This is a virtually unedited transcript of my remarks about my grandmother at her funeral this past Monday. Grandma Alice was an extraordinary woman. All who knew her were blessed by her insight and love:
Standing before you I see the people that knew and loved my grandmother, as well as the people that know and love the people that loved my grandmother. Together they expand those circles of love, the love that was was expressed so powerfully from Alice Paulin.
My grandmother and I had much in common. She shared with me the drive to be advocates of our traditions, teachers, readers, students of history, coin collectors, explorers, seekers, and sometimes creatures of habit. We shared conversations at all hours of the night and were not afraid to be grumpy in the morning–cured by a good cup of coffee (or 10 in her case.) She was my role model for procrastination and her piles of books and papers are a clear reminder that I really need to reorganize my office. Grandma Alice also showed me the value of choosing a life partner who cares for you, respects you and pushes you and challenges you to be your best. Grandpa Ben was one of the kindest, warmest people I ever knew. He also liked a far neater house than Grandma–and would regularly toss out anything that he didn’t think was essential–which while occasionally frustrating–turned out to be essential living with Grandma. While Rebecca refuses to do that in our house, she has helped me go to sleep at a reasonable hour and keep the house at a level of organized child centered chaos. I love you Becca.
Grandma Alice represented New York. Growing up in Atlanta, every vacation was coming back here. Visits with Grandma meant going to shows, finding new places to eat or looking for the best hole in the wall with amazing pizza. Before the internet we found it somewhere near Times Square–twice–and then never found it again. We occasionally got lost, but using paper maps and the Manhattan grid, we always got where we wanted to go. Exploring was half the adventure.
As I got older, Rachel and I even came up ourselves a couple times and had many opportunities to use public transit, play tourist in the city and truly feel like New Yorkers. For years, Grandma had us walking like New Yorkers, rushing from Ellis Island to the top of the World Trade Center, South Street Seaport and all across Manhattan. When I was at JTS, I would take the A train from one end to the other to spend a Sunday afternoon with her.
Walking a bit more slowly now, we’d carefully make our way to the shopping center and pick up bagels or go to the Italian Place. Now by this time, she couldn’t see or hear particularly well, so she might look at the menu with a magnifying glass and reading glasses, but more likely I would read it to her. My better half reminded me that she would have me read the entire menu–just in case–and then we would inevitably get eggplant parmigian heros–unless we were really hungry and then we would get the plate. Of course, we could have split the hero, but we would always get two and then have leftovers. As the years went by, I’d try to get her to Waldbaums, too, just to make sure she didn’t have to carry groceries by herself, but she didn’t like to “waste my time” with shopping. Thankfully, Mary helped her with that the rest of the time.
Grandma Alice loved her family, her daughters. She was fiercely protective–a mama bear–and somewhat stubborn. She liked things her way–but then–don’t we all? She was always independent and she taught that to her family. Once you were part of her family it was forever. Her love for Rebecca was incredible. I’m not supposed to say this, but I will anyway. Not long after I started dating Becca, Grandma said, “I like her so much better than the other ones”. While first whispered to me, as we stayed together (and got married), she told this to my mom, Rebecca and probably everyone else here. Grandma definitely had her opinions and wasn’t afraid to share them.
Grandma loved learning and teaching. Long before they were popular, she had and taught computers. I remember playing educational games on her computers as a very young child–when it was incredibly rare for anyone to have a computer–much less a grandma! Her energy and enthusiasm for learning was contagious. She loved to read and had books everywhere. As she got older the print got bigger and then became books on tape, but she always wanted to know more about the world. Her joy of learning was within the family, as well. In the last few weeks, I’ve learned about the Paulin and Honigsman families, but Grandma had done much genealogical work on them and the Roth sides, too. Using the precursors to ancestry.com, she created an extensive family tree, investigating ship records and census documents-cursing the fire that destroyed the 1890 census–maybe one day we’ll figure out how to find all the documents she did!
Last week and this week, our Torah reading speaks of the furnishings of the mishkan, the Temple while we wandered in the wilderness. These parshiot would not have interested Grandma Alice, yet she would have been fascinated about the Urim and Thumim–the stones/breastplate/??? that helped the High Priest communicate with the Holy One–in fact I think I spoke to her about a paper I wrote in rabbinical school about them. She would have been curious about the history of interpretation of this method of Divine communication. How exactly did those stones work? Were they stones or the breastplate itself? Was it like a Magic 8 Ball or a more precise method of prophecy?
Yet to me, what is most powerful in our reading last Shabbat was the pure gold menorah, shining brightly, and eventually to be lit eternally. Grandma Alice had a heart of pure gold. With Grandpa Ben, she inspired us all. She lit our flames, she lit us up. She pushed us to be independent, to read, the ask questions, to fight for our rights, to be considerate of others. She taught us to raise children who are not just polite, but can explore the world independently, who can build their own sanctuaries. She will be missed.