In Memory of My Grandpa David, a Wonderful Man

Grandpa David

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.

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35 replies on “In Memory of My Grandpa David, a Wonderful Man”
  1. Simply a beautiful set of memories Tamar….

    As I told you yesterday – we are so sorry for your loss but take solace in the fact that he led a wonderful life and is now in peace…

    Please let me know if there is anything I can do to make things easier…

  2. Your grandfather seemed like a great, caring human being. I bet he touched a lot of hearts. This was a very lovely post, Tamar, and my thoughts are with you and your family.

  3. says: Jane Quigley

    This is a lovely tribute to a wonderful man and grandfather. I imagine he must have been so proud of you.
    As I said last night – I am so sorry for your loss and my thoughts are with you and your family.

    Take care.

  4. Rebecca and Chris’s sentiments are shared. I’m sorry for your loss and it sounds like he lived a full and very loved life. “It’s a goil” is still cracking me up and I think I figured out the tongue twister… =) You were blessed with an awesome grandpa.

  5. Your grandfather seemed like a wonderful and loving man. And according to the photo, quite a snappy dresser 🙂 I’m sure he will be greatly missed. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  6. says: Avi Wilensky

    Although I’ve only met your grandpa David, Z”L once, many years ago, I know he was a wonderful person and left a legacy of children, and grandchildren instilled with the finest of values. May the memory of his good name live on for eternity.

  7. A beautiful story of a beautiful man.

    Tamar, thanks for sharing these thoughts at a time like this.

    I am sorry for your loss.

    If you need anything, we are here for you.

  8. says: Eric Lander

    Tamar, as is the case with everyone… My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. A loss is never easy — though that’s stating the obvious. This is a great post though and really allows your friends and readers to know you better.

    Take care — and thoughts and prayers go out to you and all in the family.

  9. says: Shannon B.

    Tamar, my grandmother passed away recently, she died from melanoma, so this entry hit incredibly close to home. Thank you for sharing your memories of him and I hope you and your family are okay during this tough time.

  10. Hi Tamar,

    Your grandfather ( ???? ?????? – may peace be upon him) will always be with you in your thoughts, behaviors, midos, stories, influences, etc.

    There are ways to continue helping him…(giving him an aliyah -rising upwards). Saying Kaddish, doing Mitzvos, learning in his z’cus, naming a son after him.

    Ha-Makom yenahem etkhem b’tokh sha ar aveilei Tzion vYerushalayim — May G-d comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

  11. says: Minnie & Arthur Palgon

    Very touching, very beautiful, very true.
    We can attest to that.
    Grandma Minnie, Grandpa Arthur

  12. says: J. Fishbeinj

    Sounds like a special man. You’re lucky to have had him for as long as you did. I wish you much comfort through this time of your loss.

  13. says: David

    What amazing blog post at an amazingly difficult time.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories of such a giving family member. I can now clearly see where your giving and caring nature developed!


  14. says: Gary

    You said it beautifully and your memories of him will surely be cherished forever.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  15. says: Jarid

    Thanks so much for passing this along last night. It’s beautifully written. Your grandpa did so many incredible things in his life and you should know that his memory will forever live in through these stories. I hope you and your family are holding up alright in the midst of this difficult time.

    I’m always around (even at 4:45 in the morning, from the library) if you need someone to talk to.

  16. says: Joe Valdez

    As we get older….we appreciate what the Lord has provided.
    Gaining the appreciation of your grandfather’s contribution to
    your life will make you a better teacher as well. There are
    so many blessings in our own home, we fail to realize the
    precious moments throughout the year. In turn, respecting our
    elders is what young men need to see from their fathers, uncles,
    and older brothers. May you treasure those memories and teach
    your sons or daughters that he was a great man.

  17. says: patrick

    Tamar I am so sorry for your loss your Grandfather sounded like a wonderful man indeed.

    Your words and memories are beautiful thank you for sharing them. I wish your family comfort and strength for these times.

  18. Tamar, it’s taken me 3 times coming to your site to leave a comment because I’ve had such a hard time getting through this post without getting choked up. Your memories of your grandfather are beautiful and it seems like you had a terrific relationship. I wish you and your family as much comfort as possible during this really hard time, and I hope you get past the grief and onto the happy memories as quickly as possible. Our thoughts are with you!

  19. says: Ruud Hein

    The 1st time around I left no comment. Maybe you needed it the most then. If so, I’m sorry. In either case stopping to read this post again I want to assure you life didn’t “just go on” after he left. Thanks to you he was thought of then and is remembered now. Through your post he inspires me to be better, to be my best. And your own reminding again adds a human touch to our “virtual” world.

    Thank you for sharing.

  20. says: Scott Clark

    Really beautiful.

    I lost my Grandma in July. ‘Mamma’ was a coal mining “wife” so knew her share of hardship. She was a member of the Red Hat Society, and was very proud for her group getting kicked out of Denny’s for “disrupting” the restaurant – this when she was 85. She made people laugh and would take on anyone in debate about politics and life. I learned more from her than from any person in the world, without a question. Wow, it hurts when they’re gone.

  21. says: Pearl

    Hi Tamar – I guess I never saw this entry before and just read about it on twitter today. Im sorry for your loss.. I’m sure your grandpa was proud of you – you’ve written a beautiful tribute.

  22. says: adrienne

    What a powerful tribute and lovely to read. I lost my wonderful 65 year-old dad (also a non-smoker) to lung cancer. What a strange club to belong to – those who have lost someone so dear.

  23. says: Dror Zaifman

    Tamar I just read your post on your grandfather.
    You were obviously very lucky to have such a wonderful man in your life.
    Oh and on a side note, your grandfather had an impact on my family as well.
    When I was young we lived about two minutes from where Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills. To be more precise, it was 150 Street and 71 Avenue in the old Dara Gardens building (not sure if you know where those were).
    Anyway my younger brother went to daycare they had there as well as had his bar mitzva there. My parents use to know Rabbi Schonfeld at the time as well.
    Never knew that your grandfather was behind it all. Small world.
    He was indeed a great and loving man.

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