Sam was extremely good looking. A very good dancer with a twinkle in his eye, dancing was big when he was growing up and he was a star on the dance floor.
While his good looks and light-footed charm earned him some ease in life, Sam also faced hard lessons. Rifka, his mom, had experienced great heartbreak when she escaped Poland; those circumstances changed the course of her life in a difficult way (see: THE FORGOTTEN ONES: and stubborn hope). Rifka wanted to teach her children not to be hurt like she had been. She never hugged or told her children she loved them. This was her way of love. In her world view, protecting her children’s hearts from pain, teaching them to be like “islands” could save them. At a young age, Sam learned to be tough, strong, and to not show or even feel emotions. Rifka for her part, and despite her toughness, would occasionally have bouts of sadness where she would just cry and cry seemingly without end.
Max, Sam’s dad, drove a laundry truck. He worked long hours and still Sam’s family often struggled to have enough to eat; security was scarce. Out on the streets of the South Bronx, Sam found his way. People were drawn to this reserved boy who had an undeniable twinkle in his eye. Popular with both boys and girls, he was tough and also carried himself with a quiet dignity. Though he didn’t get close to others, he was, in his own self contained way, generous and kind hearted, never setting out to hurt others.
When Sam was 13, he gave up any semblance of religion. Witness to his father’s poverty and frustrations, and his mother’s pain and severely withdrawn nature, Sam recounts the day he gave up all belief. It was Yom Kippur. Sam had attended shul and was fasting and hungry. As he was walking home from shul in the afternoon, he recounts seeing his Rabbi and some of the religious leaders of his shul sitting in a Chinese restaurant eating. The switch shut off there and then and he angrily swore off religion. It did not seem like a big loss at the time since his family had little joy in general and that included with their religion.
It wasn’t until about sixty five years later when his wife Sonny became extremely ill that Sam’s protective shell cracked open. Sam never did anything halfway. Wittingly or not, he harnessed the same strength that he had used for decades clamping down emotions to explore healing for his wife. He was determined to make her better and no door or exploration was off limits. Never ever would I have thought my strong, silent “macho” dad would open his heart and mind as he did.
I will just leave it here for now and say that I, as his grown daughter with children of her own, had the privilege of seeing and thus knowing, that people can change, grow and transform at any age.
and…so we can… ©
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Photo by Myriam Zilles