The character pictured below is Irving Silverman, or Zayde, as I call him. He is my father's father. Given his loquacious disposition, there's a solid chance you already know him, or have heard of him, or have been educated by him on one of many diverse world topics (100% accuracy not guaranteed), or have been run down by him in a hallway (he's legally blind). Google his name and you'll find stories of grand proportions. Members of my family joke that he is a man of few words. This is actually the greatest joke of all time.
Zayde is currently 93 years old, planning his 120th birthday party. Some might say he has a strong personality.
Given my recent exploration of Israel, I thought it appropriate to share one of the most influential sources for taking part in this journey. Zayde, my grandfather, is a Jew. As far back as I can remember, he has been talking to me about my future journey to Israel to see the land that means so much to him. It's been a faraway, foreign place in my mind since I was a kid. My memories are of him describing Israel not as a tension-riddled, fatigued, middle-eastern state, but as a land that would welcome me home simply because of my Jewish identity. When Zayde talks about Israel, it's one of the few times he doesn't keep eye contact; it's as if he needs to stare off, beyond the conversation, to find what he's looking for. There's a gentle pride, laced with passion, that fills him when he finds himself on the topic.
I suppose the Israel that I found while traveling didn't fit neatly into either his memories or my preconceptions. It's truly one of the most majestic, historical, impactful places I've ever traveled to. It's also a place on edge. This week has me thinking especially about my friends and those I interacted with during my travels after the recent string of bombings from Gaza into Israel. Looking back, I'm thankful for the perspective and expectations I carried into my journey and hopeful for a more tranquil future.
Apart from instilling Israel-pride, Zayde is unstoppably kind. One of the most kind-hearted people I've ever known. Everything about this photo describes the Zayde I know. The hat that he's worn for longer than I've been alive, the unshaven beard, the genuinely cheery smile, the shirt speckled with spots and crumbs, the button that's coming undone, and the soft, grainy texture of the photograph itself (shot in a dark corner of DFW airport on his layover between Boston and Tucson). All the little things that would slow me down don't begin to faze Zayde. He just keeps on going, sharing his joy. I'm hopeful that each of you has a "Zayde" in your life. And if not, I'm sure he'd be willing to share some of his time with you (...though this will certainly be much more time intensive than you could ever plan for).
If there's one broader lesson that Zayde has always taught, it's the importance of family. The humor, while I'm still not sure if it's always intentional, is always welcome.