Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Grandma (1)

As may of you know, Grandma passed away on Sunday. I'd like to share with you the hesped (eulogy) we wrote for her:

Cicely was the 3rd child of 4, brought up in a traditional orthodox family in Sinclair Grove, Golders Green, the daughter of a founder of Hendon Synagogue.

Highly intelligent and ahead in her year at Henrietta Barnett, she broke the traditional mould by persuading her father to let her go to university, and attended LSE where she studied economics. She recalled with amusement how, after he met the late, well-respected Mr Teff, with his daughter Helen at the enrolment, her father finally relented, saying “well, if it is good enough for Teff, it is all right for me.”

Helen and Cicely became life long friends from that day, forming what she called her “gang” with Phyl Muller. The list of other people she was close to is endless; Cicely was defined by the many warm relationships she had.

Cicely went on to work as a social worker. She was helping make the tea at the JNF meeting hosted by her elder sister, Estelle, when she attracted the attention of Avrem, who was attending the meeting with his friend Sam. Their first date was at the Lyons Corner-house, though she was not sure until Avrem appeared whom she was meeting!

They shared progressive views, going to Fabian Society weekends and reading the Guardian avidly every day. Cicely would listen to Radio 4 whilst Avrem tuned into the World Service, then they would exchange domestic and international news over breakfast.

After a short courtship they married on 19 July 1951, and the subsequent 56 years have been an example to us all of how to conduct a marriage. She was full of wisdom and good humour; on Ruth and Jonathan’s 20th anniversary, she inscribed their card with the words: “Remember, the first 20 years are the worst!”

After raising Ruth and Hilary, she retrained as a primary school teacher and taught in schools in Harrow and Brent, finishing up on the Brent special needs team until her retirement. She continued teaching special needs children privately for a number of years until Avrem retired aged 70.

She spent her retirement travelling with him to visit relatives in Israel, as well as trips to India, China and other places. She was a keen member of U3A and she and Avrem attended several study holidays in Italy under their auspices. She was the president of the local B’nai B’rith Lodge, commanding meetings in a tactful way, giving all a fair hearing – a hard act to follow.

Cicely's smile, and hospitable welcome to us all, warm us when we think of her. She was a pleasure to be with, open to new experiences, radiating warmth, cheerfulness and optimism, thoughtful and devoted, the centre of a loving family.

Her children and grandchildren have learned the value of this hospitality, and she enjoyed sharing recipes with them. There was always a fresh pot of tea on the best china for any guest, and the grandkids were delighted to get such exotic treats as Um Bongo and “uitsmeter” sandwiches. They all relished trips to grandma and grandpa’s, especially playing with the boats and ducks in grandma’s green bathroom, and clambering into their king-sized bed for cups of milky tea and a reading of Babar.

Cicely was particularly fond of her sons-in-law – patting Jonathan’s hand and commiserating on “what a hard day he’s had” – and also shared a close relationship with Beryl and Bernie in Switzerland.

She was always well turned-out. Just last summer, she took great pleasure in a week of pampering at the Carmel Spa in Israel with Avrem, her daughter and son-in-law. As much as she took care of herself on the outside, also on the inside, with weekly trips to meet friends at Hampstead Town Hall U3A to continue studying literature.

You never heard a malicious word about anybody from her. She would be far too modest to agree, but she was that rare thing; an utterly good person. She only got angry about herself and was not frightened to speak if injustice was being done. She was a highly principled and optimistic person, who only wanted to hear of people’s good points. She never broke a promise or harboured a sense of grievance; she treated everyone with respect and kindness.

Cicely made very little of her own needs or desires, not because she did not have them, but you had to try jolly hard to wheedle it out of her. Up to last week tea time she would chat daily on the phone with her sister Yvonne and, despite feeling ill herself, would always say “how was your day?”

She was an able assistant to Avrem, always finding new activities for him, even when he became less mobile. Walking in the fresh air in Roxborough Avenue, she would be greeted by so many neighbours who had come to know her, and she enjoyed looking out of the kitchen window at the goings-on of the street, especially the sight and sound of children going to the local school.

Cicely loved flowers, and enjoyed visits to Kew Gardens, most recently with Helen and Michael, and loved sitting on Hilly and Alan’s balcony in Zurich, admiring the plants and the view.

Whilst not a religious person by the usual definition, she always aspired to something spiritually higher. She would take Avrem to synagogue by car when necessary, and enjoyed the social aspects of communal life.

Even to those who hardly knew her it was clear she was a totally selfless person. She knew that personal happiness and fulfilment comes from helping and caring for others, and once she became ill, this became much harder and she felt her purpose in life had been diminished, because she no longer had the strength to do that.

She was with Avrem, Ruth and Helen – every generation of her family – by her side in hospital at the end, and her spirit of generosity and warmth will remain with all of us, for us to pass to the next generation.

Prayers will be observed at 9 Eastglade, Pinner, from Tuesday 5th February to Sunday 10th February at 8.00pm.

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