Thea Krauthammer

July 28, 1921 – February 14, 2019
 

Tova Matil bat Meschullam Issachar v’ Mina

22nd of Tamuz, 5681 – 10th of Adar I, 5779

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Krauthammer’s tribute to his mother

Charles dedicated his first published book, Cutting Edges, to his parents, Shulim and Thea. In its opening pages he wrote:

“This book is dedicated to my parents, whose example of piety, learning and duty is the rarest gift that any parent can make to a child.”

 

On the occasion of Thea’s 95th birthday celebration, Charles gave a toast to his mother, in which he said:

 

“The one thing about my mother—there are many others—but the one that stands out is the fact that in all the ups and downs of our lives, she's been the constant. And we, the Krauthammers, have had ups and downs. Very up—fantastic successes, wonderful celebrations—and we’ve had downs. Not a lot of downs, but big ones. And the one person who was always there—always there—at the celebrations, at the graduations, at the weddings, but also at the bedside in the hospital—was my mother. Always. And this is now for 95 years. It's the one thing a son remembers. It's the one thing everyone else in the family remembers and it is the one thing that you could rely on in your life, from the beginning. Thea was always there. Constant as a friend. Constant as someone involved in the community and the synagogue. But most important for us, constant as a mother. And that’s a gift. That’s a gift not every child has. I have it. Marcel had it. Your grandchildren have it. And for that we're grateful. Ad Mayah Ve-essrim Shana. May you live to be 120 years old.”


 

 

 

Daniel Krauthammer’s eulogy for his grandmother
February 15, 2019

Yesterday my grandmother, Thea Krauthammer, passed away at age 97. She lived a full and extraordinary life. 

 

Born in Antwerp, Belgium to a prominent Jewish family, she had to leave her entire world behind to escape the German invasion in 1940, bravely making her way—on her own, just a teenager—to New York City, where she worked translating US Army manuals for the Free French Forces. On a trip to Cuba she met her future husband, my grandfather Shulim, also a Jewish refugee from war-torn Europe. They soon wed in Havana and made their lives together moving around the post-War world, from Rio de Janeiro to Paris to Lyon, and finally to settled life in New York and later Montreal. 

 

There she built a life for herself and her family, raising two sons—my father Charles and his older brother Marcel—helping her husband build a successful real estate business, and keeping a household steeped in the Jewish faith and culture that was central to her identity. She delighted in learning languages, pursued winter sports with a passion, and was a great lover of music, poetry and opera. Late into her retirement in Miami and then suburban Maryland, she lived an active and vigorous life, always seeking out new opportunities to explore, to learn and to build new friendships. Above all else she devoted herself to her family. My own fondest memories always bring me back to long idyllic summer days spent together in Long Beach, New York, where my grandmother kept a small summer cottage from the days of my father’s earliest childhood all the way through my own adolescent years. It was our family hearth, and she kept it for us, always warm and welcoming. 

 

She lived a remarkable life but never failed to scoff at any pretended importance or uniqueness of her story. She never dwelt on the hardships or tragedies she had endured throughout her many years. She simply lived her life in forward motion. To me her story was incredible. To her it was merely what she had to do to accomplish the only things that truly mattered—to survive and live a life of decency and good, to raise and protect a family, to continue the generations and pass down to her children all that had been passed down to her. She lived a full life, a complete life, a happy life. May we all be so fortunate. And may we all be forever grateful to have had our lives touched and shaped by hers. 

Thea joins her beloved husband Shulim (1904–1987), and her sons Marcel (1946–2006) and Charles (1950–2018).

She is survived by her daughters-in-law Joy and Robyn, her grandchildren Aviva (Brett) and Daniel and her great-grandchildren Maya and Eliana. 

Aviva Krauthammer's eulogy for her grandmother

February 17, 2019

                                                                                                    

For my entire young life, my Granny, Thea, and I lived on opposite coasts. Twice a year, my parents and I traveled to the East coast to spend a week with her (and also my grandfather Shulim, while he was still alive).  In the spring, we spent Passovers at the Eden Rock Hotel together in Miami Beach, and in later years, in Palm Springs, CA.  During the summer, we all gathered together for a week at the family cottage in Long Beach, Long Island.                                                            

 

In 2010 my husband Brett and I moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, just 20 minutes from Granny.  The moment we got situated, she invited us to join her on a Friday to share a Shabbat meal with her at the Ring House.  On that night, a weekly tradition was born.  For the next eight years or so, whenever we were in town, Brett and I spent almost every Friday night with Granny.  On several occasions when I was traveling, Brett drove over by himself to spend the evening with Thea.  At first, it was just the three of us at the table.  Soon three became four, and later we became five as our daughters Maya and Eliana joined the pack.

 

At approximately 6:20 pm each Friday, before even entering the Ring House lobby, we would see Granny through the sliding glass doors, standing at her usual perch by the front desk as she awaited our arrival.  She always wore a handsome outfit accented with a beautifully matching scarf, or her signature draped pearls, topped off with freshly coiffed hair and nails from the in-house salon. But most importantly, she always met us with a beaming smile (unless it was closer to 6:45pm…then she wasn’t so smiley).  A flurry of French pet names... “mon petít cheri, mon petít poulet, ma petít chou,” rang out as she greeted us.

 

As we approached the dining hall, Granny would make a detour with toddler Maya hand-in-hand to visit with “the ladies” - her best friends: Gussie, Alice, Pearl, Rose, and Katarina.  Then, as everyone surged toward the dining hall, little Maya would hitch a ride on Auntie Katarina’s rolling walker all the way to our dinner table for the 6:30pm (late) seating.

 

Once settled, Granny proudly distributed yarmulkes from our wedding, along with the small prayer books from Dan and my Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.  Brett recited the Kiddush and Hamotzi with Maya, and then we ate.  How Thea could eat!  She loved food, and somehow she never put one extra pound on her tiny little figure.  The staff all knew to bring Granny not 1, not 2, but 3 burning hot cups of matzo ball soup, and they always remembered to serve an extra plate of her favorite french fries.  To top off the meal, Maya and Granny shared a giant cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  In all the dinners we shared at the Ring House, Granny rarely complained about the food from the dining room kitchen.  To those at her table that did complain, she would say, “So you were a professional chef?”

 

As a matter of fact, Granny was quite a force in the kitchen in her day.  Recipes in her repertoire were not overly fancy, yet the simple ingredients and preparations gave way to flavors that were consistently refined and truly delicious.  From her blended vegetable soups, cucumber and German potato salads, to her steamed cauliflower with breadcrumbs and veal cutlets, Thea’s signature dishes were tried and true.  And if you asked nicely, she occasionally divulged her top-secret Gefilte Fish recipe.

 

After leaving the dining room, there was usually a quick stop for the girls to dance at the lobby’s Juke-box, then up to her apartment to find yet another feast awaiting us: beautiful platters of lovingly prepared trays bearing after-dinner delicacies.  Dishes of fruit and chocolate-covered nuts adorned the coffee table, and of course, lining the fridge were scalloped dessert bowls brimming with Granny’s famous compote: a perfect bouquet of fresh fruits simmered down to a delicious blend of sweet and tart.

 

 The magic of Granny’s compote was not only in its uniquely balanced flavors, but more the fact that every week she announced that it was her very last batch.  Yet miraculously, with each new visit, there was just enough left in the freezer for another round; not unlike the Maccabees making one night of oil last for eight, only in this case it was delicious stewed fruits.  It was like our very own Mary Poppins bottomless bag of compote.

 

The food, the blessings, the magic of the compote, these were the moments that we most looked forward to after a long, busy week. Granny often referred to the adage, “We do not keep Shabbat; rather, Shabbat keeps us.”  In fact, those Friday nights with Granny did keep us, connected to our faith, our rituals, and also to one another.

 

Throughout my childhood, although we were only physically together for about two weeks every year, Granny and I grew quite close.  We were often hotel roommates, and also bunkmates in the summers when we had a full house of family members in Long Beach.  By day, Granny kept the household running.  She provided picnic baskets for boardwalk lunches, laid out five course dinners, and oversaw our daily itineraries.

 

In the evenings in our shared room, she would read me bedtime stories of Bar Bar, and would sing French lullabies like “Frère Jacques,” and “Dodo, l’enfant do,” as I drifted off to sleep after a sun-filled day at the beach.  As close as we were, we had our occasional disagreements and ran into a snag every now and then, like the time she mistook a wad of my chewing gum on the nightstand for her sleeping earplugs, and we spent the good part of a morning in awkward silence, slowly cutting bubble gum out of her hair.

 

As I reached adolescence, I wasn’t the most careful packer, and would often forget things at home.  Often I relied on scavenging through my “roommate’s” wardrobe to get me by.  I would inevitably end up wearing one of Granny’s blouses, necklaces, or even her shoes, to a Passover seder or two.  She, on the other hand, had her “valise” packed and by the front door two weeks in advance of any planned trip.

 

Granny was always resourceful, organized, and prepared for anything.  Her summer meals were all planned, cooked, cooled, and placed in the freezer months before anyone would be sitting at the dining room table.  She was our master schedule keeper for holidays, meals, and other family gatherings.  True, getting that dreaded phone call in April or May, six months in advance of the High Holidays, nudging us to commit to reserving our seats was a source of great stress and eye-rolling for us at the time.  Over the years, however, we came to rely on and even appreciate it.

 

These were Thea’s hallmark characteristics: always consistent, predictable, and reliable, with a deep love of family and friends. 

 

These traits rang true when my eldest daughter Maya was born.  Thea came for regular weekly visits for the simple pleasure of holding her granddaughter in her arms, allowing me to grab a bite, a shower, or a nap.  Once or twice when I had errands to run, she even hopped into the back seat next to the sleeping infant, armed with a New York Times and her book of notes from a recent lecture, some snacks, and the classical music radio station playing.  It was a mutually beneficial partnership: I got much-needed groceries, and Granny enjoyed her bonus baby time while she brushed up on the latest headlines.

Moments like these were worth all the riches in the world to Granny.  She showed her gratitude often, and especially for the simple pleasure in life…A game of scrabble with her children and grandchildren, a bridge game with her friend Hilda, listening to a favorite opera aria, reciting French poetry to her children, laughing at a witty joke, and even performing her trademark headstands on the beach.

 

Granny’ love affair with the beach began as a child.  She used to tell me about her childhood trips to the Belgian coast, where she and the other children engaged in the most wonderful Belgian tradition (which still exists today) in which they crafted crepe paper flowers, set up little flower shops in the sand, and “sold” them to passersby.  The currency paid was not money. Rather, they were compensated with seashells.  The more elaborate the paper flower, the more heaping the handful of seashells in exchange.

 

Sixty years later, Thea was still frolicking in the sand, enjoying hour-long waist-deep walks in the Miami Beach surf, and a daily swim out to the sand bar. After a day out in the water, she relaxed in her beachside cabana, then retired to her cozy apartment from where she gazed down at the beautiful views of the canal.

 

Once a year this very canal was the hot spot for the exclusive Miami Yacht Show.  Hundreds of beautiful yachts would dock just down the street from Thea’s apartment. Visitors came flocking from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the magnificent vessels.  Brett and I happened to be in town during the expo one year, so the three of us walked across the street to gaze at the floating mansions.  The protocol was universally understood: regular Joes like us were allowed to wander and admire the grand vessels from afar. Well, Thea and her mischievous side had other ideas. She walked right up to the captain of a giant yacht and asked to go aboard with us. Well….”Are you in the market for a yacht?” he asked skeptically? Without skipping a beat, Granny explained that her son was a boat owner up “north,” and she had been appointed to be his scout. Brett and I stood there in silence as she wove together this story- convincing the captain we were worth letting on board. The man then asked her name to sign into the log-book, and again without missing a beat, she said, “Kramer… Mrs. Thelma Kramer.”  That yacht tour was quite something-and whichever son of Mrs. Kramer from “up north” ended up buying that big boat, I sure hope he enjoyed it.

The last thing I want to share is this one vignette Granny used to tell me. It was about a place she had gone as a young adult. I can’t remember the exact details or location, but it came to mind this week. Thea and her family had once stayed at a beautiful hotel during the winter, somewhere in the mountains of Europe. On the grounds was a large swimming pool. It was an indoor/outdoor pool. You could swim to the “end,” and then glide right under a partition to be transported into another world outside- immersed in warm waters while overlooking the white-capped mountains and feeling snowflakes swirling and landing on your face.  The way she described it, it sounded like a wintery heavenly dream.

 

On this cold winter day today, I can picture granny in her bathing suit and snug flowered swim cap gliding through the warm water toward that partition….passing under it, and emerging on the other side…perhaps to be greeted by and surrounded by her loved ones–Shulim, Marcel, Charlie, her parents who passed through before her. All of them frolicking in the water embraced by falling snowflakes swirling and landing gently on their faces.

 

Granny, I love you, and I thank you for building a truly remarkable life, and being an anchor in my life in so many ways.  We will miss you so very much.

                     

Condolence letters may be sent to: thea.condolences@gmail.com 

 

In lieu of flowers, Thea’s family welcomes donations in her memory to causes and organizations close to her heart:

Obituary Notices:

Thea with her husband Shulim and granddaughter Aviva

Thea with her great granddaughters Maya and Eliana

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