The lives of Sarah

“The lifetime of Sarah came to be one hundred years and twenty years and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah” (Genesis 23:1).

I offer what follows in tribute to the life of Sarah our matriarch, Sarah my grandmother on her 98th birthday, and the occasion of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

They were nights of broken lives and broken dreams, days of broken hearts and broken families. Six years worth of brokenness. Sarah learned to cheat death and to gamble with life, to speak in half-truths to her loved ones and to lie to herself every morning just to get through the day.

The year 1941 was the worst of them all, as she now recalls. With her one-year-old daughter Hannah in her arms, she would leave Siberia and her husband behind with the intention of starting a new life back in Berdichev, where her mother and father (and his 12 siblings and their families) remained. Her husband Izzy would leave his work in Siberia once she was settled with the family. Sarah sensed, however, that Jewish life in Berdichev was coming to an end. She cried to her father endlessly, pleading with him to return to Siberia with her. She ultimately prevailed, but just in the nick of time. She can still recall looking back from afar at the city engulfed in Nazi flames, the agonizing screams of her dying aunts, uncles and cousins being drowned out by the exploding bombs.

The lives of Sarah are 20 years and 6 years and 72 years, 98 years in all.

For twenty years before those six terrible years (1939-1945) of trading tomorrow’s ration slips for today’s bread, Sarah was a mischievous, happy girl. A talented seamstress, she was the choice of the wealthy shop- and factory-owners to make lingerie for their wives (bras, to be exact!). It was a talent that would ultimately keep her growing family fed. She found love; she had dreams.


For the past 72 years, Sarah has known love, and she has known loss. She has derived pride from the four generations that she has birthed, but her arthritic fingers are evidence that she’s worked hard for every morsel of satisfaction she enjoys. Her compromised sight and hearing may frustrate communication, but her mind still knows humor, sarcasm and wit; her heart still knows love, joy, disappointment and worry. And she can still dish out the guilt with the best of them.


Today, she feels her way around her daughter’s kitchen, finding a yogurt and two pieces of bread just where she left them.  She carefully washes her plate and the serrated knife in the sink. I️ hold my breath, debating whether I️ should jump in or give her the control she desires.

Let her be, I️ decide. After 98 years, she’s earned the right to control her own destiny, if only until my mother emerges from the bedroom.


These are the lives of Sarah.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

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7 responses to “The lives of Sarah”

  1. Linda Masia says :

    ♥️

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Lloyd Fishman says :

    Very touching, very meaningful. What those eyes have witnessed in 98 years is nothing short of amazing and should continued to be passed own, lest we not forget the past.

  3. Allen says :

    She even knows when the brisket is done by using her sence of smell

  4. superwoman910 says :

    I have tears in my eyes, i feel the love and pride you have for “your” Sarah. May she continue to live well and have the love of family.

  5. Pamela goldfinger says :

    Extremely touching. Thanks for sharing her story. Pls give my love to the family.

  6. BonnieBen Pilar says :

    To live the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows of life and history through the eyes of your 98 year old grandmother is such a wonderous blessing for you, your family and especially your grandmother. My longed lived parents and grandparents would have said to her “biz a hoondred oon tzvuntzig”. Savor every moment with Sarah.Thank you for sharing her story.

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