Three generations: Daniel, David and Gary (not in the picture is the fourth generation, his great-granddaughter, who David is holding)

Regular readers of this blog and family members know that David Bakst has appeared many times in my stories and essays. My father-in-law had an extraordinary life. If you haven’t read his story, you can find the beginning of it herehttps://stories-i-tell-myself.com/2018/07/09/part-of-the-story/. Most recently I recounted that he led us in the blessings over the Chanukah candles and bread via FaceTime at Leah’s wedding. It was so appropriate that he did that. He loved to sing and daven (pray), he cherished his family and his Jewish identity was a source of comfort and pride. In leading us in those rituals, he fulfilled all three.

He died yesterday. He was 98 years old. On the one hand it wasn’t shocking, he had been in failing health in the last few months, but, at the same time, he seemed indestructible. It is impossible to count the number of times he cheated death in his long life. He was a Holocaust survivor after all. He was hospitalized any number of times over the last few years but rallied each time so we expected that he would do it again. He had such a strong will; he was an inspiration to all who knew him.

Gary, my husband and one of his two sons, would say that his father was the most optimistic Holocaust survivor he ever met (and he has met many survivors). David emerged from the ordeal and trauma of his war years with a fierce determination to live, to take joy, to continue his family name. Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary since he had witnessed the worst in human nature, he liked people; he was open to them. This is particularly unusual for someone who had his life experience. He wasn’t a fool, but he didn’t shut down. He radiated warmth, enjoyed a good discussion and engaged with the world. To the very end, when diminished eyesight and compromised hearing robbed him of reading the newspapers and watching CNN, he would ask Gary to fill him in on events in the world. As a devoted Zionist, he was always particularly interested in Israel; he followed U.S. politics closely, too.

David wasn’t perfect. He was impatient and he could be demanding. He was a product of his time and place, but his essential good nature led him to evolve. He respected the women in his life. The same cannot be said of many men from his generation. His care for and devotion to his wife on her long Alzheimer’s journey was so touching, we were in awe of his tenderness.

David left his children, grandchildren and great-grandchild a wonderful legacy. He persevered in the face of difficulties I can’t fathom. He reclaimed his humanity after being subjected to unspeakable horrors. His death is a terrible loss for the family, but he leaves us essential life lessons, as well as poignant and treasured memories. May his memory be a blessing.

David and Paula in the displaced persons camp circa 1947

6 thoughts on “David

  1. Linda, my tears are streaming in reading your beautiful tribute to David. This is such a big loss for his family and all who knew him. He was and will remain an inspiration. My deepest condolences to your family.


  2. David Bakst was a remarkable and admirable man. I recall one particular gathering at your house where David sat in the family room with our Uncle Paul, and Pam and they discussed some biblical issues. While the rest of us (there were many) went about our business socializing and having a festive time David and Pual and Pam remained in a collegial and insightful discussion (I of course had nothing to contribute but it was quite interesting.). So, as you state, David who witnessed the very worst of man, was devoted to God and Judiasm. I so enjoyed watching and listening to David as he participated (or actually ran) the Bat Mitzvah service (I forget whehter it was Laura or Jordan’s). The vigor and love and devotion was felt and seen by all. David also served as a teacher, not just for his children and grandchildren, but for those who were fortunate enough to meet him. I recall his talking to both of my sons (early teenage years) and telling them his history. This has helped shape their values of being righteous and very sensitve to the plight of others. David was for many of us, the very embodiment of the American story. He overcame (unspeakable) hardship and toiled to create a loving (and very successful) family who contribute enormously to our society. David enriched this world. May his memory be a blessing.


  3. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. My heartfelt condolences go to Gary, his siblings and their families, Linda, Leah, Dan, and all the great grandchildren. The few times I encountered David, he was warm and kind. I could feel his avid interest in me and my life. I join you in celebrating his remarkable life and in mourning his loss. I hope his legacy of optimism, having a good heart and being open minded lives on for many generations in the Bakst family, as it does today with the current members.


  4. Hi Linda,
    I’m so sad for Dor, the whole family and anyone else feeling the pain of this huge loss. I have always wanted to know more about David and Paula’s stories, and suddenly find that you’ve written them down so beautifully. I’m trying to follow the threads of the story back in your blog posts. I’ve signed up, if that’s ok.


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