By Yakov Horowitz
These lines are written in loving memory of our dear father, Reb Shlomo Zev ben Reb Baruch Yehudah Nutovic a’h, whose first yahrtzeit is 7 Menachem Av. May the positive lessons learned from this essay be a zechus for his neshama.
Nearly fifty years ago, our mother’s life was turned upside down with the sudden passing of our father one spring evening in 1963. Suddenly she was transformed from a happily-married young woman to the single parent of three children under the age of five. With the active support of both extended families, our amazing mother made it through those difficult years with incredible dignity and grace.
In the summer of 1965, she married Abba, as we called him, and for the next 46 years, built a beautiful home together in an environment of mutual respect, tranquility and joy. Abba had a son from a previous marriage, and in 1966 Hashem graced them with a daughter together – so our blended family had the quintessential “Yours, mine and ours.”
To their enormous and eternal credit, they raised three sets of children as one seamless family – so much so that people often could not tell which children “belonged” to whom. Over the years that Hashem granted them together, they were a source of strength to us during our challenging times, walked each of us to our respective chuppas, and celebrated the lifecycle events of our children and grandchildren.
When Abba passed away last summer, the three of us individually and collectively decided to honor him for his dedication to and involvement in our lives by tearing kriah at his funeral and observing shiva alongside our mother and our two siblings who were his biological children. We felt that since he never distinguished between the five of us, it was only fitting that we all honor him the same way: together.
Word of our decision spread and we each got positive feedback from friends and family – especially from members of blended families. With that backdrop, we thought it appropriate to record and share with the public our recollections of how our parents made their blended family a seamless nuclear unit in the hope that it will help others in similar circumstances. While some of these qualities are critical in any marriage, the fact that our parents achieved them despite the challenges of raising three sets of children is all the more remarkable and noteworthy.
As we collected and distilled our thoughts , the bedrock principles of their marriage (and indeed their lives) emerged clearly through our minds’ eyes – respect, tolerance, selflessness, emunah, yashrus, ehrlichkeit and yishuv hada’as (faith, integrity, honesty and an overall sense of reflection/strategic planning in their decision making).
Abba and y’lct our mother were so different in nature that one might have wondered how they ever met, let alone married and raised their families together. Abba was cerebral, reserved and proper; while y’lct our mother is upbeat, funny, and spunky. Nonetheless, they navigated life’s ups and downs together in the most harmonious way. They genuinely respected each other and never disagreed in front of us. They modeled derech eretz in their reverential treatment of their parents during their golden years and in their interactions with all three extended families where we all attended each other’s lifecycle events, biologically connected or otherwise. They “kept” the Horowitz surname for the three of us, (which was not common practice at that time), and always encouraged us to maintain our close relationship with our father’s siblings and their families.
The term “step” child/parent/sibling was never used in our home and they both did their utmost to be even-handed, never distinguishing among their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren based upon which part of the family they came from. In fact, when Abba’s first biological grandchild was born, our mother remarked how happy she was for him now that he too reached this wonderful milestone in life, he remarked in all sincerity, “Dovid (born twelve years earlier) is my oldest grandchild!”
As we all reflect back with adult eyes, it is clear that everything our parents did was selfless and well thought out. Abba realized that kids never forget their birth parents and he very wisely never tried to “replace” our father. In fact, he encouraged us to respect and nurture the place our father held in our hearts and lives. Abba attended every one of the yahrtzeit gatherings held in memory of our father a’h, while our mother did not – out of respect for Abba. He drove us to our father’s grave on his yahrtzeit and even occasionally took us to the shul where our father davened to say kaddish so we would benefit from the affection our father’s friends showered on us.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the many bumps they each had in their lives, they were grateful, optimistic and full of thanks to Hashem who brought them together and gave them the fortitude to rebuild their lives. Abba’s material success later in life only magnified his humility and sense of responsibility to help others achieve self-sufficiency, which he valued so deeply. Abba was like the cars he drove; simple, rock-solid and reliable. In his low-key manner, he was extraordinarily generous to his children, extended family members and people in need. Though Abba very much appreciated his creature comforts, he and ylc’t our mother lived far below their means and nothing was ever done to impress others.
Our parents were not exempt from the shortcomings all humans experience, and of course, there are things we all wish we had done differently during our formative years. Nonetheless, our parents had both the wisdom and love to raise us as the unique individuals we are and to provide us with the stable and nurturing upbringing upon which we were able to build our own lives and families. Children could ask for no more.
Abba; Dvora, Reb Yehuda and I are forever grateful to you for providing our mother with the bedrock of support she so badly needed in her most vulnerable hour, for treating her with such extraordinary respect over the years, and for raising us as your own children.
I have no knowledge of the workings in Heaven and am always deeply suspicious of people who claim to, but I am quite confident that our father was the first to greet you in Gan Eden to thank you for taking such wonderful care of his three prized possessions.
May your memory forever be for a blessing. Yehi zichrecha baruch.
Rabbi Yanky Horowitz is the Dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey and the Director of Project YES. This essay was written with the active participation of his family members; his mother Beile Ganz Nutovic, his siblings Issac/Shifra Nutovic, Dvora/Chaim Ostreicher, his wife Udi, Rabbi Yehuda/Etti Horowitz, and Chantzie/ Volvie Rosenberg. This essay first appeared in the Jewish Press.
I also grew up in a “blended” family – except I didn’t know I was in one! My oldest brother was my father’s child from a previous marriage that ended in divorce. We didn’t use the word “half-brother” or “step-son.” There were just three brothers and two sisters, five children of our parents. Of course, our parents told us – so we wouldn’t hear from strangers – but that was it. My oldest brother’s biological mother was not in the picture – so it wasn’t obvious to outsiders. Blended families have been the norm in the world for generations – think of all the women who died in childbirth, and the husbands who remarried and had children from two different wives. I don’t discount the challenges, but many stories are happy ones. TFS.