It's end of that generation on my husband's paternal side.
My husband's father was the youngest & only son out of 8 children. (There were one or two other brothers born, but they died in early childhood; unfortunately, we hardly know anything about them.)
My husband commented on the long lives they lived—except his father.
Nearly all his father's sisters passed away in their 80s or 90s, despite (or maybe because of?) growing up in Morocco when donkeys were still the main mode of transportation, and despite the stress of coming to Eretz Yisrael in the 50s & 60s when everything was still one big traumatic mess & the anti-Torah Leftists (Communists in Democrat Socialist clothing, really) held inflexible control over the entire country.
The paternal grandparents lived well into their 90s.
His grandfather split his time between learning Torah and tending his vegetable field & fruit orchard in Meknes, Morocco, from which he made his parnasa (when his wife wasn't passing out the veggies to the poor).
My husband mused aloud about the contrast between his father's relatively short life (which ended at age 53) to the longevity enjoyed by his sisters and parents.
(This last aunt was around 92 when she passed away.)
Widows & Orphans
One day, when my husband was 15, his usually strong & healthy father came down with something.
The next day, his mother took his father to the hospital.
The day after that, his father died.
That's it. Three days from "not feeling so good" to death.
The youngest child was four while the oldest was married with a child of her own & lived only a couple of blocks away.
My mother-in-law never learned to read due to having been taken out of school at age 6 when her own father suddenly died from a trauma induced by Arab leaders acting as they pleased. Jews often enjoyed good phases under Muslim rule, but at the end of the day, dhimmis don't have rights. (Apologies for the lack of detail; it's private for now.)
The ammunitions factory where my husband's father worked offered my mother-in-law lots of money, which they claimed was their policy to help out the widows of their workers.
Over the years, they also sent her generous benefits, enabling her to buy good-quality appliances for a third of the price, and so on.
(Even when she didn't personally need it, she still bought these things to save for her children when they got married. We received the stovetop oven she acquired this way. And I think our first washing machine was also acquired that way.)
My mother-in-law didn't suspect any other motive because it just made sense to her.
After all, she grew up in Morocco where everyone she knew behaved with generosity to those poorer than them.
She said widows might have been poor, but never lacked food. The Jewish community always supplied them with their dietary needs.
(Also, the Moroccan climate nurtures a long growing season for a wide variety of fruits & vegetables & legumes, so that enables a lot more produce available for cheap or for free—more than a colder climate allows.)
When my mother-in-law became a kallah in Morocco at age 17, she & her widowed mother paid nothing.
The community provided everything, even going so far as sewing her a beautiful wedding dress from scratch, plus expert hairstyling & makeup—all free of charge.
If you think of all the time, labor, and money involved (especially in creating a wedding gown decorated with handmade white satin roses), and with no financial compensation, you get an idea of the generosity of the frum Jewish community.
So later in Medinat Yisrael, it made sense to her that the rich guys overseeing the factory would help her after her husband's sudden passing.
Only it wasn't exactly like that.
The Truth Comes Out
(You can read a true story about them here: little-yaels-rosh-hashanah-coat.html )
Her family (she, her parents, and siblings) and my husband's family came to Eretz Yisrael in 1969 & grew up next door to each other.
She is 6 years older than my husband & held a lot more awareness as to what was going on back then, plus the issues revealed later.
Those in charge didn't protect the workers at the ammunitions factory, she told us.
There were no precautions against the fumes the workers breathed or the chemicals they touched.
They worked hours every day for years in that environment, not knowing they were slowly poisoned by the materials in the factory.
They continued like this until they would suddenly get sick & die.
"Your father wasn't the only one to die like this," she told my husband.
He was shocked.
She explained how these factory owners gave the bereft families generous compensation to stop the families from suing & exposing them.
It wasn't generosity or compassion or even reparation.
It was simply hush money.
The owners did not want to be sued or lose their business. It was cheaper for them to dole out funds to the families of their dead employees.
To some families, they apparently said this outright, when savvier families realized why a healthy man suddenly died & threatened to take the owners to court.
Choosing Your Yoke Wisely
Was it because the workers were Sephardim?
Or because of the general elitist attitude of the financially successful toward lower-income working class people—that such people are dispensable?
Or just plain greed?
All of the above?
We can't know exactly.
But it's worth noting this:
When you cast off the yoke of Torah, you aren't free but merely substitute the Torah for another yoke.
And the only other yokes around are from the surrounding culture.
At that time in Eretz Yisrael, you basically had either the Arabian Middle Eastern culture OR the Polish-Russian culture—which was also Communist at that time.
Without Torah, those were your choices.
Eastern Europe was extremely classist until Communism took over. But the elitism in society did not end with the Communist promises of unconditional equality.
Savvy Communists rose to power, then ended up enslaving & exploiting everyone under them—much like the hated landowners & titled gentry & royalty did to the people under their domain.
Without Torah, it's hard to escape this elitist mentality of owning peons & serfs whom you can treat much like you treat your livestock.
Throughout history, the surrounding culture always looked so enticing to many Jews (especially when its allure consists of a façade of happiness, equality, and comfort).
But there is no real happiness or goodness without morality.
Torah provides the only authentic moral compass.
When you throw that out, what do you have?
You only have glitter thrown in your face with promises of unicorns & rainbows.
But behind the blinding glitter lies something very ugly & disturbing.
And that's part of the lesson here.
The real utopia can only be provided by Torah.
Nothing else comes close.