Margarite’s Death

Written By: Harry  Heller

Margarite’s Death It was a cloudy day which added to the family’s sadness. They were gathered at a cemetery in Queens located near Horace Harding Blvd. It was 1918 and years later Horace Harding Blvd. would be gone and the cemetery would be wedged between the concrete ribbons of the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The head of the family was a well known Talmudist, Rabbi Morris T. whose own death in 1937 would be the subject columns in the New York Times, Tribune and Journal. Next to him was his wife, Hermine and nine children ranging in age from from 10 years to 35 years. The saddest of the group was Hyman H. his son-in law of 1 year. They were gathered around the freshly dug grave of his daughter Margarite who was the wife of Hyman. Margarite had become the victim of the Spanish Flu epidemic, one of the millions of people in the world lost in this plague. Margarite was healthy all of her life, but she and Hyman had decided to start a family and she was pregnant with a child. But, as the Rabbi often said, “God has his own reasons for taking people before their time.” This is the reassurance that a Rabbi and teacher gives his congregants and which he repeated to his family. As if to say that there must be a reason that my daughter was taken early, the a baby in her womb and a young husband bereft. Later research would find that pregnant women would be more susceptible to flu symptoms. In a period of 2 weeks Margarite had changed from strong happy woman nurturing a baby in her womb, to a thin person in a death coma in one of the New York Hospitals set aside to treat the thousands of New Yorkers who had contracted the flu. The burial was conducted according to the strict rules of the Jewish Religion. Within one day the body of Margarite was placed in a plain pine box held together by wooden nails. This tradition is based upon the the need of the “ashes” of the dead person returning to the ground. Pine wood decays quickly in the moist earth. The coffin was carried by younger and stronger family members chosen from the men who were older than 13 years. It was lowered into the ground by the workmen in the cemetery. When it reached the bottom of the hole the family members, starting with the Rabbi himself, began the task of covering the box with the earth that lie around the hole from the digging of the grave. Setting an example of Jewish tradition, the Rabbi using a shovel turned upside down lifted the scant amount of earth that could be balanced on an upside down shoven and threw it into the hole making a thud as it hit the wood of the pine coffin. Jewish tradition says that we should not be speedy in covering up the grave so Hermine pushed two upside down shovels into the grave and then in a line the family moved past the grave doing the sad job. Hyman H. next, oldest sister Giza, then Adolf, Max, Louis, Tessie, Helen, Ella followed by the youngest boys Yoab and Fievel. The younger and stronger family members began filling the hole more rapidly, forgoing the upside down shovel and using genuine shovel fulls fulfilling the rule that burying the dead is a major good deed because you can not expect a reward from the person you are helping. As this was going on Hyman was crying as were all the women in the family. Others bore the tragedy in less obvious ways. When the grave was full, the attendees formed two lines and the mourners exited the area single file between the lines as the guests “comforted them among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” The mourners returned home where they were fed the traditional bean soup (beans are round and represent the cycle of life.) They then began the “shiva” tradition. Shiva is the Hebrew word for seven. Starting from the day of the burial they sit in low seats while friends, relatives business associates come to comfort them. This is done for seven days, but not on the Sabbath. The mourners talked about Margarite and Hyman. What a lovely couple. What will he do without her. Some of the guests will quietly hint about a daughter or niece that Hyman might be interested in but not suggest anything openly. The Shiva is also the beginning of the mourning period. During this time the mourners attend services three times a day and recite the Kaddish in memory of the lost one. The Kaddish does not even have the word memory or death in it. It is a prayer of praise. Family members other than children mourn for 30 days. It is felt that mourners must get back to their lives. Hyman, who was a religious man, thought about his future. He was aware that there was a commandment in the Torah that if a man loses a spouse, he should seek a new spouse in the family of his lost spouse. After the 30 days of mourning he began thinking of his future. Margarite had a younger sister who looked and spoke just like her. Old Tintypes of the two sisters show two women remarkably alike. Giving himself additional time beyond the 30 day mourning period, he approached Rabbi Morris T. The two of them shared many commonalities. They both were religious, they studied Talmud together and the family loved Hyman. He asked his father-in-law if he could court Tessie, the younger sister. The Rabbi discussed this request with Hermine his wife. She suggested that they should give Hyman permission to court Tessie but not tell Tessie that they gave him permission. The motherly wisdom of Hermine understood that if they told Tessie they gave Hyman permission to court her, she would think that they were anxious to marry her off, and it was not Hyman’s decision to court her. Sometimes a woman’s intuition trumps Talmudic knowledge. The courtship started and Tessie was swept up by her former brother-in-law. The courtship led to an engagement and the engagement to a marriage. They were married on July 4, 1919. Tessie joked that her Independence Day became a Dependence Day. Around the grave Rabbi Morris T. said, “God has his own reasons for taking people before their time.’ It was followed by crying and wailing and shouts of “Why? Why? Why?” Why? Hyman and Tessie had 5 children who could not have existed if Margarite had lived. Joab, who was one of the greatest Generation and fought in and survived World War II, Jeanette who served in Hawaii and met her husband Gerry, a Sea-bee, Doris who worked for the U.S. Government, Philip who was in the U.S. Navy, and Harry who designed Jet Aircraft guidance systems and when the need for Jet Aircraft was no longer important became a PhD. in Social Psychology working in advertising and became a leading Public Opinion expert. Their children and grandchildren include scientists, business owners, lawyers, writers, bio-engineers, Jazz broadcasters. If Margarite had lived, all of these people that came out of the unique genetic makeup of Hyman and Tessie would not have existed in this world. All the people they know would not know them, their marriage partners would have married someone else. So I will ask two questions; What was God’s reason for taking Margarite before her time? While you ruminate on that question let me ask you the second question; Why did I write this story? Answer: I am Harry.