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Our Mother’s Choices

Emmy Stark Zitter, Marcia Stark Meth, and Miriam Stark Zakon

The funeral chapel was packed that sunny morning last May when our mother was to be buried. Sobbing grandchildren, sorrowful relatives, distraught women of all ages who saw in her a “babbie,” an advisor, a friend — all passed before us, three sisters mourning their mother.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The hespedim began. Speaker after speaker described our mother. Some touched on her prewar life in Munkacz, others spoke of her short time inSweden after the war. Most described her 40-plus years inAmerica, followed by her decision to make aliyah at 72 years of age (two years older than Avraham Avinu, she used to remind us) and the 21 years she enjoyed living in Yerushalayim.

Whatever era in our mother’s long and rich life each speaker focused upon, none ignored the black year of 1944, the year our mother spent inAuschwitz. They spoke of the nightmare journey that had taken place 69 years earlier, almost to the day. After three days of torture in a packed, airless cattle car, our mother arrived at the place that no words could describe, where tears mixed with ashes, where cries disappeared into black smoke. On that night she lost both her parents, her in-laws, three married sisters and their families. She lost, without a chance for a final goodbye, her young husband and her year-old baby son.

On that one night, she lost everything. Everything but her emunah.

Our mother was buried on 26 Iyar, the yahrtzeit of the Ramchal, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, famed author of Mesilas Yesharim, The Path of the Just. She entered the final path on the long road that had been her life on the same day he had. And we knew that the coinciding of dates was no coincidence.

Our mother’s life was not a book — books can’t make puns in seven languages (!), they can’t dance the Hungarian folk dance, the Csardas. Books can’t cook gurnisht soup (“I’ve got gurnisht, nothing, in the house, I’ll make a pot of soup!”) to feed an entire neighborhood. In some ways, though, her life was like a book: a sefer mussar. Like sifrei mussar, her life can teach and inspire. Books can be read and enjoyed long after their authors have died; our mother’s life, too, can be opened and read even after she’s no longer with us.

Devotion to family. Love of her people and their Torah. The ability to choose bitachon over bitterness, generosity over jealousy, Torah over temptation. Appreciation for the Land of Israel. Hakaras hatov. The ability to find one’s tafkid in life and the unflagging energy to fulfill it. These attributes can easily be chapter titles in the classic sifrei mussar. They are also attributes embodied by our mother.

What follow are a few vignettes we hope will convey a sense of her greatness of spirit. Just a few chapters in the mussar book that was her life.

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