Ema Kallus

The adrenaline rush I’ve been on for the past couple of days left right around Tani’s Chanukah party this morning and I’m seriously wiped. I’m just so tired that I’m really looking forward to Shabbat starting so I can just curl up with my family and sleep.

I’ve been thinking about my Grandmother a lot over the past month. We were very, very close. Ema Kallus was a Holocaust survivor, the only member of her immediate family to survive Hitler, and she was a survivor through and through. When I was five, my mother returned to work and Ema quit her job as a seamstress and came to take care of us. She would walk over to our house from her apartment a couple of blocks away and wake us up for school, she took care of the home, cooked our meals, and was there when we came home from school. She took care of us until I was in college, and she finally “retired” when we were all old enough to take care of ourselves.

Ema was basically the one who took care of us when we were sick, so my parents didn’t have to miss any work. I remember one year I had really, really bad bronchitis. I had a high fever and a miserable cough. I remember walking down the steps and into the kitchen where Ema was cooking dinner (it must have been around 8:00 a.m.) and I just vomited everywhere. She took care of me, clean everything up, and tucked me into bed. Ema was there when I broke my heel in elementary school, she came with me to the orthopedist and then stood on one side of the alleyway behind the medical supplies shop and caught me as I tried walking on crutches. But beyond physically taking care of me when I was sick, she was a huge emotional support. In her eyes, I was always beautiful. I was smart. I was funny, and good, and kind. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders. She listened when I talked to her and always loved giving me her unsolicited advice.

Tani was 14 months old when she passed away suddenly. I know it’s weird to say that a 90 year old could pass away suddenly, but it was very sudden for me. I called her Erev Shabbat and we had a real conversation. It was great, she had been suffering from Alzheimers but that Friday, she knew who I was! She asked about Gaby and the kids and then she told me she loved me three times before we hung up. I felt really happy going into Shabbat, those moments of lucidity were so rare and precious. When my Dad called me after Shabbat 25 hours later, I was shocked and devastated. I couldn’t believe my Ema was gone, not after we had such a great call the day before!

Ema is buried here in Jerusalem. Her burial was held late at night, in the cold December air, days before the start of Chanukah. Under torch light, we said our goodbyes and buried her in the land that she loved. Israel was her home immediately after the Holocaust, and she had a very special connection to this Country. My Grandparents were not wealthy people but they would save their money to come to Israel. They would rent a room with a balcony at the Kings Hotel and my Grandmother loved walking across the street to the Supersol that’s still there. She would buy a pita, cucumber and tomato, and some Leben and they would sit on their balcony and watch all the traffic pass by. I think about her every time we drive pass the Kings Hotel, and imagine them sitting in the hot June sun, eating their Leben and people watching.

On November 12th, three days before my cancer diagnosis, I took my parents to the cemetery to visit my Grandparents. My parents were returning to the States and wouldn’t be here for Ema’s Yahrzeit, so we went together before their trip back. I davened and asked Ema and Abba Kallus to pray that I was going to be ok. That the results of the CT would be good, that I was healthy. I promised I would be back to visit again soon and we left.

Three days later, my world changed.

The sky was a brilliant blue this morning as we drove through the cemetery. It was very busy, cars filled the lot before rows of gravestones, but we were able to park next to their burial plots. I brought yahrzeit candles and we left the car and walked down to Ema and Abba’s graves. And I cried and cried. I begged Ema to help me, to take care of me again. I yearned to feel her arms around me, and I’m not a hugger, but I just need to feel her arms around me. Gaby cried as we said tehillim and I begged them both to be my advocates, to pray that I will be cured. I noticed that the Hey on my Grandmother’s tombstone was covered in sand, so I cleaned it off with my bare hands, my tears leaving tracks next to her etched name.

It was hard walking away but I begged them to help me come back for next year’s Yahrzeit.  I felt physically spent and emotional; I miss her every day but I’ve missed her so much during the past month.

Ema Kallus was a survivor. She was a fighter. She was the strongest person I’ve ever met. I know there’s a big part of her deep inside of me. I’ve been trying to tap into that strength since my diagnosis. I’ve even started wearing her ring, the one I inherited when she passed away. It was one of the few pieces of jewelry she used to wear during the Yamim Noraim to shul. Her fingers were swollen with arthritis but she still wore this ring on her pinky finger. Seeing her ring on my finger gives me strength, it gives me hope, and it helps me feel her beside me.

May we all have a peaceful and healing Shabbat

Please continue your tefillot as this week I will P”G begin treatment.

Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit

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