Sipora Katarina Rodrigues-Lopes Groen is the last installment in 5 Passages to Bram and is about Bram’s older sister who in many ways has grown larger in stature since her passing. Part of that is due to her children who have taken solace and joy in telling her story, while part may be something far less easy to explain and significantly more spiritual.
Born on January 1, 1922, Sipora, my mother, had what might be looked at as a few different lives. Part of that story can be told in looking at her name. Although never a large percentage of the Jewish population in Holland, the Sephardic community was a very strong and a significant part of Judaism in Holland since the influx of Spanish-Portuguese Jews. In fact to this day, when speaking about Dutch Jewry, many of the worlds Jews speak of the “Esnoga”, The beautiful Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam.
With all the names I mentioned to start this piece, the simplicity with which my mother felt comfortable living her life can almost be seen by the fact that in her early years she was Sipora Rodrigues, and her later years she was Sipora Groen. But to clarify, simplicity is often a sign of depth that reflects the character of a person focused on things far more important than what people call you. This was the case with my mother.
I make no apologies for the bias in this piece, partially because of the words I have heard spoken about my mother during and after her life on earth. She was the oldest of 2 children, her brother Bram born when she was approaching 3 years of age. She was very close to Bram, a closeness that only got stronger when they lost their mother when Sipora was 13 and Bram was 10. Despite the pain of being without a mother at such an early age, this very powerful loss was a pivotal event in her life, shattering her innocence early and helping her to acquire a strength that saw her through the rest of her life, a life that saw loss and devastation most of us could not fathom.
Engaged to Hans de Jong before the war, she would survive the war losing her fiance, her father, her brother and countless friends and relatives to the murderous Nazi war machine. She would however come out with what in many ways was a new and redefined family. The te Kieftes who hid her for 16 months would be like family for the rest of their lives, as would their descendants for the rest of hers, and the man who would take it on himself to see to her safety, Nardus Groen, my father, would become her husband for over 6 decades till his passing in 2012.
Besides being a loyal wife and nurturing mother, Sipora was also a person of deep character and kindness. She would care for people living through their last days and give a caring ear for people who needed someone to listen to them and share a lifetime worth of experience. She would redefine herself after Nardus died in a way most people would never have been able to, finding new ways to enjoy life, sharing her story with audiences in schools, synagogues and even prisons. But what may very well have made her more special than anything else was the pure joy she had in being alive, a joy she shared with others in an inspirational manner.
My brother Marcel who has met presidents and movie stars referred to our mother as a rock star. She truly was a wonderful person to be around and had a character as strong and kind as anyone you will ever meet. Since her passing on April 19th, 2017 it has remained important for me to honor her memory and legacy. She is number 5 in this series because, well, for those of you who don’t yet know, you will certainly know next week, when I tell you the story of how I have been blessed to honor her memory and the memory of her lost brother in a way I could have never imagined.
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