Rabbi Zev’s Funeral Speech of his Bubby

Thursday, 12 December, 2019 - 9:44 am

 The following is the speech I gave at my bubby’s funeral. 

1. It’s a rough draft and was presented slightly differently. 

2. This barely scratches the surface of what an amazing lady she was. 


Last Wednesday, After thanksgiving, I was playing catch up with emails. I receive from a daily email, which frankly I often skip, but Bobe Leah wasn’t doing well that day and I needed an extra dose of inspiration. I opened up the email and went to the thought of the day.

It read: 

May the Almighty comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem

— Text of "Nichum Aveilim"--words of consolation said to mourners

I turned to my wife and said what kind of random inspirational quote of the day is this?!  How could this put this in an email? Well as well all know, later that evening….

I never thought the first funeral I would be officiating at, would be my Bobes. How sad. But also, What a zechus and merit to do this for her. 

I hope we never me together again under these circumstances but only rather at simchas. 

I accepted this role cause she’s my bubby. She certainly meant something different to everyone of us in this room.  But I’m going to share a little what she meant to me. 

For klal Yisroel she was the fighter who stood up to the nazis, part of the Bielski bridge. She even had a little bit of Dr. Ruth in her if you know what I mean. 

To me, her story as well, is one of a sweet loving lady who had a twinkle in her eye and and smothering love for her family and friends. She would kiss you so much till you sometimes couldn’t breathe. And then go back for more!

There are 3 general ideas and lessons I want to try focus on when I think of my bubby. 

3 biggest life lessons

1st point: relationships.

My wife and I, after Bobe Leahs passing, were Speaking on the couch and I quipped out loud - I wonder where Bobe Leah is right now? We both immediately said, with her husband, and then I broke down crying. 

She probably spoke about her husband every day of her life. Even when my wife and I made a trip to see her a month ago the person that she kept asking for the most was her dear husband. The bonds of eternal life and eternal love was so evident and clear. I learned so much from her about what it means to respect your spouse and the truly deep and special bond between a husband and wife, to be close to family - to be a mench, and  to go out of your way and just do the right thing for the people you love  - and trust me I’m still learning from her. 

2nd Point: fighter

She always fought for what she believed in -both at a young age and till the very last moment. People have told me privately how she was there for them during difficult times in their lives, and for me she was there every step of my personal journey - she was thrilled with me in becoming a chabad rabbi and Shliach and having a family and encouraged me to fight for my values and for what I believe in and to fight to be successful both materially and spiritually.

3.  She valued every single day of life.

With that in mind, I would like to tangent slightly to what I felt Gd was supporting me and even crying with me.

The day of Bobe Leahs passings, I called Aunty Sara, who I have to say, was so incredible  in being there for Bobe Leah non stop in her last days. We went over the last prayers one should say, the highlight being that of the Shema. We were both crying in our own ways and we ended the call.

After Bobe Leah passed, my wife and I were sitting on the couch reminiscing about Bobe Leah -and I  was looking for some inspiration and for a coping mechanism and I opened the Hayom Yom,  a Chassidic book of aphorisms and wisdom.

Lo and behold, the lesson of the day read as follows:

My revered father, [the Rebbe Rashab,] once said: The recitation of the Shema before retiring at night is a miniature version of the confession a person makes before his soul departs from his body. At that time, however, one leaves the fair forever; that puts an end to the transactions that can be undertaken “today, [which is the time] to perform them.” When we recite the Shema before retiring every night, we are still in the midst of the fair — we can still achieve something.

Bobe Leah had a real Yiddishe shema.

And please permit me one last almost unbelievable thing that happened on Wednesday.

Reflecting on the daily torah portion - that week we are introduced to LEAH - and the day of her passing it explains the 3 children she had then.

Gd is with her, she is with Gd. She loved. loved Yiddishkeit. She later on learned to love chassidishkeit and found so much nachas from all of us when we celebrated being proud jews. She reflected it in her speeches around the US.. She loved Shabbos, yom tov, matzah ball soup, kichel, shabbos candles. Yet right now she can’t light Shabbos candles, so lets resolved to light them for her or inspires someone else to at the right time. Let’s do any mitzvah we can that we feel connected to, on her behalf to bring some level of light out of this  darkness.

I hope that each of us can try in our own way to to live in her legacy, to learn from the lessons I mentioned above. 

May all these good deeds we resolve to do be a tremendous elevation of her soul as well as a comfort for my father and the entire family and extended family and friends.

Nevertheless, I will continue to remember her with her loving smile, and her many yidishe phrases like

A grepsele arois in a gezuntele arein 

Kinder un gelt, is a Shaina velt - I say that often. 

Bobe Leah was my best friend, and she will alway be, my hero, our hero, the worlds hero.

Bobe Leah I hope today, and every day, I will give you what you always wanted and often asked - both yiddishe and chassidishe nachas.

I love you.


Circled is Rabbi Zev’s grandfather Velvel Zev Johnson, fighter and hero of the Bielski Brigade. (JPEF)

Scholar Mrs. Leah Bedzowki-Johnson - Large.jpg 

Watch one of Bobe Leahs speeches here:


With her son standing beside here, Leah Bedzowki Johnson regales an audience of Jewish students at the University of Texas about surviving the Holocaust as part of the famed Bielski Brigade of partisan resistance fighters.


Aron Bell, the last surviving Bielski brother, with fellow partisan Leah Johnson and her grandson Rabbi Zev Johnson at a Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation tribute dinner in New York City. (photo credit: Renee Ghert-Zand). -read her biography and see more videos here.  

Watch on TorahCafé.com!
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