Dear Aunt Esther,


Sandy nelson & esther

Uncle Nelson, Aunt Esther and my sister Sandy – Corydon IN circa 1946

Did you know how profoundly you informed my view of the world? I was only in fourth grade when in the wake of your death you left behind your two little boys in Cleveland, Ohio.

Growing up in a small Southern Indiana town with only two Jewish residents, who I later realized traveled 60 miles round trip to synagogue, I was ignorant of your faith, heritage and culture. Until one day my mother wisely handed me an age-appropriate book about Judaism. I was fascinated and intrigued (though I couldn’t have named it as such then) by your religion, which only made you more beautiful in my eyes, and even stronger in character.

One of the last times I saw you, I was ill with juvenile kidney disease, bedridden for several months and being a royal pain to my mother. You sat on the edge of my mattress and penned me with those almond-shaped brown eyes, and let me know you loved me, you empathized, but my behavior was unacceptable. I’m not sure I had ever loved anyone as much as I did you at that moment. Mad at you? Yes! But you spoke the truth.

Until yesterday’s events in Charlottesville VA, I always thought that moment was only instrumental in helping me become a kinder person. But I write you today, nearly 60 years since your death, with a new understanding and appreciation of those few brief, yet powerful moments. You also taught me to love and respect diversity.

Perhaps I learned at that moment that everyone with blue eyes, who looked like me, certainly loved and cared for me. But you did, too, and you were the one with the courage and willingness to call me on my childish, self-centered attitude and actions.

Did I see in your eyes and hear in your words that so much can be learned from those of a different faith and culture? That we owe it to each other to communicate and listen, because we just might learn something of infinite value?

I think so. I was lucky.

Yesterday in VA your youngest son and his black girlfriend stood up for what is right. How easy it would have been for them to stay at home, to not become actively and peacefully involved on behalf of America’s Jews and blacks. They had to know white nationalists, Nazis and the KKK—people threatened by diversity—would confront them, and yet they both heeded the call to action.

At one point your son’s girlfriend tried to get to her car. Five older white ladies from the Methodist church where she went for refuge, surrounded her to ensure she walked safely the mile to her car.

So there is still love and respect in the world.

And people like you—your son and his girlfriend—who speak and stand up for truth.

And remind me to look beyond myself and do what is right.

All my love and proudly your niece,


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