During my childhood and early teenage years I would always cherish time with my Great Aunt Jenny and Uncle Irving. Every time we would sit down for a meal, whether we were eating vegetables or pizza, Irving would look at me and say, “It looks good enough to eat!”
As a young girl, I frequently left scraps of food on my plate, refusing to take the last bites. I never understood the meaning of my Great Uncle’s relentless phrase and the way in which he worshiped food until I sat down and learned his amazing story of strength and love.
Irving survived the Holocaust as a barber for the Nazis. Out of necessity, he chose a trade of value. When the war was coming to a close, the Nazis frantically transported Irving and all other prisoners on cattle cars from the concentration camp to the mountains. They had every intention of exterminating the remaining Jews and disposing of any evidence that they had been running death camps. Luckily, American troops intercepted this plan, freeing Irving and his fellow inmates from years of torture and immense suffering.
As soon as Irving was liberated, he yearned for a familiar face, desiring any sign of someone in his immediate family, like his baby sister who he had never met. Tragically, Irving had lost every living relative. However, as the cattle cars were being emptied, he did recognize a family from his tiny farming hometown known as Szczercow, Poland. My grandmother, and her two sisters, Jenny and Sally, were standing with this particular family when Irving was reunited.
It was not long before Irving fell deeply in love with my Great Aunt Jenny. Jenny, still very sick and malnourished from the camps, was rushed to an unknown hospital. This was the very first time that my grandmother, Jenny and Sally had been separated since the start of the war.
After Jenny received enough treatment to feel somewhat replenished, she escaped the hospital and ran into the forest in desperate search of her love, Irving, and her two sisters. A man passing by on motorcycle spotted Jenny and agreed to give her a ride back to the displaced persons camp. This man, Elliott, would eventually marry Sally.
Shortly after reuniting, Irving, Jenny, Elliott and Sally shared a double wedding in Germany. My favorite part of this incredibly woven love story has yet to come. At this point, Irving was working for the American Military Police and decided to spend every dime of his savings to feed his friends in honor of surviving the war and finding love. Irving and Elliott invited everyone from the displaced persons camp, marking the beginning of their new lives as free, happily married men.
Jenny and Irving at their wedding ceremony in Starnberg, Germany (1946).
This past Wednesday, January 7th was my Great Uncle Irving’s 95th birthday.
Although his age is certainly a milestone, Irving’s biggest celebration is his marriage to Jenny, a union of remarkable strength and longevity that many couples do not have the fortune of experiencing. Jenny and Irving will be married 69 years on March 26th. When I asked my Great Uncle how long he’s been married, he replied, “68 going on 69, and I wish the very same for you and JB.”
Irving’s life and love stories represent extraordinary examples for all married couples. Marriage, although beautiful, does carry with it the promise of hardships. Irving has taught me that the best quality in a marriage is perseverance to live and love to one’s fullest potential. As I have grown up, every interaction with my Great Uncle has been a celebration of family. His profound appreciation for the gift of life is a constant reminder to keep my personal challenges in perspective. And so, on days when I see the glass half empty, I look to Irving who lives as if his glass is always half full.
Happy Birthday to a groom like no other, who has proven that the key ingredients to a prosperous life are love, nourishment and celebration.
Irv- I’m saving a dance for us on June 20th, 2015.
Cheers to an amazing man, my Great Uncle Irving- 95 looks quite handsome on you!
Most of all, thanks for teaching me that every bite of food I share with my groom-to-be, “looks good enough to eat!” I can’t wait to share our wedding cake with you!