I got the news December 7th: great Aunt Ruth had died in New York, almost 105. The matriarch of my family, she was my very own Auntie Mame. When my boys were little, I kept reminding them that she had been born just before the Titanic sank in 1912. She witnessed more than a century of often drastic developments and at times interacted with its major players.
In 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, when she found out that she could get a job at good pay as a model in New York and no-one else in her family had a job, she dropped out of university and took the job to support the entire family. If you open microfiche of the New York newspapers from the early 1930s, you can see her portrayed in the large department store ads.
She married a dentist and lived as a housewife in Jamaica Estates, Queens. An active women, she volunteered in the public interest. Along with other models from the 1930s and 1940s, she served as a hostess for the United Nations in the 1950s during major meetings. When Fidel Castro made his first visit to the UN in 1960 and saw my great Aunt standing just outside the General Assembly room, he marched up to her and kissed her on the mouth. Her comment to me: his mustache itched. The Trump family lived in her neighborhood. She knew Donald Trump (“Donnie” to her) and saw him grow up. Just last week she told my son Salomon that when Donnie was little, he’d come to her house and piss on her bushes. She did not like that. I am grateful she lived to a very old age but I so miss her now and miss all the stories she had yet to tell.
The Jewish people as a religious group too have a longevity rivaled by few others. Jews have lived throughout the world and witnessed the rise and fall of many empires and civilizations. While often the victim, Jews have survived to tell tales. It is something Jews should be proud of.
We celebrate Hanukkah this month. It commemorates the successful rebellion 2,300 years ago of the Maccabees against the Syrian-Greek empire’s attempts to suppress Jewish religious practices and desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem. The lighting of the Hanukkah menorah over 8 days is the central ceremony of this festival. It marks the rededication of the Temple and the relighting of the Temple’s menorah with what little holy oil was still available. The flame, fed by one day’s volume of oil, lasted 8 days.
The IJC holds its annual Hanukkah Party on Saturday December 17th for young and old. It is a time to come together and light candles - against the darkness of this time of year and indeed against dark forces. It is time to celebrate we are still here bearing witness as the Shehechyanu prayer states: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season “. Please come join us at the IJC on the 17th.