Farewell, my Precious Saba

Below is a tribute I shared to my beloved grandfather at his funeral:

Saba, it wasn’t supposed to end like this. You were supposed to move out to Denver, and live out your days here. We were going to sit on the couch together watching the Broncos embark on another disappointing season, and we were going to commiserate together. We were going to visit you multiple times every week, and you were going to be the honored guest at Avrumies Bar Mitzvah. You were going to be a treasured member of my shul, and enjoy my sermons, and get tremendous nachas from me every Shabbos. 

But G-d had other plans. 

You died right before we read the terrifying curses in Parshas Ki Savo. The Gemara in Megilla 31b says the reason we read the curses at the end of the year is kdei sh’tichleh hashana v’klilosesha–so that the year may end along with its curses–indeed– we are all ready for this year–and its abundance of curses– to end.

You died of a broken heart– the news of your dear wife Adele’s health failings literally shattered you- emotionally and physically. 

I will forever cherish the final days I was blessed with you, praying by your bedside, weeping at your pain.

 I was taken aback when I reached Psalm 77 Dovid HaMelech wrote lines that could have been penned by you in that very moment. 

2. [I raise] my voice to God and cry out; [I raise] my voice to God and He will listen to me.

3. On the day of my distress I sought my Lord. My wound oozes at night and does not abate; my soul refuses to be consoled.

4. I remember God and I moan; I speak and my spirit faints, Selah.

5. You grasped my eyelids; I am broken, I cannot speak.

But I am not here to talk about your death, Saba. I am here to celebrate your life.  In the same chapter of Psalms, King David also wrote, 

“I think of olden days, of ancient years.”– You did that– you consistently told me that your happiest memories of your life were when you and Safti–now reunited after 36 years-– lived in a one bedroom apartment with a bed that folded against the wall so you would have enough space. You cherished that simple life with your Beloved wife.  

You also told me repeatedly to cherish every second of my life– because in the blink of an eye, our lives pass us by. 

Seven verses later, Dovid Hamelech wrote:

“I meditate on all Your works, and speak of Your deeds.” You also did that. As a very young child you took me outside, and made me look at the stars. You explained how vast and wondrous G-d’s creations are– you taught me about light years, and stars, and galaxies. You were amazed at G-ds brilliance. The sunflower– and its sheer size– enthralled you. Nature dazzled you.

And you were the most hilarious person I ever met. After retiring at the age of 55 , when people asked you how you spent your time, you told them matter of factly that you have a hobby which you enjoy to the fullest. You have a large sea shell collection that you keep scattered on beaches across the world.

 Other times you told them you wrote the entire works of Shakespeare on the ball point of a pen. 

You taught all of your beloved grandchildren the I’m a Beaver Song, and its accompanying dance. 

When I complained to you in high school that my old 1983 Peugeot did not have air conditioning, you told me to drive with the windows rolled up, so at the very least, people would think that I had air conditioning. 

You took me to the aquarium one time, and there was a fellow cleaning it with his hand. You pointed to the hand, and told the young, impressionable, six year old me that it was a hand fish. It was only fourteen years later when I turned 20 that you revealed to me there’s in fact no such thing as a hand fish— it was simply a guy’s hand cleaning the tank.

At Yehoshua and Leah’s Sheva Brachos, when uncle Herb was not looking, you snatched his plate, and gave it to me, across the table to hide. When poor uncle came back to the table, you told him the sweet little girl had cleared it. Uncle Herb very gently asked the young lady why she cleared his plate, before he finished eating, and she looked back at him completely confused. You and I were doing everything we could to hold back out laughter. 

You had a fabulously successful career as a teacher at East High School. We would routinely see letters from former students who wrote to you, 40 years after having taught them, about how you literally changed their lives. You were immensely talented and passionate.

On January 31st, 2014, Lottie got the following email at EDOS from a former student:

Good Afternoon,

I was just searching for Irwin Keinon and came across a newsletter you wrote in May 2013 that had his name. 

If it is the same one, Mr. Keinon was my English teacher at East High School in the early 80’s.   Mr. Keinon was my hero.  My brother died of leukemia ten days into my first year of high school and I was completely lost.  Mr. Keinon saw something in me and, through his tremendous spirit and incredible talent as a teacher, he pulled me out of my grief.  Through literature, especially Shakespeare, Mr. Keinon helped me find my voice.  I remember vividly coming into class and he was standing at his podium, hitting it with a ruler like a drum and quoting from Hamlet or the time he threw leaves on us quoting a poem by Robert Frost.

The last time I saw Mr. Keinon, our last class had ended.  He was headed to Israel and I remember crying.  He told me that I would make it.  And I have.

I have wanted to let him know the impact he had, and continues to have, on my life.

I have met many wonderful people in my life, but no one has touched my soul as much as Irwin Keinon.

You were an incredible, loving and doting grandfather. You took excessive pride in your children and grandchildren, carrying around their pictures for all to see. Having grandsons serve in the IDF gave you immense joy. You repeatedly told me how proud you are of me for my accomplishments. I might have gained 20 pounds, but you consistently told me how handsome I was. You loved hearing me speak, and your pride in me served as tremendous motivation and inspiration. You attended as many of my sports games as you could, and I will never forget how I hit two home runs the game you attended.

And, with this idea I will conclude, you had a particular obsession, to desecrate Hitler’s cursed memory. I took this picture off of your bedroom wall. 

Every time another great grandchild would be born, you would add the child to your family tree, that you crafted yourself, with technology that must be over 30 years old. I can see you giddily revising it after every birth to reflect the addition to the family. Whenever we offered you to clean up the family tree, to spruce it up a bit, to modernize it a drop, you politely declined– you took excessive pride in your handiwork, in more ways than one.

You have so many great grandchildren–And LAST NIGHT YOU WERE GIVEN ANOTHER ONE-–  as Malka was blessed with a stunningly beautiful little girl last night–  NOW 21 and counting– Saba, you have so many great grandchildren that they simply don’t all fit on your family tree. So there is a column to the right which counts them. Now 21 in all. Every single one of them a Torah observant Jew. 

And in the bottom right, you wrote in bold red letters the following:

Margot, of blessed memory, would be so proud. Nazis tried to kill her, and she gave birth to two, who gave birth to seven, who-so far- gave birth to (CAPS) TWENTY. TWENTY NINE all told. All Jews. Who won?

You know who won Saba? 

You won. 

Safti won. 

I promise you Saba–my precious Saba– that I will continue to DEDICATE MY LIFE, to ensure that we continue to win. 

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