Beyond the numbers

1919 was the year my grandmother, née Sonja Gelerman, was born. Lucky enough to be the daughter of a butcher, and blessed with strong and steady fingers that could thread the eye of a needle with the best of them, she’d never starve.

Well, there was that one stint in a Siberian labor camp in 1940 (when she needed to be eating for two) that tested her endurance. Otherwise, fighting a cold was about as sick as I can recall her ever being. Despite living during the darkest of decades and through the most uncertain of conditions, Sonia Neiman arose every day to make time matter.

Her age, the years of marriage, the number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren … all make for a fascinating human interest story beyond the relatable experiences of most. As she approaches her 100th birthday, however, it is remarkable that she has never been one to count.

My Baba is a superstitious person. And while there is a bias in the Jewish tradition against counting people (it invites the evil eye?), I don’t believe that is what has motivated her to ignore her numerical accomplishments.

The true achievement of my grandmother’s life has been arising to every day with a sense of purpose—a friend to call, a husband to clothe, a child to nurse, a meal to prepare, a kitchen to clean, a holiday gathering to relish, a simcha to celebrate—and investing all her emotional energy—her laughter, her tears, her disappointments—in her waking hours.

When I consider the greatest lessons my grandmother has taught me, the most important one of all will be to live beyond the numbers. One love, one friend, one conversation, one laugh, one cry, one opportunity to matter—any one of these is enough of a reason to live one more day.

As we approach the Jewish new year of 5780, I am personally wrestling with the awareness that my grandmother is no longer finding meaning in her daily life. All of the roles from which she gained pleasure throughout her days are no longer possible for her to fulfill. I know, however, that the best way I can honor her in the year ahead is to live best (and not just exist) by taking note of the one thing I do each day that makes my life worth living.

L’shanah tovah umetukah,

Rabbi Craig Scheff

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10 responses to “Beyond the numbers”

  1. Teresa says :

    Beautiful writing. Thank you for this.💐

  2. Jonathan Drill says :

    Great post. What a life.

    Sent from Jon Drill’s iPhone


  3. Sally says :

    Memories Make us who we are! May this year and every year be filled with good memories!

  4. Sally Winter says :

    Memories help make us who we are. May this year and every year be filled with good memories. Shanah Tovah

  5. Lydia Katz says :

    Why an absolutely wonderful tribute to your grandmother. Maybe she isn’t doing the things that you are us to seeing her do in ways that can be witnessed but rest assured the love in her heart and the seeds she has planted will never die. Those memories will be with you and yours forever.

  6. Allen Gellerman says :

    when I read this I am so emotional, I always tell my wife that the two people in my life who I wanted to emulate is my dad and my aunt Sonia.
    Your words are so touching.
    My aunt always amazes me .
    Best memories from my childhood in west Roxbury
    Big hugs and kisses
    Erica & Allen

  7. Nejman family says :

    A beautiful tribute , l’shanah tovah to you all !!

    • Carol Jacobs says :

      Your grandmother’s life continues to have purpose. The purpose changes for all of us, regularly. During your visit her purpose was to give you joy as you nourished her with soup.

  8. Ken Leff says :

    You are blessed by having wonderful grandparents, and they are blessed by having you. G-d’s perfect symmetry.

  9. Ruth Hess says :

    So beautifully expressed! 😍 Your words are masterpieces!

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