Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Penny Waga – My Mother, My Hero

March 1, 2013 4:34 pm 2 comments

Lit candle. Photo: wiki commons.

My mother, Penny Waga passed away this week after a long illness. As someone who loved – and was loved – by her more than anything in the world, the loss was devastating for me.  She was born in a WWII DP camp to a family of survivors who moved to Israel as refugees before making their way over to the United States.

As Jews we are taught to strive to see the good in everything, even after the loss of a loved one. I would therefore like to share my mothers tale which could serve as a parable for the strength and continuity of the Jewish people.

My mom didn’t have an easy life.  Her parents were Holocaust survivors who worked very hard to raise her and her brother. Their families suffered every imaginable, awful fate during the Holocaust. Most of their relatives were wiped out.

There was also the scars symptomatic of those raised by survivors.  In the last few months of her life my mother learned that her father, Morris Waga had been married with a family before he married my grandmother.  He lost that wife and a 3-year old daughter in the camps to the Nazis.  Yet, throughout his entire life he never told my mother or her younger brother. What a burden my grandfather must have carried all his life.

My mom spent so much time researching, reading, and studying about the Holocaust.  She attended conferences, discovered obscure files, and spent days at Yad Vashem.  She never shared with us her “master file” on the dozens of family members we lost which she uncovered.

A month ago I visited Israel and had the privilege of bringing my mom’s grandchildren, my kids, to Yad Vashem. I found documents at the museum signed by her parents, which they filled out in the 1950’s upon arriving in Israel. The papers contained details about their family members which were killed during the Shoah. For me, walking the streets of Jerusalem together with my family felt like a triumph of Jewish history – even as I cried as we walked the grounds knowing that we were the heritage of what she had studied and learned so much about.

Of course my mother loved us so much. My mom was bright and tough and taught us values, courage, wisdom, strength and decency.  She told us every single day that we could do anything we set our minds out to do.  We heeded and believed her – and knew that our mother would and could do anything and everything for us. And she did.

How I remember walking the streets of Netanya with her as a kid when we went daily to the water park- and how I remember walking the streets of Hebron with her as an adult. How I vividly recall walking to shul with her – and how she loved the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale women’s tefillah group. And today I am so proud my children are able to attend yeshivas.

As a proud Jew, she taught me so much by example. Whether in her days at Betar or always advocating for me and my sister on anything and everything. My mother was so proud that professionally she grew to serve as Executive Director of PEF Israel Endowment Funds. PEF was established in 1922 by Justice Brandeis, Rabbi Stephen Wise, Robert Szold and a group of distinguished Americans to enable the direct distribution of funds to selected and approved charitable organizations in Israel.  And through her work at PEF, she was able to help so many Israeli causes she cared about so much – from women’s’ learning in Kiryat Arba to dogs for the blind in Israel, Kiruv projects  and work with new immigrants.

Through her blood, sweat and tears she somehow managed to raise me and my sister. My mother once wrote me a note many years ago which says “Enjoy this, try to make the most of it, and I hope when all is said and done you will see it is all really worth it.” As my mom often told me “We never know what tomorrow can bring.” Mom – I hope and pray that your tomorrow is better than today. Life without you is something I can’t imagine.  But I can tell you that you will be loved forever – and from the scraps of the Holocaust a family has arisen that will continue to grow.

Your parents are buried in the same cemetery as you- and I hope today you are walking with them and with all of our other family members who were tragically killed.  Thank you mom thank you.

“Enjoy this, try to make the most of it, and I hope when all is said and done you will see it is all really worth it.” Those are words I will remember as long as I am in this world.

Ronn Torossian

2 Comments

  • A very beautiful tribute – זיכרונה לברכה
    May HaShem comfort your family among the other mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim.

  • Dear Ronn,
    This is one of the most moving tributes to a parent I have ever read. Though my mother, zichronah l’vracha, was not a Holocaust survivor, she was the daughter of poor immigrant parents who came from Russia before the Revolution after they had been through plenty, only to go through the Depression and have children who went back to Europe with the US armed forces during WWII. My mom had a hard life, too, as she was also crippled in an accident, but she never let it stop her, and raised me with a sense of integrity, an appreciation for our people rising above its struggles, and an innate ability to teach the principles that encourage humanity in mankind. Your article shows the same kind of courage and decency in your mom, whom you were lucky to have as a mother, and to me, your mom, Penny Waga, was an inspiration, too, whom we have gotten to know, through you. May her memory always be blessed, and your family know from no more sorrow, though in the physical realm, it is a hard loss, but spiritually she will always be with you, and you will continue to realize her hopes and dreams.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    JNS.org – Alan Gross used to be nothing more to me than a tragic headline. When I started my position at this news service in July 2011, Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for what that country called “crimes against the state.” Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development, went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet. After his arrest, he received a trial he describes as a “B movie,” […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    JNS.org – When I saw the recent Academy Award-winning film “The Big Short,” I was struck by the sheer genius of the financiers who devised the schemes and packaged the loans for resale, but it left me with unanswered questions about how the properties these loans represented were moved. “The Big Short” was largely about paper transactions, big money, and wealthy investors, and it mildly touched on the way the actual end-users — the home buyers and brokers — played into this […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Why do we think so negatively about psychiatrists that we still insult them by calling them shrinks? Some medics might be quacks, but we don’t generally refer to them as witches! Shrinks; The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, is a sobering account of how psychiatry has swung from a marginal, unscientific mixture of weird theories into one of the most common and pervasive forms of treatment of what are commonly called “disorders of the mind.” Is it […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    JNS.org – Nine months ago, Seth Cohen, director of network initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Randall Lane, editor of Forbes Magazine, were schmoozing about the “vibrancy of Tel Aviv and soul of Jerusalem,” as Lane put it. They dreamed about how they could bring young and innovative millennials to the so-called “start-up nation.” From April 3-7, Forbes turned that dream into a reality. Israel played host to the first-ever Forbes Under 30 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) […]

    Read more →