My grandmother, Esther Strong (Esther bat Shmuel) would have been turning 104 this December. While she passed away almost six years ago her legacy continues today both with her family and with everyone she touched. Many of what you will read in the article comes from stories/events that Grandma Esther told her children and grandchildren. At the time one may have wondered the purpose behind these stories but now (at last I) understand why these stories/events were told over and that is to make each and every person appreciate what they have and that life provides many many challenges and it is our job, along with the help of Hashem and family, to overcome these challenges.
Grandma Esther was born sometime in late December 1905 as the youngest of three children in Brooklyn, New York. There was her older brother Mendel (aka Manny) and older sister Sonya. Her parents, Chana and Samuel Weisner spoke little English, relying primarily upon Yiddush. Grandma Esther’s father passed away at age 42 and with little or no money she, along with her siblings, had to work. She completed high school at night. She married my grandfather when was in her early 20s and went on to have four children. She spent much of her middle age years (20-50) raising her children as my grandfather went to medical school and pharmacy school. Like many people of the generation, education was the key to success so she pushed, pulled, and prodded her children to be as high educated as possible. Her three sons (one of the being my father) all became doctors. While my grandmother grew up in a traditional home she was the beacon of religion within her family as my grandfather became Baal Teshuva later in life. She was the one who made sure Shabbat candles were lit, the Shabbat table was filled with food, and that her children had bar mitzvahs, etc. For what I hear (a bit of hearsay me being an attorney) my grandma was one tough cookie. She rarely took no for an answer and when her children would complain about work/life or anything in between she did not have much sympathy. At the same time, she always had her children’s back and gave them the support they needed to achieve. When my uncle, her youngest child, was getting ready to start Brooklyn College, Grandma Esther decided it was time for her to get her college degree. She graduated with a college degree in her 50s and began teaching elementary school in various Brooklyn yeshivas. Sometime after graduating college she became a more observant Jew.
While some people may be winding down in their 60/70s, Grandma Esther was just getting started. As a grandmother she was simply the best. She would always bring presents to us and once again always had our backs. My sister and I remember her driving down from Brooklyn to Philadelphia (where we lived) in a big old Ford car. She would tell stories and play with us and treated us like we were the best. In the meantime she continued to teach, stay involved in social functions, as well as care for my grandfather was getting sick. She also expressed how proud she was of her children/grandchildren’s achievements, but if you complained about work her line “you are young, keep on working and do you have anything better to do?” When I attended college, Yeshiva University, from time to time I would spend Shabbat with her, sometimes bringing friends as well. By this point Grandma Esther was in her 80s (still driving and not letting anyone tell her what she can or cannot do). Many of my college friends were amazed how much energy she had. When I introduced her to my wife, they hit it off immediately and Grandma Esther explained to me why both Shira and the family I was marrying into were top notch.
Since medicine was out as a profession (growing up with a father as a doctor I was politely told to do anything but medicine), I began law school and many a Shabbat, before I was married, I would spend with Grandma Esther. At this point she was in her late 80s and not once did she say no to Shabbat company. In a way, likely similar to how she helped my father and his siblings, she picked me up when I was down or when I wondered why I was doing this. Looking back, I honestly believe she had a share in my diploma/career. As a side note, she offered advice to many of her grandchildren and many have become professionals.
One of the greatest joys of my life was all of my children, who called her Bubbe Esther, were able to meet her and interact with her. My son says he remembers playing “Go Fish” with her and my daughters remember going to her house and see her. At this point she was well into her 90s but was happy to have the guests and was usually sitting in her kitchen chair reading Tehillim. She died shortly before my oldest daughter’s bat mitzvah but not before she was able to see my cousin, her grandson who she helped get involved with Chabad, get married at 770 Eastern Parkway. They say that Hashem gives each of a set of tasks and once you have completed your tasks it is time to go back to shamayim. My grandmother was given lots of tasks and she did the best she could with all her tasks and tried with the bottom of her heart to help those around her. Sometimes when I have a challenge or struggle, I can hear my grandmother’s voice telling me to keep on going and in order to achieve something worthwhile you need to work for it. Other times when I am learning with my children or at the Shabbat table, I can hear my grandmother’s saying learning, Torah and Avodas Hashem is even more important than making money and have the physical trappings of today’s society. Thanks grandma, for all you did for me and my family.
By Gary Strong
Gary Strong, Esq. is a partner in the law firm of Seiger Gfeller & Laurie, LLP and focuses his practice in construction law and professional liability defense.