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A Eulogy for Bessie Hittelman z”l

On December 6th, on a very cold day, Bess Hittelman was buried by her loving family at Mt. Nebo Cemetery in Denver.  This eulogy is mostly based on the words written by Bessie’s oldest son, Allen Hittelman.

Bessie Hittelman  – Basha Glicka bat Shmuel Arya Leib v’Chaya Raisel  

July 6th, 1923 – December 5th, 2017

Aishet chayil mi yimtza?  A women of valor, of strength, who can find her? Asks Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs.  We found one in Bess Hittelman!  A strong, righteous, caring, loving woman, adored by all who knew her. As Allen said, “with Bessie’s Passing, a generational book has closed in our family history.”  Gary described his mother like a hub of a wheel, with spokes that were not always harmonious, but in common was the devotion everyone had for Bessie, who was always a force of positive energy.

Bess’s story began several years before she was even born with her parents’ immigration 100 years ago from Eastern Europe.

Both Bessie and her husband Morris were first generation Americans, born to Eastern European immigrants after World War One and both families grew up in the Bronx, just a few miles apart.

Born on July 6th, 1923, Bessie grew up in a traditional (Orthodox) Jewish home, where her parents, Samuel and Aida Siegelman, always Bubby and Zedi to the boys, operated a fruit wagon, and Samuel was also an assistant rabbi (teaching and performing shammos duties) and, in later years, provided Kosher supervision in Long Island Jewish Hospital.

Bubby Chaya helped in the family business and also raised the children, including; Bess’s older brother, Cantor Benjamin Siegel, and three foster brothers (Ruby, Joey and Loyd Morrison).

When WW2 broke out, Morris enlisted, and Bessie and Morris married traveled together to all of the military assignments, where Bess made many life-long friends along the way, including, Millie and Sheldon Silverman of Maryland and Ceil and Sam Unetin of Chicago.

Morris and Bessie spent the war in military facilities, like Fort Walton, FL, where Morris worked as an aircraft supply officer and Bessie performed clerical duties on the Base.

In 1945, they moved back to the Bronx where Allen was born, then to Brooklyn where Gary was born, and then to Queens where Jan was born.

Bess had a strong passion for her Judaism, Jewish learning and Jewish values and sent each of her boys to yeshiva (with widely varying results).

Throughout Bess’s long life there was never anyone who was a stranger.  Within minutes of meeting someone, she knew their entire life story (and filled in the holes with assumptions).

Everyone wanted to spend time with her until the very end!

Whenever an adventure was proposed, Bess’s answer was always YES. (Morris’s response was mostly the opposite).

In Sheryl’s words, Bess made every single person, whether her own family, her carers, or even strangers, feel like they were the most important person in the world.

I knew her relatively little, but on my visits and the times that she was still able to come to shul, I certainly felt this great warmth and interest.  Even though technically I was doing a mitzvah the times I took her challah, or blew the shofar with her, or shook lulav, the joy and presence that she got and her generosity of spirit, even close to the end was immense and I always felt like I was the one receiving the blessings.  Every time I visited her, she always, always said how blessed she was with her family and her life.

Bess loved and excelled in puzzles and games; crosswords and cryptoqoutes; Mahjong and Bridge.

Allen says that his mom also excelled in motherhood.  Once Bess asked her 3 boys who her favorite was; each felt that they had won that honor.

Bess was very charitable, donating to dozens of organizations, with special fondness towards the Israel charities of Hadassah, where she was a life member and Amit, where she was a local chapter leader. It’s interesting to note that so many of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren carry on this passion.

Bess spent most of her retirement years in West Palm Beach, FL. For the past 20 years, Boulder became her summer home and her permanent home in the last seven.

In Boulder, Bess has been surrounded by her 3 sons, 4 of her 6 grandchildren and 5 of her 10 great-grandchildren.

For most of the Boulder years, Bess remained independent.  Then, she needed to sell her car; then she found balancing check books less fun; and soon it was time for a different plan. So the family kicked into to action. A visitation schedule was developed to ensure mom had family visitors daily.

Gary became the quartermaster,

Jan became the authorizer for medical expenses,

Allen became the bill payer.

Sheryl became the candle in Friday night Shabbos dinners

Bess lit five candles every Shabbos for her and Morris and their three sons, using tea lights. Sheryl, who spent every Friday night with her grandmother and her own family, would periodically check to see how many candles were left and last Friday there were eight. Five were lit, as if it was known that it was Bess’s last Shabbat. Now just three remain.  Sheryl also shared that Hebrew letters shine through the bedroom window and in the last days there was a chai (I saw the pictures on Sheryl’s phone) as if to say life will go on and life is eternal.

Two years ago, on the morning of the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Bess fell and laid unconscious on her bedroom floor. Since then, she was blessed with 24/7 nursing assistance from Dignity Care and End-of-life support from Hospice. Both services were guided by the UNBELIEVABLE love, skill and dedication of Sheryl Buchman – Bess’s “medical power of attorney” and beloved granddaughter.

Bess always had that spark and some humor too. Gary told a story about one of her medical appointments where she was asked “how are you feeling today?” to which her quick response was “I’m feeling fine. Are you going to change that?”

We acknowledge Bess’s care givers who are here today – Kat, Lisette, Kaitlan and Kaitlan. No words can fully express the family’s gratitude for your loving care.

Allen said that in her final hours, three angels hovered over his mother; Kat Hatcher of Dignity Care (The Queen Bee) – whose service continued even after Bess left this world, spending the whole night with her last night; Jane Peterson of Boulder Hospice (The Guru of Transition) and Sheryl Buchman (“Mom’s Best Friend”)

In Jewish tradition, before we go to sleep, we invite the presence of four angels, Michael, Gavriel, Uriel and Raphael, along with God’s Divine light, to guide us in our sleep.  All the angels who tended to Bess so lovingly at the end of her life have done their holy work and now, we bless Bess on her continuing journey that she be surrounded by Michael on her right, Gavriel on her left, Uriel in front of her, Raphael behind her and all around her head, shechinat El, that Divine light – shining on her as she shone her light on all who knew her.

In last week’s Torah portion, Rachel Imenu, Rachel our Mother died and, as Allen says, “our family has lost its matriarch and moral compass. A crown has fallen. A book has closed.”

A Jewish life is considered like a Torah scroll and when we finish a book of Torah, we chant chazak, chazak, vinitchazeik! Strength, strength, and may we be strengthened! May we all be strengthened!

To Bess’s three favorite sons – Allen, Gary, Jan and their spouses and partners Nancy and Neta, 6 grandchildren Sara, Scott, Sheryl, Steven, Francine and Jessica and their spouses and partners Noah, Kelly, Mila, Steven and Victor and 10 great grand children, Paige, Elizabeth, Jordan, Lauren, Evan, Brandon, Sophia, Steven, Logan and Avery. All of you adored her and perhaps would not even be who you are without her presence in your lives and you will miss her so much.  Hamakom y’nachem etchem – May God be a source of strength to all of you and all who knew Bess Hittelman.

Right before Hanukkah, a great, great light has gone out and the beloved matriarch of this family has left the world, but that sweet and holy light will continue to shine with radiance and beauty in the world to come among the righteous and in the hearts of all of you who loved her.

Zecher tzadik livracha – May the memory of this righteous soul be for a blessing

 

About Rabbi Marc Soloway

Marc is a native of London, England where he was an actor and practitioner of complimentary medicine before training as a rabbi in London, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. He was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University in 2004 and has been the the spiritual leader at Bonai Shalom in Boulder ever since. Marc was a close student of Rabbi Zalman Schechter Shalomi and received an additional smicha (rabbinic ordination) from him in 2014, just two months before he died. He has been the host and narrator of two documentary films shown on PBS; A Fire in the Forest: In Search of the Baal Shem Tov and Treasure under the Bridge: Pilgrimage to the Hasidic Masters of Ukraine. Marc is a graduate of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, has traveled to Ghana in a rabbinic delegation with American Jewish World Service and co-chair of the Rabbinical Council and national board member of Hazon, which strives to create more sustainable Jewish communities. In 2015, Marc was among a group of 12 faith leaders honored at The White House as “Champions of Change” for work on the climate. Marc is a proud member of Beit Izim, Boulder’s Jewish goat milking co-op.

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