February 13, 2013
The only grandfather I ever knew, Israel “Salo” Kupferschmidt, would have been 100 years old tomorrow. Here is my little tribute to this dear person for just part of his legacy: the imprint he made on me.
My grandpa (“Saba”, in Hebrew) led a simple life, made complicated by being born a Jew in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. I spent a couple of hours every weekday of my formative years in his presence, between school and being picked up by my parents. I can’t recall any explicit lesson he ever taught me, but I owe so much of my character to him.
As I was growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there was little talk about his and his family’s experiences during the Holocaust. But I heard the stories, here and there. Of the family members who succumbed to typhoid in the camp. Of the hard labour. Of the horrible conditions in the harsh Romanian winter. Of being drafted to the Red Army and being sent off to war without any weapon. He had overcome ungodly adversity, but he never considered himself a hero nor referred to himself as a “survivor.” Anytime I’m in need of tenacity, the thought comes up, “My grandparents survived so much worse than this.”
Saba was a “mensch,” that one-syllable Yiddish word that reflects an entire personality. A GOOD person. The kind who never made enemies, who wanted what’s best for others, who never badmouthed anyone or gossiped. Even having witnessed how ill-hearted others can be, he never harboured any ill will. What a wonderful role model. Little surprise then that a significant part of my life’s work is to restore humanity to the workplace.
I learnt from Saba to be frugal, do honest work, and save for what matters most, such as family and education. When along with many other Jews he, my grandmother, and their two young daughters were allowed to leave Romania for Israel in 1959, they couldn’t bring any money; in fact, the largest item they carried was blankets. And somehow, they never seemed to want.
Saba was that unassuming person who naturally stood out at work. He was diligent, helpful, good at what he did (bookkeeping), never pompous, and always ready with a joke. He retired at the grand old age of 80, sharp as a whip and in good health.
He had patience like nobody else. When I was a child, he commuted every day to his work in a small village outside of Jerusalem. He never drove, and public transportation left a lot to be desired back then, but I never heard him complain. I can only wish I had that kind of patience.
Saba led a simple life. The kind of life that in today’s materialistic, busy, stressed-out Western society seems almost incomprehensible. Whenever I’m tempted to add complexity to my life, that backdrop reminds me to pause and reconsider.
He passed away at the age of 86, a couple of months before I took one of my biggest steps ever, the move to Canada. Saba, I am so fortunate to have had you around for the first 26 years of my existence. You will not be forgotten.