THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND
By Jason A. Waxman
In writing about my grandfather, Morris Waxman z”l, I am filled with a sense of pride and purpose.
I was blessed to have my Zaidie (grandfather) in my life for almost 30 years, unarguably, the most important and foundational ones at that. He was a significant part of my life, and rightfully so.
I have no doubt that when many are asked to speak about a role model, they may default to a celebrity, politician or great sage. Perhaps, one may choose their mother or father. My father, however, would tell me to choose my Zaidie, so that is the plan.
Talk is cheap and actions speak volumes. My grandfather had a personality that was larger than life and a presence that could be felt as soon as he walked into a room. Paradoxically, his humility was his defining trait.
I am reminded of a time when he needed a new car and was offered one of his choice; any car, any price. I was befuddled when, without hesitation, he responded that he wanted a Buick. As a teenager at the time, I could not process the banality of his reply. Years later it hit me. He was wholly unconcerned with materialism. He only responded in order to save the requester from embarrassment.
My grandfather’s currency was family.
This was evident from the beginning. Growing up in a house as one of nine children and a mother who died very young, my grandfather’s sole objective was to aid in caring for his family. Any money he made would go into a communal pot. Everyone took care of each other. It was a simple, but honorable life.
One of the defining pillars of my Zaidie’s personality, and perhaps, his greatest legacy, was his kibud av v’em, honoring his parents. While I never met my great-grandfather, Isaac, his memory permeated almost every family Yom Tov (holiday) meal or special occasion. I was, and still am, able to relate to him, having never met him, through the countless remarkable stories I have heard over the years.
The unwavering honor my grandfather showered upon his father, was the foundation of every great saga-like tale or anecdote.
In the late 1940's, my grandfather was asked to accompany his father on a driving trip to Detroit. Without hesitation, he agreed. When they arrived at their destination, they drove down a long driveway to a large estate. His father got out of the car and had a brief conversation with a woman waiting at the front door. He then turned around and got back in the car. The two did not speak the entire drive home from Detroit to Hamilton. My grandfather never found out the reason for the trip. He knew if his father wanted him to know, he would have known. He had too much respect for his father to ask. That was the kind of staunch and unyielding respect he had for his father.
My grandfather did not have an easy life; losing his mother at an early age, growing up in relative poverty as a young Jewish boy, facing antisemitism in Hamilton’s east end, multiple open-heart surgeries and a bitter litigation that would consume much of his adult life.
Championed by my father, he emerged victorious from the family legal battle. Despite his triumph, however, the sour taste of losing his once unshakable bond with his younger brother often seemed to be his solitary takeaway.
My grandfather lived until he was 90 years old.
He really had no business living until 90, but that did not seem to concern him much.
On a late evening during his last days, the doctors were adamant he would not make it through the night. He had not been speaking much the previous days. Later that evening his eyes opened and he had a renewed vitality and sense of purpose. With his room filled with the entire family, the energy was palpable. He carried on conversation with vigor for 7 more days. Those days were truly a gift from G-d.
It is one of my life’s greatest honors that my oldest daughter, Sofie, met her great-grandfather. Having known him for only a few months before he passed, she leaves his picture on her night table and speaks to him often. He has formed a part of her.
I am grateful for being blessed with being his grandson.
I am grateful for the example he set for me as a husband and as a father.
My grandfather's legacy was his love of family and the enduring honor he showed to his parents. In doing the same for my parents, I endeavor to set the same example for my children.
May his memory be a blessing and an inspiration for those around him.