I am and always will be so proud to call myself a daughter of Samuel Balderman. Born in a displaced persons camp in Lintz, Austria, in 1947 (a year before Israel became a state, as he liked to say), he was the son of Holocaust survivors from Poland, Leon and Cyrla Balderman. His given name was Shmuel Betzalel, after his paternal grandfather Moshe Shmuel and his maternal grandfather, Betzalel Unger. When he immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of 2, the officials felt that Betzalel was too hard a name to pronounce and decided that Calvin was a good substitute, so his English name became Samuel Calvin Balderman.
I have always had a deep admiration and respect for my father. My dad had numerous character traits worthy of emulation.
He was a quiet, wise and thoughtful person; he was quick to remind me that our sages teach us that “the wise man says little.” He was not one to engage in frivolous speech or chit-chat. He tended to listen and observe before responding. He was a calm, collected person, not easily excitable; I think these traits served him well in life generally as well as in the high pressure environment of the operating room.
If you asked him for guidance (or, being one of his children, even if we didn’t ask), he would always give thoughtful yet decisive advice. You could always turn to my dad for a sincere opinion – he always gave honest feedback, whether it was praise or criticism, which made his words all the more meaningful. He was consistently one to speak the truth.
My father had a strong work ethic, which was engrained at a young age. It was a trait learned from his parents, who settled in Chicago near family after leaving Europe, where my Zayde worked in various factories and my Bubbe worked as a seamstress. Later on, they bought a laundry business, at which they worked long and laborious hours. My father fulfilled his mother’s dream, and ultimately his own, by becoming a physician, graduating among the top of his class as an Alpha Omega Alpha member and choosing the long and arduous journey to becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Although he never told me himself, according to pubmed, he published 25 academic articles, 9 of which were during his surgical residency and fellowship! When I once asked him how he could put in such long hours in the hospital and still find the time to do research, he replied simply “I wasn’t working in a factory.” My dad felt grateful for the opportunity that his parents had given him and felt privileged to be able to work hard in a career that was his calling.
Sometimes, when one of us would kvetch about having to work too hard in school or in our jobs, my dad would say, “I don’t know what you’re complaining about. It’s not Aushwitz.” By this my dad meant that compared with the hardships and atrocities my grandparents and other Holocaust survivors suffered, none of us have any real problems. He would follow up by saying, “There are no Nazis chasing you, no one is trying to starve you or shoot you, you have heat, you have food…so enough with the complaining; you have a good life.” This attitude was an integral part of my father’s character; to be stoic, composed, and to put things in perspective.
My dad always highly valued education, both in the academic setting and also beyond. He believed in making a persistent effort to always keep learning. This is a value he imparted to all of his children, by consistently stressing its importance to us. Even as young children, meals were served on educational placemats, be they of the US presidents, State capitals, arithmetic problems and musical notes, to name a few; and we had the good fortune of ending most meals with a pop quiz.
Despite his achievements and skills, my dad was never a “showy” person. I can never remember him discussing his own accomplishments. Although self-confident, he was modest; he never felt a need to compete with or compare himself with others but rather consistently lived his own best life, a great lesson for us all.
My dad inspired me to strive to teach my own children by example, just as he taught us. For example, my father felt that Jewish values and incorporation of Judaism into daily life was extremely important; he frequently talked to us about Jewish practices, teachings and insights. His own Skokie Yeshivah education often came through in his conversation, which was peppered with both Yiddish and Talmudic sayings and pearls of wisdom. He also attended shul almost every week, taking his children along with him. He cared deeply about Jewish education and invested in Jewish day school for his children and also incorporated regular Torah study into his own life; he showed us that Jewish learning is a lifelong process. My father showed us by example how to follow the fifth commandment of honoring and respecting one’s parents. Although he did not live in Chicago, he made regular visits several times per year to see his parents, bringing his children with him at least twice per year (even though I’m sure that driving for 10 hours each way with 5 children could not have been much fun for my parents), and later on having an addition built onto his own house so that his father could live there comfortably.
One trait of my father’s that was truly amazing was his resilience. Many of you are probably familiar with my favorite poem, IF, by Rudyard Kipling, in which the author gives his son a prescription of what it takes to be the best kind of person. I periodically read it over and envision my father as the person to whom the words are addressed, and I see him fulfilling every instruction in those verses! One that especially comes to mind as an attribute of a great man is “if you can bear…to watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools.” I can say I saw my dad do just that!
Truly my father was the strongest person I think I will ever know – his example is an inspiration to persevere in whatever challenges or bad times come our way.
My father really loved life. In his life he had many “mechayas,” many of which he enjoyed together with his family. Some of the activities he loved were biking, jogging, swimming, listening to classical music and 1960s oldies, watching the Chicago Cubs or the Bears, and reading the New Yorker (so much so that my parents required two separate subscriptions, one for my mom and one for my dad). My father particularly enjoyed my mother’s world class Shabbat dinners, with my mom’s delicious cooking and most of all being surrounded by family.
While he took life seriously, he believed that it’s important to have a balanced life. He often used the saying “everything in moderation.” He thought it was good to cultivate hobbies and he encouraged all his children to do so, and also to exercise, take vacations, enjoy cultural outings and to stay informed about current events.
I would be remiss if I didn’t speak briefly about the central role my dad played in our family.
My father and mother would have been married for 38 years come March 22nd. Set up by Rabbi Shalom Stern with my mother, my dad made probably the best decision of his life when he decided to trade Saturday nights playing basketball at the JCC for date nights with my mom. My dad always said that my mother was a true Eshes Chayil, a woman of valor. My parents showed me the kind of marriage that I decided a long time ago that I wanted to have. They, for me, exemplify the ideal husband and wife because they made the best team. They have always been supportive of each other, in good times and in bad, and I have never seen them argue. Shared values, world views, and excellent communication, I think were some of the key ingredients that have made my mom and dad’s marriage a model of what it should look like. They have shown me what it is to really, truly love your spouse.
As a father, my dad has been a teacher and coach my siblings and I at every stage of our lives. He’s been a confidant to us. He’s also been in the role of biggest fan. He must have been to hundreds (if not more) parent-teacher conferences, science fairs, school performances, sports games and graduations.
My dad has always been very involved and engaged in each of our lives, has always been there when we needed him and has always done anything he could to help us accomplish our goals and to set us on the right path. He always wanted my siblings and me to live happy, fulfilling lives. In that vein, my father would often quote the Talmudic reasoning given for the way we light the Chanukah candles, namely “maalin bekedushah ve’lo moridin,” we go up in matters of holiness, not down, as a way of encouraging each of his children to always strive to improve themselves, to be the best people we could be. Other favorite sayings of my father were “Perfection is the enemy of good,” “tafasta merubah lo te’fasta (he who grabs at everything, grabs nothing,” and “me who ha’ashir, ha’sameach bechelko” (who is a rich man? The man who his happy with the portion he has).
There are so many incredibly special and endearing memories that myself, my sisters and brother have of our dad. One day I called my father from Syracuse, where I was a first-year medical student taking anatomy, in a panic. It was a Wednesday. I had a practical exam on the heart coming up on Friday and the heart I was looking at was impossible to use as a study tool because my tablemates and I couldn’t figure out how to dissect it properly. My dad drove to Syracuse after work and stayed in the anatomy lab with my classmates and me until 2 AM, dissecting the heart of the cadaver and instructing us on its structure and function. All of us were amazed at the perfect quality of the dissection and gathered around while my dad gave an impromptu lecture on cardiac physiology to the group of nervous young medical students surrounding him. Thanks to my dad, I finally gained a real understanding of cardiac anatomy and passed the exam, as did my tablemates.
As a young teenager, my sister Lisa was a huge fan of the boy band the Back Street Boys. While my dad and a 13 year old Lisa may not have had the same taste in music, he nevertheless drove her to their concerts in Toronto. While she was enjoying the concerts with friends, my dad hung out and endured the experience in what he jokingly termed “the holding cell for parents” at the Air Canada Center.
When Joshua was young, he was deathly allergic to many foods including dairy and wheat. My father stayed up many nights to the wee hours, making chicken waffles from a concoction my mother mixed up, so Joshua would have a breakfast that looked like everyone else’s and wouldn’t feel deprived.
When Gabby was in high school, she landed the title role of Daisy in the play “Daisy pulls it off.” My father was so proud of his incredibly special Pixie-Monkey, as he lovingly called her, that he sat in the front row for every performance, clapping louder than anyone, and declaring it the very best play he had ever seen.
Ben remembers that my dad was at every single one of his Little League games. My dad helped Ben to hone his baseball skills by playing pitch and catch almost every day while waiting at the bus stop to go to school.
My dad was a proud Zayde to his 4 grandchildren: Elisheva, Simon, Claire and Emilia.
He was a good and dutiful son to his parents.
He was a caring and loving cousin.
He was also a very good and caring father-in-law, brother-in-law, and son-in-law.
My father also had some lifelong friendships which he truly treasured.
Along with my mother and my siblings, we grieve over the loss of my father and are so sad that he will not be here on this earth with us anymore.
Thank you for being with us at this time of our loss.
My father’s passing is devastating to those of us who must now go on without him. There is no filling in shoes as big as his were. Nevertheless, I hope, pray and believe that my siblings and I can still make our father proud by living our lives by the precious values he instilled in us. We will always remember him and honor his memory. He was truly a great person and we love him always.
May the memory of my wonderful father be for a blessing.