Monday, January 21, 2013


Ever since our patriarch Jacob allegedly gathered his children to tell them about their future (see Gen. 49), many people have written ethical wills in which they identified not their assets but their most cherished values for their progeny. A number of these ethical wills written by Jews have been published as part of the literary genre called “Hebrew Ethical Wills.” Now that I still have my faculties intact, I wish to follow this example by putting down on paper those moral teachings that have guided me so far. So, in no particular order, here are my ten recommendations (a more personalized version was already written for my children):

1.     Identity:
I was born in Turkey and grew up in Istanbul. I am grateful for my Turkish heritage but I am also a proud Jew, and lived as such since 1938 when I was born. I came to the USA in 1961.
I believe it is important to have a strong identity. For those of us who live in the States, that means having a strong American as well as a Jewish identity. Support the State of Israel and Jews everywhere else. Try to visit the land of our ancestors at least once every ten years. Be a knowledgeable Jew.

2.     Kindness and integrity:

The Bible tells us that human beings are created “in the image of the divine” (Gen.1: 27) representing the best and the highest we know. Be a caring individual. Learn how to empathize in life, and try to feel other people’s joys and pains. Treat other human beings with dignity. Do not raise false expectations for them, and do not resort to violence. Yet, learn how to protect yourselves. Forgive your enemies but do not forget their name.  

3.     Good Name:

The author of the book of Ecclesiastes says, “A good name is better than fragrant oil”(7: 11). In dealing with others, your reputation must be impeccable. If you lose it once, you lose it forever. Be on time, look clean and neat, and try to make a good impression when you meet someone, for its impact remains a long time.   

4.     Family:

Cherish your spouses. Do not take them for granted. As  years go by, learn how to grow old together, accepting with grace all the changes that will occur with you and your mate. Be prepared to sacrifice for your children. After all, your family is your greatest responsibility and your proudest legacy. 

5.     Education:

Pursue general education and not job training. Read regularly, keep abreast of what is going on in the world, enjoy a good concert, an inspiring opera, a good theater. To the extent that you can afford it, try to travel around the country and the world. Have a wider perspective in life, and forgo judging things in black and white. Real life occurs within the grays. 

6.     Your job:

Enjoy what you are doing. Work hard at your profession. Try to be the best, but don’t allow your job to define you. Get a hobby. Take calculated risks. Otherwise you get stuck in life.

   7.  Truth vs. Peace:

Pursue truth, but give peace a priority. For the sake of sh’lom bayit (“peace at home”), be prepared to bend the truth a bit. It will save your marriage, your job and your relationship with the rest of your family and friends. 

8.      Exercise:

Do not abuse your bodies or mind. You need them both in good shape. Make time to exercise regularly. Do not use drugs; do not smoke or get drunk. Pursue a path of moderation, and avoid all excesses. 

9.      Way of Life:

Do not make the pursuit of happiness your life’s goal. Happiness is only a by-product. Live within your own means. Learn to be content, and be satisfied with what you have. There is no end to wanting more.

10. One Life:

 It is the realization that our days on earth are limited that infuses our life with meaning and purpose. We need to learn how to give up longevity for the sake of intensity. Learn how to enjoy the goodness of life, and try to live it fully and creatively, giving gratitude to God for who you are and what you have. 

Rifat Sonsino

Jan. 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


I promised my mother-in-law, Juana Goldstein (or  Chiqui as we all called her). that I would say a few words at her memorial service. Even though, I, as a mourner, have a hard time doing so, I will must muster all the necessary strength to eulogize her briefly but as she deserved to be remembered. For the last 45 years, since Ines and I got married in Buenos Aires, Chiqui considered me another son and treated me as such. I am very grateful for that. 
Chiqui, born in Argentina, lived a long and fruitful life. She was almost 95 years old when she died. Toward the end of her life, even though her body was getting weaker, her mind never faltered. She remembered dates and places with  great ease. When, for example, we wanted to know a phone number, either locally or in Buenos Aires, we found it faster to ask her, rather than look it up in our address book. We are very sad about her death but we realize that we are not dealing here with a tragedy. On the contrary, we wish to celebrate her life. 

Juana was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and a dear friend to many in Argentina as well as in this country. She was a caring, compassionate, and elegant lady who never wanted to become a burden on anyone. She spent her life, helping others, without expecting any reward. She and her husband, Isidoro, had a wonderful marriage even though they were very different. Whereas he was laud, bombastic, a presence, she was quiet, unassuming, and could easily fly under the radar. Chiqui had an uncanny ability to relate to others on a deep personal level. She talked kindly to people, cared for them, and they responded in kind. My mother-in-law had a great intuition. She would read body language and comment, saying, for example, “These two won’t end up together.” And she would be right. Ines would then say, “How did she know? She must be a witch!

Isidoro, my father-in-law (z”l), who died in 1985,  was Chiqui’s greatest love, but after him, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren occupied center stage for her. She took pride in their achievements, worried about their wellbeing,-- at times, even excessively-- and defended them vigorously. A few years ago, both Ines and I changed cars. When I told Chiqui, “I got myself a car,” she immediately asked me, “And Ines?” I said, “don’t worry, mine is a used car; Ines’s car is brand new.” She was happy then.  

Juana was a very courageous and determined woman. At the age of 80, she decided to move from Argentina to the States in order to be closer to us. But not content with being a simple resident, she applied for citizenship. The story is that she and Edna , her friend at Fireman house, would practice every night using 3x5 cards. Chiqui was so well prepared that she passed the exam with flying colors, and, in fact, was disappointed that the examining officer did not ask her enough questions. At the Fireman house in Randolph, where she lived for a number of years, she always kept an American flag on her door. She volunteered in the coffee shop, distributed flyers to the residents, and enjoyed a good dance, a tango, when the opportunity arose. She also kept in touch with the family on a regular basis. She constantly received phone calls from her friends and relatives. After her move to Newbridge, her former friends at the Fireman House continued to visit her on a regular basis. 

Chiqui leaves behind two children, Guillermo and Ines, four grandchildren --Daniel, Debbi, Lucas and Ana (and their respective life partners), and four great grandchildren, Ariella and Dalia Sonsino and Avi and Talya Seri.  Guillermo, came last week from Argentina to be with her. All the grandchildren and two of the great-grandchildren are here with us. Chiqui would have been very happy.. In the last ten days, many of Chiqui’s friends and relatives called regularly, at times even daily, from Buenos Aires to inquire about her: Silvia, Graciela, Gracielita and others. Chiqui was very appreciative. While she lived in the Boston area, the heaviest share of the responsibility, by necessity, fell upon Ines, because we live closer. My mother-in-law depended on her for almost everything. And she, like a dutiful daughter, took care of all her needs. Guillermo and Ines spend the last night at her bedside, and Ines was present when Chiqui breathed her last. 

The last few years were difficult for Juana. Her medical condition slowly deteriorated and she started to get progressively weaker, but received wonderful care from the professional staff. On behalf of the family, I wish to thank them and those at the Fireman House for their kindness and attentiveness to all her needs. We are very grateful to all of you.

Juana leaves a legacy of love. We will always remember her for her compassion and caring personality, for her respectful attitude toward others, for her openness of mind and for her loyalty to and support of those who were dear to her. 

The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is a time for being born and a time for dying,” What we do in between mostly depends on us. We can live lovingly and productively or waste it on things that are transitory and of little significance. It is the realization that our life is limited that gives purpose and meaning to our existence. Let us not squander this precious gift and, on the contrary, be wise enough to spend our allotted life on earth with acts of kindness. Chiqui did. Though we are very sorry to see her go, we are comforted by the notion that she left a good name behind her. And for that we are eternally grateful.

May her memory be a blessing to all of us.

Rifat Sonsino, Jan. 8, 2013