Pictured right - Lauren Gitlin and Rose Zar, circa 1990s.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to remember the first time I met Rose Zar. Like a member of my family, she was always just … there, a de facto part of my life, part of a pantheon of loving and beloved people who helped me to become who I am. Though I recall very few details other than waving to people from the bimah like a princess on her balcony, photographic evidence confirms that Rose was at my naming at B’nai Yisrael. She was at seemingly every temple or synagogue function I attended in my youth, and always hugged me warmly like we were old friends. I suspect now that her initial warmth must have been borne of her associations with members of my family, but we began to forge our own special relationship with this as a foundation. I was drawn to her because she was drawn to me, greeting me and roughly, tenderly cupping my chin, dubbing me with my nickname, “Liebschoen,” a derivation of my Hebrew name, which was itself a derivation of the Yiddish word for heart. This rough tenderness is what I recall most about Rose to this day.
As I got older, I became aware of Rose’s incredible story, how she dodged the S.S. during the Nazi occupation of Poland, assuming a false identity and hiding “in the mouth of the wolf,” as her memoir so accurately conveyed. This strength and resilience, tragedy and melancholy all seemed to roil right under the surface. I remember having her as a tutor before my Bat Mitzvah, as many generations of South Bend’s Jewish population must, sitting with her and learning my Torah portion and sharing with her the trivialities of my life as an adolescent, which she always made me feel were important and valid. Our time together gave me an appreciation of this kind, profoundly impressive person that some of my peers at Hebrew school missed out on, which no doubt would have mitigated the sort of silly pubescent antics they pulled under Rose’s firm gaze.
When my Bat Mitzvah was finished and I no longer had occasion to see Rose regularly, we discussed the possibility of me taking Yiddish lessons with her. But like so many things, it fell by the wayside, and I grew up and moved away and of course it was eventually too late. Now looking back is a thing I regret not following through with when I had the chance. Despite that, I feel very lucky to have had an opportunity to spend the time I did with her, and to be part of a legacy made all the more profound by the very real sacrifice and perseverance Rose enacted to make it so.
Do you have fond memories of Rose Zar? Share them in the comments below.
Return to MJHS Footprints newsletter, Fall 2015.