I'm Saddened to Hear of the Death of my Cousin Assaf Steinschneider

I'm saddened to hear of the death of my cousin Assaf Steinschneider early this morning.   Assaf was a nice man, who was difficult to know well.   He came to the United States to study microbiology and stayed in the U.S. thereafter.   He got his Phd at the University of California, Berkeley and got a job in Milwaukee.   He then moved to Chicago where he remained until his death.

I met Assaf in the late 1970's, when we both lived in Chicago.   I don't remember his first apartment on Lake Shore Drive, which he lived in only briefly.   His worn, one bedroom apartment on Bell Avenue, just south of Montrose Avenue (and Welles Park), was his "real home".   Not long before his death he told me that his Chicago apartment had "character"and thus was better than his Jerusalem apartment he inherited from his mother Kitty (which I remember as being much nicer).

I first met Assaf's mother Kitty when I was in Israel in 1963.   Immediately she was one of my favorite relatives.   I fondly remember my later visits with her as well.   Kitty had a very strong personality, which may have had something to do with why Assaf preferred living in the U.S.   Kitty translated the non-technical papers of Albert Einstein for the Hebrew University.   She introduced my first wife and I to Gershom Scholem, the noted Kabbalist scholar and first librarian at Hebrew University, starting in 1925.   We had a delightful evening with Scholem towards the end of his life,  where he told us fascinating stories about my grandfather Mosex Marx  and other family members he'd known.

Assaf's father Karl Steinschneider, was quiet, especially compared to Kitty.   He was also very intelligent and perceptive.   His ancestor Moritz Steinschneider was a noted Jewish bibliographer and orientalist.

Assaf was very proud of his ancestry on both sides.

Assaf was clearly a loner.   While he enjoyed his time with visitors, he spent most of his time on his own.   He was scholarly.   He read a lot and was knowledgeable in quite a few areas.   He loved  classical music.   He was interested in Judaism, while being extremely religious.   He was fairly liberal politically, and open to dialog about political issues.   He knew a lot about the Marx family and explained a lot to me over the years.   We often went out for lunch together, when I visited from out-of-town.

Towards the end of his life, Assaf spent a lot of time writing and re-writing a book about microbiology which will likely be published posthumously.   He had hoped to finish it before his death.

I visited Assaf a number of times during the last few months of his life.   It was sad to see his heart condition taking its toll on his strength.   When I first saw him in the hospital I had hopes that he'd still have pleasure in his remaining days.   It was sad to see him unhappy in the rehab facility he was in before his final hospitalization.

I clearly remember my last visit with Assaf around a week ago.   I was talking with Stuart about visiting with Assaf (I think Stuart had his phone on speaker).  Stuart's wife clearly said that I should visit him, not just call him.  Heeding this advice, I went to Evanston Hospital, without calling in advance.   (I was concerned that Assaf might tell me not to come, if I called him.)    Assaf was very angry, that I hadn't called him first, as he had told me I should do after my previous visit in the rehab facility.

He was strapped,  sitting up, I think awaiting being moved out of the intensive care unit.   I was surprised at how strong he looked.    Assaf strained to be polite and proper.   Our time together was brief.   He told me that I should tell a friend of his who had called me from her kibbutz that:  "I am alive" - which slightly shocked me in its seeming negativity.   I am thankful that I got this last chance to visit with him, though it wasn't easy for me (or him).

I called him last Wednesday as I told him I would.   Our conversation was brief.  I was to call him again Monday (tomorrow).   Friday, Stuart texted me that he was in hospice, mostly sleeping, unable to talk and not capable of recognizing visitors.   It was now time to let go.   At 6:21 a.m. this morning, while walking my dog, I got a text that Assaf had died.

I miss Assaf already, perhaps only 8-9 hours after his death.   He could be frustrating and annoying, but also most caring and interesting.   I'm very glad to have known him!

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