I've written many times that I like to blog about three things that are very important to me - Food, Family and Community. (No, not necessarily in that order, but it sounds more alliterative that way. And by food I don't mean merely the act of preparing and eating the food, but of course all the mitzvos that can be done with it - every thing from glorifying Shabbos and Yom Tov, to Hachnosas Orchim and more.)
Somebody in my community passed away over the weekend.
She was not the wife of a Gadol Hador who had thousands worldwide saying tehillim for her.
She was the most modest of women, who requested no hesped at her funeral, but who just by living her "simple" life, shaped mine (and by extension I would assume many others).
I could begin telling you stories that you might hear from hundreds. Celia Stern a"h was the school cook and community caterer for years. Her tomato rice soup (with the sheen of oil glistening on top ;) ) was legendary. I wouldn't doubt that the seeds for my life long love of anything pasta were planted in her spaghetti lunches ( "a LOT, please", we all begged as we went down the lunch line).
I could begin with these stories, but to end there would be a great disservice. I have stories that are solely mine. But I have a feeling that countless others probably have the same. Let me share two.
Joey was born on Yom Kippur. Do the math. That makes the bris on first day chol hamoed Succos. All my children were yellow. This made scheduling brissim complicated. We didn't know if the bris would be on time until after the results of the previous day's bloodwork. Since the day prior in this case was second day Yom Tov, we would not know if we were having a bris until after nightfall the day before. When I approached Mrs. Stern about our situation, she was calmer than calm, and reassured me that I was not to worry. If there was a bris, there would be food. If not, not. As it turned out the bris was on time, and not a morsel was missing. Find me a caterer today who wouldn't want a deposit, which would be forfeited if the simcha was cancelled. Different times. Different people.My father z"l lost his appetite towards the latter days of his battle with colon cancer. Mrs. Stern, in her quiet way, cooked special dishes that he could still stomach (P'tcha - - - don't ask me... I can't stomach that on a healthy day....) and sent them over to his house. When I mention this fact to people, they often have stories of their own regarding her food related chassodim.
So returning to Food, Family and Community:
Her excellent cooking and mitzvos performed through that act set a shining example for me throughout my life.
She will be sorely missed within her community.
May her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion.