Life of My Beloved Grandfather, Dr. George Manstein (1917-2017)

Life of My Beloved Grandfather, Dr. George Manstein (1917-2017)

By Joshua Tartakovsky, written during the shivah, 6-8/12/2017

 

Dear Grandfather, Dr George Manstein

Thank you for being a guiding light in my life

Thank you for staying alive until I came to see you

Thank you for a life dedicated to healing, giving, cultures, education, wisdom and wit.

Thank you for teaching me by example and by doing, not saying.

And you would say “so many thank yous”… with a pleased smirk on your face.

 

Your legacy and spirit are eternal.

You were born on 25 December 1917

and you passed on to the other realm on December 2, 2017.

 

***

My grandfather´s mission for nearly a hundred years were revealed in his name, both in Hebrew and in English.

In Hebrew, his name: Yehoshua Yitzchak Gedaliah.

Yehoshua, (Joshua) which means God saves. He saved so many people as a medical doctor and a plastic surgeon. As he once told me, roughly, I love to help people by operating on them, it is a way to make people happy.

Yitzchak (Isaac) which means God laughs. Pop Pop was full of joy of life, loved to make people laugh and loved people.

Gadaliah (Gedalaiah) which means God will make great. Indeed, he has left an incredible lega and an incredible mark on everyone whom he met. From a child, a son of a tailor, whose family ran away from Chornyi Ostrive near Lviv following the Russian Revolution when he was 3 or 4, went on by boat to Buenos Aires, and arrived in the US via the Van Dycke ship in 2 December 1922(the same day in which he passed on 95 or 96 years later), my grandfather graduated high school at age 15. He subsequently enrolled at the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania at that age (at a time when anti-Semitism was prevalent in the United States and where life was not easy for young immigrants), went on to serve in the US Army as a doctor in World War II, became a leading plastic surgeon and a superb doctor in his field, and went on to heal many people. His magical hands were used for plastic surgery, while his father Azriel Manstei (Milsten) used his hands as a tailor of fine suits.

In English his full name was Isadore George Manstein.

Isadore (which in Greek means gift of the goddess Isis), Pop Pop was a gift to humanity from above. Incidentally, my grandfather loved reading Greek mythology. Isis according to the mythology, was a goddess from ancient Egypt and Greece. The goddess of healing, she healed people and brought dead back into life. What did my grandfather do if not bring healing to people and save their live?

George comes from the Greek word Georgios (Γεώργιος). Geo (Γεώ) means earth and (ἔργον) means work. Pop Pop was down to earth, practical and a hard worker. He used all his strength and abilities to solve things in the most prgamatic manner,  through work with his hands as a surgeon or through any work that required his hands. Georgios traditionally meant he who works the land, which means a hardworking man who plants and cultivates with his hands. Pop Pop is a man of action. He liked to talk less about what he would do and just do it.  I once told him I worked in journalism. ´So, you should write an article a day,´he responded as a matter of fact. Like Saint George my grandfather was a fighter who never surrendered and was unwavering in his dedication to the cause.

Along with his wife, my beloved grandmother Marial Manstein (Boyar), (1924-2016), my grandfather went on to raise five kids, four doctors, and one librarian, all graduates of the best schools in the US (Brown University, Amherst, Columbia). He has 18 grandchildren of whom I was the oldest (my grandfather took care of me and without him I would have not gotten anywhere). He loved cultures, loved travel, loved to make people laugh, and had an incredible thirst for knowledge and a tremendous zest.  Once in a tour of Kruger Park in South Africa, as he was sitting in the seat by the driver, a lioness came over and pat him with her pawns on his shoulder, scratching him. The others who sat in the car were terrified and close to losing their minds. But he was calm. She gave me a scratch of love, he later explained non-chalantly.

He lived a life of constant giving and generosity. He wholly supported my brothers and sisters in our life in Jerusalem. He wholly funded my education. He loved to give tenfold to what was asked for and gave to various causes, from the Shaare Zedek Medical Center on whose board he sat, to various other causes, of all kinds. He simply loved to make people happy and loved to give.

While he was a generous giver, he lived quite modestly himself. Further more, he was an exceptionally disciplined man, constantly demanding more from himself and from those dear to him. Of course, as all humans, he made mistakes. From Tsarist-post Tsarist Russia to the United States, as son of immigrants and an immigrant himself, he had an incredible push within him to grow, to move beyond his limits, to excercise (he played tennis, went skiing, swimming, played golf).  He loved to collect cultural objects from different countries.

His expansive, inquisitive and sharp mind resting on his strong shoulders (he was physically strong up to his last day on this plane), (his strong arm muscles were shaped by the practice of ropes (and other sports)), always thought scientific and medical knowledge. A man of science, whose wife Marial was a PhD in chemistry, he was highly rational, practical, common-sensical and non-pretentious but he also liked to practice the Jewish tradition, going to the synagouge on the Shabbat and having Kiddush at his home (he used to love humming during the Kiddush¨key bano bacharta veotanu kidashta mikol hamim¨ while adding his ¨bom bom¨ with his zesty smile spread widely on his face), while he could not understand why people had to become religious fanatics to be happy. A lover of life, he found the strict religious life to be too restricting and excessive. He explained to me that many points in the Torah were sensical, for example, the washing of hands before one ate bread made sense since one had to keep his hands clean before he touched food for example, and in his moderate path he pracrticed Judaism and was an honorable member of the Beth Sholom synagouge yet he had too much love for life and for the world for him to become a chossid.  As he grew older, his interest in Jewish music and his desire for closer relations with ultra-Orthodox non-pretentious Jews grew, but he never closed himself and loved meeting people of all kinds and colors.

Pop Pop is, (his spirit is eternal, he lives within me and it has been too recent since his passing though of course his body has been buried), the most amazing person I have ever met and the person who had the greatest imact on me. He was straightforward, not prone to praising himself unncessarily and yet seeking acknowledgment where acknowledgment was due.  This year he asked me in earnest as is his custom, ¨so, you are 35. What did you accomplish so far¨? He is right. He wants me to constantly strive for me. He constantly pushed himself even as he excercises by walking around his home in which he stayed only several months ago while his chest was beating strongly, or in his last days, while I was blessed to be sitting next to him  at this precios moment, as he struggled to continue breathing as his body organs were collapsing and did not give up until his time was due. I have been blessed, incidentally, to read him once an article from the New York Times on how death takes place among the elderly, in which the body organs such as the lungs, eventually collapse, and he listened to me in interest. His brilliant and curious mind was probably following with detachment how his body was weakening in the last hours and days, noticing witth keen interest what system would collapse first, without falling into self pity, or fear but due to his pure curiosity and hunger for knowledge. WE are here on this world to learn and learning never stops until our last day.

My grandfather also spoke English, Hebrew, French, German and even Yiddish, possibly even more. He loved people. Loved life. Loved joy. Loved hard work and loved helping people. He was loved by women everywhere he went. His crystal blue eyes capitivated them and magnetized him and he was also the center of attention in every party. I recall how youg nurses admired him when we once visited the hospital together. He would always converse with people, bringing joy to their lives. He never bragged, just kept on pushing and striving to fulfill his potential. He had an iron will and he was always an optimist. As my aunt Joanne testified, he always used to sayÏ belong to the optimists club.¨

A tremendous light has left this physical plain. Pop Pop, I love you so much. Thank you for everything. And I know you will continue to guide me in this world until the last momento of my life.

***

Pop Pop, I am so lucky I had you as a grandfather. You taught me so much, mostly just by example. Your spirit invincible. Now I need to live a life that would make you proud. To which you would say: ‘so do it’!

 

My grandfather, 99 years old young, 20 June 2017