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Kekedem
#1
Kekedem.  When I hear that last word of the “Hashivenu” (Lamentations) that we, as a congregation, recite as we place the sacred Torah scroll back in the Aron Kodesh, I feel tears welling up in my eyes.  I don’t know if it’s the poignant meaning of that Hebrew word, or the haunting melody that accompanies it, but I feel a wave of emotion sweep over me.  
 
My mind.  My thoughts.  My memories.  They turn back decades.  Back to the city of Syracuse, NY.  The place where I was born.  I return to a house on Leon Street (off E. Castle) in that upstate New York city.
 
I usually think first of my mother’s mother, Sarah Shapiro.  I say this unabashedly: Mayn Bubbe, “Frumeh Sarah,” was the most loving person I have ever met.  There wasn’t a mean bone in her body.  She was “too good for this world”.   
 
Further, Mayn Bubbe loved me dearly.  I felt her love every time I walked into her home.  I was named for her father.  Although my English name is Walter, she always called me by my Yiddishe name, Velvle.
I’ll never forget that as soon as I walked in the door to her house at 120 Leon Street (across from the Croton Elementary School) my Bubbe would give me a big hug.  Then, she’d look at me and say to my mother “Golda, Velvle, he looks so thin!” (I weighed 9-pounds, 10 ounces when I was born).  My Bubbe would immediately make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; she’d sometimes throw in an apple for good measure. 
 
As I think back, My Bubbe’s life here in America was “no bed of roses” (she didn’t speak of English when she arrived in the The “Goldene Medina.”  Mayn Bubbe Sarah was born in Vilna, Lithuania in the 1890s.  She would meet Mayn Zayde there, Morris “Moshe” Shapiro.  
 
In the early 1900s, Mayn Zayde was going to be conscripted into the Russian army.  My grandfather had other ideas.  He and his brother Harry decided to head for America.  They took different routes.  They did that so that if anything happened to either one of them, at least one of the brothers would be sure to make it to America; thus, they decided to set sail from two different European ports.  Mayn Zayde headed for Hamburg, Germany; his brother, “Uncle Heschel,” journeyed to Stockholm, Sweden.  Mayn Zayde made it to America.  He wanted to live in Detroit to be part of the burgeoning automobile industry that was centered there; however, Mayn Bubbe had other ideas.  She had mishpocheh (family, relatives) already living in Syracuse.  My grandparents settled there (Mayn Zayde sent for my Bubbe soon after he had arrived in America). 
 
As for my Zayde’s brother, Harry; he met a Finnish woman in Stockholm.  They got married.  Harry would spend the rest of life living in the Finnish city of Abo Turku. 
 
As for my Bubbe, her years in America, although filled with joy, were also difficult ones.  For one, when she arrived, she didn’t speak a word of English.  In fact, every time we visited her home, all I would hear was Yiddish.  One of the words I frequently heard was “esen”.  When I didn’t finish all my food, she’d say, “reyn teller” [clean plate].  “There are people in Europe who are starving,” she’d say.   
 
My mother’s parents, my grandparents, had four children: two boys and two girls (my mother was second youngest).  Both boys became doctors. 
 
Yet, for all the naches she received from her children and grandchildren, there were sorrows.  One of the most sorrowful was the death of her “baby sister,” Rachel, and her entire family, in the city of Vilna during the Holocaust.  My mother would say that the death of Bubbe’s “baby” sister and her family took much of the joy out of Bubbe’s life. 
 
Mayn Bubbe was also beset by numerous physical maladies, not the least of which was diabetes (I can recall her going to the refrigerator and taking out a bottle of insulin; she’d then take a needle and inject herself in the shoulder).  In her later years, she fell going up a series of steps; she created an open wound in her shin that never healed (diabetes).  I was always pained when I saw my Bubbe suffer. 
 
My Bubbe, Sarah Shapiro, would die in the mid-1950s of a heart attack.  Yet her memory lives on within me.  I can never forget her…her loving nature.  What a beautiful person!  A guteh n’shomeh [good soul].   As Mayn Bubbe did for me, I did for her.  I named my daughter after her.  Kekedem, “days of yore.”  Those who came before us shall always live on in our hearts and minds.
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