A Tribute to My Aunt, Sima Karp

Friday, 27 May, 2022 - 12:29 pm

This is one of the more challenging posts that I have written. How do I compose a memorial tribute for an aunt who was only eight years older than me? My father’s extended family is uniquely close. Our grandparents advanced the ideal of a close family as something very important to them. To give you an idea, this week after my aunt Sima’s passing, my son in Tel Aviv was having a hard time coming to grips with it. His study partner, noticing that he was having a hard time concentrating, asked him what’s going on. When Sholom told him about the loss in the family, he couldn’t understand why the passing of a great-aunt would be something so impactful.

As a teenager, Sima was the fun aunt that came to New Orleans for summers to work in Camp Gan Israel. When I moved to New York for school, we shared time in my grandparents’ house. After her wedding, as her family grew, she moved into a home across the street from my grandparents, and we saw each other all the time. When I got married, she took a real interest in Malkie and our family. As our children grew up and went to New York for school, Sima very graciously opened her home to them and took the initiative to make sure that they were ok. When we were planning the weddings of our daughters, Sima was an immensely helpful resource. She guided us through the process on many levels. Just three months ago, while in the midst of a fierce battle with a horrible illness, she heard that our daughter Sara gave birth. She called Malkie to find out what she could do to help Sara. Only when Malkie assured her that she was coming to New York to be with Sara, did Sima relent in her efforts to help.

I would like to share three (of many) things about her life that are inspiring. Having been raised on the ideals of helping others even at the expense of one’s own comfort and convenience, Sima lived these ideals on many levels. She was a founding member of Ten Yad, an organization devoted to assisting brides, who’s families cannot lavishly provide them with their wedding and household needs. Ten Yad set the gold standard for the Mitzvah of Hachnasas Kallah, assisting brides in a dignified manner, making them feel like this important time of their life should be as stress-free as possible.  

Sima and her husband Laibel opted to have an open home. Countless people spent Shabbos at their table over the years. In addition to ample supplies of delicious food, Sima would reign over her Shabbos table while dispensing wisdom and advice, laced with humor and wit. She provided so many with a listening ear and a pragmatic guiding voice. She had a blunt style and told it like it is, but you felt with certainty that she truly cared. I watched as many of their erstwhile Shabbos guests came to the Shiva house this week, with a feeling of having lost a close loved one.

Last but not least, Sima’s devotion to her parents, my grandparents, was legendary. All of my father’s siblings were devoted children with exemplary dedication to the Mitzvah of honoring parents. Whatever the reason, Sima undertook a significant portion of their care. The dignity that she gave my grandmother, in her final years of life, even as Bubby’s health and strength were fading, was in itself a Torah lesson for all of us. Sima’s home became Bubby’s home and the home was open to all of us, the rest of the family, to visit Bubby as if it were her own house.

Hashem works in mysterious ways that we do not understand. While the blessing for honoring parents is long life, shortly after my grandmother’s passing, Sima began her own battle with the disease that would ultimately take her life. Our extended family rallied around as a support network. We collectively recited the entire book of Psalms daily for over a year. Sadly, our prayers were not answered in the way we had preferred, and Sima passed away two weeks short of her 57th birthday. Our hearts go out to her husband and children. We beseech Hashem to give them strength as they go through this challenging time.

On the day of the funeral, Malkie and I got a note from two of our younger children. They undertook to recite Sima’s chapter of Tehillim until her next birthday. They wrote that they are doing this because surely, she used to say Tehillim and now they want to say it for her, and because they know that she really cared about them. These kids hadn’t seen her since before the pandemic. The closeness they felt from years ago, left such a profound impact on them that they articulated themselves in this way.

We yearn for the time that the prophet Isaiah speaks of, “He (G-d) has eliminated death forever, and the L-rd G-d shall wipe the tears off every face.” May this take place very soon with the coming of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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