On a cold and rainy Jerusalem winter’s afternoon, there are few things more satisfying than clearing out a cabinet chock-full of all kinds of objects. While doing a major cleaning out of the kitchen cabinet, I came across something wrapped in an old towel. It had a long handle and was quite heavy.

Tears came to my eyes when I saw what it was. I knew I had kept my former neighbor’s blackened cast iron frying pan—knew it wassomewhere—but had forgotten that it was in my corner cabinet. Memories of Mrs. Kaufmann rose to the surface.

I hadn’t seen her for years. The last time was when she rang my doorbell to say goodbye before moving to assisted living in Petach Tikvah to be near one of her children. She was holding the frying pan I had so often seen on her stove.

“I want you to have this. I won’t be needing it anymore,” she said.

She leaned forward to kiss me, the unwieldy frypan coming between us. I took it from her, quite moved.

“It’ll be a lovely reminder of you. Thank you,” I replied.

I had received two or three other somewhat unusual gifts from Mrs. Kaufmann during the few years we were neighbors, including a salmon pink dress with lace sleeves she said was now too big for her. I accepted it with thanks, not at all nonplussed, for I had learned two crucial facts about my neighbor: One was that she needed, in a very basic way, to give; the other was that she could not bear to throw anything away.

Mrs. Kaufmann never raised these issues with me. I became aware of them from one of her daughters soon after she had moved into the apartment across the hall from ours. We had seen Mrs. Kaufmann on moving day and made ourselves known to this small, frail, elderly woman being shepherded up the stairs by her daughter. We offered any help she might need. Her daughter said that a granddaughter in seminary would be helping her over the next week or so but took our phone number, and we wrote down hers.

A few days later, I received a phone call from Sarah, as she now introduced herself, asking if she could come to see me for a few minutes the next time she was at her mother’s apartment.

“Of course!” I said. “I’d be glad to meet with you.”

The next day, Sarah came to my apartment and over a cup of tea told me about her mother’s life. I sat, dumbstruck, trying to take in what her mother had been through. In a few sentences, Sarah sketched out how her mother had spent the Holocaust years.

From a small village in Czechoslovakia, she and her family had been sent to Terezin (Theresienstadt). Before that, however, she had somehow managed to find non-Jewish families willing to take in her three small children. I could barely imagine the circumstances of the parting. Worse was to follow when she and most of her village were transported to Auschwitz.

She was one of the few to survive. As soon as she could, she returned to her village to reunite with her children. But the families were unwilling to give them up. A long struggle ensued, at the end of which she succeeded in bringing them with her—alone—to Israel.

With much help from Above, she and her children managed to make lives for themselves in Israel, and she was now the savta (“grandmother”) of several grandchildren.

“Naturally,” Sarah concluded, “all that took its toll on my mother. It’s amazing that she can function as well as she does.”

“Sarah, I told you when your mother moved in that we’d be happy to help her, and I mean it. Shopping, going with her to the doctor; she’s already asked if we can do a few things before Shabbat. Of course we can, and generally, we can keep an eye on her and be in touch with you, if you'd like.”

“I definitely would,” responded Sarah.

Mrs. Kaufmann became part of our lives on an almost daily basis. She would stop in for a cup of tea, or I’d knock on her door and ask if she needed anything at the grocery store. She almost always refused. I once opened her refrigerator to see if I should buy her a liter of milk and was appalled to find it practically empty.

I called her daughter and told her. She sighed, saying, “I know. I want to do a big shopping with her each week, but she says no. She can’t let herself have enough food in the house for more than one or two meals. Being so deprived of food in the camps has affected her in this way. We can’t force her; we just need to see that she has the essentials.”

Mrs. Kaufmann never spoke to me about her earlier years or about the horrors she had experienced. I didn't question her about her time in Europe and how she was able to survive. It was obvious to me why her spare bedroom was full of carrier bags, boxes and piles of polythene bags. You never knew when anything might be needed, what might save your life. We tended to chat about local happenings, our families, what we were doing for Shabbat—easy, comfortable topics.

I was sorry when, after a few years, Mrs. Kaufmann’s family felt she needed to move to an assisted living unit as she was becoming more frail. I had grown fond of her and admired her for her resilience. I loved her indomitable spirit and how she would dress up in fashionable clothes for Shabbat and family celebrations.

That cast iron frying pan is a symbol of its former owner, our dear neighbor, Mrs. Kaufmann. Old but still useful, its tarnished exterior hides its true value, which nothing could shake. It reminds me of the resilience of the Jewish people and how no matter what we’ve been put through, nothing can break us.