After the fire, life was difficult. The store was never rebuilt and the once proud edifice that my father built from the ground up, with nothing but grit and unnatural hard work, became an empty shell. It stood there for years with a tired old sign in the window: “Perl’s Meat. The Tradition Continues.” But it never did.
During this period of his life, instead of life bestowing him the blessings that one rightly earns after a lifetime of work, he struggled to rebuild. And as he advanced in years, his physical health deteriorated: he slowed down considerably, became weak, and suffered from pain in his shoulder that became damaged from the extreme labour he endured in his life. But losing the store, which gave him purpose in life, defined him, and connected him to the community, was harder to bear than any physical ailment.
Then, tragically, my brother Chaim passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 52, ironically on my father’s birthday. This, my sister Cheryl said, was the final blow, and he passed away exactly one year later, on August 11, 2015.
Yet in spite of the difficulties, his survivor spirit remained strong. While in his early years, I believe he spent more time keeping the darkness out, in the latter years of his life, he allowed the light to come in. He carried on with what he loved to do the most: feed others. He spent the whole week cooking for the Sabbath, when family members came to spend time with him. And he continued to make his famous potato kugles at home for select members of the community, which he would deliver with his aide during the week.
In fact, when I spent time with him on the Sabbath, he showed his love for me in the way he was most comfortable, by constantly urging me to eat. We didn’t connect much with words; what bonded him to his family was his feeding them.
Now that I have taken this journey, which has involved a great deal of research that has brought to light aspects of his life I didn’t know, I can understand why food was a theme in his life. As a young man, before the war, he grew up in a dismally poor home, and in yeshiva, food was scarce. Then the horror of the war brought starvation.
Yes, food was his business, but it was so much more. I believed it carried a deep sense of rectifying that which was broken in his life, and by extension the world. Hunger is so primal, and if you had food, at least you could exist.
The other source of joy in his life was children. Not just his own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, but the children of others as well. Perhaps it was another way of reaffirming life and overcoming the ugly that was so much a feature of his. Children were for him both a vindication and consolation.
In April 2010, at the Queen’s Park Tribute, the bio that was read at the ceremony proclaimed that he had 23 great-grandchildren. As of this writing, the number has swelled to more than 30. May each of us carry forth his legacy with faithfulness and love.
Good bye, daddy. We will miss you.