Today is mom’s yahrzeit. Mom, like dad, was a Renaissance person. Dad was born in 1906 and mom in 1908. Unlike most women of her age, she had an extensive Judaic education, attended a teachers training school, and secured a diploma in teaching. Her siblings included community leaders and educators, the world-renowned biblical scholar and historian Rabbi Dr. Sidney B. Hoenig, and the well-known lawyer Moses H. Hoenig, the organizer of Young Israel of America.
When mom’s mother, my grandmother Leba Hoenig’s cousin Rabbi Israel Goldfarb, Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel Anshe Emeth in Brooklyn, NY, and Instructor in Hazanut and Head of the Department of Music, Bureau of Education, saw that the melodies sung at home on the Shabbat, known as zemirot, were bland and uninspiring, he developed new melodies for these songs. They are found in his 1920 and 1957 books “Friday Evening Melodies for Synagogue School and Home,” and in “Song & Praise for Sabbath Eve.” Today, virtually all Jewish families who sing zemirot use his melodies.
During the depression, while her brothers and sisters attended school, mom added financial support to her family. Mom taught in a New York City public school daily from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; and 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the English Department of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, including Sundays. She helped the youngsters in her public school classes learn to read Hebrew by having the neighborhood synagogue open its doors for her during the evenings after 8:00 p.m. Mom charged 10 cents a lesson, feeling, correctly, that it would give the children an incentive to learn if they paid for it. She returned the money to them in the form of Purim and Chanukah gifts.
Due to financial difficulties caused by the depression, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath never paid Mom six months of her $60 a month salary. With interest, this debt of now over eighty years would be quite a sum.
Mom’s dad, my grandfather Joseph Isaac Hoenig, also donated free services to the Yeshiva, as a leading member of its board of directors. The Yeshiva noted his and mom’s service by giving Mom a set of silver candlesticks as a wedding gift. She gave them years later to my wife Dina, who lights them on Sabbath eve.
Mom’s dad died when I was only six weeks old, so I do not remember him, but I remember his wife, Mom’s mom, my grandmother. She had a marvelous sense of humor, and she was an articulate raconteur.
Mom left teaching to marry Dad in 1933. She had an alert and practical mind and read several books a week until she died at age 90. She advised me well when she suggested that I pursue a secular career in addition to Judaic studies.
Even at age 90, Mom stood erect, dressed well, and looked young for her age. Mom was offered several marriage proposals after dad died in 1976. She was 68 at the time. She refused them all, unable to imagine that another husband could possibly be as good as dad. She died on the very day that the two of them married, December 26, and the two reunited.