Robert Benjamin, A Tribute : In Memory Of My Brother

Rabbi Nat Benjamin
One of the only images I have of Robert as a teenage

My brother Robert and I were close despite the ten year difference between us. As a child he displayed a great love of music, literature as well as a great aptitude for science and mathematics. He shared these with me as an older brother and teacher.  I find my love and aptitude for music was his gift to me. He took me everywhere: baseball, football and basketball games and to concerts and the opera.  My memories of our camaraderie are as vivid today as when I was eight years old.

 During his first year in college my brother Robert experienced what we now refer to as a nervous breakdown. He spent the remaining years of his life being treated for schizophrenia in hospitals and nursing homes. With mental illness parents do not know what to do to seek effective treatment and Robert’s condition worsened continually. As a child, I always grew up hoping that my older brother would return to a normal life with school, leading to an occupation and eventually a normal family life but such was not meant to be.  As years went by I visited him weekly in assorted nursing homes and psychiatric facilities. Robert passed away in April at the age of eighty four.  My strongest regret is that he had an unhappy life. But when I think of my childhood years I remember how much he gave me.

Rabbi Nat Benjamin
Celebrating Robert’s Birthday in 2018


To My Mother Rose On Mother’s Day

To My Mother Rose:

My saintly Mother, Rose Benjamin had a smile for everyone and her jolly jokes made her ever welcome. She was always ready to help out where needed and everyone spoke well of her. As a teenager she had survived the ravages of a 10 week bout with pneumonia which had left her with a rheumatic heart.  She never spoke of it to me and so I was always curious as to why she would never walk up hills, use a step ladder or engage in any heavy cleaning around our apartment. So, once a week, we had a neighborhood woman help her with any heavy cleaning tasks. When I was very young there was Mrs. Devaney who could flip  a mattress over with one hand. When she left us to take a full time job, Mrs. .Harrington took over. Since I was now in grade school, I would often spend time in her home while my mother took care of errands and chores. Josephine and James Harrington had a large picture of Jesus in their bedroom and my questions about Christianity were both intriguing and conflicting to my very young Jewish mind. Mrs. Harrington eventually went to work full time for the phone company and Mrs. O’Shea began coming to us with Irish Lamb stew, chocolate chip cookies and apple pie along with her deep faith, and very strong opinions about Anglo-Irish politics. On her way home from work every evening  she would stop at the Good Shepherd Church on Broadway and Isham Street to light a candle. There were other woman from the neighborhood who came to our home once a week. I didn’t realize the seriousness of Mom’s condition until I returned home one school day afternoon to find her unconscious on the living room sofa face down in a pool of vomit.
Dr. Horowitz rushed over and explained to me about her condition and that it would probably worsen. The years passed and when I turned nineteen, I was called back home from college to learn that my mother had become bedridden and needed to be cared for around the clock. She was suffering and having a terribly difficult time. It was Thanksgiving of 1964 and my father and I needed help, something to be thankful for.    

Then a remarkable thing happened. 

Unexpected and unasked for,serendipitous, something that restores one’s faith in the goodness of the human heart.  It seems that word about Mrs. Benjamin had gotten out and they all came back to help. Mrs. Devaney, Mrs. Harrington, Mrs. O’Shea and the others who filled my childhood memories. They were older now. and their hair was grayer but their eyes still sparkled and their willing hearts were ready for the task of giving my mother love and dignity which she had always given to them. They made up schedules to see that she was never alone; twenty four hours a day. They bathed her and dressed her and fixed her hair which was so important to her. They cooked and cleaned and even hand fed her  toward the end. My mother, Rose Benjamin, passed away during the second week of March in 1965 at the age of 57. Mother's Day