I was 15 when my great-aunt Trudel died. She was truly a larger-than-life character, and her 94 years were filled with adventures.
She left Germany on May 8, 1934, and sailed to America when she was only 21 years old. She built an amazing life here.
There were countless hijinks when it came to Trudel. Some of them I wasn’t there for. But I’ve heard the story a million times—like her 80th birthday pool party to which she wore a bathing suit and high heels.
Some of her crazy moments I did witness. We would celebrate holidays in her very tiny house with our very large family where, due to the cramped quarters, she often spilled soup on people’s heads.
For Hanukkah, we hid presents and never managed to find them all. So, you might get a phone call from Trudel in April, letting you know about a surprise leftover present!
I’m lucky I got to know Trudel Adler Grossman for 15 years. I’m also lucky because her son Leonard created a blog and a book called Trudel’s Truth – Letters from the Past.
When she came to America, Trudel wrote long letters to her family in Germany, and they saved them. Over 200 handwritten letters. It is amazing that we still have them and will be able to read them for generations to come.
I say I’m lucky because I know many don’t have access to this kind of family history. Many artifacts like this get lost.
But the fact is, artifacts are only a small part of memory, and we do not need them to remember our loved ones who have died. In fact, human beings have the amazing capacity to remember things we weren’t even present to witness. Jewish tradition encourages us to share stories in order to keep our loved ones alive in spirit and in memory.
Jews gather for a community memorial service four times a year. It is no coincidence that these services happen during our most important holidays.
As we all know too well, these days of family gathering can be some of the hardest when our loved ones are no longer here with us to celebrate. So, we gather as a community and we remember them together.
For Jewish people, death is not an ending. We are taught that we live on in the memories of those whose lives we impacted. That memory, that legacy remains long after a loved one has died, living on like a small candle within each of our hearts.
I began by sharing stories about Trudel. Many of those stories I wasn’t even alive to witness, but they are so strong because of how often they were shared with me.
Consequently, the flame of her memory burns brighter, and now you all carry a little bit of her within yourselves, too. That is what helps her memory stay alive long into the future. People we may have known for only a short time or people we didn’t know personally at all can become a deeply meaningful part of our lives.
What are the truths in your family that you know and maybe weren’t there to witness but nonetheless hold deep in your heart? What are the things you have witnessed that you want your family to remember generations from now?
How will you share those memories? Together, we will keep the flame of our memories alight.
Rabbi Libby Fisher was born and raised in the Chicago area. She was ordained in 2021 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio, and she now works as a rabbi and director of education at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, North Carolina.