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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    JNS.org – Less than five months after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to its sixth European basketball title, David Blatt, now the head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, routed his former team in an exhibition game on Sunday, with the Cavaliers dominating Maccabi 107-80 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 20,562 fans in attendance witnessed Lebron James’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform since he left the club in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago. [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish New York Giants Guard Plans to Fast on Yom Kippur

    Jewish New York Giants Guard Plans to Fast on Yom Kippur

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz said on Wednesday that he will not eat anything between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday in observation of Yom Kippur, ESPN reported. “If I was playing, I wouldn’t fast, because I’ve got to be able to fuel myself to play,” said the Jewish athlete, who is on short-term leave due to a toe injury. “But it’s not that tough, really. I’ll eat dinner at 5:00 Friday, then I’ll go to services and I’ll just [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.