"Anyone can go to the Holocaust museum [in Washington DC] but not everyone gets this experience." ~A. Speitel (student, 17)
Yaakov and Sheila Riz
Yaakov Riz was born in Lutzk, Poland, on July 22, 1922. When the Nazis invaded his town, his entire family was sent to Auschwitz, where all, except his brother, perished. Yaakov escaped to Russia. He spent six years (1940-1947) in a Russian concentration camp in Siberia. When the war ended, he was repatriated as a Polish citizen and then went to Israel, where he fought in the War of Independence in 1948. He came to the United States in 1952. From 1956 to 1984, he was principal and teacher for the Workman’s Circle School. In 1960 Yaakov created a Holocaust exhibit in his basement. For a number of years, many people followed Yaakov’s belief that children must be taught the horrors of the Holocaust and people must never forget. Thus, in 1975 the Jewish Identity Center was formed and incorporated. (Left: Photo Credit: Len Friedman)
Our mother - Sheila, Sheyndel, Yaffa- cute as a button, feisty, honest, hardworking, loyal balabasta, soft like a marshmallow at her core- and above all – a loving mother to her three children, Eschella, Iona and David, and a proud and doting grandmother to her three grandchildren, Dean, Gabrielle and Jakob. A wonderful mother in law to Chris and Chao Chi. And a loving wife to her late departed husband, Yaakov.
She was born on April 18, 1932 to Chaim and Leah Hoffer in Bensonhurst, NY. She had a wonderful childhood, surrounded by a large extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, particularly on her mother Leah’s side.
She would always tell us stories about her childhood, and when she spoke of these memories, her face would light up with such joy – she loved spending time at her Bubbie’s house – where every Friday night all seven aunts and uncles would come with their children to spend Shabbat eating and laughing – surrounded by the smells of baked challahs and strudels. She loved to describe the apartment building she lived in, the Christopher Columbus, and the holidays spent on the roof overlooking the city with the fireworks in the background. She would tell stories of her father Chaim, who was a furrier by trade. He would present her with gifts of fur-lined ballet shoes and fur clothes for her dolls, as well as a fur outfit that she would not wear during the Depression because she was embarrassed to flaunt such opulence.
She loved her cousin Betty, and kept referring to her as the sister she never had.
For those who knew her, it’s hard to imagine, but our mother was extremely shy growing up. She told us of going to her first job interview with her mother accompanying her.
Her grand adventure at 19 years of age was taking a plane flight on KLM to Israel. She said it cost her a thousand dollars (my mother was a bookkeeper and was always a stickler for financial details). Because of her shyness, she joked that her cousin Betty remarked that she couldn’t believe Sheila traveled without her mother.
She met her husband Jacob on that trip. He was to be the love of her life. She described him as a handsome and gallant gentleman with quaint European manners. Even though they did not speak a common language – my father spoke Yiddish and Hebrew and my mother English – they recognized in each other a soulmate and life partner. It was a great pairing. My mother was practical and would take care of all the nuts and bolts that involved running a household. My father was a dreamer and visionary, and would create a Holocaust museum in his basement that still exists in the JCC Klein Branch today. My father would always say that, were it not for my mother taking care of all the worrisome details of life that he did not have the patience to deal with, he would not have been free to pursue his dream of educating children about the Holocaust.
Those who knew our mom and had the pleasure of eating her potato latkes, kasha varnishkes and chicken soup, knew that she loved to cook and loved to watch her guests
enjoy her food. When we grew into adults and came to her house for the holidays, we could not leave her house until we agreed to take bags of leftovers home.
Our mom loved her baseball (although like most Philly fans, she could be a tough critic when they were not playing well). She loved doing needlepoint, as her countless pictures and pillows that grace our homes attest. She loved her crossword puzzles, and had a razor-sharp mind throughout her life.
Two years ago, she was given the greatest gift in her old age – the birth of her third grandchild, Jakob, named after our father. Her face would light up when she saw him, she would laugh at his childish antics. Her apartment was cluttered with his photos, and she would always say that he gave her such joy and pleasure (real nachas).
Our mother was the heart and backbone of the family. She took care of us in her no-nonsense, loving manner. We knew she would be there for us through all of life’s adversities, and that her love for us was without limit.
We pay tribute to our mom: She was a hard worker who never complained, and faced life with integrity and honesty, and never flinched in the face of adversity. She had a strong sense of who she was, and held commonsense values and principles that guided her through her life.
Even in the last three years of her life, when she faced difficult health problems that impeded her daily living, she never complained. She lived her life with dignity and courage.
She will be immeasurably missed by her family. But her love for us transcends her worldly demise and will live in us forever.
Mom, may you rest in peace.