Because It’s Mine // Recalling a humble man who loved life

By C. Liba Rimler

My father has always loved to tell us stories about his childhood in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. When he was growing up, there were few religious children in the neighborhood, so from an early age he found companionship with the elderly European Jews who attended his father’s shul.
Many were Holocaust survivors. My father recalls that some of the women would cry in shul, reliving memories of their children being snatched away by the Nazis. They were tormented by these traumatic events until their final days.
One would think they would hardly have been friend material for a young kid from Brooklyn; the chasm in terms of age and life experience was vast. Yet despite the differences, connections were born.
There was Max, who would sneak lollipops to my father through the lattice partition between their porches. There was Saul, who sang the tefillos with sweet sincerity. And there was Tzvi, who would show up earnestly at the front door with articles of worn clothing because “maybe you can use this.”
Although they were all friendly, each memorable for his own personality and quirks, none were as deeply beloved to my father as Reb Shaya.
Reb Shaya was a pure-hearted Jew. He had been a soldier in his youth. He moved to America in his later years. A bachelor all his life, he had no family to speak of. But although he was a recluse, he wasn’t lonely. He devoted himself to serving his Creator with a deep love and connection, faithfully showing up in shul and singing with passion. He loved chazzanus and pierced the heavens with his powerful voice. Reb Shaya was a meticulous man who was careful about halachic observance and recited Tehillim in every spare moment.
He was a fast walker. He was completely independent until paralysis struck his legs and he became wheelchair-bound. My father and his older brother fought over the privilege of who got to push him to shul in his wheelchair.
It was around that time that my father began to visit Reb Shaya more often. He became his caretaker and relished the position. For a boy of 13, it wasn’t a chore; it was an honor.
My father remembers with fondness the way Reb Shaya formulated each request as a series of instructions. “Go down the staircase,” he would say, “and open the pantry. Bring up the jar of borscht.”
A few minutes later, his young charge would stand in front of him holding the jar in his hand. “Now,” he would say, “unscrew the lid.”
My father would dutifully comply.
“Please pour it into the cup for me.”
He poured.
And then, “Place it over here.”
That was how my father served him, fulfilling command after command. “He multiplied the experience of giving,” my father says. “He increased my s’char mitzvah.”


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