Today, after spending all of Saturday night accompanying my Nana alongside Daniel, we walked alongside my mother and her brothers to “Levoya” (accompany) a magnificent woman, Lily Ezekiel, to her final resting place.
During his eulogy, my Uncle Ray, quoting Kobi Yamada said,”She took the leap and built her wings on the way down”, and in doing so captured some of what this wonderful woman overcame and achieved.
This evening at the shiva, I shared some thoughts. I wasn’t sure whether to post them here, but some friends and cousins weren’t able to make it tonight, and I also want whoever wishes to have a read to have some sense of the remarkable life my Nana led …
globetrotting matriarch, who spoke Hindustani, Farsi, Arabic, English and some Hebrew
As the youngest grandchild, I sadly have too few memories of my amazing Nana Lily, yet a couple come to mind:
• Falling asleep under her coffee table after many a warm Friday night or Jewish festival, often meeting yet another member of the seemingly endless Indian-Persian-Bagdadi clan that she welcomed into her home
• The permanent feature of a bowl of soaking lentils in her kitchen
• The way she could shout at her husband in Arabic or Hindi one minute, give us a big kiss as we walked in the next, and not long after be making sure my Mum or my Aunt were listening to her advice or aware of her concerns
• At nearly 70 flying to Chicago to dance and celebrate her grandson’s wedding and then Israel a few years later for a simcha with his extended family – which of course she welcomed as her own
• Sneaking a drink or a cigarette off my Dad in older age, and cheekily rebuffing my mother’s concerns for their effect on her health
Yet most of what I know of my Nana, I know via the wonderful memories others have shared about her:
• The thoughtful and dedicated life she led in Byculla, overcoming the loss of her birth and adopted mother, a difficult father, world war and civil war, raising three young children and moving with them, the youngest my mother then a six month old baby, from relative comfort in the familiar Indian climate to start from scratch in the not always hospitable climate and community of London’s East End
• The generous woman who made her home in London a home for so many as they followed her and my Papa here or needed support later in life
• The intelligent and industrious wife who added to her dress making skills by retraining to secure work as a civil servant so she could secure her family’s future
• The globetrotting matriarch, who spoke Hindustani, Farsi, Arabic, English and some Hebrew, visiting her vast family in Chicago, Rishon LeTzion, Bombay, Sidney and many other places
My Nana was at her happiest when she was nurturing and nourishing her friends and very extended family.
formidable, feisty and ultimately unbelievably generous
There are five generations of people spanning countries on four continents that my Nana loved, supported, fed and looked after. In America, Europe, the Middle East and India, people who cherished her will be shedding some tears and sharing many smiles as they reflect on all she gave them.
The other lens I have come to know and admire my Nana through is that of her devoted and dedicated daughters, who are the best testament to her life and legacy.
My Auntie Marie (z”l) was a second mother to me as a young child, looking after me many weekends or sometimes weeks at a time, of course feeding me – she’s the only woman other than my Nana who my Mum won’t be upset that I admit made tastier Indian food than her – teaching me card games, reading me my favourite stories, and stretching what was often the very little she had to take me out and treat me as the youngest nephew she loved to spoil – all in the mould of the magnificent matriarch she learnt this all from – my Nana.
And my extraordinarily kind, way too selfless, exceptionally warm and loving mother, who when seeing her children or grandchildren ill or in pain tries to kiss or squeeze hug it away, almost trying to absorb it from them – Mum how I wanted to do the same for you as we saw Nana leave you on Saturday night.
My mother who has spent her life concerned for and caring for as many generations as her mother did; who still cooks a pretty mean Indian feast; who also went from humble beginnings in the East End, retrained and changed career twice to provide for her family; who’s home has often been a home of others passing through from all over the world or who have needed a little support or shelter in difficult times; whose devotion to her mother was the mirror image of her mother’s devotion to her family till the end.
Nana Lily, a formidable, feisty and ultimately unbelievably generous Woman, Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, Nana, Great Aunt and Great Nana.
Mum, Ezra and Ray, she lives on in all that she did and taught her family across the world, and in the values and example she set for us. I hope we can all live up to following her example with the same endurance, empathy and energy as my impressive, inspiring Mum.
May her memory be for a blessing. And as she was fond of saying… Tum Jao (Go Home!)