"Cousin" Frances By Brette Simon

Haggadah Section: Introduction

“Cousin” Frances. Ever since I can remember, that’s how she was lovingly addressed by our entire family, even though (in my case) we were 71 years apart. In reality, Frances was married to my grandfather’s cousin Ben, and so by extension, she became our cousin as well (family tree rules aside). My parents moved to LA from NY in the late 60s, leaving their parents, siblings and extended family back on the east coast, with no friends or relatives in California. Other than Ben and Frances Lepkowsky. Ben and Frances emigrated to the US from Poland in 1928, and ran a cleaning store as well several rooming houses in MacArthur Park (near Langer’s Deli). As soon as my parents arrived in Los Angeles and I (and later my brother Jeff) was born, we were taken in by Frances and Ben. While Ben was our actual relative and a wonderful man, Frances clearly wore the pants in the relationship (literally- I don’t think I ever saw her in a dress). And she probably made those pants, as she made all of her own clothes. And crotcheted more ponchos and hats for me than I can remember. And was my first babysitter. And spoke five languages (Polish, Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish and English). And ran the family businesses with Ben. And managed to take the bus or walk everywhere she needed in LA (having never learned to drive). She was an absolute dynamo.

As one would imagine based on the above, Frances’ Passover seders were a sight to behold and a special experience. Once a year, I got to see all of my other “cousins” (Ben and Frances’ children and grandchildren), all while enjoying Frances’ amazing food (she made everything of course) while Ben (in his strong Polish accent) conducted the seder. Oh how I looked forward to Passover every spring. And just as Ben and Frances had adopted us, so as they did with numerous tenants in their boarding rooms, many of whom joined us for our seder over the years. Their small apartment was busting at the seams, but that just added to the energy.

Frances outlived Ben (not surprisingly) for many years, and finally passed away at the age of 104. While I’ve attended many other seders since then, no one's could ever come close to theirs. I will always miss “cousins” Frances and Ben and their warm, loving spirit, which always made you feel welcome and embraced as soon as you walked into their home. And isn't that what celebrating Passover is all about- making sure that everyone has a home, a place (minus the 40 years in the desert to get there).

Brette Simon

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