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Upon the Shloshim of Yeshaya Eliezer (Sam) Dimenstein, z”l

Upon the Shloshim of Yeshaya Eliezer (Sam) Dimenstein, z”l

© By Margie Pensak
Personal Reflections, Eternal Lessons


My father had a very matter-of-fact view of death: “When your number is up, it’s up,” he used to say. Sam Dimenstein’s number was up after 86 productive, meaningful years, in his native New Haven, Connecticut, June 26, the tenth of Tamuz. It was there that he was born on the kitchen table, the youngest of seven sons, to Shimon Leib and Masha (Weiner) Dimenstein.

Following in the footsteps of his father, a turn-of-the-century immigrant from Kurenets, outside of Vilna, my father became a cattle dealer, and later, a wholesale-retail meat dealer. He was proud of Zaidy’s refusal to work on Shabbos during the Depression, and of being taught that it is worthwhile being honest, even when “ehrlich iz shverlich – it’s hard to be honest.” Like Zaidy, my father was a man of his word, and everyone knew it.

As a man of few words, when my father did speak, people paid extra close attention. He shared his sage advice, sharp wit, and dry sense of humor with family members and friends, even within hours of his peaceful demise.

According to Yaakov Avinu’s request, Hashem made it the way of the world that people become sick before dying, so that they can give commands to their sons and households. What a bracha it was that this request was fulfilled for the Dimenstein family! My father died two days after offering his parting advice to those 17 people who surrounded his hospital bed on his last Shabbos. Determined to speak, he motioned for the removal of his breathing tube. Warned that he may only live for moments without it, he was extremely focused on what he had to say.

“I love you all,” he began, before saying, “Take care of each other; love your families; don’t hold grudges; be happy; stay healthy; don’t judge people with different lifestyles; forgive those who hurt you; don’t expect to start out at the top, work your way up; don’t resent that people have more than you, you have what you need; and don’t leave the fold.” It was as if he was reviewing the life lessons Hashem taught him while on this earth. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

“Take care of Doris,” my father said, speaking of his loving, devoted wife of 23 years. He felt fortunate that he had two wonderful marriages. He was married to my mother, Beatrice (Betman) Dimenstein, for 39 years before she died in 1980. His very last words depicted his compassion for all of Hashem’s creations, his optimism, and his sense of humor: “And don’t forget to water the flowers!”

At the graveside service, Rabbi David Avigdor revealed a previously untold story, new even to my sisters, step-brothers, and me. Six years ago, my father approached him about “a very big problem in the shul.” The large, old, recently purchased shul building was not air conditioned. “People may stop coming in hot weather,” my father said. He then told the rabbi that his investment had materialized, and he wanted to donate central air conditioning. There was one caveat – he was to remain anonymous. “I can never tell?” asked Rabbi Avigdor. “Well, maybe in 120 years,” answered my father, reluctantly.

As Rabbi Avigdor concluded the story, with sweat dripping down his face, a cold, short-lived wind refreshed the approximately 150 attendees. It was as if my father were saying, “And why should they shvitz here, on my account?”

My father did not benefit from a formal yeshiva education; there wasn’t much in the way of Jewish schools in New Haven at the time. A malamed taught him at home for an hour after public school every day. He was always excited to learn Torah, and would say you can learn something new every day. He didn’t wear his Yiddishkeit on his sleeve, nor was it always evident from his dress. But he had an unparalleled faith, refinement, and good heart. My father was one of the most pious people I’ve ever met.

There wasn’t a tzedaka envelope he didn’t respond to or a life incident that he chalked up to mere coincidence. Everyone he met walked away feeling special. In his business dealings he was more than honest. Even though he sold kosher and non-kosher meat, unbeknownst to his nonobservant Jewish customers, he gave them kosher meat at non-kosher prices.

My father could not tolerate being unproductive. After retiring from the meat business, he drove a van for emotionally-challenged adults, until a fall on the ice caused a severe knee injury. That did not stop my father from coming out of retirement, once more. His first day on his volunteer job in the hospital medical records department, he felt nauseous and dizzy. The ER tests indicated the cause to be a seemingly innocent head injury, sustained a month before. Holes were drilled in his skull to relieve the pressure in his head. He survived that, but did not survive the ensuing episodes of heart and kidney failure.

* * *

My father’s passing came during the week of my son’s sheva brachos. What a rollercoaster of emotions. Two weeks before the wedding, when I saw him for the last time, he was scheduled to go home, but he apparently knew better. He remarked, “When you leave your house, the door is very wide. When you want to return, it becomes very narrow. I don’t want to ruin the simcha,” he said. I reassured him he would not. Yes, my father was good to his word, until his very last. Having experienced three heart failure episodes, and tasting the sweetness of the next world, he stuck it out down here for our family simcha.

I called my father the day after the wedding; he was in a semi-conscious state, but could still hear. I wished him mazal tov, and told him that we miss and love him. Four hours later, my father’s neshama was returned to the Ribono Shel Olam, after fulfilling this final act of chesed.

May Yeshaya Eliezer ben Shimon Leib’s neshama be a meilitz yosher for his family, friends, and klal Yisrael, and may we, in turn, bring him much nachas on high by internalizing and living his eternal lessons.