My Ethical Will
My name is Beatrice Taishoff and, as I approach my 100th year, I am, to the best of my knowledge, the only living member of my generation. I would like to be remembered long after I am gone from this world for how I was able to cope with circumstances of life, which made me a stronger person. I do not believe it could have been possible in any other country than the United States of America.
As I write this I have been residing for three months in The Jewish Home and Hospital in the Bronx section of New York. I was born on September 22, 1902 in a section of New York City called the lower east side which was predominately inhabited by Jewish people. My parents were Lewis and Esther Levine and I was the second child of three. My father named me “Bracha”, the feminine form of “Baruch”, which was his grandfather’s Hebrew name and the person whom he worshipped. Baruch amazingly acquired an education in Russia, which was unheard of at that time. His fame was so widespread that the Czar employed him. My father told me he named me after him because he felt I, too, would be able to attain any goal I wished. He kept stressing this. I loved and revered my father, though I only knew him for my first five years of life. Upon his death I decided upon two goals from which I never strayed. One goal was never to be placed in an orphanage as my younger brother was. This meant that at the point of my father’s death and for the rest of her life I assumed a great deal of responsibility to care for my mother. At age 5, I relieved her of most of the household duties like housework, preparing meals, doing laundry, etc. so she could remain in good health and would be able to work in a variety of menial jobs. Even after she remarried when I was 11, I needed to continue this, as her new husband was not a good or reliable breadwinner.
The second big goal was that somewhere in this wonderful land of opportunity I would get an education better than any of my ancestors. I was always an outstanding student, a voracious reader and took advantage of every opportunity to educate myself. I joined the Henry Street Settlement House, which afforded me wonderful learning opportunities. I graduated from public school at age 11. My stepfather found a job for me in a sewing machine factory where I worked for a year and I secreted money from my salary. I then put myself through secretarial school where I learned shorthand and became very competent, earned a good salary and always saved. From that I was able to use my savings and put down a deposit on a house for my mother and stepfather in a far section of Brooklyn. Although working full time, I always went to evening high school in every community my family moved. Finally, after many years I graduated from high school with honors. Depression years were upon us, but I was determined to get a good education. I was ecstatic to gain acceptance to the University of Michigan where they had a work/study program so I could pay my tuition, room and board. I graduated magna cum laude and my major was sociology. Moving back to New York City, I worked for social services organizations and quickly rose to administrator. I also fell in love and married. All the time my mother lived with me, my husband and our 3 children and I took care of her also-. Like my father, my husband died when our children were young. I had to continue working and I took courses at Columbia University at night. I would not have been able to do this were it not for my mother who, though arthritic, was responsible for caring for my children so I would not have to hire help I could not afford. My mother’s contribution was above and beyond any commitment any mother could make and I am forever grateful.
Religion always played a vital role in my life. It started when I learned my father would not have anyone to say Kaddish for him after he died. (Kaddish is the prayer Jews recite when a loved one has died.) I resolved that I would become educated in Yiddish and Hebrew language, particularly reading prayers in Hebrew, which for me was direct communication with God. I say a few of the Hebrew words as an introduction and then talk directly with God. He answers by giving me a feeling of being protected and loved in almost a fatherly fashion and this has always been very comforting. Because I felt so grounded in Judaism, I decided that in my extensive travels I would study other religions also. I believe that there is one God for all people, though people try to reach Him in different ways. My relationship with God has helped me understand that relationships are the key to all that happens to us in life. When I entered this nursing home, at first I could not accept my loss of independence and my home. I became very depressed and for a brief time wanted to die. However, once I realized that this chapter in my life also has a purpose, I turned my life around. One of those purposes was to thoughtfully review my life and pass on to you, my dear family, the values I have held dear. These values, which I internalized from my father, have grounded and guided me through my life’s journey and I hope they will do the same for you. Also, the relationships I have made here with residents and staff has given me renewed meaning. As I discovered throughout my life, I love people and they love me. We need each other. Daily, staff transmits their great strength, both physical and spiritual, to me with their gentle healing hands. Their belief in my ability to be all that I can be has deeply inspired me. Judaism, my spiritual fountain, has given me the will to live. I believe I can still do and carry out God’s work on earth in giving to others. God bless all of my friends, and, in the name of my father, I say God bless America land that I love…
I want to leave you, my dear family, with some thoughts. Goals are essential to develop a person’s regard for himself and his place both in his home and the community. One must creatively shape one’s life so that it is productive and satisfying. In a country like the United States, there are so many opportunities to develop beyond what your forebearers were able to do because of the educational opportunities available. Education fostered my interest in world affairs, travel and contact with others that elevated me beyond anything I thought was possible. I traveled widely, even though I had limited resources. I’ve been to Europe, Africa, South and Central America, Japan. Once in a typhoon in the Sea of Japan, I thought I would lose my life. It made me think about its purpose. You can just plod along or you can strive to be more. Always remember: the availability of resources is always possible, but the effort has to be yours. Please remember that without family you have neither security nor the spiritual values that give life meaning. I have always felt my family came first- my grandparents, my mother and my children and grandchildren. Life, no matter what the struggles, the perplexities, always has a value if you value who you are as a human being.
As you see I have a great need to leave something of myself, as I don’t believe I will completely die. The driving spirit that everlastingly pumps joy into this old body at this time will continue forever as my blood courses through you. I hope you will always feel my love and comfort and my embrace. Despite all that sadness and difficulties of life that are inevitable, we must always embrace the challenges and keep striving. Don’t let life ever defeat you. You have the innate ability to charter your course so that it not only satisfies you, but all those you love. I knew my father for a mere 5 years, yet his great desire for me to get a good education and be all that I could be influenced me all my life. My Hebrew name “Bracha” means blessing. And I believe that I have been that to honor my father’s memory. I want to live in your thoughts lovingly as a guide so you will make more out of your lives than I. In this respect you are keeping my memory alive. Living in memory with love is living forever.