Remembering Moshe Krakinowski

Sometimes, no matter what William Shakespeare — who usually was right — tells us, the good is not interred with the bones.

Sometimes goodness goes bone-deep, and somehow, miraculously, it manages to find its way out.

As the holiday of Chanukah came to its end, so did the life of Moshe Krakinowski of Tenafly, a Holocaust survivor. Moshe and his wife, Miriam Shumacher Krakinowski, who died in 2010, were from Lithuania; they fell in love in the Kovno ghetto. Moshe saved Miriam’s life by pushing her out of line, allowing her to escape. She was rescued by a righteous gentile, Jonas Paulavicius, and his family — his wife, Antanina Paulaviciene, their son, Kestutis Paulavicius and their daughter, Danute Paulaviciute — who all risked their lives to save many Jews. Their goodness is beyond understanding; may we never be faced with the choices that confronted them.

Meanwhile, Moshe was on a train, bound for the camps, when he realized that he had to get out. When it rounded a curve, he managed to climb from a window.

The two found each other, amazingly, came to this country, and built a new life. Moshe became an engineer, worked for IBM, moved his family to Poughkeepsie. His three daughters, Reva, Pnina, and Leah, flourished. Each daughter married a wonderful man — Reva married Paul Gajer, Pnina married Don Schoenfeld, and Leah married Andy Silberstein.

Each of the daughters had children, and one of those children, Joshua Gajer, now has a newborn child of his own.

And then Miriam and Moshe grew old. And that’s when all they had done and been through, all the love they’d manage to retain and nourish and share, came back, as love, when you are lucky, does.

Leah and Andy Silberstein and their two sons, Jacob and Ethan, opened their home to Leah’s parents, and the couple moved in. That was about ten years ago.

First, it is important to say that most of us could not do what Leah and Andy did. You need a house that is big enough to provide space, light, comfort, plumbing, and privacy to adults, and to the aides whom they eventually will need, maybe full-time. You must have the resources, the resilience, the stamina to deal with schedules and personnel issues and the stresses of the ever-changing parent-child relationship; it’s even harder when you’re both the child and the parent. And you must have parents whose medical needs can be handled in your house. There must be a hospital close by.

But even those of us who have physical means to do that might not have the metaphysical strength. It’s hard. You know that the course upon which you’ve embarked has only one possible destination. The only questions are how long the trip will be, how many inlets you’ll be allowed to discover, and how much joy you can store up along the way, for when you need it.

Not everyone can do it — but Leah and Andy did it. Not only did they take care of Miriam and Moshe, they also provided an extraordinary example to the rest of us.

Leah is the director of marketing and communications at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, and she and Andy are active members of Kehilat Kesher of Tenafly and Englewood. So was Moshe Krakinowski, as the shul’s rabbi, Akiva Block, said at his funeral.

Most of the members of Kesher, a modern Orthodox shul, are in their 30s and 40s, and some are in the 50s now, Rabbi Block said, but there are few in their 80s or 90s. Moshe Krakinowski, a man devoted to Jewishness, to learning, to engineering, to problem-solving, to friendship, to hope, to story-telling, and to love, a man who like so many Holocaust survivors — but not like all of them — was able to love again and also was able to become the shul’s grandfather, its benevolent elder spirit.

So in the end, the story of the Krakinowskis and their children and grandchildren is a story of love and hope. As we start the new year, let’s keep the light of that love and hope alive. 

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)