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Remembering Marek: my grandfather, and one of my greatest loves

11 February 2022
SMCT team member Leah Mandeltort as a young child with her grandfather, Marek
The author as a young child, pictured with her late grandfather, Marek Mandeltort

As we approach Valentine's Day, many of us take a moment to think about those we love most - whether romantic partners, close friends or family members.

Below, SMCT's Leah Mandeltort reflects on one of her greatest loves: her late grandfather, Marek.

My grandfather is* one of my greatest loves. I adore him immensely and remember him as a loving, hard-working patriarchal figure with strong values and morals. Nothing was ever as important to him as good food and quality time with family.

I fondly remember him picking me up from Primary school and taking me to Carlisle Street, Balaclava. Walking hand-in-hand with my grandfather always gave me such pride and joy as he was somewhat a local celebrity for owning a Jewish delicatessen, Mandel’s Deli**. Famous for his bagels, former customers would often stop and spark up a conversation with him, curious to see if he was still cooking.

Although he was retired, his family were ecstatic recipients of his endless cooking talents. He’d invite the extended family over weekly and make us delicious foods such as bagels, gefilte fish, blintzes, French toast and shortbread biscuits. I remember my cousins and I would rally together during our weekly visits to steal the shortbread biscuits hiding in our grandparents' kitchen.

Marek and his wife, Genia, outside Mandel's Deli

My grandfather taught me many life lessons. I often think about my grandfather growing up in Poland and migrating to Australia from Sweden with his young son, barely speaking a word of English. I think of how he lost his whole family in the war and near-faced death numerous times from adolescence. He experienced many things no one of his generation should have and worked hard to establish the life he wanted for him and his family.

Despite his experience of the Holocaust and its long-lasting effects, he was an admirable, loving, well-respected family man adored by his extended family and community. In my impressionable eyes, he was the measure of a good, kind-hearted person. To this day, I like to think of him and wonder what he would have done in situations I was experiencing, or what advice he would have imparted.

Growing up, I remember him nonchalantly talking about life after his death. Being young, I used to tell him off because I didn’t want to think of a life without him. However, he’d caution me that his time would come as he wasn’t getting younger. In reflection, I am grateful that he was comfortable sharing his wishes with us.

We lost him in 2004 after his health declined. Although it was gradual, the heartbreak of losing such a strong patriarchal figure was felt profoundly.

A photograph of Marek and Leah Mandeltort, framed and resting on a windowsill
Leah keeps a framed photograph of Marek on her window sill.

Nearly twenty years on, I still think about my grandfather often and feel close to him in a spiritual sense. I like to keep a photo of him close to be reminded of his warm, loving nature, work ethic, kind heart and strong presence.

*There is a reason I interchangeably use the past and present tense with my grandfather. I believe that when a loved one passes, their body becomes an empty vessel, but their spirit can live on.

**My mother was a regular customer of my grandfather's. In fact, my grandfather enjoyed playing matchmaker to my parents, who recently celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary!