Esther Opolion, lovingly referred to by her granddaughters Annie and Lisa Maiden as “Bubbie,” age 101, entered into rest on Tuesday, May 28th, 2019. A graveside service officiated by Rabbi Sadie Becker was held on May 30th at Beth El Cemetery in Phoenix.
From her birth in Lodz, Poland, on May 15, 1918 to her death, she was, as her Hebrew name suggests, a “star,” a beacon of light for the many lives she touched. At 18, Esther was forced into the Warsaw ghetto, followed by Bergen Belsen and Auschwitz, where she witnessed the horrific murders of her mother, father, and all but one of her nine brothers and sisters, brutally shot and gassed behind barbed wire. Esther lived to tell her story of the Holocaust, including how she stole potatoes from the German kitchen where she worked and brought them back to the barracks in the seam of her underwear. Esther and her brother Leo Perl were the only remaining survivors of their large family.
Esther married Emanuel Opolion in Germany in 1948 and had their son Jack in 1950. After emigrating by boat to Ellis Island, Esther moved to Chicago, where her two daughters Sarah and Sheila were born and where she worked as a seamstress and clothing manufacturer and then at a bakery. She worked at Karshes bakery in Phoenix for seven years and shared her talent for baking and Jewish culture with her family and friends by making almond crescent cookies, kugel, blintzes, and many other memorable dishes. At 80 years old, Esther stayed strong by attending the YMCA, where she met many close friends.
Even in the last year of her life, after breaking a hip, Esther wanted to be independent: “As long as I can do for myself, I should.” Esther’s gratitude for life exuded from her. She danced all the way down the aisle at her granddaughter Annie’s wedding singing, “See Hitler, I’m dancing!”
Sarah Rose Opolion
Sarah Rose Opolion, whose Hebrew name means “Princess,” entered into rest on Monday, May 27th, 2019 at age 66 in Phoenix, leaving behind her sister Sheila Maiden and brother-in-law Barry Maiden, brother Jack Opolion, and nieces Lisa and Annie Maiden. Esther Opolion, Sarah’s mother, was laid to rest on May 28th, a day after Sarah’s passing after hearing the heartbreaking news of Sarah’s death.
Born in Chicago, Illinois on June 15, 1952, Sarah grew up in a small apartment in Roger’s Park. Sarah obtained an Associates degree in liberal arts and then worked in the medical field in Chicago and Phoenix as an office manager for five years. She then worked as a Bank of America teller and then the controller at T&S Furniture, a chain owned by her brother-in-law, Barry Maiden. Sarah loved to cook and bake for others for every special occasion--brownies, cheesecake, cream puffs, crescent almond cookies, rugelach, kugel, kreplach.
When her sister had to work, Sarah raised her nieces as if they were her own children, cooking for them and taking them to school. A selfless woman who never said “no” to any request, Sarah cared for her uncle Leo with Alzheimers and her father Emanuel,“Zida,” taping his wrestling shows, driving him to the JCC, and cooking chicken soup for him. Sarah took care of her 101-year-old mother Esther until the last day of her own life, through years of Chemo and radiation, hormone therapy, IVs, experimental drugs, giving family members rides even though she barely had the strength in her limbs to press the gas pedal. Like The Giving Tree, she wanted to bring joy to everyone in her life--even at the expense of her own health and happiness. A funeral service officiated by Rabbi Sadie Becker was held on Thursday, May 30th at Beth El Cemetery in Phoenix to honor Sarah, buried not more than twenty feet from the grave of her mother, Esther.