Meme Rachel – From Constantine to Jerusalem – 1921-2015
By: Shaina & Raizel Laber
I will always remember my beloved great – grandmother, Meme Rachel of blessed memory. She was a kind and giving person and was loved by all. My great-grandmother began her life in Constantine, Algeria and then moved to France in 1962. At the age of ninety three, on January 27, 2015 – 7 Shevat 5775, she passed away in Montreal, Canada. She was buried in Jerusalem, Israel on the Mount of Olives.
I will always admire Meme Rachel’s positive attitude. She appeared to be the happiest person alive. One could think that she had the easiest life. The truth was that she faced great challenges, as a mother of young children, while she resided in Constantine, Algeria. For over ten years, angry terrorists threw bombs outside schools and shopping centers and it was dangerous to be outdoors.
My grandmother related to me that she and her sister once took a stroll to the supermarket. Meme Rachel was home watching the news which informed her that a bombing took place by the market. Meme Rachel panicked and thought her daughters were there. Thank G-d, they happened to walk a different way and went to visit their aunt and didn’t even know there was a bombing. When my grandmother and her sister came home, Meme Rachel was so relieved and thankful that they were alive and well. They realized that they were miraculously saved by Divine intervention. At the age of 41 years old, she left her all of her childhood memories, beautiful home town and her new home and ran away to Paris, France because the terrorists took control of Algeria. She was forced to start a whole new life in a new country.
She was known by all for being an amazing cook and baked gourmet pastries and desserts for Shabbos and family celebrations. She was always ready to celebrate family milestones with joyous dancing and her delicious baked goods. She was always ready to serve an unexpected visitor with some of her specialties. She would bake and put aside some of her baked goods for another day. She would say in French, “Cache pour demain” – Hide some for tomorrow”. She taught me to always plan for the future and to be ready to serve unexpected guests.
Ten years ago, she moved from France to my grandmother’s home in Montreal, Canada. My family would travel to Montreal for holidays and family celebrations and we loved spending time with her. Even though, she only spoke French and we didn’t understand her language, we could understand her words through her emotions and facial expressions. She communicated her love for us with songs, her smiles and laughter. Of course, we knew how to tell her, “I love you” in French – “Je taime beaucoup.”
When she was no longer able to walk and care for herself, she was moved into a nursing home. Honestly, I didn’t really enjoy our visits to the home because it was hard to take the smell and see the food that was fed to the elderly. I now realize how special it was to visit her and I really miss being able to see her. The last time I saw her was on Sukkot. I did not know this would be the very last time that we would see her. I now wish I would have known, so I would have savored the time with her. We brought our Lulov and Etrog and said a blessing for her and she shook it. She looked so happy to see us and I saw the glow on her face. Even when she was in pain and having a hard time, she still managed to smile at us. We sang Sukkot songs with her and held her warm and soft hands. People peeked into her room from the hallway and smiled at us. It was so special to spend time with her and see the joy we brought to her life.
Five weeks before she passed away, Meme Rachel needed a pacemaker and her health rapidly declined. When we realized that her end was near, we all Skyped my grandmother, who lovingly cared for my great grandmother for the last ten years. The next morning we got a text from my grandmother that said that Meme Rachel had returned her soul to her maker. We were all extremely sad. We were glad that her last wish was being fulfilled to be buried in Jerusalem, Israel near her illustrious great grandfather, the chief Rabbi and Judge of Constantine. We all miss her dearly and hope to see her smiling face with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.