Shiva speech given by Anthony

I have thought hard about what I wanted to say, but have failed to find the right words. I know I should be able to summon a coherent narrative, but I cannot. I can only bring fragments. I feel like a film-maker surrounded by a floor full of cuttings, unable to assemble the story I want to tell and that my subject merits.

My brother and sister have already spoken, both beautifully, and have said much of what I would have wanted to say.  My brother spoke of my mother’s gentle humour and delightful sense of the ridiculous. My sister spoke of her boundless energy and personal engagement. I cannot speak with either their wit or warmth.

I know I could speak of my mother’s childhood and how she transcended those experiences. It is an amazing story but then, all survivors stories are amazing: the ordinary story is not often told because disappearing into darkness is the ordinary story. But … I agree with Daniel and Tamara it is not the story of her life and I will on this occasion not recount it. There will be other occasions.

As many of you know, my mother was unwell, really for the last six years. Her declining health started before my father died. It robbed her of herself and, though she was able to still take pleasure in visits from friends, and family occasions, her last few years were darkened by pain and depression.

This is not her story either – and not ours. We acknowledge it, but it too does not define her. It is a small sliver of her life.

Let me then pick up the cuttings, the little loops of film.

I see my mother as scientist. I see her sitting in the Dining Room, surrounded by papers, in German, Dutch and other languages, preparing abstracts – puzzling through the networks of references. Sipping on her ‘funny tea’.

I see my mother as teacher. I see her patiently working though problems with pupils who would come for tutoring. Her focus always on helping them to understand and reason and to feel comfortable with Maths. I see her pleasure in their success.

I see my mother as friend. I see her smiling, talking, relaxing with her network of friends. Talking about books, politics, education, children, food and more beside. I see the invaluable friendship shown in return, given back as generously as she gave.

I see my mother reaching out, providing help and support for those who needed it. Not just in the immediacy of need but sustained for years, decades, a whole lifetime. With genuine feeling, with pleasure, with an open heart.

I see my mother as sister. I see her with Aunt Ruth and more dimly with Aunt Eva. I see their collective strength and their love for each other. I see my cousins and the love extended to them.

I see my mother as daughter. I see her express the pain of the loss of her mother, who sacrificed her life for her and her sisters

I see my mother as Bnai Brith sister. I see her intense pride in BB, in what my Dad described as the ‘youth club’, and her pleasure in its fellowship. I see her commitment to the values of BB and to its ethic of service that so closely aligned with her own.

I see my mother as neighbour. I see the beautiful friendships built with the families in Cheyne Walk and in Beaufort Gardens and the wonderful support from Nurit and Esther.

I see my mother as sustainer of family tradition. I see Shabbats and Seders. The very heart of our family. The co-creation of my mother and father, the thread continuing from my grandfather Opi.

I see my mother as the builder of this home. I feel its warmth and openness. I see the chilli con carne for fifteen knocked up on spec. The spare beds for visiting academics, friends, a passing troupe of Rabbis.

My mother as energiser and creator. I see scrapbooks and paintings, Blue Peter sticky-back plastic, yoghurt cartons and clay.

My mother as wife. I see a beautiful loving partnership of equals but not equivalents. My father used to say ‘I am the lion but she is the roar’.

My mother as grandmother. I see her surrounded by grandchildren but engaging with each as an individual. I see the cuddles, the laughs, the treats and the games.

My mother as mother. I see her sitting by our beds, reading stories and poems, laughing and comforting.

I know I should finish here but I cannot. I must thank my mother for the greatest gift: my brother and sister. I am so grateful to them. Michael and Nicky you are the most fantastic support and strength. My nephews and nieces and my children who all played their part, showing love and affection, being brave when it was needed. Lastly,  the person my mother described as the ‘angel Judy’ who, when my mother would worry or would ask ‘what should I do’, would always answer, ‘I have done it’ and my mother would lie back.

Anthony Finkelstein
February 2017