A Man of All Seasons:
Memories of My Husband Roni Yelloz, z”l

R&E-R'AmarTribute.jpgFor over 32 years my husband Roni, z”l, was my rock. Only recently did I learn that he was a ‘boulder’ to so many more people – some of whom I never knew or met. Since the sad day that he suddenly passed from this world, Thursday, June 16th, I have gained a world of new knowledge about him from those who came forward to tell me more.

Roni-Kibbutz-donkey.jpgRoni was born in Haifa, Israel, then called Palestine, on Rosh Chodesh Elul – August 10th, 1945. He was the only son of Yosef Yelloz, z”l, whose family hailed from North African rabbinic scholars and emigrated to Tiberias in 1853. They traced their roots back to Navarra, Spain prior to the Inquisition. Roni’s mother, Sara Rousso was born in Izmir, Turkey and was also a descendant of Sephardim, linking her family background to the Abravanels. All this prestigious ancestry never fazed him an iota. He was a humble man who used words carefully and was not one to intimidate others by his presence. As I think back over the more than three decades of life I was privileged to be in his company, I cannot recall him ever hurting man, woman or child. He also had great respect for nature.

Roni-Pnimiya.jpgSimilar to the lives of the girls in our Home, life was not rosy for Roni from the very beginning. He spent his first years in great turmoil. His parents separated right after his brit milah - his mother returning to her parents in Tel Aviv with him - while his father remained in his family’s Haifa home, tending to his gas stations and auto parts businesses. Yosef was too proud to pursue his wife and seek out visitation with his child for more than two years. Finally, he traveled to Tel Aviv and demanded to see his son. Eventually, he would visit him from time to time since travel in pre War of Independence Israel was tough.


At first, his maternal grandparents Rachel and Marco Rousso cared for Roni. Because his asthmatic condition caused much fuss, he was sent to Haifa to his paternal family for a possible ‘cure.’ Caring for an ill child was difficult for the elderly grandparents. So Roni was sent to several institutions in Israel until he was 8. At first he lived with a family on a kibbutz, then was sent to a children’s home/orphanage in Bakka (Jerusalem). Finally, his mother appealed to Roni’s father to seek expert medical advice.  Doctors advised varied cures but none succeeded. Finally one physician recommended a trip to the baths of Evian, France. The travel was fun, but the psychosomatic asthmatic condition persisted.

When Roni returned to Israel, the World Zionist Organization hired his mother as an executive secretary and interpreter. She had to relocate to Geneva, Switzerland. My mother-in-law spoke French, English, Hebrew, German, Italian, Spanish and Ladino and had knowledge of Turkish, Greek and Arabic. At a conference in Geneva, Sara met and spoke with Rabbi Ascher, dean of Institut Ascher, Bex-les-Bains (I.A.B.) of her son’s situation. The Rabbi agreed to accept Roni in his school in the Alps, where the air was clean and pure.

Roni arrived at Bex after his 8th birthday. He told me that he immediately felt that this was the place for him. He remained at I.A.B until he was almost 14. When Roni was 9, his father remarried. A year later, he discovered from his maternal Grandma that he had a baby sister. In school, his roommate was Jackie Safra, the Lebanese Jew whose family owned Safra Bank. Roni’s friendships with wealth and intelligentsia flourished throughout the years of his attendance both at Institut Ascher and later at Whittingehame College, a Zionist prep school in Brighton England, where he studied until he was 16. During these years, Roni learned to live in the school’s realm – his roommates and classmates becoming his ‘brothers’, his rabbis and teachers – his lifetime mentors. When he was 15, his father’s family grew – another little girl was born.


After attending Swiss and British boarding schools and mingling with international business moguls’ sons from many nations of the world, including Danny Gillerman who would eventually become the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, and Dr. Eli Harrari, retired Chairman and CEO of SanDisk, the global leader in flash memory cards, Roni finally entered the field of business and finance. He worked as an investment consultant/broker in Geneva for the infamous Bernie Cornfeld, founder of Investors Overseas Service and then was transferred to the company’s Montreal office. After IOS folded, Roni enrolled at McGill University and studied accounting and drafting, while holding part time jobs. Without familial support, Roni struggled and was not successful in completing his coursework.

Through his keen intellect, resourcefulness and great sense of humor, he landed many interesting jobs, but none lucrative enough to give him financial freedom. At one time, he was employed in three separate professions: lounge chair marketing, accordion lessons/instrument sales and helicopter pad management. Through these years of struggle, he visited his parents occasionally. He traveled to Israel to visit his father by boat, paying his passage toiling as the crew’s bread baker. He also visited his mother in Geneva and an aunt in Paris. By his mid 20s, Roni finally left Canada and drove to NY, meeting up with his stepmother’s family. He started a new life and gradually lost touch with many of his old classmates.

Roni-Yosef-Bronx.jpgOn a roadtrip to California, he fell in love with the landscape and the lifestyle. The warm sunshine and seashore reminded him of Israel. Through his constant trials and quest for a family of his own, Roni married when he was 27 to a girl 8 years younger. She lived for less than a year, succumbing to leukemia before her 20th birthday. Then, by the mid 70s, his father, step-mom and sisters emigrated to America, settling in Riverdale, the Bronx, NY. He drove east from Los Angeles to begin a long desired relationship with his Dad. They became partners in a kosher Mediterranean restaurant. After awhile, the hard work was difficult for his father and Roni could not handle it himself. They sold the restaurant and Roni became employed as an espresso machine salesman.

Roni-ULTIMA.jpgThrough his innate mechanical knowledge and his entrepreneurial skills, he designed a multi-use cappuccino unit. He painstakingly built a prototype in a relative’s machine shop in New York and applied for and was granted the very first U.S. patent for this type of machinery. By 1978 he opened a small factory in Flushing, NY where he built his old-world hand-hammered copper with brass trim units, reminiscent of the fancy Italian machines used all over Europe. Then, he added a simple clean-cut stainless steel unit to his line. But that was not Roni’s only talent.

I met Roni on a blind date during a blizzard in January of ‘79. He was already a widower for 7 years, and I was divorced with a six-year-old daughter. He never revealed the facts of his sad ordeal. That was behind him. He always told me that I was his ‘one and only.’ I believed him. But, Roni did share his life with many other human beings. I soon learned that there wasn’t a day that he did not help someone – he was Mr. Fix-It. He tackled some of the most complicated machinery besides the espresso-cappuccino units he repaired and overhauled, and built with his own hands. He also dabbled in pasta and bakery equipment. Nothing was beyond his expertise. But that was not all he accomplished.

Roni built, remodeled and designed several homes in his lifetime. When we met, he lived in a basement apartment that he built in his cousin’s house in Queens, NY. For all the years we spent together, he flourished on projects – always-new things developing in his mind. He was a powerhouse of ideas and plans, innovative ways to change the world, both physically and spiritually. He was practical, he was righteous, and he could not stand injustice. He was honest to a fault. And, he could never say ‘no’.

Wedding.jpgThe first winter we were married, he received a call from his cousin. He told Roni that one of his tenants complained there was no heat in their apartment. Could he pop by to see what was the trouble? It was past 11 PM and Roni was almost asleep. But that didn’t deter him. He dressed quickly and headed out in the snow to help the family with three children who had no heat. At first I was upset, but then realized quickly that this man was a tzaddik. I asked him why the repair couldn’t wait till morning. He casually said, “The children are cold – how can I sleep knowing they are freezing?” That was the essence of Roni’s life.

In 1982, our small family left NY – my daughter was 9 and my baby son was only 8 ½ months old. We moved cross-country to his beloved California.  Roni drove a moving truck we purchased from a friend’s furniture company carrying all our belongings and his entire shop with tools and goods. We even attached and towed our passenger car behind it. I learned early on that any trip with Roni was an adventure. He was a superb navigator; curious about the road he traveled and always fascinated to learn new things about his surroundings. After a serious mechanical breakdown while driving uphill, we were stuck in Ft. Hancock, Texas. After the repair of our truck in El Paso, we continued west to San Diego, where Roni had purchased a small home two years earlier. He was thrilled to bring his new family to the west coast.


Although life in our new home was happy, we struggled to make a living. The coffee business, particularly espresso-cappuccino machine sales, was a bit sophisticated for 1982 San Diego. After our second boy was born in the fall of ’83, we realized that we had to move to a larger and more cosmopolitan city – Los Angeles. So, in ’85, Roni dabbled in his second passion, building. He was hired by an old friend’s brother, a developer, to re-build his dream home – a European-style mansion in Beverly Hills. That was our entree to L.A. For six months we lived 120 miles apart from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. Shabbat was always special to our family, but now it was longed for as a weekly family reunion. Finally, after school was out in June, we decided to put our house on the market and move north. Once again, we started anew in a suburb of L.A., in the San Fernando Valley. What stayed the same were Roni’s never-ending projects!


Within months of our move, our family immediately grew as our 4th child, another son, was born in February ’86. For the next 25 years Roni would work very hard maintaining our coffee business and client base. He tried his best to divide his attention between me and the kids, his work and his major construction project – the complete demolition of the old house we purchased and the building of his beloved family home. But, first he had to put up a guesthouse in the back property so we could live comfortably during construction.

Gabe-Family-BM'99.jpgFor more years than anyone expected, we lived in the ‘back house’ while the front house was being built with Roni’s own hands and occasional professional help. Our three sons assisted lifting drywall, installing a garage door using a manual, always helping their Dad in their spare time. My daughter always offered her clever design ideas like insisting on skylights in the living room. It was a family house and Roni wanted everyone’s input. He re-drew the plans himself after an architect’s efforts failed to pass the city’s plan check. His new drawings and calculations passed on the first try. And, through all his successes, he was humble and never full of himself. He only complimented others – his four kids, and me, and all those who surrounded him.


We never really knew how many souls this quiet gentleman touched – we thought it was just our community and us. But we recently learned that his reach was beyond our scope of knowledge. To us he was a husband, a father and Saba Roni to my daughter’s kids. In the coffee industry, he was known as the Espresso Expert by restaurateurs, hoteliers, mom and pop pizza and doughnut shop owners, fancy bakeries, law firms, and many private customers. He was beloved as a master repairperson, problem solver and a general ‘great guy’. Although he appeared to be quiet and reserved to those who did not know him yet, it didn’t take long before his smile and his gentle eyes penetrated even the toughest skins. His unassuming attitude and his helpfulness, his pride in his work and his business ethic were so pure that many cannot imagine another to fill his shoes.

Sara-Roni.jpgEveryone can learn a lesson from Roni – that although his beginning was rough, and he did not have the emotional and physical support that many children receive from their parents, or the unconditional love, he still showed each of them great respect – “Kabed et avicha v’et Imecha.”

At his levaya – funeral, our Rabbi offered a tear-filled eulogy for Roni, speaking about his good deeds and pleasant demeanor, his humbleness and his love and sacrifice for others. My sons also gave insights of what it was like to have him as a father, to be his boys. But, my daughter who lives in Jerusalem and recently gave birth, could not arrive in time for this heartbreaking ceremony where hundreds attended, including 13 rabbis. Instead she wrote the following eulogy that I read at Roni’s gravesite. I’d like to share it with you here.


Tirz-Bin-Wed'97.jpgWhen I think of my Dad, I think of the teaching that the children of Abraham our Father were rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chasadim – merciful, bashful, and kindly. I thought that this quote was from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, but it turns out that it is taken from the Talmud Bavli, in Yebamot. On Shabbat, I went about looking for this quote in Pirkei Avot, a source that my Dad loved to quote from. Traditionally, this is the season to learn from this book, and I found so many other teachings that epitomized who he was.

"Emor me'at v'aseh harbeh" – Say little and do much - that was my Dad. "V'havei mekabel et kol ha'adam b'sever panim yafot." Receive everyone with a pleasant face. That was my Dad. My Dad didn't just quote from Pirkei Avot. He lived his life out with exemplary middot.  His calm, his kindness, his giving, his patience with people, his pleasant manner which was natural to him, all made him so beloved to so many.

He was a truly modest person. Yet, he was multi-faceted, fluent in many languages, had a technical mind, and a great sense of humor and charm. His linguistic skills included speaking Hebrew, French, and English, fluently. He also spoke and communicated quite effectively in differing degrees in Spanish, Italian, German, Yiddish, Arabic and Turkish. He could figure out most any machine, and fixed watches for fun in high school, where he also was a champion at fencing. He had a mechanical mind and understood the laws of physics and how things worked and explained things pretty well, too. He was great at math and always was a great help with my math homework, all the way through algebra. He was handy and could fix anything. He did this for a living and also was known to help friends in the middle of the night if needed when the plumber or electrician wouldn't come.

He loved knowledge. He loved nature - he was fascinated with the way the world operated. My Dad was funny, he was witty, he loved word play, he was an amazing mimic, and could pull an impression of almost anyone and every accent. He loved to collect books, and he loved to debate. But he was far from being a show-off. He thought nothing of himself and was self-deprecating in a very Jewish way. Pirkei Avot state: three things represent the students of Abraham our Patriarch: "Ayin tovah v'ruach nemucha, v'nefesh shfeilah."  

He hated injustice, prejudice, anything phony, and had a critical mind. Yet he allowed people their faults. Ben Zoma said, "Who is the wise man, he who learns from everyone." Though he was conservative, he gave everyone a chance, even if others thought they were a bit strange: Rabbi Meir said, "Al tistakel bakankan ele b'meh sh'yesh bo" Or, don't judge a book by its cover, more or less.

There was so much to learn from my Dad. He loved guests and to serve people. His table was open and he loved Shabbat. He enjoyed discussing the parsha and always asked us what we learned. Keeping Jewish tradition was a top priority for him. He complained once that the learning in his talmud torah wasn't challenging enough and he wished that he had learned more gemara when he was younger. He appreciated the wisdom of the Torah and helped to instill this in us, his children.

I will miss his voice, a wonderful mélange of an Israeli, French, and British accent that was hard to place. But when people asked, even those who would be hostile, he said, "I'm Israeli," always proudly identifying himself as a Jew. I'll miss my Dad's great smile, which was at once gentle, happy, modest, and proud. My Dad appreciated little things, little ironies of life, little children, cute expressions, good jokes, the ridiculous and the bizarre. He was happy for others' happiness, and sad when things went badly for others. His life wasn't always easy, but he appreciated what Hashem gave him: Me hu ha'ashir? Hasameach b'chelko – who is rich? One who is happy with his lot. As he used to say to my mother, "Eva, we live like lords!"

Rabbi Eliezer said "Honor your friend as you would like to be honored and don't be quick to anger." This was my Dad. He was an oheiv habrios. He liked people. He was positive when it came to others, and critical of himself. Pirkei Avos also says that a person doesn't bring anything to the next world except for his Torah and good deeds. My Dad's character epitomized so much of what it is to be an ideal Jew: to be merciful, to be modest, to perform kind acts for others. His beautiful eyes were "ayin tovah" – they saw the good in others and in the world. His hands helped others, fixing little parts of G-d's world, making it a more perfect place. His mouth spoke kind words – he respected his parents, his mother-in-law, his elders, and his friends. He used all that Hashem gave him to help others, and he was joyous in their joy. I can't think of a better personal example of so many ideal traits than my Dad. There is no surprise in the outpouring of support and love my family has luckily received from friends and family – this is just a reflection of the love my Dad had for others.

How could anyone forget my Dad? I feel his presence; his face will always be in my head, encouraging me to go on, to have strength, never to give up. I will remember his face in the light, fixing things in his shop, concentrating on a complex mechanical problem, his hazel eyes reflecting the light, his straight eyelashes behind his glasses. I will remember him proud of me, proud of my brothers, for our accomplishments, proud of my mom for being his ezer k'negdo and the beautiful and feisty love of his life. I will remember his laugh, his voice, and his sense of irony, that things are never what they seem or what we expect them to be, his humor. But most of all, I will remember his goodness, his decency, his purity, his holy and sweet soul. I know everyone will. Y'hiye zichro baruch.


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