for almost a century. The small, spirited Shabbat minyan is one of Jerusalem’s best kept secrets. For me, it’s a spiritual oasis in time.

The story continues on the 22nd of Sivan, 5777, June 16, 2017. It was Erev Shabbat, 11:24 am, when my beloved mother passed away. That Shabbat was parshat Shelach, the portion that tells how most of the leaders of the Jewish people turned their backs on the Land of Israel. The women of the time, our tradition says, refused to believe that the promised land was out of reach, regardless of how things appeared. My mother was one of those women. She was buried two days later, in the hills outside of Jerusalem. I wasn’t there, I needed to stay in Cleveland with my father.

On the first day of shiva, there were only nine men at my parent’s apartment, so I needed to leave and go to the local Young Israel. It was surreal. As a mourner, I led the prayers, literally at the very same time my mother was being laid to rest next to my brother in Israel. At that moment, I was there with her: And I was in Cleveland, and I was there. It was torture. After shachris, I sat on the floor in the back of the synagogue as strangers came to offer their condolences. It was awful. Get-me-out-of-here awful. As I sat there, my eyes began to focus on the interior design of the synagogue. The theme is Jerusalem, and everywhere I looked I saw Jerusalem stone. As I took in more of the room, I saw there were quotes from Rav Kook encircling the room and engraved on the pillars. I couldn’t believe it. In my moment of utter discomfort, I felt as if the Rav had come to be menachem avel, to comfort me mere minutes after my mother was buried in the soil of the Promised Land.

Which brings me to …

… to countless others stories, many known, and many not.

And to …

Thank you, Mom.

Thank you for everything, and for everything I don’t even know.

Thank you for raising me and my children and so many others and their children.

Mom. I’m truly, truly sorry you never made it here to live in Israel. I so wish I could have made that dream of yours come true. But Mom, we’re only here because of you, and so many others have so much in their lives, and their hearts, only because of you.

Mrs. A.



Aunt Bee.


You live in us forever.


This piece is dedicated to my father. May he be blessed with health and strength.

To my sister Ann. If anyone is the embodiment of Mom, it’s you.

To Brian, who has taught me much about what it means to be a son-in-law,
and to Albert  and Stella.

To precious Leslie and golden Zoe.

To Betsy. To Suzie. Need I say more.

And to my wife, children and grandchildren.

To Albert-Chezki, to Suri, to Jenny, and of course to Reuven.

To GG, my dear mother-in-law.

To Julie, our Jewels, and to Michael, Lee, Wayno, and Lisa Palevsky, an angel in disguise.

To the Shore’s, to Eppie and Eileen, to Laurie and Cari, to Leslee Brown, and to Judy Abrams.

To all those that loved my Mom, which is everyone that ever knew her.


For as long as the bees pollinate.

For as long as their honey flows.

For as long as the weathered camels endure and walk the holy land.

Bracha bat Shimon.

For as long as forever.

Thank you.

About the Author
Shimon Apisdorf is the founder of Operation Home Again, the first organization solely devoted to community-based Aliyah. He has also authored ten books that have sold over a quarter million copies and have won two Benjamin Franklin awards. The Apisdorf's made Aliyah in the summer of 2012.