Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Elegy for My Grandmother, Leah Bodek, Z'L

My beloved and holy grandmother, Leah bas Chananye Yom Tov Lipa and Ruchel, has passed away after 92 full years.
She was the last of my grandparents.
She was born Leah (Lenke) Landau, in Kisvarda, Hungary, on November 24, 1926, and had one sister, and three brothers.
She was just thirteen at the start of World War II, and was transported to Auschwitz, where she was branded with those familiar, ghastly numbers.
Before liberation in 1945, she was forced on a death march from Auschwitz to Germany. Witnessing too many deaths along the way, she daringly escaped into a field and found a hiding place in a pile of straw.
As the nazis hunted for her, she begged God for her life, and made a vow that if she lived through this, she would be sure to make shalosh seudos every Shabbos, without fail.
She survived, living off the earth until liberation, and made her way to the Fohrenwald DP camps.
Only two of her siblings survived as well, her sister Rifkeh, and her brother Yehuda Hersh.
She met a man 15 years her senior, by the name of Mordechai Ichel Bodek - for whom I am named. He had lost his wife - interestingly, also named Leah - and his three children in the war.
They married, and began rebuilding their lives.
She had two children in the DP camps, Rachel and Moshe, and my grandparents moved to America, setting themselves up in a brownstone in Williamsburg, on Rodney Street and Bedford Avenue.
To support themselves, they manufactured and sold handbags.
Bobbi had four more children: Mendel, Boruch (my father), Meilich, and Esther.
My grandfather took ill, finding himself in a fight with lung cancer. The name Chaim was appended, but he did not survive
his ordeal. After fathering 6 children in 10 years, after fathering 3 children before the war, after rebuilding from utter destruction with an unwavering faith, he returned his soul to his Maker in 1958, at the age of 47.
Bobbi was just 32 years old, with young, dependent children in her care.
She refused all manner of monetary assistance despite many offers. Her husband was the treasurer of Satmer and Reb Yoel's speechwriter and confidant. She could have called in many favors, but she never did. She continued the business as before, and raised up her children properly.
Bobbi was devout, as was her husband with her in a sterling partnership, but she performed a daily devotion that is legendary: she recited all of tehillim, daily, by heart, until she was no longer able to due to infirmity. She did this for at least a half century.
In my youth, I used to spend the Yomim Noraim in her apartment in Bedford Gardens. Her place was always clean and proper, and fresh fruit was always on the table.
This was not just a simple routine. It was a philosophy, as she would always remind me to be clean and proper - in speech and appearance - and to always be inviting to guests.
Blessings were always on her lips, and always forthcoming. It was an entertainment to greet her and be showered with the most creative well-wishes you could possibly imagine. It was just as fun to part from her company feeling like you had a leg up on life.
She passed away on Shushan Purim, in middle of a cold rainstorm, calling to mind how my maternal grandfather passed away in middle of a furious snowstorm.
The family gathered together in front of the Satmer shul, on the very street she made her life, on the street where my father and his siblings spent their youth. My uncles and my father spoke brokenly about their devoted and doting mother, and sent her to her final destination in Monroe, New York.
Mother of six.
Grandmother of thirty-seven..
Great-grandmother of hundreds.
Great-great-grandmother of a handful of adorable little children.
Matriarch of a multitude.
We have strong faith that when she reaches the heavenly plane, she will flash those numbers, and get a free pass. She can also show off her amazing progeny or recite all of tehillim by heart for the angels, if she feels like showing off.
We'll leave that to her. The rest of us will carry on her legacy.
May she be remembered for (her) blessing(s).
-Mordechi Bodek


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