Saturday, September 15, 2007

Monday Sept 15

Found both Nettie's
children ill, and coughing

I pray constantly for them
Oh Allmightly, heal them
and restore them to perfect
health, and may they be
a blessing and a source
of happiness to their tried
parents. Amen.


Matt's Notes

Though Papa has struggled with his fair share of personal, emotional and financial difficulties this year, his sister Nettie's life has, at least from what we've seen, described a bleaker version of tenement life, an immigrant experience dogged by disease and unemployment and casual cruelties. Her daughter, Ruchaly, has been ill all year; her husband, Phil, has been in an out of work and kicked around by the unscrupulous headmaster of an English-language school; and, in one of the strangest episodes of the year, she gave birth to a new son just as Papa received word from overseas of their father's death, though no one told her for ten days while she convalesced.

Papa's prayer for the health of Nettie's children is typically heartfelt and touching, but there's nothing melodramatic about it. New York's infant mortality rate had been on the decline for years, but it was still, at sixty-six deaths per thousand, ten times higher than it is today. With tubercular neighbors wandering about and fresh air at a premium, the sound of a child's cough was terrible to hear. Unfortunately, the shadow of future unhappiness hangs over this entry, for we know Papa's plea to the Allmighty went unanswered in the end; Ruchaly was destined to die of meningitis, and Nettie, years later, gave in to a long emotional deterioration and took her own life.

Still, I suppose Papa's capacity for prayer and hope is partly responsible for the resilience and resourcefulness with which he faced his own trials. Among other things, the difficulties of immigrant life, the death of his sister and the devastation of his family during the Holocaust all gave him ample reason to grow bitter as he aged, but he chose not to. He defined his life by what he had, not by what he'd lost, tallied up his gains, and not his deprivations. It sounds simple, but: How?


Papa wrote his prayer in English but also concluded this entry with a Hebrew phrase. Alas, I can't make it out and neither can Stephanie, who is both my wife and my go-to for Hebrew translation. If you can make out what this says, please drop a note or comment:


Update 9/17/07

As we subsequently learned, the Hebrew at the bottom of this entry reads "Avraham Zvi, son of Joseph, the Cohen." It seems to be a kind signature through which Papa conveys to the Allmighty his name, his father's name, and the fact that he's a Cohen, or member of Judaism's high priest caste.


  1. this is script hebrew. im not sure that it says though.

  2. I'm not sure about what the letters say either. (It's hard enough to decipher a stranger's handwriting in English!)

    But that is the way he might end a written prayer. (As my mother often said, write a letter to G-d.) He uses his "shul name," that is his given Hebrew name, son of [his father's Hebrew name]; ha Cohen refers to both of them.