Shiva speech given by Tamara

My parents performed a form of alchemy with their lives, somehow managing to weave gold from straw:

– With childhoods damaged by war and persecution they left no residue of that trauma on the three of us, leaving any potential therapist with very lean pickings;

– From a Shabbat table with only the five of us plus my grandmother – Granny the First – my Dad’s Mum. They extended their family until we could hardly fit the large dining room as we joined up with the Heaths, our marvelous neighbours, and other friends, as each of us married and not only our partners were welcomed but their wider families, grandchildren, and along the way the frequent visiting academics, Leo Baeck rabbinical students and our friends and colleagues;

– And as the current parashot we are reading from the Torah tell the story of the plagues and the exodus I particularly remember sedarim where we would joke that next year Dad’s chair would have to be in the garden;

– And from a standing start they built their own brand of Judaism, forged in my Dad’s learning, my Mum’s commitment and hospitality, and both of their values. A strong and unique brand that leads to these prayers being lead each night by a rabbi of a different community of which we are each active members

How did they do it? It was a form of alchemy but a couple of years ago Mum said something to me that gave me a clue.

She was telling me yet again how marvellous her Bnei Brith friends were at visiting her and supporting her though sickness and grief. That evening I was to be speaking briefly at a dinner for our synagogue’s 40th anniversary when we hoped we could raise enough money for a community development director. She said to me that when you ask people to become a member of something or to get involved they are often suspicious of what will be required from them, what will they have to give in money, in time, in commitment. But they’ve got it all wrong she said, you gain so much more than you ever give by being a member of something, by joining in, by belonging, by seeking to do your duty and to play your part. Not because in the end it may pay out in some way but because belonging itself is a reward. Of course she was right and it was what she lived by and what she taught us by her actions as well as her words.

In later years she would worry about me, asking me why I was cooking dinner for 20, baking a kugelhupf cake at midnight, joining the committee and hosting the meeting. Mum, I’d say, you know why, you taught me everything I know.

Mum was a person of many interests and talents. A gifted teacher, each of us often come across people who were touched by her gift to communicate maths even to those who found it difficult, and so many have been in touch since the weekend. She took on science teaching and countless kids have enjoyed her experiments, especially getting the hard boiled egg in the milk bottle.

She was a collector of pottery – first Clarice Cliff and then Gouda pottery, she loved finding intriguing antiques and rummaging round antique markets, and she loved gadgets and more than that the instruction manuals that went with them. She was always an early adopter of technology.

I remember in Northwick Park hospital, after she had had a stroke, and we were sitting with the multi-disciplinary team of OT, phsyio, dietician, speech therapist and others, trying to find something that would engage her back into living. I struck on an idea “she needs an iPad with 3G” and I watched their eyes look doubtfully at this little old lady hunched in a wheelchair in a hospital gown. No, really. And it worked as she had FaceTime calls including with cousin Mikey in US, sent emails and bought presents for the grandchildren on the Internet. And when she returned home she had the upstairs iPad and the downstairs iPad, with iPad charging one of the tasks on the carers list.

She was a truly wonderful grandmother, Granny the Second, and as Dad would put it, the lead partner in the amazing GAP services, Granny and Papa services, who could be called upon in hours of need. But she forged a relationship with each grandchild in turn, finding out their interests and engaging with them. She often would quote her father’s wise and apposite sayings. I know already from talking to my children that her’s have already secured themselves in our language her predictable “it’s nice to be predictable once in a while” as you fiddle around with an empty glass or bottle of juice “there’s always enough to make a mess”. But Jade remembered something special, whenever you asked her how she was she would say “all the better for seeing you” or “speaking to you”. She always made you feel that was true.

I had a very uncomplicated relationship with my mum, I thought she was marvelous and she thought I was marvelous and we told each other that frequently. My only complaint came after a meeting I had in my women’s group now nearly thirty years old. In my early twenties we had a conversation about mothers and as it progressed I got worried, what could I contribute to this exploration of issues and misunderstandings. She hadn’t given me any ‘stuff’ to deal with. I complained to her later and she loved that, now I have my own daughters I know why and aim to emulate her.

In her later years as most of you know she found life was hard without my Dad, and in failing health and often pain. But you all stuck with her, the friends who visited, and the carers who looked after her. We are so so grateful for that support.

My parents were a unit and I remembered a story of the two of them that was typical and that I’ll end with. My mum was practicing her Megillah reading – Hebrew text for the Jewish festival of Purim – that she was to read in the synagogue. She had a beautiful book of the Megillah given to her by Nurit and Geoff, her wonderful neighbors and friends, and was reading it in the bath – she loved a hot bath. In the synagogue when the name of the villain Haman is read everyone shouts and plays instruments to drown out his name. My Dad decided to make her practice more realistic so he burst into the bathroom when she read out the word Haman, shouting loudly. She screamed and dropped the book in the bath. The rather wrinkly pages were a memory of the episode, and I’m really hoping to find that book.

Tamara Isaacs
February 2017