Rabbi Moshe Lagnado
On an ancient coin, the images an elderly man and his aged wife are embossed. On the flip side, the pictures a vibrant, youthful couple are engraved.
This coin was dedicated in memory of the father and mother of our nation: Avraham and Sarah (Baba Kama 97b).
They are remembered as being elderly and wizened by their years. In our collective memory, there is no wiser couple than our father, Avraham, and our mother, Sarah. The Hebrew word zaken (“elderly”) is understood by our tradition as representing the expression, “zeh kanah” – “this one has acquired [wisdom].” This quality was embodied by Avraham and Sarah, both of whom used each moment of their lives to mature and draw closer to the Boreh Olam, the Creator.
But on the other side of the coin was a young couple. What did this represent? That although Avraham and Sarah grew old, they were still young. Neither the passing of years, nor the evils which they had seen, hardened their hearts. Even as seniors, they retained their childlike innocence and exuberance. Their enthusiasm did not diminish with the years, if anything, it increased.
Indeed, Rashi (Beresheet 23:1) famously states that Sarah was as innocent at 100 as she was at 20, and at 20 she was as beautiful as she was at seven. Our matriarch, Sarah, was always young.
The Exhilaration of Youth, in Old Age
Our mother, Claire Lagnado, a”h, was a disciple of Sarah Imenu. She was always young. Her body may have shown signs of aging, her skin may have wrinkled, she may have slowed down, but her heart and mind were always young. Some may even say she was childlike. When grandchildren came to visit her in San Diego, who would offer to take them to Disneyland? Yes, our mother; she would be thrilled by their excitement. She had the courage to take her granddaughters to France when they were about 12 years old. Both the girls and their grandmother came back exhilarated.
During her later years, her son-in-law would take her on a Shabbat walk. They would stop at a neighbor’s yard which was populated with farm animals. Just like a little girl, she would enjoy observing Gd’s creatures. She truly was forever young.
Her youthful personality served her well in yet another way – like a child, her inquisitive mind constantly sought wisdom. She accumulated a great deal of knowledge during her life. Growing up in Cairo, Egypt, she was conversant in three languages – Arabic, French, and Hebrew. After arriving in America, she added English and a little Yiddish. Even in her later years, after her debilitating stroke, she always asked about the week’s parashah. She would ask her grandchildren, “What did the rebbe say in yeshiva today?” leading to lengthy Torah discussions.
As a child, our mother studied dressmaking, which would prove beneficial in her new country. She would design gowns, simple dresses, and, for a time, rodeo costumes. Her clientele ranged from brides-to-be to actresses and even cowgirls, and my mother got along with all of them, without exception. They all appreciated and loved her. They would compliment her on her “golden hands,” and marvel at how every design of hers was excellent.
But rather than using her skills for only personal financial gain, she used them for tzdakah. Countless Torah scrolls are adorned with her creations. Countless brides walked down to their huppah with a magnificent wedding gown made by mother as a heartfelt gift.
Torah Study – Her True Love
Despite already have mastered this outstanding skill, my mother wanted more. Initially, she applied to the local college to take a few courses in business administration, seeking to fulfill her dream of opening her own business. She found college so intriguing that she soon graduated. Her family and friends were so proud of her as she received her degree at the Balboa Park Organ Pavilion in San Diego. It was the perfect venue for my mother – an old structure that was still modern because it was constantly refurbished and upgraded.
With her degree in hand, she was prepared to move forward with her dream to start a business. Combining her dressmaking acumen with her newfound business skills, she launched a retail outlet. Her store sold exquisite fabrics, and she earned widespread admiration for her sound advice concerning the best use of material.
As the business grew, my mother devoted more time and energy to her growing clientele. But even then, she never abandoned her true love, Torah study. My mother was constantly learning. Whenever the renowned Rav Simcha Wasserman, zt”l (1899-1992), came to San Diego to deliver a Torah class, she ensured to attend. The rabbi recommended to her Rav Avigdor Miller’s book, Rejoice O Youth, and she instantly became Rav Miller’s student, always eagerly anticipating his new publications. Rav Wasserman complimented my mother on her thirst for Torah knowledge and her ability to inculcate a genuine a love for Torah within her children.
There lived in San Diego an exceptional talmid hacham from France named Rabbi Henry Soille, who delivered many different classes on a variety of subjects, such as Kuzari, Midrash, and the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim. Whenever he spoke, no matter the subject, my mother made a point of attending. Rabbi Soille stated publicly that his two best students were my mother and my aunt.
Our extended family all mourn the passing of Ora (Claire) bat Miriam. Her optimism and youthful spirit cannot be matched. She loved everyone, and everyone loved her. Our family is much more subdued without her – she was our cheerleader, our mentor, our lifeline. Our dear mother is sorely missed.
Ora bat Miriam, your memory is and will always be a blessing to us. We hope and pray that we follow and perpetuate your legacy of love, hope, and endless optimism. The love which you showered upon us will forever remain in our hearts.
Teheh nishmatah tzrurah bitzror hahaim.