To have known Matilda Laura Rosenberg was to be splashed with Mediterranean sunshine.
She was incredibly loved by those she held dear — family, close friends, colleagues and the hundreds of families she served in a distinguished career as a social work.
At a Sunday afternoon symphony or hike through the Overland Park Arboretum, she would be approached by women and men and thanked for meaningful kindnesses she extended to a loved one.
Matilda, 69, passed away just after midnight Friday, February 25 after a more than two-year battle with a pernicious cancer.
In that time, she had many personal triumphs, foremost among which was her children blessing her and Marty, her husband of 44 years, with four grandchildren: Mira, Aliza, Leor and Levi.
Matilda was also thrilled to welcome Amy Parison to the family as the wife of her eldest son, Eli.
Recently, she spent long stretches with all her children and grandchildren.
When Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans in late August she assisted her daughter Alanna and grandchildren in evacuating from the devastation. She invented the game of “in and out” to run with Aliza at rest stops with Levi tucked under her arm.
The whole family spent a remarkable Rosh Hashanah on Cape Cod organized by Eli and Amy.
Joey and Maya built a small “nona and papa” house in their California backyard that allowed for visits that went months at a stretch during which worries about illness vanished on the stiff bay breeze.
Matilda was born in Portland, Oregon, to Albert and Alegre Tevet, Holocaust survivors and part of a tiny remnant of the Greek Jewish community that survived the Holocaust.
Matilda went to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War to work on an agricultural kibbutz while workers were off defending Israel. After six months she traveled with a longtime Portland friend to Crete, where they slept in a cave and were awakened by a herd of goats and their tinkling bells.
Upon her return, she met, fell in love and married Marty. They settled in Kansas City for career reasons and dove into a richer Jewish life with their children.
When she turned 36, she and her husband took their three children, then ages 3, 6 and 9, to Japan for six months. She was enlisted as an English tutor by a group of women in their outer Tokyo neighborhood and in return they taught her about Japan.
Living in Kansas, she was wholly dedicated to enhancing her family’s life and experiences, mastering the cooking of the most exquisite Sephardic foods.
She was director of social work at Village Shalom from 2002 to 2007 and director of social work at Aberdeen Village from 2007 to 2019. She earned her master’s degree in social work in 2007 from the University of Kansas.
At Village Shalom, where she was one of few Jewish staffers, she made every effort to secure careful treatment and care of residents who were Holocaust survivors, explaining to her coworkers that the elderly men and women had survived haunting tragedies and deserved the best.
She researched her own family’s Holocaust years and internment in Auschwitz. She accompanied her husband to Washington on business trips to meet with historians and scholars at the U.S. Holocaust Museum to learn more about Greece during the war years, when Germans like Kurt Waldheim terrorized the innocent.
She traveled back to her parents’ hometown in northern Greece and saw the Salonika ghetto where they were forced to live. On a cold misty night, a barking German shepherd on a rope nearby, she and her daughter and husband walked the remote train depot where her family was brutally forced on a horrific train to Auschwitz.
In Auschwitz, she located and lingered in the barrack where her mother was interned.
As the family story become clearer, Matilda spoke about it at a variety of Kansas City locales.
On December 1, she was one of three women speakers at the program, “Our Mothers Were in Auschwitz,” at Union Station in conjunction with the landmark Auschwitz exhibit.
Many of her friends on hand were unaware that she was fearful that she would not have the stamina to convey all that she wished to impart. She bravely and triumphantly excelled in her presentation.
A bit earlier, she surprised and turned the tables on her journalist husband on his 70th birthday, arranging to interview him for StoryCorps at a mobile studio outside the Nelson-Atlkins Museum.
With eyes shining and voice honeyed with love, she tenderly questioned him about his life and their shared journey recorded for the U.S. Library of Congress.
To mark their 40th wedding anniversary they went on safari to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana with a group of Kansas City friends.
On Robben Island, she talked with a guide who had been imprisoned with Nelson Mandela. As she recounted her parents’ Holocaust years the man looked intently at her and said Robben Island imprisonment was a picnic compared to Auschwitz.
On safari, each morning as they rose in the predawn hours she greeted all with, “Another morning in paradise” with her trademark exuberance, as they went out to find giraffes, zebra, jacanas and malachite kingfishers.
After her grandchildren arrived, her most loved experiences were family centered. In January, after picking up Mira from pre-school late afternoon, the two would visit Berkeley park. As Mira finished the mini-ice cream cone that nona gave her, she would hold on to her nona’s coat as she pretended to chase her — both squealing in glee.
In New Orleans, she would often walk Aliza to Bayou St. John, picking up many pebbles en route for Aliza to toss into the water, before the two leisurely strolled the neighborhood looking for “johnny pump” hydrants and chicka-chickas scratching under porches.
Lately, she loved to play a game she made up for her granddaughters and their new brothers. “Who is the be-be, who is the bon-bon?” she would smilingly ask. “I’m the bon-bon, he’s the be-be,” and the girls would shout, ecstatic.
She is survived by husband Martin, son Eli Rosenberg and wife Amy Parison, daughter Alanna Rosenberg and husband Joseph Kanter and grandchildren Aliza and Levi, son Joseph and wife Maya Tobias and grandchildren Mira and Leor, brother Isaac Tevet and wife Charlotte, sister Sarah Korman and husband Ira Korman, nieces, nephews and extended family.
Messages of support and condolence have flooded in, warm and deeply felt. A niece told Matilda she modeled her marriage after her. A friend wrote Matilda that her “goodness has made an indelible mark.”
The funeral service was held Monday, Feb. 28 at Louis Memorial Chapel. Donations may be directed to the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.
Welcome to “another morning in paradise,” Matilda, beloved, honored, treasured wife, mom and nona.