I vividly remember that morning, more than 22 years ago. It was the morning after Moishey was diagnosed with Down syndrome. On a warm September morning my parents-in-law came to the hospital to visit, and for us to comfort each other in the face of the grim news. My father-in-law walked in first, wearing a short-sleeved shirt, and there, seared deep into the flesh of his forearm were the numbers he was branded with in Auschwitz. And at that moment, I started to silently berate myself – “How could you have done this to him, Sarah? How could you bring so much pain to a man who has already suffered so much in his past?” Guilt; always lurking in the shadows…
Zeidy Sander never ever made me feel guilty for having mothered a child with Down syndrome. In fact, he was one of Moishey’s staunchest “chassidim.” As time moved and we all recovered from our initial shock and mourning, Moishey charmed his way into the hearts of those nearest and dearest to him. His grandparents who were so impressed with his brilliance, that his two Zeidies a”h used to have conversations on the phone that went like this – “Err vet ess nuch ausvaksen.” (He will still outgrow it.)
Zeidy Sander’s favorite anecdote was about Erev Yom Kippur, when all the grandchildren came to his home and he bentched (blessed) them.They all lined up and bowed their heads as Zeidy placed his hands over them and wished them all that a grandfather’s heart wishes for his progeny before the holiest day of the year. But one Erev Yom Kippur, when Moishey was around 8 years old, he stepped up to Zeidy and said, “Zeidy, you bend down; I want to bentsch you first!” As Zeidy lowered his graying head, my little Kohen began “Yevaraechecha Hashem V’Yishmerecha….”
Each time Zeidy repeated this story, months later, years later, more than a decade later, the tears welled up in his eyes, threatening to spill over in a deluge.
Zeidy Sander was particularly emotional at Moishey’s bar mitzvah. Zeidy’s own bar mitzvah was “celebrated” in a cattle car on the way to Auschwitz. His mother begged him to don tefillin right there in her presence, for they didn’t know what awaited them. It was the last time he saw her. Because all of Moishey’s milestones were tearjerkers, his bar mitzvah in particular was a watershed.
Zeidy and Moishey shared a great relationship and they loved to kibbitz (joke) around. Zeidy also enjoyed grilling Moishey on his latest studies, community politics, and anything that promised a good laugh. Moishey never failed to deliver.
Moishey is now left with no Zeidies and a hole in his heart that cannot be filled. He was beloved and accepted, and brought great joy and nachas to his grandfathers. No doubt they are keeping an eye on him from Shamayim and winking down at him.
May Moishey continue to be the grandchild who is a credit to the memory of his grandparents.
This article first appeared in issue #15 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us