Back in the early years after the fall of Communism, I lived in Budapest as the Joint Distribution Committee’s Ralph Goldman Fellow. My boss was a man named Moshe Jahoda z”l, then JDC’s country director for Hungary.
Moshe escaped with the Kindertransport from Vienna to Palestine soon after the Anschluss. But his parents and sister stayed behind, and they were later deported and murdered in Auschwitz. He went on to build a life in Israel and a meaningful career, fighting for the needs of aging survivors and devoting himself to the causes of the JDC and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. Yet his past – and his losses – informed everything he did.
He was a hardworking, insightful man who cared deeply for his family. His personal history gave him an aura of gravitas, though he had a wry sense of humor and a boyish twinkle in his eye that did not dim, even as he aged. He still had it the last time I saw him — during a visit to Israel not long before he passed away.
Moshe, whose yahrzeit was observed last month, was my mentor and moral compass, both during my time in Hungary and for the next 12 years we worked together at JDC. Still, his parting words of advice on the day I left Budapest for New York in 1993 are what have stuck in my heart all this time.
I was on the cusp of several major life decisions. Moshe knew some of the questions on the table in front of me and intuited the rest. And he understood, with his unique brand of kindness, their weight in the present and what each choice might foretell for the course of my life.
He said, “Merri, listen to your stomach, not your brain. Your intellect will convince you of anything. But your stomach will always tell you the truth.”
Life is a stretch of decision-making, from the fun choices – chocolate or vanilla? – to the more challenging ones that affect our families, health, and future. A lot of water has flown under the Danube since Moshe gave me that advice years ago, and I’ve since had to make many decisions, some that have been out-of-the-box, raising eyebrows instead of allowing me to slip under the radar. But Moshe’s words have not failed me yet. And the older I get, the more grateful I am to have that wisdom in my heart.
He’s on my mind as we head into Shabbos. May his memory be a blessing.
Wishing everyone a beautiful Shabbos. Gut Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!