I love the popular Hebrew term “Mensch”. My childhood friend David used the word whenever he described a person he greatly admired. David was the only child in a family of Mensches. Thanks to them, I learned a great deal about observant Jews and how they live. I also found out a great deal, first hand, about what makes a person a Mensch.
According to my thesaurus, Mensch is derived from the German noun for human being. In its Jewish context, a Mensch is a selfless, likeable person of integrity who is good to other people. Using that definition, I’m sure we all can enumerate a list of the Mensches we have personally known. Yesterday, I jotted down the names of the many Mensches I have loved.
Two of the most noteworthy Mensches of my life are family members. A great aunt and a great uncle whose presence will forever remain as fond memories. Both of them were life savers during a very difficult stage of my life. Aunt Betty was a gracious, generous, kind woman with a heart of gold. I can honestly say that I don’t remember ever hearing her say a disparaging word about anybody at all.
At this time, I lived with my second cousin and her son, my third cousin. We visited Ivan’s and Betty’s little house in Sunnyvale, California each week, sometimes more often. Betty greeted me with a mug of her famous “Swedish style” coffee and a big, wide grin. Her eyes always sparkled with innocent impishness. Betty radiated unconditional love for everyone.
She was one of those people you could say was beautiful inside and out. If you had the great fortune of knowing Betty, you were treated like a close family member. She was one of the warmest people I’ve ever known.
Uncle Ivan must share space near the top of my list with aunt Betty. The first thing you noticed about Ivan was that his face sort of resembled that of Walt Disney. He often displayed a wry smile beneath his moustache. Ivan’s eyes sparkled everytime he laughed. He had a deep belly laugh.
Ivan enjoyed sharing his joy with other people. He wrote a small humorous piece for the newsletter that was printed each week for the employees at Hewlett Packard’s building #17 in Palo Alto. He was known as Ivan the coffee man. His job was to provide coffee and distribute donuts for employees’ break times.
At home, uncle Ivan cultivated an amazing garden that covered the entire backyard. All sorts of perfect vegetables and fruits grew there. It was his labor of love. A visit to the house usually included a care package filled with delicious veggies.
Aside from his humorous nature and green thumb, I loved Ivan because he was the father figure to me, when I badly needed one. All things considered, he could be quite serious when he issued his wisdom. I never got away with any sort of BS in his company. I was often slow to absorb his pithy words, but he remained quite patient with me.
Uncle Ivan took me under his wing in another substantial way. He steered me towards a job at Hewlett Packard. I have a feeling that he pulled a few strings to help secure my position at the company. He was happy to work for HP and knew that I’d also fit into the corporate culture there. In that we had the same employer, we often shared the same gripes and joys of our workplace.
Aunt Betty and uncle Ivan were just two of the most wonderful Mensches I have been privileged to know and love. There are many others. How about you? Now is the time to reminisce about the Mensches you’ve known and loved.