My grandparents, Baranovichi, Poland 1936 (Belarus today)

My 92 year old grandmother passed away in the early morning of January 1. It was no surprise, she had been unwell for a long time, and her congestive heart failure was so severe that the doctors who examined her were amazed she was still alive. But she was a stubborn woman and only went into the night when she was finally ready. During her last few days she was intubated in ICU, but still concious and aware. I could speak to her, and while she couldn’t answer, she did move her head and squeeze my hand. But most of all, I could see it in her eyes. She understood it was the end, and had no expectations of going home. In fact, I don’t think she wanted to go on at all. Life had become more effort than it was worth.

Her last few months were the hardest since she found herself unable to read the books that had been her sanctuary throughout her life. During the last few years, I would bring her new books to read every few weeks, and she enjoyed being able to talk to me about them. But in the last year it became harder for her to understand complex story lines, so I had to select books with large print, and a straightforward story.

Every Friday afternoon the family gathered for lunch with Safta, and she loved seeing her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She had a special love for Karen, even though it was usually Matan who gave her the most love. He was always affectionate with her, and she loved it.

As one friend of mine said, “it’s the end of an era”. Truly. Her life story mirrors that of many of the Eastern European Jews who survived. She spoke 8 languages, and studied Hebrew and English while still a high school student in Poland so that she would be able to make Aliya to Israel when she turned 18. Both she and my grandfather were active in Beitar, a Zionist youth group in their hometown. Five years her senior, my grandfather made Aliya to Israel in 1936 to study at the Technion in Haifa. My grandmother made Aliya 3 years later to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They were reunited and my grandmother married her childhood sweetheart. Together they built a family, and a country, Israel, their dream.