“Simcha, what happened? You put on A LOT of weight since I saw you last!”
That’s how Abuelo (may his memory be for a blessing) greeted me last May, which was one of the last times I had the privilege of seeing him (although I didn’t know it at the time). Abuelo was a doctor and the father of D., a friend of mine in Modi’in. He used to visit Israel from his home in Argentina about twice a year to see his daughter, son-in-law and four grand kids.
Everyone warmly called him “Abuelo,” which means “grandfather” in Spanish, because he was an avuncular, sweet patriarch with a doctor’s calming bedside manner.
He and I became fast friends. I go to beit knesset/shul early (6:45 a.m.) on Shabbat morning, so that there is time to take my active kids to the park before it gets too hot outside. Abuelo often brought his grand children to the same park on Shabbat. We would sit on a bench and chat about anything and everything while the kids ran around together.
It may sound strange for a man in his late 30s living in Israel to befriend an Argentinian grand father, but he was so warm, open and caring. One time he bought my children ice cream at an outdoor Purim fair simply to see the delight on their faces.
His caring nature was the reason his comment about my weight didn’t bother me. Jewish tradition teaches us that we shouldn’t rebuke others unless we are sure that our rebuke is coming from a place of genuine concern and friendship. I knew that was the case with Abuelo, because he was a gentle soul who always had a kind word for everyone, even strangers.
Also, he wasn’t wrong. I was in a bad place and I had been eating to cover up emotional pain. I had put on a lot of weight and I could see in his eyes that he was concerned about me. As a doctor, he understood the perils of being overweight.
A few days after Abuelo’s question, I happened to be walking my oldest son to school when I saw Abuelo packing his suitcases into his son-in-law’s car. I crossed the street to give him a warm goodbye hug. I told him how much my family had enjoyed seeing him and looked forward to his next visit to Israel.
Sadly, there was no next visit. Shortly after his return to Argentina, Abuelo was killed in a tragic vehicular accident. After his untimely passing, D. realized the true scope of how many people Abuelo had touched in Modi’in. Person after person told her stories about how nice he was and about the kind words and gestures that flowed from him.
As for me, I focused on the spiritual significance of the fact that Abuelo had only critiqued me once during the years I had known him. Was it a coincidence?
Partially to honor Abuelo’s memory, shortly after his passing I dedicated myself to becoming healthier. Since then I have successfully lost 26 pounds (11.8 kilos). I feel better spiritually, emotionally and of course physically. Thank you, Abuelo!
I was also reminded not to take family visits for granted. I hadn’t been planning to visit my parents and siblings in Boston this year, but after Abuelo’s passing I bought tickets for me and my two oldest kids (we were there for two weeks in August). You never know when you’ll get another chance to see a loved one…
I miss Abuelo and our interesting chats in the park. To honor his memory, I will try to perform kind acts, work on my physical fitness and see my own faraway family wherever and whenever I can.
This blog post is dedicated to the elevation of the soul of Abuelo, a kind and generous Jew.