If you could meet one deceased person, who would that individual be?
In my case, I would choose my paternal grandfather, or, using the yiddish name grandkids lovingly used for him, Zeidah.
At age 30, he was forced away from a rather idyllic life in the Austrian countryside, a punishment for the unforgivable ‘crime’ of being born a Jew.
Reaching London with little more than the shirt on his back, he married my grandmother, another refugee, and got to work starting his life again. All alone, with his family abruptly scattered around the world. As for his parents; ask Adolf Hitler what happened to them!
Being that I was only 6 when Zeidah left this world, I can’t say I knew him that well. But the stories of his life were ever present as I grew up. One sentiment I kept hearing about him again and agai was that Zeidah NEVER complained.
The rain, the long wait at the supermarket, the lousy pay at work… it didn’t prompt him to show any sign of frustration.
Now that’s an easy thing to boast about if you had a cushy life.
It’s easy to boast if you had not been forced by a raving lunatic to flee from your home. If you hadn’t been forced to leave your parents to Hitler’s mercy, never to see them again.
It’s easy to boast if you haven’t gone from growing up in a loving and wealthy family to scraping together pennies to feed your own kids.
But he wasn’t that lucky. He had what to moan about.
But Zeidah chose not to.
This story about zeidah is a classic in the annals of our family history because it was so typical of him:
On one of his regular visits to our home for a Sabbath meal, my mum served apple compote and ice cream for dessert.
Actually, she intended to serve the apple compote. But with a young baby at home (probably me!) the compote got mixed up with pureed vegetable soup.
There were other guests at the table. And each of them reacted to the unusual dessert in some way or other. But not my grandfather. He just ate it with a smile and complimented the chef (who was, understandably, quite mortified!). When asked by mum why it didn’t bother him, he just shrugged. “I didn’t want to embarrass you!” he replied.
It wasn’t even a toss-up in his mind. When someone else’s self respect was at stake, his own needs were irrelevant.
Therein lies the message that my Zeida, and so many others like him, left for us to learn.
There’s only so much mental energy we can use in our lifetime. When we don’t feel that we’ve got enough, then the natural instinct is to focus on ourselves until we have our desires satisfied. And when that satisfaction has run its course (which usually happens very quickly), the cycle starts again. With all that going on in our brains, there’s not much room for thoughts about the people around us.
But if we start from a mindset of plenty, with a feeling of internal satisfaction that we can draw on in any given circumstance, we don’t have to stay in that ratrace. We don’t need external circumstances to bring us contentment- we can just tap into the feelings by changing our mindset. That gives us the space we need to start thinking about the people around us. Now we can focus on what we can give, rather than what we can take.
I don’t know if I could ever tolerate baby sauce for desert. But as they say, aim for the moon and at least you’ll reach the stars. If I can get anywhere near my grandfather’s level of greatness, I’ll have done well.
Zeidah, I hope you enjoy this piece!