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In Memory Of My Father, A Survivor Dedicated To Teaching Torah

In Memory Of My Father, A Survivor Dedicated To Teaching Torah

Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from a June 14 eulogy for Rabbi Moshe Kasirer.

Even in the difficult final months of his life, when it was hard to see the bright side, my father never missed an opportunity to tell a good joke.

Most recently, the doctors, residents and nurses dwould come to see him in the ICU. “Do you have a joke for me today??” They would ask.   My father would get that twinkle in his eye, before launching into one of his favorites:

"A patient comes into the hospital and tells the nurse he needs to see the doctor because he feels invisible!

The nurse says to the doctor, “Doctor, there is a patient here to see you who is invisible!”

My father would pause before delivering the punch line:

The doctor says to the nurse: ‘Tell him I can’t see him!”

As hospital patients go, there was nothing “invisible” about my father, Rabbi Moshe Kasirer. For six months, I watched him with pride as he had a profound impact on those who treated him.  How they grew to love this gentle, gracious, humble man, always so eager to make them smile.

My Dad's surgeon, learning of his passing, texted: “It was an honor to have met him. Truly one of the strongest, bravest individuals I’ve ever encountered."

My father was a survivor.  Literally. I had always suspected that his predictable quest for comic relief was to compensate for his deep and enduring sadness, rooted in his childhood during the Holocaust.

It was precisely this time of year during Shavuot, when my father was 12, that the Nazis rounded up his family from their childhood home in Romania, a town called Sighet Maramuresh, and moved them to the ghetto.

In each of the 73 years of his life that followed, Shavuot remained a painful time.

My father was the only member of his immediate family to make it out of the Nazi concentration camps alive.  He lost his parents. His siblings. His grandparents.

He was rescued at age 14 on his fifth day at  Bergen- Belsen.  A camp where many people didn’t make it to day number 5.

But once again, my father was a survivor.   One who scrounged enough bread in the camp so that he could trade it for another young man's tefillin to wear for his own bar mitzvah.  One who had the courage to escape by climbing over barbed wire to jump onto a moving train he hoped might take him to freedom.  Only to be captured and thrown off the train. My father was devastated.  Until he learned that same train was ultimately bombed by the Allies.

My father took very seriously the fact that he had been a witness to this history.  Though orphaned and traumatized, he dwelled on the positive.  He had such a simple, enduring faith.   My father believed God had protected him.  God had saved his life for a reason.

He became convinced it was his mission to teach the Torah.   And for 58 years of his life, that is what he would do, praying and teaching and saying the mourners Kaddish, which he would say three times a day for the Kedoshim [holy ones] who had no one to say Kaddish for them.

My father never cared about material things. Upon arrival in New York, he turned down a job offer from a distant uncle to work in a Catskills hotel.  Uncle Sidney couldn’t believe it.  And throughout his many years at the yeshiva where he taught he turned down promotion after promotion.  He was content to teach the Torah. 

My father was grateful for each day.  He was grateful for prayer.  And eventually for his beautiful, devoted wife Gloria, who was by his side every single day during his long hospital stay, and with whom he would have celebrated his 59th wedding anniversary later this month.

When I was born, I became my father’s only living blood relative.  A relationship that was cherished by us both.  Then came my brother Hersh, who was such a devoted son, who always showed our father tremendous respect.   Hersh gave my father such kindness and gentle care throughout his illness.

When Hersh and I were young children, we learned there were 36 righteous people in the world.  We were convinced Dad was one of the 36.  “Sshhhhh! Don’t say anything!” We would whisper, knowing the identities of the 36 were supposed to remain unknown. 

My father was righteous in his conduct but not in his tone.  He was a teacher, but he never lectured.  He never judged people.  I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.  And he always led by example.

When I was a little girl, my father would tell me real-life bedtime stories about his years in the concentration camps.  He told me about the time he saved up several days of bread so that he could eat them all together in one meal, and achieve that feeling of fullness in his stomach.   But another hungry young man discovered his stash and stole it. 

My father told me how years after his liberation, he was reunited with other survivors who told him of his beloved mother’s devastation upon being informed, incorrectly, that he, Moshe, her favorite son, had died.

“I have nothing to live for now,” she said, tragically giving up her own struggle to live, based on inaccurate information. 

As a child, I remember how my father looked.  I saw strength, a loving smile and a gentle warmth. But when I looked at my father, I also saw a deep sadness that I tried to relieve in him by owning it myself.  

Most importantly, what I absorbed so proudly from my father was his sense of justice, his strong survival instinct and his love of life.

There was a time when he could never imagine he might live such a long, fulfilling life with children, grandchildren and a great grandchild.

My father loved simple pleasures.  meals and holidays with his family.  Riding his bicycle. Swimming. Sitting in the sun. The joy of praying and singing with his children and grandchildren.  And of course, giving to his beloved yeshiva in any way possible.

My father did all he could for the Yeshiva.  Encouraging his friend Ruby in Ridgewood to donate sable and lox for Sunday brunches; paying to buy a new refrigerator when the yeshiva needed one, then stocking it with ice cream from a wholesale distributor whom he had befriended; giving in countless ways to the thousands of ninth graders who passed through his classroom, endeared by his gentle yet commanding presence.

Since every day was a gift to my father, I do believe at the end of his life, he fought, so he could love his family, teach us, survive, and make us all smile just a little longer.  

Suri Kasirer is president of the New York lobbying firm, Kasirer.

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