Category Archives: Finding hope

My Father

לעילוי נשמת אליהו בן שמואל יעקב
כ”ט ניסן תשס”ט

Remembering My Father
My father was a real family man. He loved when yom tov came around and his married children overran his home. The madness of everyone squished together gave him only pleasure. He especially loved giving each and every one of his children and grandchildren a berachah on Friday night. Each son-in-law became a son, and each child was a precious gem.
My father was a working man. He had a store and put many hours into his work. He was also a man who always had a joke to share. Wherever he went, whomever he spoke to, he always had something funny to say. He wasn’t a great rav or a rebbi. He wasn’t a rosh yeshivah or a rosh kollel. He wasn’t a big askan or a big leader. Yet, he could never be called simple. He wasn’t just a balabus. He was a simple person on the outside, and a person full of tochen on the inside. He was someone who constantly worked on himself and grew closer and closer to Hashem as a result. When a nisayon came his way, he took it and grew from it. He changed himself because of it. We could never praise him when we saw something great in him. He was too humble. He didn’t think there was anything to talk about and loathed the praise. He didn’t need people to see his growth. Everything about him was very low-key.
At one point when he was unemployed he spent his mornings learning. He loved finally having the time to do this and was hoping to finish all of Shas. Although he could have chosen to do this in a shul or bais medrash, he chose to learn at home. No one had to know that he spent all

of his time learning.
How typical of him to be niftar in Nissan when we couldn’t say hespedim. There was so much to say, but it all had to be toned down. But my father had a zechus that most niftarim don’t have. A few minutes after he was niftar, Radio Kol Berama in Lakewood played a speech by Rabbi Peysach Krohn; in his talk, he shared some divrei Torah from my father, as countless people tuned in. Could it be he was zoche to such a thing because of the high madreigah he was on? As R’ Dovid Goldberg, the Rosh Yeshiva from Telshe Cleveland said, “He didn’t just say the ani ma’amins; he was the ani ma’amins. He learned them and lived them.”
As a little girl, I loved waking up on Shabbos mornings to the sound of my father’s voice learning. As an adult I am really able to appreciate all the time he spent learning, especially the mishnayos he learned to make a siyum in time for my brother Chesky’s yahrtzeit.
As a little girl, I marveled at his kibbud av v’eim. When Zaydie called for him, he ran to pick up the phone, no matter how busy he was. As an adult I realize I never knew the true extent of his kibbud av v’eim. I only found out after his petirah how he drove Zaydie each morning to shul, how he decided whether the weather was good enough for him to go out or if he should encourage him to daven at home, and how he always showed up at his house on Friday afternoon to make sure everything was ready for Shabbos.
As a young child I didn’t appreciate how he always wanted us home for Shabbos seudos and would be upset if we ate at a friend’s house. As an adult I realize how lucky we are to have had such a strong, loving relationship.
As a young girl I didn’t appreciate the stability in our home. B”H, I had two parents and siblings. This meant we were a normal family. As an adult I can appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in a healthy home permeated with love.
As a young girl I didn’t know to be happy that my parents didn’t fight with each other. As an adult I know how fortunate I am to have had parents who had shalom bayis and always displayed concern for one another.
As a young kallah, I thought it only natural for my father to accept my chassan as his son. As a married woman I understand how lucky we are that each son-in-law became a son and that they in turn looked at my father like another father. He never judged and always accepted each person despite his/her shortcomings. Maybe that is the reason he stayed so close to his children. Maybe that is why to so many people he was a favorite uncle, and why so many people gravitated to our house.
As a teenager I knew there was no way to understand my father’s pain at losing his only son. As a mother, I realize I could never begin to understand the searing pain that he experienced.
However, I think I was able to appreciate how he took such a painful experience and grew from it. He asked, he learned and he changed. Many people mentioned at the shivah that they remembered my father’s hesped for Chesky. They remembered how he took something so painful, and through his tears he was mechazeik and continued to be mechazeik his family for the next eleven years. Our family knew of the many different nisyanos that came his way. Our family also saw his pain and fear. But our family saw how he grew closer and closer to Hashem. It was like climbing a ladder. He started off on one of the lower rungs and climbed and climbed one step at a time, until he was on the highest step – so, so close to Hashem.
He didn’t bury his pain. He faced it, he grabbed it and he became better from it. Each Succos we saw his hurt as he relived Chesky’s last Succos, two weeks before he was niftar. But despite his pain he made coming home so enjoyable and fun. We laughed at his predictability. We rolled our eyes at his corny jokes, and we groaned at his idiosyncrasies, such as comments about the garbage can that filled up too quickly.
The children coined the name “Funny Zaydie” as soon as they learned how to talk. They called him this because that is what he was to them. He joked with them, he played with them and he laughed with them. Funny Zaydie had a place in their hearts that no other Zaidy can have.
On the other hand, we knew whom to call when we were down and in need of chizuk. We reached out to our father who had a depth to him that not many could match. With wisdom that only life’s experience can bring, my father was able to encourage us and countless others.
Before the levayah my husband asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted him to say in his speech. I responded, “Everyone knows my father as someone who is funny and always had a joke. But he was such an anav. Tell the world who he really was. Tell everyone about his unwavering trust through so many hardships because they don’t know.”
But I see how wrong I was!
The deep void of losing this special person is felt by so many people. Nephews we never knew he had a relationship with. Brothers and sisters-in-law who were so different from him. And friends who couldn’t walk into the house without crying. All these testify to the fact that many people did realize his tochen. Yes, wherever he went he brought laughter.
Yet, people realized he wasn’t just a man who loved a good piece of cake and a good joke. He was a man who always aspired to be more. People realized that his davening took longer than most because he really had the connection that we all crave. People realized that they could ask him for money from the Zichron Tzedakah Fund that was set up l’iluy nishmas my brother because he would help out quietly and discreetly. People realized that they could do business with him without any contracts because honesty would always come first. Yes, friends and relatives all over knew him and realized who he was. And the pain of losing him is so strong and so deep.
When my son Yecheskil was born, it brought some nechamah to my father for the loss of his son. Right from the beginning, my father introduced him to Chesky’s tefillin and Chesky’s bike. He talked to him about the day that he would be old enough to inherit Chesky’s prized possessions. But my father wasn’t here anymore to give my son his only son’s tefillin. He wouldn’t be there for any grandson’s bar mitzvah.
We always enjoyed a close relationship with my grandparents, and of course I thought our children were going to enjoy that type of relationship with my parents – forever. But during shivah, Yecheskil, then a third grader, started learning mishnayos, and he couldn’t share the news with his Zaydie. Moishy and Dovy had just started getting to really know their Zaydie over the Pesach that had just passed, and now that relationship is over – forever.
People trying to be menachem us said, “At least you have good memories to hold onto.” But I wanted to shake them. Didn’t they realize my father is too young to be a memory?! We – his children – were too young to be without a father and Mommy was too young to be a widow. Our children were babies. He couldn’t just be a memory. We needed him to be here as a proud father and grandfather.
No, we determined that he will not just be a memory to us. He kept Chesky alive for us in our hearts and our minds, and we will always keep my father alive in our hearts and minds. We talk about him, share his jokes and his divrei Torah. We comment on what he liked and disliked. We bring him into our homes and families’ lives by saying what Zaydie would have said and done.
As we talk more and more about my father, my children will get to know who Zaydie was. He was an easygoing person who was so, so close to Hashem. He was a tzaddik and someone to emulate for all posterity.
And as painful as this is for us, we must do what my father would have done. We have to take the pain and grow from it. We have to grab this hurt and become closer to Hashem from it. It seems almost impossible. But we have my father’s actions to lead us, and we will try to follow.

If My Siddur Could Talk

It was the night before my chasunah. I can still feel the mixture of fear and excitement that I was experiencing. When a small box was delivered to my house with a card, I tenderly opened it up, and there inside lay a beautiful leather siddur engraved with my new name. I held it. I looked at it. I smelled it. I opened it – and I knew I would treasure it forever.

It is now sixteen years later.  The siddur is torn, the binding separated from the cover. The thumb grips are tattered. And some pages are torn in half. I can’t use this siddur anymore. I realized my davening was compromised as I searched for the missing pages or concentrated on making sure that no loose pages fell to the floor. This siddur has been through a lot with me. But now it is time to put it away, high up on a shelf where it is safe, in a place that can’t be reached.

But I wonder – If my siddur could talk, what would it say?  If we took a trip together down memory lane, what would its memories be?  I suppose it would go back sixteen years ago to the day of my wedding. I was eager with anticipation. A whole new life beckoned to me, a life I was about to embark upon. It was hard to visualize my future as I held tightly onto my siddur, and I davened. I davened that life with my new husband should be as glorious as I was imagining it to be.  I davened that we should be zoche to a bayis ne’eman where there would be berachah in abundance.

And so began our journey together. Through ups and downs my siddur was with me. When I was full of gratitude for a healthy baby, I thanked Hashem from my siddur. When my husband left yeshivah, and I felt apprehensive, I took my siddur and asked Hashem to guide us. When I felt tired and overworked, my siddur reminded me that I can ask Hashem for physical strength.

As I watched my two young children play together, I grabbed my siddur and exploded with praise to Hashem for these gifts. And when I gave birth to a set of healthy twins, my siddur helped me remember that it was all due to Hashem’s kindness.

It was my siddur that I cried into when my sister was diagnosed. And I continued to cry into it when my mother was diagnosed. It was my siddur that I turned to as we anxiously awaited results. And it was my siddur that carried me through the difficult days of shivah for my father. As the roller coaster ride got bumpier and bumpier, I held on tightly to my siddur.

It was with pride that I davened on the day my oldest started learning Mishnayos and later Gemara. And it was with pride that I davened as each one of my children continued to reach milestones.

It was my siddur that was there for me as I sat in the hospital room watching my sister die. And it was that siddur that I cried into, joy mingling with pain, as my newborn daughter was named after my sister.

I held on tightly to my siddur as I begged Hashem to give my mother a refuah sheleimah. I cried into my siddur as I heard the doctor’s hopeless report. And I continued to cry into it as I sat shivah for her.

I grabbed my siddur as my bar-mitzvah bochurim made me proud. And I continued holding onto it as we navigated the road of mesivtas.

My siddur gave me strength when I felt sad and alone. My siddur reminded me of all the blessings Hashem has showered upon me. My siddur watched me grow from a young innocent girl whose world was full of excitement and expectation into a mature woman.

My tears of pain have ripped the pages. And my tears have gratitude have torn the binding. I kiss my siddur and put it high up on a shelf out of reach.

Today I got a new siddur. It isn’t leather, and my name is not engraved upon it. It’s not wrapped up, and it didn’t come with a card. But I hold it filled with hope and anticipation. The future continues to beckon to me. I know there will be ups. I know there will be downs. But I know that my siddur can always help me find expression for both the good times and the sad times.

We are about to embark on a journey together. If my siddur could talk, I wonder what it would say.

Beach Lessons

A few summers ago a friend called me up with what I thought was a preposterous idea. She wanted me to take a morning off and go with her to the beach. My morning schedule rose before my eyes. After the kids are off I need to clean up the bedrooms, clear up from breakfast, wash laundry, take care of some bills and phone calls, run a few errands, start preparing supper, etc.

For me it simply made no sense. There was no way I could just take a morning off. And then I stopped myself and thought it over. I work hard. Each day is a full day, centered on my family and their needs. Isn’t it okay to take some time for myself?

Suddenly I had visions of a beautiful sunny sky. Sparkling blue water and waves crashing at the shore. And I would be there by myself. At a private beach. With just myself and my friend.  No children going too far out, no toddler moaning because of an overturned sand castle and no baby crying for his bottle. This would be a vacation for me. A onetime, three-hour vacation. I decided to go for it.

And so the next morning I waved a cheery goodbye to my older children, dropped off the younger ones, and then I was ready for my well-deserved break. I quickly threw together my bathing cap, towel and water bottle, and we were off.

I felt like a young child as we parked the car and ran into the sand. It felt delicious to have the warm sand between our toes. We laughed and giggled as we came closer to the water. And like carefree children we shrieked in delight as we jumped into the crashing waves.

At first I felt a little intimidated by those large waves and hung back closer to the shore. I watched and admired my friend’s fearlessness as she gracefully jumped into each wave. Determined to make the most of my well-deserved break, I caught up to her and commented on her bravery for jumping into these large roaring waves. She laughingly replied that there is no need to fear; you just have to decide if you will let the wave ride you or if you will ride the wave. And then she jumped right into the oncoming wave.

For me the light moment suddenly took a more serious turn. How right she was. But not just about the waves in the ocean – also about the waves in our lives. We all have those bad days, those difficult moments and painful revelations.  It is so easy to sink into self-pity; it’s so easy to moan and groan about life’s unfairness. But it’s at such moments that we have to take an honest look at ourselves and ask, “What does Hashem want from me now?” It is at moments like these that we must draw strength from our realization that everything is from Hashem. If we trust in Him and do what we know He wants us to do, then we are not letting life’s waves ride us, but rather, we are riding the waves.

In between bobbing in and out of the waves I shared this thought with my friend. Before she could respond she went back down and under that strong, strong surf, only to resurface a moment later.

When she came up again, she laughingly said, “You see? At times you think you are going under, but you always come right back up.”

How true! Don’t we all feel like we are drowning sometimes? Aren’t we all familiar with that feeling of suffocation when painful waves of challenge overcome us? But as believing Jews, we are resilient. As long as we look inward, we are riding the waves, and we will come back up.

We continued frolicking in the ocean a little longer. We then came out and lay under the sun’s warm rays. We were peacefully relaxing as the seagulls flew around us, and once again I thought of Hashem’s strength. Only nine months before, Hurricane Sandy had rolled in, and these waves had turned ferocious, destroying almost everything in their path. Today the beach was a safe place to be. Today the sun was shining and beautiful. But Hashem could have just as easily made the weather cloudy and rainy, keeping us indoors. It really is true. We need to draw strength from Him because He can make anything happen. He can change difficult situations instantly.

We got home, and I went straight back to the mundane. But I felt light and invigorated. This vacation had done me good – in more ways than one.

When the Wind Blows

We all go through challenging times. It is usually during these times that we start seeking out Hashem in a more intense way.  Here are some thoughts I had a while back when there was a lot going on in my life.

I was walking outside with my daughter who was a toddler. She was running ahead and giggling. Suddenly there came a strong gust of wind. She fearfully ran to me and held out her hands. I picked her up, and she wrapped her hands and feet tightly around me. When the next gust came she buried her head in my shoulder. The wind continued, but to her it no longer mattered. My daughter’s world was safe. She was protected by her mother.

This started me wondering. I know that as much as I love my child, Hashem loves me more. But many times the winds of challenge have blown through my life. Whom can I wrap myself around? And if the challenges grow stronger, into whom can I bury my head? Shouldn’t it be Hashem?

My daughter likes to stand on the third to bottom step of our staircase. She throws herself down into my outstretched arms. She isn’t fearful that I might miss. She has enough confidence in my love for her to know that I will catch her. I would never let her fall.

And so I realized Hashem is here for me. His arms are outstretched. He isn’t letting me fall. He is constantly catching me. But it is up to me to realize it.

I came into the parking lot. I was in a rush. I was hoping to find a spot in this overly crowded lot. I had a choice to turn left or right. For some reason I chose the right. Just as I was reaching the end of the lot, the last car in the section pulled out. I felt as if Hashem was saving this spot just for me.

I went to the grocery store early in the day. I bought some frozen food to make for supper that night. I had the store deliver my order to me. Usually it comes quickly. On this day they were backlogged. My children were coming home from school, and they always come home starving. My order hadn’t arrived, and I was stuck. I turned to Hashem and said, “Hashem I need my delivery to feed my hungry children after a long day of school.” Right then there was a knock on the door. My children’s supper had arrived. Hashem was listening to my requests.

On a typical day while driving around town, I was stopped by the police. Unbeknownst to me, my registration had expired. They insisted on towing my car. An ehrliche man who just happened to be in the area at the time was watching all the proceedings. He came over to me and offered to drive me home. Hashem didn’t leave me stranded.

I was nervous about an unexpected expense that came up. I wasn’t sure how to pay for it, and yet I knew it was something that could not be ignored. Feeling very frazzled, I went to bring in my mail. That day we received a check from the insurance that was completely unexpected.

 

I won’t ever know for sure why the winds of challenge have to blow through my life. But I do have to know that I can wrap myself around Hashem and bury my head into him. He is here to catch me. If my eyes are open to it I will find Hashem in my life all day, every day.

My daughter (and all my children) can continue to run to me for protection. Whether it’s the wind and rain or anything else that scares her, I will pick her up and make her feel safe. And I will know that just as I am taking care of my precious little girl, Hashem is taking of me.