Obituary of Sabina Orbuch

Sabina Orbuch, 92, died peacefully in her sleep at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Patti and Harvey Gould, on September 24, 2005. She is survived by them and her three grandchildren, Joshua, Emily, and Evan. Her husband Eli, daughter Nancy, and sister Hanka predeceased her. She is also survived by her sister Fania Sage, nephews and nieces, and her devoted caregivers of the past two years, Brenda Samuels and Victoria O-Asabre.

She was born in Maciejow, Poland on November 15, 1912. Of her extended family, she, her two sisters, and a nephew were the only survivors of the holocaust. Sabina and her husband, also a holocaust survivor, were among the first group of Jewish refugees allowed to emigrate to the United States after the war because of their desire to become farmers. They settled in Lebanon, CT where they raised chickens and started a new life. She lived on the farm for almost fifty years until moving to Worcester about four years ago.

Sabina was a devoted mother and Baba (grandmother) and loved to cook for friends and family. She was also known for her generous spirit and patience. She enjoyed reading, especially about health topics. She loved to grow organic vegetables, hand picking the bugs off the leaves, and then sharing her bounty with others. In her later years, she taught herself French and began to play the piano.

The funeral will be held at Congregation Ahavath Achim, Colchester, Connecticut at 1 pm on Tuesday, September 27 with burial and reception immediately following. Shiva will be observed from Tuesday evening until Sunday afternoon (except Friday) at the home of Patti and Harvey Gould, 35 Saxon Rd., Worcester, with services at 7:30 pm.

Please omit flowers. Donations can be made to Congregation Ahavath Achim, 84 Lebanon Avenue, Colchester, CT 06415, Hadassah, or to a charity of one's choice.

A Tribute to Sabina Orbuch
Given by Patti Gould on September 27, 2005

I think the words that come to mind right away when I think of my mother are kind, patient, warm, generous, proud, and always late. From what my mother told me about her own mother, my grandmother, some of these qualities were already part of her upbringing. Every Friday afternoon my grandmother would carry a basket of freshly baked challah and goodies to a needy Jewish family. My mother offered to help with the delivery, but my grandmother refused because she did not want anyone to know who the receiving family was and shame them for being poor.

My mother carried on this tradition in her own way. She always wanted to share with others - the nurse at the doctor's office, the neighbor up the street, the older couple who came to buy eggs, and even with my neighbors in Worcester. There always was a squash or tomatoes from the garden, a couple dozen eggs, or a home baked bread to give. As my cousin Fay in Chicago wrote to me, "I never drove away without finding goodies in my back seat." Some of you have already requested her recipes for her apple-lochshen kugel and for what she called her Danish pastry. Those recipes might show up in your email in a few weeks.

My mother grew up in a shtel, a little town, on the Polish-Ukrainian border. Her parents were Trisker chasidim, who nevertheless allowed their daughters to study secular subjects and to get private tutoring in Hebrew. Mom apparently was an excellent student. She was a talented writer and was sought out to tutor other children in a variety of subjects. I think the gene for writing and teaching got passed down to her darling granddaughter, Emily. Mom also excelled as a student of Hebrew and could translate any Hebrew text, from biblical to modern.  She could spout words of wisdom from the Talmud and Gemorrah. One of her favorite quotes was "Shlach maklecha el ha-mayim. B'echad ha-yamim, timtza-ayhu" which can be translated as "Cast your staff to the waters; one day, you will find it ."

So, here was a chasidic girl who studied secular subjects and Hebrew, unusual for young women of that time and tradition. But that wasn't enough. She went ahead and became a member of Hashomer HaTzair - a secular, socialist, Zionist youth group. It seems there was a little bit of a rebel in her too. One other thing she did was to approach the local Catholic teacher's college to enroll there as a student. When that did not work out, she thought about becoming a dentist and apprenticed as a dental lab assistant, but when she passed out after getting her hand mangled by a denture clamp, she decided against the dental profession too.

The sense I got from my mother was that she lived a rich, full life in her little shtetl in Poland with friends, activities, learning, and good neighborly relations. But then came the war. Her older brother had died earlier from natural causes, which left her as the eldest child. Her father was infirm, just recovering from surgery, so my mother took on the responsibility of making difficult decisions: should we hide, where to hide, when to leave one hiding place and go to the next, whether to separate from her sisters or to try to stay together, to trust the next door neighbor who offered to hide her underneath her porch, or to go with the stranger who claimed he had dug a hiding place in the fields for them? I won't go into the details of those years except to say that my mother, her two sisters, and their nephew were fortunate to survive. On their journey of survival they came across good people who risked their lives to help, and greedy people who helped only if they saw some financial benefit in it for themselves, and amoral people, whose hatred of those different from themselves allowed them to murder and torture. My mother would later say how lucky it was that none of the 3 sisters were married and had children at that time. How much more difficult it would have been to try to run and hide and save both yourself and your family.

At the end of the war, my mother was introduced to my dad by my father's cousin. They married, but wanted to wait to have their children in the "goldene medina" - America, the golden land.  She learned English, became a citizen, and never missed voting in an election. Mom loved the idea that she lived in this great country. In her later years she would say, "You know my address? It's 1 Williams Crossing Rd., Lebanon, CT, U...S...A.

Moving to a chicken farm was my dad's idea. I think Mom would have been happy living in the city, with easy accessibility to shopping (and we all know who inherited that gene), but she learned to love farm life. She worked side by side with my dad in the chicken coops, spending many late nights grading eggs or cracking and freezing bags of eggs for the local bakery. She became an expert gardener and had to purchase two large chest freezers to accommodate all her summer produce. She was so proud of her vegetable and flower gardens and her compost pile. She spent many hours in those gardens - it became her daily therapy as she tried to come to terms with losing a child.

And then there was baking. Every time she baked, it was as if she were expecting half the town to show up on her doorstep. She used huge plastic basins meant for washing clothes to knead her famous Danish pastry dough. It sometimes took her all day because she had to stop whenever a customer drove up to buy eggs, and then, of course, she had to take that customer on a tour of her garden, and then, she had to invite the customer into the house to give her a cutting from one of her house plants, and then back into the cellar to pack the eggs, and then chat about nutrition, and then maybe she could return to her dough...well, at least for a little while. She really loved to talk and to share.

My cousins will always remember the large Passover gatherings on the farm. With more than 20 adults and children running around the house, it's 5:30 p.m., the seder is supposed to begin at 6, Mom would be calmly walking from one kitchen to the other, gathering up ingredients for some last minute dish, and humming to herself. She would then ask the little cousins if they would like to help ... and 2 hours later, we would finally be ready to sit down.

Mom was a lifetime learner. At around age 60, she received her GED. At about the same time, she ordered The Reader's Digest in French in order to teach herself a 9th language. At around age 80, Mom began to play the piano by ear. She saved every National Geographic and filled her house with flea market treasures that she was certain would someday be worth lots of money.

Mom loved her family very much, but she kvelled in her grandchildren and our children adored their Baba. Everything they did was just fine - never could they do any wrong. Even as her memory began to dim, she always remembered where each grandchild was living and what they were doing and she wasn't shy in sharing this information with anyone who came into the house: "Emily the principal," "Joshua works at MIT," "Evan is majoring in psychology." And she was constantly amazed at how tall her grandsons were, threatening to climb up a ladder to kiss them. She also loved her only son-in-law, Harvey. She was so thrilled when I first brought him home to Connecticut and was truly able to rejoice at our wedding even though it was less than 2 months after my sister's death.

We were fortunate to have Mom with us in Worcester for the past 4 years, the last two years living with us. Almost every day she would ask me how old she was. When I replied "92", a little bit of vanity would slip in and she would say "I don't look 92. Look, I have the body of a teenager.

Mom was surrounded by people who loved and cared for her, who made room for her both physically and emotionally. She created terms of endearment for her caregivers - Brenda became Brendichka and Victoria became "The Queen." She greeted her doctor Lucy with a great big hug. Although she never wanted to be a burden on anyone and could never quite understand why she was living with us, she was happy to be around her family. She maintained her youthful spirit until the very end, kept her sense of humor, and, yearning for her independence, frequently asked me to find her a job teaching Hebrew. She always planned to return to her beloved farm. Mom viewed life through rose-colored glasses, never complaining and always thankful. My hope is for our children to remember the important lessons she taught by her example, and to pass these lessons on to their own children.

29 September 2005.