Shortly after my sister Aliza was born, she was given the Jewish name Leeba in memory of our maternal grandmother. Leeba lived in Batyu, a small town near the city of Munkacs in the Carpathian Mountain region of what was then Czechoslovakia. Although she had come from a modest upbringing, Leeba together with her husband Joe became very successful running a general store in the town. Leeba never forgot her early years and dedicated her life to helping those less fortunate than herself. She and her husband opened a shelter for weekend travelers, providing a bed and warm meal free of charge. During holiday seasons, she would prepare packages full of treats, goods and money for families in need. She would even give away her own clothes, some never worn, to those less fortunate. She was a righteous and generous woman who was loved and blessed by all who knew her.
In May of 1944, Leeba and her daughters Shari and Dora (my mother) were rounded up into a boxcar headed for Auschwitz. While in the boxcar, Leeba woke from a dream and told her daughters that she would not return from this journey but that her daughters would survive. Leeba perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. However, Shari and Dora survived and were liberated by the Russians in April 1945. Dora always felt that it was on behalf of her mother's righteousness that God gave her the strength to survive the horrors of Auschwitz.
Several years after liberation, my mother got married, came to the United States and settled in Cleveland. She gave birth to two sons fairly quickly, and a few years later, had a third son (that's me). Fourteen months later, my mother gave birth to a beautiful baby girl that she named Aliza but whom she also named Leeba in honor of her own very special mother.
Aliza was Daddy's girl. He loved her and she loved him. He would spoil her with everything a little girl could want but Aliza never acted spoiled. As the third son, I was like the kid in the movie "Home Alone," almost nonexistent. But Aliza knew I was there. She always made sure I was included, and when she got a treat or a gift from a relative, she made sure I got one too! From very early on, Aliza looked out for me, and in turn, I looked out for her. We were practically fraternal twins and did everything together, including sports, vacations and summer excursions to our relative's homes. As we became teenagers, we continued to socialize together and had many mutual friends. By the time she graduated Yavne High School, Aliza was considered one of the most beautiful girls in our community. I became pretty popular among the guys, not because I was particularly special but because I was Aliza's brother!
Aliza went on to become a nurse, specializing in obstetrics. She became a favorite among the nurses and was often requested when women from the community came to the hospital to give birth to their children. Aliza got married and had four beautiful children of her own. She adored her children and they were truly the love of her life. She left nursing to become a stay-at-home mom and to tend to their needs. When her children got older, she returned to her obstetric roots and became an in-vitro fertilization nurse at Cleveland Clinic.
Like her grandmother Leeba, Aliza always looked out for the welfare of others. She was a kind person who pointed out the positive attributes in others. On any given day, she would surprise friends and family with unexpected little gifts. Her nieces and nephews loved when she came to town because it was like Chanukah all over again. As our father grew older, she tended to him as he had tended to her when she was young. When he passed away, she was sure to call our mother several times a day to check in on her.
Aliza was also always quick to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate, and she did so in a quiet and unassuming way. During one High Holy Day season, she stood at a cash register of a local bakery as a woman with two young children fumbled through her purse for enough money to pay her bill. Rather than have the woman put back some items, Aliza offered to pay the difference. The woman steadfastly refused to take her money, explaining she would never be able to repay her. Aliza in turn explained that one day, the woman would have the opportunity to help out another person in need. "When you help that person," she said, "we will be even." The woman nodded in agreement and accepted my sister's offer.
On March 24, just before the Passover holiday, Aliza was brutally murdered in broad daylight in an upscale area of downtown Cleveland. Five months have come and gone since this fateful day and still there are no suspects. A murderer walks free among us. Those of us who knew her and loved her miss her dearly and we will never rest until justice is served. This Rosh Hashanah coincides with Aliza's birthday. She would have been 54 years old. On a day when we stand before God and pray for a healthy and happy new year, many of us will undoubtedly pause and reflect as we ask "who shall live and who shall die."
While we are determined to bring those responsible for her tragic death to justice, this week we prefer to focus on the way she lived. For in a society where you so often hear the words "it's all about me," Aliza chose to say "it's all about you." She lived for her children. She lived for her parents. She lived for her patients at Cleveland Clinic. She lived for her community. Now the time has come for us to live on Aliza's behalf – and maybe we can become a little more like her. We can be a little nicer to each other and greet strangers with kindness. We can offer assistance to those less fortunate than ourselves. We can put petty disagreements aside and reconcile our differences. Maybe we can be a little more human.
Aliza, my dear sister, thank you for teaching me how to be a better person. Thank you for showing the rest of us how to live. L'Shana Tovah.
Dr. Edward A. Czinn, a physician in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is Aliza Sherman’s brother. Sherman, a Beachwood resident, was killed outside of her attorney’s office March 24 in downtown Cleveland. Cleveland police have no suspects.