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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Yizkor- Leah Kanat Gershkowitz

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

As I write this piece in your memory I am not sure what to call you. You probably would have been bubby, but would we have pronounced it bobbeh instead? You were my grandmother, my father's mother, Leah Kanat Gershkowitz, Z"L and you were killed by the Nazis in 1944.

Saturday was Shemini Atzeret and we said Yizkor at synagogue. As I sat staring at the memorial prayers, I thought about you, grandmother, probably for the first time in many years. I and my cousins were given your name and I have always felt that I must carry some piece of you, a spark in my soul; even that my love of Judaism coming from the piece of your neshama that lives in my neshama.

During that short Yizkor service I asked many questions of you which will always remain unanswered because there is no one left alive to answer, but grandmother, I thought of you, I said your name. I recalled your beautiful face and yes, I thought about your ending. I wish that I could have thought about your life before the war in a productive way; perhaps the challahs you may have baked, or what kind of mom you were, or what your days were like in Berezne, but those stories were not shared with me so I couldn't reflect on those days. What was your life like when you grew up? How did you meet my grandfather How did it feel to be a mother? What was it like to have twins? Were you patient? What did your laugh sound like? Did you like to laugh or were your serious? What recipes did your mother share with you? Did you like to read? Did you ever have leisure time? Did you love Shabbat?

I don't remember Dad talking much about you, grandmother, but whatever he said, he said with reverence. When he listened to the song "My Yiddisheh Momma" he got emotional. I seem to recall that he consistently said you were a good woman. He would say that you were pious and a saint and maybe that was the best dad could do with an immmigrant's English to describe his adoration for you.

Grandmother, I have a picture of you and grandfather in my house. I remember that my father took an old and treasured black and white photograph of both of you and had an artist paint them, another indication of how he missed you and revered your memory. Your old photo went from stark black and white to soft pastel colors which helped bring memories of you back, but grandmother, that was all we had. A few shards of memory, a handful of photos. How can we put the pieces of that pastel puzzle together when your life ended so tragically?

Grandmother, last week during the holiday of Sukkot, I sat with my husband, whom you would have loved had you met him, and we talked about who we might invite into our Sukkah. I told him that I wished that I could invite you and Grandfather, if just for a few moments, just to see your faces and ask you a thousand questions which will always go unanswered. I would want to ask you these questions because you see, I am now a mother and a bubby myself and because we share these traits, the more I am able to see the tragedy of your life and six million other lives. I share in your sorrow and loss and in the gaping hole in the generations to come. I mourn with you for those lost souls.

Grandmother, I imagine your last hours on this earth with sadness. You were a mother in hiding. What was your hiding place? You must have been so frightened. I can only imagine that fear down to my core. Upon being discovered in your hiding place you said a whispered goodbye to your children. Did you know then what was to become of you? What were you wearing that day? Did you walk down the street or were you taken in a truck with other Jews? Did you hold the hand of your daughter and try to console her or were you silent? Did you look back upon your life as you took that last trip? Was the Shema on your lips? Did you pray? How grandmother, did you find the courage to walk to what was going to be your own grave?

How did you do it, grandmother? How did you have the courage to die?

Beloved grandmother whom I never had the privilege to meet, please know that I am remembering you today as I write this piece. Please know that your beautiful granddaughter Donna Lee, also named for you, diligently researches our family's story and is writing it all down so your family's story won't be forgotten. And that your grandson Levi went back to Poland to try to find traces of our family's past in the place you lived. You would be proud to know that your surviving sons had good lives when they came to the United States and that your sons had children and those children had children. You would be proud of your grandchildren and great grandchildren, some of whom resemble you physically, but I am sure that many of them share what I trust was your sweet nature, your goodness, your patience.

I will close this Yizkor of you, Leah Kanat Gershkowitz, by saying that I will never be able to recreate your life, to know you and to have real memories of you as a grandmother, but know that today I am saying your name out loud. While I say your name aloud you are here with me in this room. Your neshama and mine have always connected; I know this to be true and suspect it is the same for your other beloved grandchildren and great grandchildren who are here now and honor your memory.

Zichronaych l'vrachah, grandmother. I remember you and will never forget.

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