Goldie Levitz Gardner
Birth: April, 11, 1918 in Buffalo, New York, USA
Death: April 13, 1996 (age 77-78) in Oak Bay, Victoria, B.C.
Eulogy given by Rabbi Victor Hillel Reinstein at the funeral:
Funeral: April 15, 1996
Yohrtzeit: 25 Nisan
Last Friday, as Shabbos descended gently on the beloved garden outside her window, suffusing the room with its golden Goldie glow, Goldie whispered “good Shabbos” as I spoke the same words into her ear and said good-bye. The Shabbos table in the other room was set so simply, as she would love it to be, a beautiful challah brought by a friend, one of so many expressions of love from so many friends, flowers so purposefully cut by Jack to honour her presence, a soul hovering now hand in hand with the Shabbos Queen, the flowers a token of their love. It would be Goldie’s last Shabbos. She died at the close of Shabbos, “motza’ei Shabbos,” the time of the going out of Shabbos, the time of the departure of the additional soul, the neshoma yesera that returns to us each Shabbos. She died at Havdalah time, a time of departure, of transition from one realm of time to another. It was the hour when we take up sweet spices and braided candle and wine to impress upon our memory and our senses the sweetness of a day, and so of a life’s days, holding close to us the essence of her holiness that we might take it with us into the days ahead, imbuing them with her sweetness and light.
It is so fitting to say good-bye to Goldie from this place, to gather here and surround her with so much affection. We all share in a role today as we accompany her to the edge of a new journey in the life of her soul. In keeping with her self-effacing character, she would be embarrassed by this gathering of celebration and farewell. It was not her request to have a shul funeral. It is an expression, rather, of our desire to honour her. She loved the shul. From that bench where her mother sat, “Mama,” “Bobi,” Mrs. Shapiro, depending on your relationship with her, she too would sit and beam and take it all in. It is for you now, Bernice and adopted daughter and sister Rysia, with the help of others, to hold down that bench that bears a plaque with your mother’s name. Like Mama, Goldie felt great “nachas” from the community, particularly from the “simchas” of young people. She would “k’vell” at a Bar or Bas Mitzvah. At the same time she was extremely disturbed by community conflict and bickering. Her lips would purse in that familiar sign of disapproval. From the shul in Victoria, Texas to Victoria, B.C., she was not amused. She gave to the shul in quiet ways and shining ways. She and Rysia made it their own mitzvah to polish all of the silver in the shul a few times a year before a Yontev, Torah ornaments, kiddush cups, candlesticks. In recent time when Goldie was too ill to help, Rysia would only want it mentioned that she had polished the silver if Goldie was also mentioned. Her spirit will continue to join you Rysia and will always be your partner in this holy task. Emphasizing the way that we should all support the shul, Bernice spoke of her sister with such admiration and fervour. “In a quiet way,” she said, underscoring the present tense, “Goldie has a profound influence on the shul, no meetings, no committees, but so involved. Jack and her are bulwarks of the shul with a constant, unconditional support for the shul.” That constant, unconditional support runs in your family, Bernice. It too was your mother’s hallmark, and so for her daughters and granddaughter. So may this example shine for all of us like newly polished silver.
Goldie began the journey of her life in Toronto in 1918. Last week during Pesach she marked her 78th birthday, sitting at the Seder table on the second night of Pesach. The early years were extremely difficult for Goldie and Bernice and their mom. Their father, Samuel Levitz died when Bernice was six years old and Goldie was three. They were extremely poor, but rich in family, as Bernice likes to say. The large extended family helped them through the hard times. Mama had a dry goods store on Royce Avenue, an industrial area surrounded by train tracks and they lived above the store. With the help of her daughters and nieces and nephews she ran that store for 31 years, from 1923 to 1954, and it sustained them. Goldie’s life long love of books and flowers began in those early years. In those years books were her passport to adventure, and flowers a touch of beauty that somehow she would find the money to buy. The public library was an oasis for her and a long nameless librarian was a guide who introduced her to the world of books. From those early years, Goldie became a woman of books and letters. She read voraciously right until the end, books and magazines and newspapers. Only two weeks ago she commented in the hospital, “you know, I haven’t gotten through the New York times this week…, well, I only got through the first section.” While Goldie took courses to become a nursing assistant, she never received a college diploma. Any number of diplomas, however, could never measure the vast learning that she acquired through books. In that, she was and is a model and an inspiration. Love of books and that model of self-acquired knowledge and wisdom became for you Lynn such an important part of your deep and beautiful friendship with Goldie. Beyond books, she became for you, as you have said, your “Jewish mother,” as you were for her such a loving and devoted daughter, even as you are to your own beloved parents.
Goldie hardly represents a type that one would think of as adventurous at first glance, yet throughout her life she was an adventurous and bold spirit. She indeed held her own with Jack in that department and I’m sure that her adventurous spirit is part of the chemistry that joined them. It was also an early guide, a grade school teacher, who shared tales of travel and introduced Goldie to the world beyond Toronto when her own family was too poor to leave the city even for Muskoka and the Lake district of the surrounding countryside. Goldie set out on her first travel adventure in the years just before selling the store in the early 50’s when she went to Trinidad. After the store was sold in 1954 she went to Israel where she lived in Jerusalem for a year. Even recently she spoke of her time at Ulpan Etzion where she studied Hebrew, and of the teacher who praised her. During our last sabbatical when my family and I were in Israel, we lived right next to Ulpan Etzion, which delighted her. Goldie also went to South America in those years. All of these adventures saw a young woman travel alone by steamship.
Goldie was not afraid to be different, in matters of great adventure or in day to day tastes. She was a person of “simple elegance.” She was at the same time both so simple and humble and also elegant. “She didn’t learn elegance on Royce Street,” quipped Bernice. That too seemed to come from books. She dressed very simply, wearing the same style of clothing since high school, a skirt and blouse, wearing a dress, she admitted, when she got married. She wore little jewellery, usually only a simple pair of earrings. Her home reflected the same style, and so even her hospital room. She didn’t like the walls and floors to be “ongepatchkied,” as she said. The wide open airy freshness of the Gardner home reflected this. Her home reflected the graciousness of the hostess, whether it was for an ORT or Hadassah meeting or a dinner with friends around the warm dining room table. Goldie never sought attention and was uncomfortable with it. Whenever I would call to see how she was doing she would show annoyance, “you didn’t need to call me, there’s so much else to do.” She had so many friends of all ages. She and Jack have always seemed ageless, open to and excited with new ideas. She was amazed by the outpouring of affection shown during her illness, particularly from young people. She actually would ask, “Why do they like me?” Of her relationship with young people, Bernice says, and it can surely be said of Bernice and her mom and of Jack too, “it is because we have all been very mindful of history and the need for Jewish continuity. Therefore it is a thrill to welcome young people to shul, and children and their noise.”
Goldie’s adventurous spirit took her to New York to live and work, and there begins the adventure that led her to Jack and ultimately to us. They were an unlikely couple ever to meet. It could only have been a matter of Providence, only “bashert,” fore-ordained, meant to be in worlds beyond our own understanding. Reflecting on a ‘Kabbalisitc” teaching concerning the joining of souls, Jack said, “four days before I was born a “Zivug,” a heavenly matchmaker, joined us. It had to happen as it did.” The world of the shtetl and its ways and its deep sense of extended “mishpoche” wove its spell from out of the ashes even to these shores, around Jack and Goldie. Goldie was joined to Jack through the world of Stari-Sambor. Jack’s friend Yoshe Erdman, about ten years older than him, came to Texas on business about four years after Jack’s beloved first wife, Chaya, had died. Yoshe Erdman went to visit Hershel Shpinner, an old world Talmudist living in Houston who had been Jack’s next door neighbour in Stari-Sambor. Then this “shaliach,” this messenger, unaware of his own mission, went on to visit Jack in Port Lavaca. Jack asked about old friends and Mr. Erdman took a letter from his pocket from his cousin in Argentina, also a survivor. Jack wrote to her and she told him of Tilla Benkendorf in New York, whom Jack and his first wife had taken in as a young orphan while still in Europe. Jack wrote to Tilla, who had become Collette and was here with us in our shul last Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, making us part of the ever unfolding story. Jack explained his situation and asked if she knew a woman he could meet. She had just changed jobs and was working in Brooklyn. Goldie had just lost a job and got another one as a case worker in the same building as Collette. Collette told Goldie of Jack and the hand of the Holy One, the “Zivug,” the matchmaker took over. Jack invited Goldie to Texas for a visit and she, sensing great adventure accepted. Four days after her visit Jack proposed and these two adventurous spunky spirits were joined. It was surely “bashert.” “If it wasn’t for Yoshe Erdman,” says Jack, “I would never have met Goldie.”
The nature of Jack and Goldie’s compatibility is a beautiful story. Jack often says that most people not born in his world can’t understand him, but Goldie was different. It was as though his world also became her world. “She understood me. She was healthy for me. She loved these people she met through the “Landtsleit,” the old world fellowship and fraternal organizations. She was a pure soul, with no clutter in the home or in her spirit.” In Jack’s words a window is opened on their compatibility. We shared everything. She would make the dough and I would braid it. She never wanted a dishwasher. She would wash and I would dry and we would talk. We always talked. We were never bored. We spoke Yiddish with each other. She learned Yiddish, some from her mother and some from her uncle in Israel. We both have very liberal opinions. She was concerned for justice. In restaurants you see couples not talking. We always talked. In restaurants I never examine the bill, I just pay it. When Goldie first arrived to meet me for the first time, I picked her up at the airport and took her to a restaurant. After the meal when the check came, I didn’t look at it, I just paid it. She said that impressed her. It was my “evaluation.” Last year we were at a hotel in Houston. We were walking holding hands. Two older men saw us and stopped and one said, “I never saw people your age walking like that.” We both loved books. When I was in the shtetl and Goldie was a girl in Toronto we were reading the same books. We had a library in Stari-Sambor and a large library in Sambor. We were both reading books like Quiet Flows the Don or The Brothers Karamatzov. I was reading them in Russian or Polish and she was reading them in English. As Jack paused in his reverie last Friday afternoon, he looked at the bunch of fresh-cut flowers that he was holding in his hands that he had just brought in from the yard, Goldie’s exquisite daffodils and tulips. “Goldie hated artificial flowers,” he said. “Even when she was alone she would always get flowers.” For the past many years Goldie always brought the flowers for the Yom HaShoah memorial. So yesterday they also came from her garden and carried a double message of remembrance and continuity.
For some, Bernice and Leah, their relationship with Goldie was the dance of a life-time, with all the ins and outs and ups and downs of love, the wrestling’s of siblings, of an only niece. There were all of the complexities of family relationships that come together as a bouquet of love. And then there was a new brother-in-law and uncle and an entire new family from a later in life marriage. It was not always easy at the other end either, as you all recall. For you, Mina, the one still at home, you and Goldie communicated while standing washing dishes. You learned of her adventures and of her faraway family and of her free spirit, and now you wonder if it wouldn’t be wise to get rid of your dishwasher, as she did when she and Jack moved to Victoria and found one in the house. Dishwashers, you know, are such barriers to communication…. Without children of her own, she yet became in the words of the Psalmist, as we read in Hallel, an Em habanim s’meycha, “a joyful mother of children.” She loved each of you, Morry, Freda and Mina and she delighted in being a Bobi to your children, even as she shared Leah’s children with Bernice, Ayal, Tamar and Adam Chen.
Jack and Goldie were among the very first people that Sue and I met in Victoria when we came for an interview just over fourteen years ago. Goldie would always speak of the red clogs that a very pregnant Sue was wearing on that day that they took us out for lunch as being the sign that these two young people were right for this community. Jack and Goldie seemed so rooted in the community to us, and yet they had only been here a year and a half at that point. Jack, we have all learned many things from you and Goldie over the years. One of the things that I have always admired in you is your clear and honest recognition that death is part of life, a belief that was so important to my mother as well, who was felled by a stroke a year ago today on the Hebrew calendar. It was that recognition and faith that brought you tearfully to urge that we say the Vidui with Goldie last Friday just before Shabbos, the prayer that acknowledges death as it draws near. The root of vidui means both to acknowledge and to thank. In that erev Shabbos moment last Friday, in the golden glow of light that streamed in upon Goldie, touching her flowers on its wing, we acknowledged life’s shortcomings and the reality of death and we gave thanks, as we do today, for this beautiful life that has been, and for life itself. May her memory be for a blessing in all of our lives.
Gravesite Details: Row D – Plot 56
פּ״נ (Here lies)
GOLDIE L. GARDNER
A LOVING WIFE OF JACK GARDNER
Her name in Hebrew: Golda b. Shmuel v’Hinda
ת נ צ ב ה
abbreviation for Biblical quote: “May her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”
Hinda Shapiro (1893-1988)
Stepdaughter: Dr. Freda Gardner
Stepdaughter: Mina Gardner
Stepson Dr. Maury Gardner