Menachem's Writings

A Eulogy

This is the eulogy to my mother that I was prevented from delivering. Sydney may be the only place in the civilised world where a son is not allowed to eulogise his parents, unless, I suppose, he happens to be a rabbi.

Anyu! Over the last few years the revolution in communications technology allowed us cheap and easy access to one another. To the extent that we have now, for a number of years, conversed on an almost daily basis, speaking to each other for ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes or more — something we could not even dream about when we first moved to Israel nearly thirty years ago.

Each morning, I would start our conversation, "Servus Anyu, mi úság?", what's news? Recently we spoke almost exclusively in Hungarian, though I know you believe yourself to be the only one who understands my pidgin ... sometimes you would say, "Say it in English!" — which of course I never did, not wanting to admit my shortcoming.

Today our conversation moves from a dialogue to a monologue. And this is our last direct conversation. From now on what I say to you will be but my soliloquy.

Today I say, "Anyu, servus, itt vogyok" — I'm here. I know you hate being late, late for anything. And thus I always endeavour to be on time for you, even a little early. So when I heard on Thursday that you had left us, I told Dennis to arrange the funeral immediately, for the next day, that I would not be able to make it, that it was not fair to make you wait. That the greatest honour we could give you was to allow you continue quickly onto your journey.

Almost immediately after I had made this decision, Rabbi Riskin arrives at our house. I inform him of my decision. I tell him that I would start to sit shiva immediately, that my brother would say kaddish at the grave.

He responded, "No! You have to go. The honour you give your mother by going, by being there, is far greater than the honour of a prompt burial." He proceeded to enumerate great rabbis in recent times whose funerals were delayed for up to four days to enable a larger contingent, not their children, to attend.

"She was very proud of you," he continued. Anyu, remember when he came up to you and said, "Because of you, your son speaks Hungarian!" To which you promptly retorted, "You should have said, 'because of you, your son knows how to swim!;'" a reference to the fact that I taught the rabbi to swim crawl!

So Anyu, I want start by apologising to you. Apologising for many things, but at this instant, apologising specifically for keeping you waiting. I came as quickly as I could, but there was an intervening shabath, so I caused you wait. I hope this did not bring you too much anguish.

But as a consolation, because of that wait, Sruli and Natan are also here with me.

And it was not just to ensure we knew how to swim for which you put yourself out. You took me to piano lessons, ballet lessons, French lessons and tennis lessons too. You always came, you always sat there with me, you always waited. You spent hours doing homework with me, testing me on every aspect of my studies to ensure I really understood.

I now realise that these extra curricular activities were not cheap, and I really do not know how two resettled refugees from Nazism and Communism could afford these extra curricular activities. But to both of you, these things were important. You wanted us to have the opportunity to learn and develop in ways in which you were both deprived, in ways you thought were important for an enlightened individual in these modern, post-war times.

Your expectations for the two us were high, not just high — lofty. You dedicated yourselves to the task with love and vigour. I know I never reached these expectations. Dennis produced the family's doctor. But me the lawyer? to me — an absurd prospect. You did not even know what electronic engineering was, let alone what a computer programmer did. How would I earn a livelihood? I just provided you an additional source of worry.

Dennis was here all the time after we left for Israel. Me — I just popped in occasionally. It was far away — you know that well. You made the arduous trip often to see your grandchildren — and us. But Dennis and his family were here all the time to help you on a day-to-day basis. And I, like you, owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Almost forty-four years ago to the week, we stood in this place, you and I, staring into a deep hole in the ground, you a young, beautiful, suddenly widowed, young woman, me a spoilt thirteen year old, staring together into that deep crevice, the two of us wondering, in different ways, what of the tomorrow. You, suddenly saddled with the sole responsibility for two young boys, a burden too heavy to consider, too difficult to bear — you were not up to it — you were totally unprepared — but what was the choice?

And me wondering how this could be happening to us, or what was happening to us?

From that day on, you stopped being just our mother. You became also our father, our mentor, our rock, even though you yourself saw the foundations slipping beneath your feet. Even though there were not enough hours in the day.

You pulled through it. We never felt anything lacking. You provided for everything. You were always there for the two of us. You were happy, smiling. Always.

You were a true survivor — a survivor both with a capital S and a lower case one too. You came into this world in 1924 in almost idyllic circumstances: a loving immediate family of ten siblings, surrounded by a huge extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Parents on lofty peaks. A liberal democratic society, presided over by, I believe, the only real philosemitic leader in the world, and most certainly in antisemitic Europe.

But this was all shattered by the outbreak of yet another war in Europe. Two of your siblings were already apart from this close-knit, warm family, escaped to England by early 1939. The war saw you in Auschwitz and later as a slave labourer in the Junkers aeroplane factory in southern Germany. You were shot in the head by a stray bullet on the day of your liberation.

All the time you and your four sisters with you, were sustained in hell by the knowledge that your parents were safely hidden, that your family would soon reunite. But this was not to be. Known all along only to your sister, Rozsi, your parents had been murdered in Auschwitz, while you were still there. Only on arriving back to your grandparents' house in Presov, did you learn the bitter truth.

Life continued. You re-established yourself in Kosice, your hometown, after the war, opening a hat shop with Rozsi. You quickly made up for lost time during the war. You worked hard, you played hard. Life was great.

Again the tide turned. You escaped communism just in time. You did not have to run away like Daddy did. You left on your own terms, moving to Paris, to where most of your siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins were planning the next stage of their lives. Visas to Canada, Australia, the U.S. and some off to Israel. You were the last to leave. Life too was good in Paris. But not forever. Eventually you realised that even western Europe was now under the communist threat and, after much deliberation on who to follow — Montreal or Sydney — you chose Australia where Rozsi had relocated a couple of years earlier.

You started life again, anew, in a new country, a new language, new customs. You married our father whom you met a couple of years earlier in Prague. Together you set out to conquer the world. It was far from easy.

You did everything with a smile. You were a human magnet, making friends with everyone. You were involved in many activities. Once, not that long ago, you told me that you had just come back from the cemetery, that such and such had passed away. "All my friends are leaving". It saddened me your world was crumbling, that you would eventually be on your own.

"What are you going to do?" To which you immediately responded, "I'll just have to make new friends." And you did. You would tell me what you did with this person or that, as if I knew about whom you were talking. I did not. These were all new friends. However the intensity of the relationship was the same.

Your father did not come out well from the Great War. As a result of his activities in the Kaiser's army [perhaps in the trenches] he suffered badly from arthritis, continuously seeking medical and other solutions to his problem.

He was the gabbai of the local synagogue.

He wakes up early each morning. He is to be first there, to open the doors. He dresses immaculately. You always said that shul for him is both a religious and a social activity. By the time he returns, your mother has been behind the counter of one of their two grocery shops, one at either side of the building in between which was your home. You all helped. The family was close.

You idolised both of your parents, but you deified your mother. Industrious, clever, savvy, wise — she could juggle many things at one time. She was the first in town to get Hungarian papers in 1938. She was superhuman. She would still be behind the counter when it was time to call the midwife again — she had ten children. She loved them all equally.

"Many daughters have amassed achievement, but you surpassed them all — רַבּ֣וֹת בָּ֭נוֹת עָ֣שׂוּ חָ֑יִל וְ֝אַ֗תְּ עָלִ֥ית עַל־כֻּלָּֽנָה."

Anyu, you never realised it, but you were your mother. You likely surpassed your mother. Your trials and tribulations were far greater. You always came out with flying colours.

You will be remembered by everyone for your smile, your friendly countenance, your positive attitude. You were a lady to the end.

Anyu, I do not want to hold you up any more. I have delayed you enough. Before you go, I want to apologise to you for everything that needs apologising. I was not always the best of sons, I could have been better. But ... I am who I am.

Go in peace. Please speak in our favour. Tell the Lord of the Universe that it is enough. That the suffering is greater that we can endure. The world is waiting for redemption. That He should bring quickly forward the End of Days, at which point the Beith haMikdash will be rebuilt and all of us will reunite, we and all the departed of Israel.

Menachem Kuchar, 4th March, 2010    
18th Adar, 5770    

This eulogy was published in the Sydney Jewish News. So even though the Chevra Kadisha forbade me to present it on their premises, it in fact reached a far rather audience.


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