Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goodbye Grandma

Marguerite Grossmann Malka bas Vilhem Died: May 15, 2010/ 2 Sivan 5770 Funeral: May 17, 2010/ 4 Sivan 5770 Bnai Amoona Cemetery (Buchholz Mortuary)

Beloved mother of Brenda DeLano and the late Rick Martinez
Dear sister of Frances Hyman and Art Grossmann and the late Joseph Grossmann
Dear grandmother of 6, great-grand mother of 11
Aunt, great-aunt and dear friend.

Dear family and friends,

We're here on this saddest of occasions as we say tzayschem b'shalom -- our final goodbyes to Margo Grossmann-- Malka bas Vilhem. Our presence today is a kavod and honor to the memory and the life of this wonderful woman.

I must point out that we find ourselves in the period of time known as Shloshet Y'may Hackable; the three festive days before the the major Jewish holiday and Yom Tov of Shoves. As such, a number of prayers that ordinarily would be said are omitted in deference to the sanctity and holiness of the holiday. Additionally, hespedim/eulogies are not recited at a funeral during this period of time for the same reason. However, given the unique personality of Margo and her life, I'd like to share some words of reflection about who she was and what she accomplished. And if through those words we find ourselves inspired to become like Margo even to a small degree, that would be the greatest kavod, the greatest honor we could give to her.

John Ruskin, a 19th century author and art critic, observed that you can tell the genius of a painting only at the end of the day. It's when the little details are blurred in the dusk that you can see the grand design of the painter. I think this is a metaphor for being human; the meaning of a who a person was is best visible at life's end -- particularly for one who has lived an exceptionally long life. The details of life fade in the dusk; what remains at the end is the impression of a whole person, and what they truly achieved and accomplished. In her 96 years Margo Grossmann achieved and accomplished many marvelous things -- not the least of which was the remarkable family which she left behind.

Jewish tradition teaches that one of the ways that a person's character is best judged is by the way they interact with close family members. We're well familiar with the person who is admired and highly thought of by strangers, acquaintances and even friends -- but those who know the person best -- the immediate family -- may have a less-than-flattering impression of who they really are. With Margo, the opposite is true. And while even a short visit with Margo would leave a person deeply impressed -- as I was in my one 45 minute visit with her the day before she passed away -- I've seen that you, Margo's immediately family love her, respect her, admire her as a wonderful mother and grandmother of exceptional character, and who was the Matriarch of your family. I could tell from my discussions with you, Brenda, and your family at your mother's home this past Friday and last night that you and your family adore your mother, place your mother on a pedestal, and consider your mother to be a great and important woman. What does that mean?

Our rabbis teach in Pirkei Avos/Ethics of the Fathers (3:13) "If the spirit of others finds favor with a person, that's a sign that the Almighty, as well, finds favor with that person." You who knew Margo best, have the highest opinion of her. According to Jewish tradition, the same, then, can be said about G-d. He has a very high opinion of her.

Margo had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. And it wasn't simply that she had a quest to understand obscure facts and information -- such as details about the life of the crocodile (learned from a park ranger in Florida), or hours spent carefully examining a Salvadore Dali art exhibit. Margo wanted to understand people and what made them tick -- like in the story you shared of her visit to the dentist, who she somehow peppered with questions while her mouth was filled with instruments as she was having dental work done. Margo wanted to understand the world, because it was her world. She was an explorer!

She explored the big things. When she was quite a bit on in life she traveled to England, stayed in a hostel and got a job there -- no doubt in large part to have an opportunity to get to know and explore life in England. Margo wasn't afraid to travel even very late in life -- traveling on her own to Israel, incredibly, just last year. What an independent, responsible woman.

And Margo explored the little things. Seeking mastery of the English language by conquering New York Times crossword puzzles. Seeking to master and conquer the games of bridge and poker. Using her great artistic eye and fine attunement to sensitivity to notice the tiniest details around her, and to create a beautiful, finely designed home.

In her 96 years Margo, in many ways, mastered the power of her own mind by forcing it to serve her, rather than being subject to it's own whims and desires. The glass, to Margo, wasn't simply half-full, but overflowing. An incredibly positive person, she understood, apparently at an early age, that the secret to happiness isn't wanting more, but appreciating and taking pleasure in what you already have. Margo exemplified the traditional Jewish approach of 'samech b'chelko' ; she was spiritually wealthy because she was able to count her blessings, and ignore unpleasant things and get on with life.

The 96 year journey of Margo Grossmann was a joyous one, filled with with laughter, dancing, and delight taken in that which meant most to her: her family. She was the big sister who fought the battles of her younger siblings, and later became an inseparable best friend of her sister Frances. She never gave up on being a Mom, and was always trying to guide and teach Rick and Brenda. The point of money, to Margo, was that it was a vehicle with which to help others through tzedaka and charity. The point of time, to Margo, was that it was a resource to be used to help others. Giving to others was her focus, and Margo took great joy in giving.

Although Margo wasn't raised in a traditional or Orthodox home, she clearly had a deep sense of the importance of Judaism, and obviously was successful in transmitting it to her offspring. I had the pleasure of knowing Rick when I first came to St. Louis in the late 1980's; he was a fine man, a wonderful man who was sincere and passionate about the Torah and a life of Jewish observance. Brenda -- the many years of your having lived in Israel is strong evidence of your mother's influence and evidence of both her own pride and your own pride in being Jewish and a commitment to our people and the land of Israel. And Margo's six grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren are, as far I can see, deeply and sincerely committed to the G-d of Israel and His Torah. Happy is the woman who leaves behind such a legacy.

On a final note, I must tell you that don't think I'll ever forget my brief and only meeting with Margo. She was 96 years old, the second-to-last day of her life, suffering with an end-stage illness. And while she seemed somewhat uncomfortable, she was completely lucid, sharp, pleasant -- even laughing, at times, curious, open and honest. And she exuded a grace and glow that I can only describe as being both regal, and spiritual. I'm so pleased, Brenda, that you gave me the opportunity to meet her. And I'm so honored, you that you have honored me to officiate at this very special woman's funeral.

As John Ruskin said, life, like a painting, is best visible at the end of the day. Marguerite Grossmann leaves behind the legacy of almost a century of years that were well lived. She was irrepressibly curious, independent, adventurous, intelligent, kind, giving, spiritual, and proud to be Jewish. Her greatest legacy is the ripple effects she has left behind in her many offspring, and the unforgettable memories those who had the privilege of meeting her will always carry with them.

May her soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life, and may her memory be a blessing for us all.

Rabbi Ze'ev Smason
Nusach Hari Bnai Zion Congregation
St. Louis Missouri