Memories of Saba

My dad’s dad, my Saba, died on Friday.  I wrote the following from the Seattle airport, en route to Vancouver, BC, where my cousins sat compiling thoughts and memories to memorialize Saba in a speech.

1: As a little girl (probably 8 or 9), I remember being at Saba and Safta’s with the Romanos. This was usual–to spend the summer days before and after Camp Hatikvah in our swimsuits, a thousand sandals lined up by the front door, cousins running up and down flights of stairs, eating popsicles, running to the pool and taking turns in the shower afterwards, all our towels hanging from the racks in the downstairs bathroom, all our toiletries scattered on the counter. On a particular morning, Maya, Talia and I were dressed in swimsuits and ready for breakfast, and Safta asked if we’d maybe like to have pancakes, or waffles–something with syrup. Saba and Safta had recently acquired a luxurious new white carpet, which they’d put under the kitchen table, and Saba, horrified, asked, “what if they get syrup on the new carpet??” Safta glared daggers at him and said, “then we’ll clean it, Irving!” It was a sort of perfect and sweet moment that encapsulated Saba’s need for things to be ordered and kept just the way he wanted, and Safta’s total exasperation and simultaneous practicality.

2: The summer before last, I came up to Vancouver and stayed with Saba and Safta for a few days. I spent an hour and a half or maybe two with Saba at the dining room table, going through pictures and listening to stories about Saskatoon, and the people he knew, and the experiences he had growing up. Saba has always talked a lot about his extended family and the Jewish community, but I think that afternoon in the dining room was the first time I really listened, with presence and openness, to what he had to say. It’s a sweet memory for me. I came away from our conversation with a more 3-dimensional sense of what life looked and felt like for Saba growing up. And I understood, in a way that I hadn’t before, how separate the Jews were from everyone else, and how important it was to be part of a Jewish community that could hold you and support you. That conversation helped me look at Saba in a new way, to understand that his practice of tracking the many members of his family and community, of knowing and recounting every wedding, and b’nei mitzvah, and funeral, was his way of continuing to show up, to keep the web of his Jewish community vital, because that web had been such a vital part of his life. Certainly, Saba valued his family and deeply supported his community, both financially, and by showing up, literally, for the many life cycle events and simchas of all the people he loved.


About rayajen

I am a high-strung, fast-talking introvert. I was raised (and live) in the Pacific Northwest, in a loud, Jewish family. I love trees, and tea, and words. Please feel free to share my work, but link back to my page, or contact me with questions. I can be reached at
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