Tuesday, March 31, 2015


My Oma and her great granddaughter on her penultimate Hannukah. Oma's the one on the left.
When Milton Doner, my Opa (German for "grandfather"), died, I was driving across the country to a new home in California; I received a call from my parents telling me when I got to Utah.  In a flurry of phone calls my father managed to figure out how to get me back to Michigan in time for the funeral.

Jewish funerals are funny.  We're a bit creeped out by dead bodies.  Instead of making them pretty and displaying them a week or two after death, we keep them safely locked in a casket and get them in the ground as quickly as possible.  I think we're worried the dead body will put us off dinner.  The 11th commandment in the Torah is "Thou Shalt Not Ruin the Brisket for Everyone."

Anyway, I was anxiously accepting the idea of making a last-minute flight with six connections and leaving my new wife (a woman we now call She Who Must Not Be Named) to drive a thousand miles alone.

A few minutes later, I got a call from my Ilse, my Oma (German for "grandmother"), letting me off the hook.  She told me weddings take precedence over funerals in Jewish culture.  Starting a new family should come first.

That whole new family thing didn't work out, but you have to be impressed with her strength.  She didn't cry.  She didn't selfishly insist I come pay my respects to her husband.  Oma just said "She was kind to him at last."  God was a woman according to Oma.

Last week, she died.  My son is ill, and I didn't want to leave him to travel to the funeral.  This time, my mother called to let me off the hook.  Still, I'm disappointed I won't be able to be with my family and talk about Oma's life.  Here's what I'd say:
  • Oma lived to be 101 years old.  She was a triumph of nature (and life extension medicine).
  • Oma survived the Nazis and the Reagan administration.  If the woman who built her had built the Titanic, it would have arrived in New York ahead of schedule with tiny pieces of iceberg stuck in her prow.
  • Oma had three children, one of whom made good by giving birth to me.
  • Oma went from humble beginnings as a refugee to the wealthy head of a family, proving the validity of the American dream (and the lucrativeness of the lighting business she helped start in Michigan).

So let us cheer her life.  Let us beat the shit out of those who say "the good die young."  Let us revel in the America that gave her a new life.  Let us laugh at the Nazis who could topple nations and kill millions but failed to stop one Jewish lady.

Most of all, when the time comes, let us let others off the hook.

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