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The Loss of a Patriarch

03/21/2019 11:52:10 AM


Rabbi Dan Dorsch

This past week the Bernstein family of Winnipeg said farewell to its patriarch, Lou Bernstein of blessed memory.  I met Amy’s grandfather, my Zaida Louie, on my first trip to Winnipeg to meet Amy’s family. You’ll appreciate that I was under a considerable amount of stress during that trip. Amy’s family was long distance, and so that weekend I met scores of aunts, uncles, and cousins in “a single bound.” Never before had I encountered such a rapid firing squad. I replayed the same twenty questions with dozens of people, from Amy’s closest friends to members of her family.

That all changed when I went to Zaida Lou and Baba Clara’s apartment. They disarmed me by putting out a lovely spread. But then, within five minutes, the dirty jokes and questions about my personal life came flying from my Zaida. Funny enough, by making me uncomfortable (a trade he excelled at), Zaida Louie put me at considerable ease. In his mind, there was no interview necessary. With a big hug and kiss, I was welcomed into the family.

Zaida Lou danced across the floor with my mother at our wedding. He enjoyed singing old Yiddish and theater ballads with his cantorial voice in the schvitz at the JCC locker room (not always, I am afraid to say, while wearing a towel). A former college football athlete, he simply always managed to put a smile on everyone’s face.

Over the decade and more that we knew one another, Louie’s hearing, vision, and mobility would gradually disappear. However, even as this transpired, when Amy and Baba Clara would go into the grocery store to stop after breakfast--for what felt like an hour--he and I would always have our most meaningful conversations sitting in the front seat of the car. Never losing his mental faculties, after my mother having passed away, Zaida always wanted to know what was happening with my father and my sister. He would spend time schepping nachas over his grandchildren and football squad of great grandchildren.

One of my favorite moments of our wedding video is a clip of Zaida Louie singing the Yiddish song Und Der Rebbe Zingt, with my brother in law cracking up hysterically in the background. The song is a Yiddish comedic ballad about a rabbi and his students joyously eating, singing, and dancing together. To me, this joyful approach to living will always embody my Zaida: dancing and finding ways to rejoice, even during the hardest parts of life.

May his memory always endure as a blessing.

Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

Mon, June 1 2020 9 Sivan 5780