November 7, 2016, Baltimore, Maryland
This Shabbos Breishis, we lost our Mom, Gella bas Ze’ev, Greta Schlossberg, a”h.
Mom was not well and has been out of the public eye for many years, but old-time Baltimoreans will remember well her beautiful smile, happy disposition, kindness, and, of course, her music. For over 20 years, she led Bais Yaakov school choirs and played the piano accompaniment at Bais Yaakov and TA events and graduations. She also taught music to thousands of children in the Beth Jacob Sunday school. She wrote plays and cantatas as well as poetry and songs. Many readers will also remember her amazing garden. In everything she did, Mom was maalin bekodesh, using her talents and energy to rise ever higher on the ladder of holiness.
* * *
Mom was born in 1921 in a small village, Geissen, and later lived in a larger nearby town, Limburg on the Lahn River, in Southern Germany. Limburg had around 300 Jewish households. It was a small kehila with a very nice shul. Her parents were Willie Goldschmidt and Helaine Goldschmidt (nee Austerlitz). I was named after my grandfather Willie (Ze’ev) with my middle name, William.
My grandfather, a merchant of dry goods, had a retail store and a very successful business. The Goldschmidt family lived in a large and stately home with a very beautiful garden. It was from this garden that my Mom got her appreciation of and talent for gardening. Just as the Limburg home had a magnificent rose garden, so would her future gardens have magnificent rose bushes. Just as the Limburg garden had fruit trees and a berry patch, her future gardens would have fruit trees and many berry bushes, including gooseberries, red currents, and raspberries. Mom’s apple and berry pies were all made from the berries in her gardens.
The Nazis and Holocaust destroyed the Limburg garden, but Mom brought her green thumb to America in 1940. Her father purchased a chicken farm for the family in Vineland, New Jersey, and Mom also learned a great deal about gardening there as well.
* * *
After Mom married Dad, they lived on Linden Avenue, off North Avenue, where my sister and I were born. But as soon as they purchased their home, on Jonquil Avenue, Mom began cultivating a garden that ultimately contained apple trees, gourmet herbs for salads, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, dill, parsley, corn, and watermelons. She also grew tall Van Gogh sunflowers, iris, jonquils, narcissus, poppies, mums, lilacs, geraniums, huge blue hydrangeas, morning glories, daylilies, buttercups, yuccas, Chinese lanterns, marigolds, zinnias, daisies, black-eyed Susans, lily-of-the-valley, violets, ferns, hollyhocks – and her most precious, fruit-bearing esrog tree.
Everything Mom did with her garden was ma’alin bekodesh (for holiness). The flowers adorned our Shabbos table and were given to my parents’ rabbanim and their many friends. Mom especially loved to decorate our home and shul for Shavuos and other Yom Tovim. And her bounteous bouquets brought much joy to elderly people in nursing homes and persons who were unfortunately ill. Mom’s colorful flowers made everyone smile. She also loved giving tours of her gardens to children, friends, and neighbors.
My Mom taught my sister and me many brachos in our garden. Mom learned these special brachos in her family’s garden in Limburg. The blessings included the one on blossoming fruit trees as well as shehechiyanus for new fruits and boreh minei besamim for special flowery aromas. Rainbows, thunder, and lightning were other happenings for which Mom was always looking to say a bracha. The blessings extended to events like the geese flying south in the fall and back north in the spring, as well as amazing arrival of the 17-year cicada “locusts.” I used to say, “Mom there is no bracha for geese flying and the locusts emerging. They were a makka (plague) in Mitzrayim.” But she considered them nissim (miracles) and wonders of Hashem and would excitedly take the family out to the garden and recite the bracha “osey ma’asei bereishis.” And when it rained, Mom always said, “Hashem is watering my garden!” But it was her esrog tree that gave Mom the greatest joy. The tree spent half the year in the garden outside. In winter, it was moved to a special, lighted room in the home. She had incredible success for over 20 years harvesting beautiful kosher esrogim. Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, my parents’ Rav, would check the tree’s esrogim each year to determine which could be used for the arba minim on Sukkos.
* * *
Mom’s other love was music. Her dad had a beautiful rich baritone voice and taught his daughter how to sing and harmonize. Both my Dad and Mom were fabulous pianists. While Dad could read the most difficult music scores, Mom could not only read the scores but could play anything in any key totally by ear. They played duets on my father’s Bechstein upright piano, which his parents bought him in 1922 in Fuerthe, Germany. Every motza’ei Shabbos, after havdala, the two of them would play “Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol” as a duet on the piano. My Dad also played the regular harmonica and the chromatic harmonica, and Mom played the lute. I have her six-string European lute, which her parents bought her over 80 years ago. They loved Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden, Brahms, and all opera, and would sometimes adapt them for a Shir Hama’alos tune. Our Shabbos table was filled with incredible harmonious singing and zemiros. From her father, Mom learned the Frankfurt nusach and mastered the trop for both the Torah and Maftir. She could lain any parsha.
When Mom was in London before coming to America, she entertained frightened children in air raid shelters in London during the Second World War’s blitzkrieg. She took my sister, Dad, and me to nursing homes as the Schlossberg “von Trapp family” singers. We played and sang to cheer up the elder nursing home residents. In 1956, my Dad and Mom did a half-hour, live radio program for the Purim holiday on WBAL radio, a program sponsored by Hapoel Mizrachi. She entertained at Bais Yaakov, TA, Ner Israel, and shul women’s luncheons. For over 20 years, as program chair for Shaare Zedek Hospital concerts, Mom brought all sorts of classical and Jewish music to Baltimore. My sister Aviva worked on them when she lived in Baltimore, and eventually, Mom passed that baton to me. We raised much money for the hospital in Jerusalem.
Mom also brought concerts to our home. String quartets, pianists, chazzanim, Kol Halev Choir, and countless singers played and sang in our living dining room. My sister Aviva and I played in our school bands, and Aviva would go on to lead the Stern College choir in New York. Music filled the air in our home; we were always singing. “Ivdu es Hashem besimcha” was my parents’ way of life. All music was used for holiness and as shira (song) to Hashem. My parents’ whole lives were a shira to Hashem. Any talent Hashem gave you, they told us, could be used to serve Hashem and bring joy to others.
* * *
My Mom loved Eretz Yisrael. I used to say that, if it were up to Mom, the meraglim would have been instantly dealt with and we would not have wandered for 40 years in the dessert. If anyone had anything negative to say about Israel, they did not want to encounter Mom. Totally apolitical, she would cry when singing “Hatikva.” It was kodesh to her.
Mom had unbelievable hakaras hatov to America as it had saved our family from the ashes of the Holocaust. Thanksgiving Day was celebrated with a turkey and all the trimmings, but Mom made it a point that the Shabbos after Thanksgiving, we were served a goose, to impress upon us that Shabbos is always supreme!
I must thank Hashem for giving us such wonderful parents and grandparents. They taught us so much. Through all my parents’ lives, they were always striving higher and higher, elevating everything they did for the sake of being ma’alin bekodesh. Music, gardening, and nature, with all their beauty brought them – and us children – closer to Hashem. My Mom and Dad planted well and received much bountiful harvest in wonderful nachas from children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, all shisulim bevais Hashem.
* * *
I just lost my Mom and am now unfortunately an orphan. It is a sad, sad time for a child, no matter what our age. But the good news is that, this past Shabbos, for the first time in 14 years (since my Dad’s petira), my parents got to celebrate a beautiful Shabbos in Shamayim, together once again. I am sure they filled the heavens with harmonious zeimiros, and probably Mom baked her yummy crispy challa. May they be a meilitz yosher for us all. (And please, Mom, tell Hashem to keep watering our garden!)