My father has died. He was 104.
Izzy, as everyone called him, was born in 1919 during a global pandemic: the Great Influenza. Over a century later, he lived through another one. In the intervening years, the Treaty of Versailles ended the Great War, the world entered and then emerged from another World War, women won suffrage, “talkies” and television revolutionized entertainment, cars replaced horses on our roads, jets took to the skies, rockets took to the moon, computers and smartphones took over everything else, and of course, all that we now know and have and take for granted.
Born in a horse-and-buggy town in Poland during the most destructive period of the 20th century, my dad fled Europe when his village was burned to the ground during a pogrom. Those who did not leave were eventually killed by the Nazis, a number of my family among them. With little to his name but a work ethic and a can-do attitude, my dad came to America — his adopted country — lured by the promise of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
He worked hard, saved, built a small business, and retired comfortably. He was also an animal lover who never met a critter he didn’t like, with a particular soft spot for cats and little birds. But the softness hid a hardened resolve, and when I was growing up, he often battled our neighbors who did not take kindly to his feeding them.
When a neighbor complained that the birds were pooping on his roof, my dad responded that life was hard, he was committed to making it easier for those little birds, and the house would be around long after any of us were. As a kid, I spent a thousand and one moments with my dad, but I remember few with the same clarity. I carry it with me to this day.
Part of only .01% of people who reach their centennial, the world my dad died in was little like the world he was born into. But one thing had not changed: the desire of people to make a better life for themselves and their children.
Although he only had a sixth-grade education, all three of his kids went to college: I became a lawyer, my older sister a financial advisor and tax planner, and my younger sister a nurse. His grandkids — my kids and those of my sister — went to Stanford, UCLA, Sarah Lawrence, NYU, San Jose State, and the University of Hawaii.
He was the quintessential American immigrant success story.
שה' יזכור את נשמתו של אבי המכובד שעבר למנוחתו הנצחית
“May God remember the soul of my respected father who has passed to his eternal rest.”
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