As many of you know, my grandfather has been ill for awhile. Yesterday, on October 24, he succumbed to complications from lung cancer (though he never smoked). He was 84.
If I could talk about the wonderful man he was, even the paragraphs that follow would not capture the essence that was Grandpa David. He was, quite simply, a beautiful man inside and out. He was incredibly giving and made huge sacrifices for his community, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and even his great-granddaughter who was born the week after he was admitted to the hospital for the last time. Here are just some of those contributions:
While I got married in March of 2005 (this photo was taken at our wedding), we delayed our honeymoon until December 2006. My grandparents are snowbirds: they reside in Florida (near my folks) for half of the year and in New York (where our family originally hails from) for the other half. In December, they are where the warm climate is. My husband Brian and I were planning on going away for 9 days, and long term parking at La Guardia airport or JFK would have exceeded $200. At that time, Grandpa was already suffering from cancer; sometimes he had good days, while other days were horrible for him. Despite these challenges and failing health, Grandpa still had time to rent out his coveted parking spot near his apartment by the LGA airport to a community member who did not want to look for street parking during the bitter winter. Even more, when he learned that my husband and I would be traveling, he made specific arrangements with the parking tenant to let us park in the lot for those 9 days to save us the unnecessary fees and hassle. He had to collaborate this with not only the tenant but the people in charge of access to the parking lot as well. On the day of our departure and the weeks prior, he called everyone to ensure that the plans were in order. It didn’t matter if he was relaxing on his better days or reacting to the harsh chemotherapy treatments. He wanted to help out his grandkids.
On a similar note, I often spent holidays with Grandma and Grandpa when I was in college. I attended school in Manhattan. They lived in neighboring Queens. While I could have taken a subway back to school ($1.50 at the time), Grandpa insisted that he drive me back himself — every time. My safety was more important to him than anything and he was not enthusiastic about me traveling underground if he could avoid it.
Since I grew up in Florida, many of my wedding gifts were delivered to my parents’ home. Somehow, we needed to get them back to our current residence in New York. Grandpa took the initiative to pack 10 huge boxes of gifts, wrapping everything incredibly carefully and locating materials so that nothing would break in transit. It was a tremendous undertaking for him.
Grandpa had a funny and sweet side to himself too. We used to make jokes about the craziest things. When my mother (the only daughter and youngest of three) was born, the nurse accidentally made a mistake and told him that his wife had just given birth to a son. My grandfather was a religious man and immediately scheduled a circumcision with a circumciser, or Mohel (otherwise pronounced Moil — like foil — for the purposes of this story). Shortly after everything was arranged, the nurse returned to my grandfather and told him that she had made an error: it was a baby girl. Immediately, he got on the phone and exclaimed, “Cancel the moil, it’s a goil!”
When I was a teenager, my grandfather taught me a tongue twister: “One smart fella. He felt smart. Two smart fellas. They felt smart. Three smart fellas. They felt smart. Four…” Try it. Say it fast. Keep counting. Let me know what happens.
As a religious man, he helped found the Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills in 1950. Back then, Queens had no large Jewish community but the new residents had determination to set up a synagogue. One day, my grandfather saw a piece of land adjacent to a small house. He took a bold step and knocked on the guy’s door in hopes of establishing a foundation for the synagogue. “How much could I buy this for?” he asked. Fifty-seven years later, the Jewish community in Kew Garden Hills is flourishing on the land that he secured.
Before 1950, he was an Army Air Corps Crew Chief in World War II. When he flew on planes, he would affix a Mezuzah to the plane door to remind himself that he was religious even in an atmosphere where religion wasn’t regularly practiced. In the morning, he said prayers with the traditional Jewish Tefillin. When he was asked what he was doing, he’d say “I need to take my blood pressure.” He also observed the laws of Kashrut (Kosher), which was an incredibly difficult feat under the circumstances.
I tried to teach him about computers. In the ’90s, we gave Grandpa a 486 and I walked him through Microsoft Word (in the absence of any Internet connectivity). He started writing a letter to his wife. He played with fonts. He had a great time — but the technology was never his thing. What I learned then, however, was that he was an extremely dedicated husband, and his wife, Shirley, was always on his mind.
That is why on January 18 of this year, they celebrated 60 years of marriage together. Together, they have three children, eight grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.
In July, he was still in the ICU and was improving from time to time. All of the children and grandchildren were there expecting the worst. When we heard a report that his vital signs were improving, we let him know. He wanted so much for that to be the case. He sat up in his hospital bed and asked, “Where is my valise (suitcase)?”
The last thing he said to us when we visited him at the hospital was that he had neckties for my husband. It didn’t matter that he was suffering so much (he had a tube in his throat at the time and was hardly able to communicate). It was important for him to always be giving of himself and to put family first, even in his darkest days.
Grandpa, I love you with all my heart, and I will miss you dearly.