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Wise Words From my Zeide

Zeide-3Good advice from the author’s zeide
My zeide was a "real" zeide. He was no "zaydee," as so many frum American Jews prefer to call their grandfathers these days.
My zeide was a studier at home of Talmud and Midrash. His books had black covers with ancient-looking paper, bold Hebrew typeface and commentaries in Rashi script. He always seemed old and very dignified to me. A real Jew. A gentle hero from a history book. His wire-rimmed glasses and white Viennese-style goatee seemed the quintessence of zeidehood.
In his younger years, he was the cantor of a synagogue serving the immigrant community of South Philadelphia. I cherish a copy of his cantorial publicity photo. He is depicted wrapped in a huge tallis and wearing a black, flat-topped yarmulke. He is holding an open siddur. His expression in the photo is one of piety. It was not a fake pose. It is exactly how I remember him.
With a young child's memory, I picture him sitting in his chair by the big window in the front room of his house. It was a time when there were still trolley tracks on the street in front of the house and milk was still delivered by horse and wagon even into the 1950s.
My zeide taught me the Hebrew alphabet, long before I started Hebrew school. I sat on his bony lap and picked out Hebrew letters and named them from the pages of the volume of Midrash Rabbah that was his ever-present companion as, now infirm, he sat on that chair by the window.
The volume was always open to the section paralleling that week's Torah portion. In the year before he died, there was a sensational news story that shocked the Philadelphia community. A little boy was enticed into a car by a female kidnapper and was never heard from again.
It affected my zeide greatly. On my next visit to "der zeide," he gave me a stern warning in English with a heavy Yiddish accent: "Don't go with strange women!"
It became his catch phrase throughout the family for decades after his death. We would laugh and fondly remember him by it.
Yet, it was good advice. I was ten when he first warned me. At this writing, I am seventy-three years old. I have never gone with strange women. My zeide's warning stood me in good stead.
"Don't go with strange women" is an ethical legacy worth passing down the generations. It is a legacy from a "real" zeide. 

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Wednesday, 23 September 2020

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