Yesterday a close friend of my family Bill Belinson, former chief of the Fire Department in Buffalo, New York passed away. For more than 30 years Bill and his wife Helen have been a close part of our family and a reliable source of strength for us since we immigrated to the U.S. Although we were Jews from Iran and they were Ashkenazi Jews from America, they always welcomed us with open arms. Bill and Helen were one of the hundreds of American Jews who befriended Iranian Jews before and after the 1979 revolution in Iran. Their kindness, friendship and unconditional love toward everyone especially other Jews in my opinion is what I think Judaism is truly about.
The story of how our two families came together is one I frequently share with individuals who often ask me how my family was treated by American Jewry upon our arrival in the U.S. The Belinsons’ ties to our family began in 1974 when my uncle Robert was studying at New York State University in Buffalo. He was introduced to Helen and Bill by their mutual non-Jewish friends who thought Robert should have ties with other Jews while living away from home. He was a foreign student from Iran who spoke limited English, had no friends or family in the U.S. and knew no Jews in snowy Buffalo. A prior to my uncle’s arrival, the Belinsons had tragically lost their son also named Robert in an accident. So overtime you could say my uncle became like another son to them and they became surrogate parents to him when he had no one else to turn to. The Belinsons welcomed Robert to their family gatherings and for the Jewish holidays. Through their kindness they help Robert maintain his ties to Judaism even though he was thousands of miles away from his own family in Iran. They took in a Jewish kid who they did not know and accepted him into their hearts. All the while the Belinsons stayed in contact with our family in Iran through letters and updated my grandparents on Robert’s progress in college. Eventually my uncle completed college and then went on to become a podiatrist. During the upheavals of the Iranian Revolution, the Belinsons again opened their home to my grandmother, mother, and myself (I was an infant) when we had briefly left Iran amidst the chaos unfolding in Tehran.
After our family immigrated to Southern California we still maintained our ties with the Belinsons who were living in Buffalo. On July 28th of this year our family was reunited with Helen and Bill who were visiting L.A. for my uncle’s children’s b’nai mitzvah. I personally drove Helen and Bill to the party and they shared their fond memories from years past. Still after so many years apart we were elated to see the Belinsons and my grandmother showered them with praises for their kindness toward my uncle three decades ago. While the news of Bill Belinson’s passing has been particularly difficult for our family, we are still grateful for having one last opportunity to have shared precious time with him along with our family’s simcha.
Our family’s most sincere condolences go out to Helen and the Belinson family. I know Bill is smiling down on us from his spot in heaven….¦we love you Bill and will miss you warm smile!