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Irving Belfer

IN MEMORY OF RABBI ARI ELLIS's GRANDFATHER:Irving Belfer, Who Shared His Private Holocaust Museum, Dies at 97

Rabbi Ari Ellis: In Memory of my Zayde, Irving Belfer z

Rabbi Ari Ellis, posted Feb 13, 2012

 I wish I could express my gratitude personally to everyone for their outpouring of support. Your words of comfort mean so much to me and our entire family.


For those of you who didn't have a chance to meet him when he came to visit us here in Winnipeg, you can see a short video about him online at the Studio City Patch about the remarkable museum and handiwork that he made.


Below are the words that I shared about Zayde at his funeral last week.


Thank you,




Zayde was always an inspiration for me throughout my life. He was always there for me, the first to come and the last to leave at birthday parties and school plays. I can't image not having him as part of my life anymore.


Zayde never wanted anything for himself, but always wanted us to be happy. When thinking about Zayde I keep coming back to the words of the Rabbis in Pirkei Avot: Who is truly honored? He who honors others.


Doing for others, and especially for his family, and not for himself, is what gave him joy in life. Shortly after Tikvah and I first met, we were eating dinner with Zayde at his house, and she ate a turkey leg. Tikvah doesn't like turkey, but that's all there was. So she didn't have much choice. The next time we went to Zayde for dinner he made chicken for everyone else, but made a turkey leg special just for her.


Growing up I always remember going with mom to drop Bubbie and Zayde off at the Van Nuys Fly Away bus, or even taking them to the airport, when you were still allowed to go with them to the gate. Every year or two they took a big trip to Europe, Israel, or even on occasion to the Far East. The highlight of their trip was always the gifts they brought us from their vacations. Giving me and Shana those presents, and especially Judaica from Israel, seemed to make them just as happy, if not happier, than the trip itself.


It's not because they couldn't afford it, they never wanted fancy things for themselves. The importance of doing for others is one of the most important lessons that I learned from both Bubbie and Zayde.


I wouldn't be who I am today if not for Zayde. He was the Jewish inspiration and role model for me throughout my life. Growing up we would always go to Bubbie and Zayde's for Shabbat lunch. We had Shabbat dinner at home, but lunch was always with Bubbie and Zayde every week.


When I was small, I would always sit on the love seat looking out the window, anxiously waiting for Zayde to come home from Shul so that we could finally eat. But eventually, I started going to Shul and sitting next to him every Shabbat. And, like Zayde, I always come to Shul right on time, or even a few minutes early. But I try not to get too upset if someone sits in my seat.


And not just on Shabbat. When he was well, Zayde used to be a regular at the daily Minyan. When mom would drop us off at Bubbie and Zayde's house during summer vacation when she had to work, I always remember waiting for him to come home from the Minyan. And, if we were lucky, he'd make us french toast from the leftover Challah when he came home. And now, daily Minyan is an important part of my life. I learned from Zayde that Mitzvot like Talis and Tefillin are not just things for a Bar Mitzvah or for at Shul, but are something that are for everyday and all the time. But I still can't fold my Talis as perfectly as Zayde could.


And, most importantly, I learned from Zayde the importance of doing it right, without compromise or change, the way it was always done, and is supposed to be done. Yes, the world changes and we must adapt to the new reality, but our commitment to tradition and eternal Jewish values must always remain the same.


Especially on Pesach, he would always read through the entire Haggadah, in Hebrew, from beginning to end, while everyone else, myself included, was counting the number of pages until we could finally eat. And now I'm the one who's leading the Seder keeping everyone waiting for the Gefilte Fish and Matzah Balls. And although I always like to get a new commentary on the Haggadah each year, and we do many parts of our Seder in both English and Hebrew so that everyone can participate, I can always picture with a sense of love Zayde's Haggadah that he used year after year with its many wine and Charoset stains. In fact, it was covered with so many stains, I'm not sure how he could still read it anymore.


Zayde also taught me the importance of never wasting anything or throwing things out, if they still worked. Once when I was little, he threw away a broken radio. I was thrilled, I got a new toy to play with – Zayde's old broken radio. But when I was hammering at it, though I'm not sure why I was doing that, nevertheless, it suddenly started working again, so Zayde took it back.


And until recently he still had the original stove, refrigerator, and toaster from when they moved into their home in the 1950's. Zayde never cared about having material things for himself, but wanted Bubbie and the rest of us to have whatever we wanted. That's what made him happy.


Zayde went through so much in life before coming to America. With all the horrors he suffered, he had ample opportunity to give up, but he never did. I'm not sure if I could have done it like he did. And he continued to fight and succeed throughout his life, making a new life for himself, providing for his family, and never taking anything for granted. If there's one thing I learned from Zayde, and that we should all take to heart, it's that true strength doesn't come from physical might, but from faith and internal resolve, just as the prophet Zechariah taught us so long ago: Not by might and not by strength...


And most importantly, Bubbie and Zayde raised the best mother in the world. Zayde, I will always miss you. And though you won't be here with us anyone, your memory will always be there in my heart. Lech BeShalom VeTanuach BeShalom, VeTaamod LeGoralecha LeKetz HaYamin – Go in peace, rest in peace, and may your memory be a blessing for us all.

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