Category Archives: Lessons From My Parents

A Wave from Above

It’s my nature. If I have questions I have to ask. This became a very important tool for me to help me get through difficult times. I have called so many different rabbonim and speakers to ask them questions on something they said or wrote. My family would laugh at me when I would report back and say, “This time I called Rabbi…” But I really find that it helps – a little more understanding on difficult subjects helps me to get through difficult challenges.
In the previous Links magazine, Rabbi Henoch Plotnick wrote an article. No surprises that I had questions after reading the article. And this time I was fortunate that his number was written right there under his article. That made it really easy to call.
So I dialed his number and told him my name and maiden name; we do have a mutual connection, so that took away some of the awkwardness. I began by telling him that I have questions about the following part of his article:
I once found myself being menachem avel a father who lost his teenage son to leukemia. In such a circumstance, one is often better off saying nothing. However, the broken father begged me to say something, anything! I shared with him a ma’amar Chazal…with Hashem putting the words into my mouth. The Gemara related that when a parent loses a child, r”l, any evil decrees against the parents are ripped up, as the deceased child enters the next world and pleads, “How could you give them retribution in the Next World if you have already given them such torture In this world?” I simply shared with this emotionally pained father that his yissurim were not without purpose or benefit. They might be his ticket to Olam Haba.
Rabbi Plotnick then goes on to relate that after the shivah he heard that this tanchum resonated a lot because the father understood that his tzaros had value. There was something in it for him.
I questioned him about the Chazal that when a parent loses a child, any evil decree is ripped up. My family continued to have a lot of suffering after my brother died and again after my sister died. So what does that Gemara mean? Of course, there isn’t any real answer because we don’t know much down here, but we spoke about the hashkafos of emunah and discussed stories of tzaddikim accepting their yessurim.
During the conversation, I stated that I wish I could have one dream or one conversation with one of the family members of mine who was niftar. I want to hear that they have insight into what happened and how it all makes so much sense. And even more, I want to hear that they are all doing well and are very happy up there.
Maybe one day I’ll be zoche to that.
As we were wrapping up the conversation, Rabbi Plotnick said to me, “I’ll tell you a secret. The conversation I had with that grieving father – that was with your father. Not only that, but I repeat it all the time to grieving parents and they are mechazeik from it. And each time it gives chizzuk, your father and brother have an aliyah.”
I got the goosebumps. A conversation that my father had many years ago is still out there. It is still being talked about and written about, and it even came my way to help comfort me. Was this my daddy throwing me down a, “Hello, I’m still connected to you”?
This conversation took place on כח ניסן, during the early evening hours. My father’s yahrtzeit is onכט ניסן . We were just an hour or two away from the yahrtzeit.
No, I still didn’t have that dream. But as I approached this hard day for me, I was remembering my father’s wave. And I think he was telling me, “We are okay, and it all makes sense.”
May his neshamah have many continued aliyahs.

This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here with permission.

Do I Live in La-La Land

 

248-968-8072.This was my phone number. For years. It was the number that I learned when I was old enough to learn about phone numbers. It was the number I gave out to my friends to call me. It was the number I called when I was in camp and seminary, and I needed to hear my parents’ voices. It was the number I called after I got married just to say hello, to ask for a recipe or to shmuess. It was the number I continued to call after my mother became a widow, and it was the number I called to see how she was doing when she was sick.
After my mother died there was no reason to call that number anymore. There would be no family members of mine answering the phone. So you might think me a little nuts, but I called it anyway. Sometimes it was because I needed to talk to my mother so badly that I simply had to call, even though logically I knew it made no sense; even though it went straight to the operator, who informed me, “This number is not in service,” I talked anyway. “Hi, Ma. So I really needed to talk to you and tell you what happened today….” And that annoying operator talked straight through my conversations.
Sometimes I had to call to see if that number had been appropriated to someone else. Because that number belongs to my family. And woe to anyone who might claim that number as their own. I will call that person and harass them. I will tell them that this is really my number. I will explain to them that this number belongs to me and my family, and I will beg them to ask the phone company for a new number. Okay, honestly, I wouldn’t do any of that stuff. What would I really do? I would probably call my sisters, and we would be sad together.
As time goes on, I do call less and less. So it was rather surprising when the other day I had that urge to call my mother. I went to the phone and started dialing. 248-96 and my finger almost pressed the 7 not the 8! That would be the number to my aunt, to whom I speak frequently. I couldn’t believe it. Is her number becoming more familiar to me then my own old number? I always dialed it by rote. I didn’t really think about it. Has “my rote” changed? The thought was sharply painful for me.
Then my brain kicked in. I thought, “What is rote?” Rote is doing something over and over again without even thinking about it. It is okay if the number I dialed by rote had changed. It isn’t a significant action that must be done with thought. I had to re-orient myself for a minute to put things in the proper perspective.
On the other hand, there are many things that must be done with thought that can so easily become rote. Davening, saying berachos, the way I talk, following clothing trends…. But dialing a phone number can become habit or not. It’s not important.
While driving the other day, the song והערב נא began playing. Every time I hear it touches something in me. As a mother of boys, I have my hopes.
I want my children to grow up to be those perfect adults. Adept at handling all of life’s challenges. Proficient in halachah. Capable in whichever area they work. The kindest husbands and the perfect fathers. Of course, I hope that regardless of the path they take, they become talmidei chachamim, ehrliche Yidden, true ovdei Hashem and big yerei Shamayim. In a word, I want them to be perfect.
With yeshivah and school now starting, my dreams have been reawakened. What will this year bring? Will this year’s rebbi be a good match for my child? Will it go smoothly or will there be many challenges? Each child is so different. But will this be the year that each one will reach that level of absolute perfection?
Do I live in La-La Land?
I know that there is no such thing as a perfect person. Even in my own children, perfection doesn’t exist. But how I hope that amongst the imperfections there will be ehrlichkeit, yiras Shamayim and ahavas Yisrael. Is there something that I can do to help make it happen? And can the answer please be an easy one?
The truth is, I don’t live in La-La Land. I know that there is no easy answer. The answer is about me, and it is truly a hard one. It is to teach by example. Live the way I want my children to be. Am I a good example? Is my life like dialing a deeply ingrained phone number? Do my days follow one another without much thought? Do I do everything out of habit, without any hislahavus?
We pass so much of who we are on to our children.
So I got thinking: “What have I learned from my parents and grandparents, and am I passing it down to my children?”
Some of the lessons that I learned from my father, and his father, are about staying on the straight and narrow path in all areas of halachah. I learned about honesty and integrity at all costs. I saw the importance of having a set time for learning and keeping to it, no matter what. I learned about having a close connection a rav or a rebbe.
And from my mother and her mother, I learned about tznius, vatranus and concern for others. I learned about the middah of giving and loving your family. And my mother showed us what chesed is. Quietly helping out others. I saw her working on her faith when facing crisis and remaining upbeat during challenging times.
There is a tapestry woven full of messages and morals for me. I have so many ways to make sure that I go through my day while being aware of what I am doing and making the day count.
Incorporating these lessons into my life on a daily basis will trickle down to my children. I know that this is what will help my children grow up to be, if not perfect people, true yirei Shamayim.

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.

Roundtable Night

A while back, my daughter’s school had a roundtable discussion with the mothers. There was a panel of teachers, and each teacher had a turn to answer a submitted question. The answers sparked a lot of back and forth between the mothers and the teachers.
I looked around, and I saw realness. I heard sincerity. I felt earnestness. Regardless of our differences we all want the same thing. To raise our children to be ehrliche, ovdei Hashem. And oftentimes we feel confused about how to reach this goal.
Thinking about this, the word mesorah came to mind. We each have our own mesorah from our parents and grandparents that we want to hand down to our children. I have my own personal mesorah, just as each mother sitting in that room has hers.
It might be from a Bubby, Babbi, Oma or Grandma. But all of us mothers are connected by the desire to pass down our personal mesorahs. We might come to a roundtable event, call a teacher or seek out the advice of a rav to guide us. But we mothers have the power. Through actions more than words we can help our children be the best they can possibly be. That night as I looked around I realized our capabilities and our desires to continue to pass down what we have from our ancestors.
Which brings me to my own grandmother.
Recently my grandmother was niftar. Following her petirah, I was flooded with childhood memories. I remember going to her house for yamim tovim and spending time with all the cousins. I can picture her peeling apples on chol hamoed Pesach, giving my mother a list for the grocery store and putting on her tasteful jewelry on a yom-tov morning.
I can feel the excitement when we knew my grandparents were coming, loaded up with gifts for a two-week visit. I can see them sitting at our table eating supper and them taking their daily walks. I can picture my grandmother making her Hungarian gefilte fish in my mother’s kitchen and baking her heavenly kokosh cake.
My grandmother was very quiet. She kept to herself, always a little bit on the sidelines. Perhaps her quiet nature and unobtrusive way of getting things done speaks louder than any words.
After her petirah I turned to my aunts and uncle and asked them to tell me more about my Babbi. She was eighteen years old, the youngest of ten children, when the Nazis stormed her village and deported her to Auschwitz. She lost her father, stepmother, six siblings, six sisters- and brothers-in-law and many nieces and nephews. While two of her remaining siblings went to live in Eretz Yisrael, she decided to follow her older sister to America. And so this quiet woman came to a new country, leaving behind what was once familiar and had been shattered.
She came to this strange country after growing up in a small shtetl on a farm. Her father was a tremendous talmid chacham and a Belzer chassid who ardently followed the Rebbe and spent the Yomim Nora’im with him.
My grandfather, on the other hand, was from Czechoslovakia. He grew up in a more cultured, bustling city. He was an Oberlander, with very different minhagim from the Chassidim.
Before the war a shidduch with a Hungarian farm girl would have been laughable.
But he also came to America after losing his whole family in the war. He had harrowing experiences and was ready to rebuild. I don’t know who their shadchan was, but together they were ready to start rebuilding.
Coming as they were from two totally different backgrounds, one would have thought they would disagree over minhagim, each wanting to continue what they had learned from their own parents. But my grandmother was 100% mevater. As far as anyone knows (aside from not eating gebrokts), she never once said, “But my father, a tremendous talmid chacham, did it this way.” She knew that to have shalom she would need to accept her new husband’s ways. And she did.
I think it is safe to say that vatranus was what defined her. She was happy to give anything to anyone. She just needed to know that those around her were content. Even as she lay on her deathbed, she worried about each person who came in. Are they hungry? Do they have a place to sleep? She couldn’t relax until she knew that her guests were well taken care of.
The lessons we learned from her are precious. She taught us how to find our inner strength and to carry on despite the struggles we might have. She taught us how to live in the moment and appreciate what we have. She taught us to quietly get things done, to make sure everyone feels good and not to make problems where none exist. She taught us about being machsihiv Torah. She would never stop or disturb my grandfather from learning. Whatever was going on could always wait until Zayde was finished.
As I mentioned, Babbi stayed on the sidelines. We knew where we could find her, but she didn’t need to be noticed. I always wanted to know more about her. What was her life like growing up in the shtetl? What were her war experiences? How did she come to America? What was it like to get married with the only family in attendance at her wedding her older sister? But she wasn’t a talker. It was hard to get her to share. And besides, there was always next time to ask.
There is no next time anymore. Babbi left this world and with her went all her memories and all her experiences. But my dignified Babbi gave over so much to us. Not with words but through actions.
It’s her actions that left indelible impressions on her progeny.
I saw this from my mother, her daughter. My mother experienced so much suffering. But she was always ready to continue onward. She never let herself get sucked into self-pity. She never let her suffering stop her from being there for others, and she appreciated the positive moments amidst the suffering.
All this is part of my mesorah, and I want to pass it down. The mother sitting next to me that night might have learned other things from her parents and grandparents. But we all have similar goals: to pass down to our children what our ancestors held dear.

 

A Mother’s Love

 

Oftentimes, I wish I could think of just the right word; sometimes it seems to be on the tip of my tongue, but instead I stammer and stutter my way through my thought, hoping that I am getting my point across in some way.

I had such an experience with a friend who doesn’t have a very good relationship with her mother. In addition, her mother is not frum, which probably aggravates the situation even more. I was telling her how I wanted my mother’s opinion on something. I obviously couldn’t get it from my mother, so I got it from a friend instead. But really, I was longing for my mother’s input. She couldn’t understand what I needed my mother for. What was it that my mother could have offered me that friends and family couldn’t?  I tried to explain what the relationship with my mother was like. I tried to explain the connection that we had. But she couldn’t get it. I stuttered and stumbled and groped and grappled for the right words to explain the unexplainable.

It then became a mission. I felt I must get that point across. What is a mother’s love? How strong can a mother-daughter connection be? The feelings are so strong. The words must be out there somewhere. But I couldn’t find them.

I didn’t give up. At the risk of the friends in my group chat thinking I had really gone nuts, I sent out a text asking if anyone could define a mother’s love. The answers weren’t long in coming: unconditional, a natural connection, love earned just because of being born, irreplaceable, love without strings attached.

Maybe it’s all true. But it is also all cliché. And I needed to explain the connection I had with my mother in real words. I needed to define that indefinable love.

And so I turned it around. I asked myself how I would describe the love I have for my children.  The question almost took my breath away. The love is so deep that my heart starts to hurt. I want to protect and shield them from all pain. I just want everything to be perfect for them.

I also felt confused thinking about the question because I realized that I want perfection for them in ways that don’t even make sense. I want to hug them so tightly and never let go, but I want to teach them independence. I want to make all the right choices for them, but I want to teach them to make their own responsible decisions. I want to defend them fiercely, but I want to teach them to take responsibility. I want to teach them the fine line between self-respect and anivus. I want to teach them to care for others but not to be stepped upon. I want to nurture them with love and encourage them with positivity. I want to cultivate our values and foster our connection. My love is so absolute that it transcends logic.

I know that is how my mother felt toward me.

That “transcending-logic love” made her care about all the small things in my life that no one else would care about. It made her take interest in me and my family in areas that no one else would have interest in. The love made the unimportant important to her. It made the insignificant news significant to her.

And the best friend and the closest aunt can’t replace that.

I had a gift that my friend isn’t fortunate enough to have. It is the gift of real maternal affection. Now, how can I describe this indescribable gift? How can I explain my unexplainable loss?

I went online and searched for that right word. I googled definitions but couldn’t find anything. After a long while I found a word that tugged at me. The word is ineffable. The definition is indescribableinexpressible, beyond words, beyond description, begging description.

I have been searching and searching for that perfect word – for that word that can define what I had with my mother. And I found it!  But I have come full circle. Because the word ineffable has taught me that I will not find that right word. It doesn’t exist. And simply said, that is what I had with my mother. Something that is indescribable.

Perhaps my friend has a better vocabulary than me. Maybe she is familiar with this word. But if not, I will teach it to her.

I can tell her that that the reason I wanted my mother’s opinion is because of our ineffable relationship. It was something that I can never put into words. And that is the person whose opinion has the most value to me. I know I am fortunate that this was our relationship.

But I miss it.

If I Were Dr. Seuss

 

If I was Dr. Seuss, my latest book might sound like this:  I miss my parents every day, I always miss them in every way. I miss them when I’m here, and I miss them when I’m there. I miss them when I’m feeling sad, I miss them when I’m feeling glad. Do you miss them also? Do you, can you feel my pain? I miss them when it’s simchah-time, and I miss them when it’s yom-tov time.

The words “yom-tov time” hit me with a jolt.  I want to have what I once had and for my family to be the way it once was. And there is nothing like a yom-tov season to bring up those feelings. I will never again experience yom tov at my parents’ house: the early mornings where we bleary-eyed sisters sauntered into the kitchen with our energetic toddlers are no more. Those long coffee shmuesses and the leibedike yom-tov meals won’t happen anymore. No more yom-tov afternoon walks in my parents’ neighborhood or the blissfully quiet, late-night, adult-only seudahs.

I miss the unique feel and flavor, smells and sights of each yom-tov I experienced in my parents’ home. By nature I am a sentimental person. I always look back at days gone by with nostalgia – and life doesn’t stand still. People and circumstances are constantly changing. But the forced change came too early to my family. Death happened to people who were so young, heightening my feelings of longing for what once was.

Yet the memories that I have provide a strong basis for me of what I would like to pass down to my children. I want my children to enjoy family the way I enjoyed it. I want my children to enjoy talking, laughing and singing zemiros together. I want my children to want to come back home with their families, to enjoy the flavors and smells that are part of their childhood.

Hashem has given me a lot of berachah in my life. I won’t let the sadness and pain cause me to forget that.  I have a wonderful legacy to pass down that can’t get lost in the grief. I want to give my own children the gift of what I once had. It won’t be the same. It can’t be the same. We are different people. We are creating our own dynamics. And so our own unique approach to life, interwoven with my parents’ legacy, can be beautiful and special.

Their legacy is one of simchas hachayim. Despite the challenges they grappled with, my parents’ home was a joyful place, where laughter was constantly heard. And yom-tov time brought a lot of that. The ruchniyus and gashmiyus mixed together to create joyful, meaningful experiences.

My parents had true nachas from their family. They loved yom tov, when we would spend time together, enjoying divrei Torah interspersed with wit and humor. Every year on the first night of Sukkos my father would declare that our sukkah was the nicest in the neighborhood, and we all laughed. We laughed at the repetitiveness of his annual remarks, and we laughed because our sukkah was absolutely not the nicest. My father saw a sukkah that he built with my brother and decorated with my younger sister’s school-made projects. My father saw that for the next eight days he would enjoy family seudahs in this sukkah. He saw the night meals where we would talk and relax and the day meals where a bunch of screaming girls would run away from the bees. And to him that meant we had the nicest sukkah.

Pesach brought similar feelings. My father took great pride in our Seder table. The Sedarim that we shared with both sets of grandparents made it extra-special. My grandfather, a survivor of the Holocaust, relived the miracles of his life, sharing his appreciation for his personal cheirus with us. My mother basked in joy as she listened to her father speak, repeating to us children what we didn’t understand. I was the first to get married, but I was never ready to stop coming home. Because when there were four generations sitting at a Seder table, I knew I was experiencing something unique and exhilarating.

I’m not Dr. Seuss. I never will be. But in my own language I can say, “I will always miss my parents, especially at yom-tov time.”

I hope that as my children marry and move on, they will also want to come running back for more, sharing and describing to their children our family minhagim, jokes, zemiros – our own legacy, which I am passing down as a continuation of what my parents and grandparents created and passed on to me. And then I will really feel and know that my parents’ memory continues to live on.

Ordinary People

 

I grew up in the shadow of ordinary, thinking that my family name was that of plain, ordinary people. My parents were average people living ordinary lives. Or so I thought.

Because of the small size of the small town that I grew up in, my family was well known. But when asked what my last name was, I never felt pride saying it. After all we were just a regular, ordinary family.

And then one night my ordinary father had a massive heart attack and died instantly. My ordinary mother was very sick at the time. But determined to live, she battled her disease with all her energy until she succumbed to it shortly thereafter.

These weren’t just my family’s tragedies but the city’s tragedy. And so the house filled up in the morning with all the comforters, only emptying late at night. People had a lot to say about my seemingly ordinary parents.

One theme I heard over and over again was how lucky I was to have such warm memories. Each time I heard these words I wanted to scream, “Don’t you know that my father is too young to be a memory?” I don’t want the memories – I want him. I want them.

Today I am proud of my seemingly ordinary parents. Today I know that they led noble lives in an extraordinary way.

They were quiet people who did what needed to be done without any fanfare. This included fulfilling the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim. I was already a teen when I realized that they went to extraordinary lengths to do what needed to be done for their parents.

I can’t tell you how they did it. My father’s humor and my mother’s candor complemented each other perfectly, creating an atmosphere that had people feeling very comfortable in our house. I am left aspiring to be like them, but at a loss as to how to emulate them.

Doing small little extras was so much part of my mother that she never realized how much she did for people. She was constantly on the go, helping out in small ways and never thinking of herself as a person involved in doing extra chassadim.

Together they worked on forgiveness. When my father was badly hurt by a business partner, they worked on forgiving. If something offensive was said, my parents brushed it off, assuming that the person didn’t mean to hurt them.

Forgiveness was part of them because they were so humble. They never looked at themselves as better than others, never feeling that they deserved any honor. When they helped out someone needier, they never felt better than them. They simply did what was necessary.

My parents’ aspiration was to find the truth. They weren’t followers. They did what was right for them, regardless of what people all around them were doing.

But they were tested. Again and again. Would the middos of kibbud av va’eim, chessed, anivus and vatranus help them pull through the most difficult tests?

We got a glimpse of a new side of my parents. We learned that during the most difficult times, when we might want to run away from life, we must seek out Hashem and connect with Him.

Don’t run. Rather Examine, Search, Look, Pursue.

They looked and examined themselves .They searched for Hashem, pursued him and forged a strong a relationship with Him.

I have a vision of a tall ladder. I don’t know which rung my parents started out on. But they climbed it. Rung by rung. Higher and higher until they reached the very top. And I know that their emunah in Hashem was unwavering.

My parents had numerous struggles with parnassah. No matter how hard my father worked, the financial challenges kept on coming. I look back at their simchas hachayim, and I wonder where they got the strength to put aside their fears and anxieties, maintaining their shalom bayis and creating a calm atmosphere.

I see that this is how they lived. They examined themselves and pursued a relationship with Hashem.

It was at a routine well visit that they found out that their eighteen-month-old son was very sick. Suddenly they were thrown into a horrible nightmare. Cancer wards, survival percentages, chemo and transfusions became their language.

How did they continue exuding simchas hachayim?

Again I see that this was how they lived. They searched for Hashem and attached themselves to Him.

My brother’s bar mitzvah was a real milestone. My father gave heartfelt shevach v’hoda’ah to Hashem. But it was only a few months later when once again they were tested. The leukemia came back.

This time my brother didn’t survive. My parents lost their only son. And they still continued to maintain their simchah. They continued to search for Hashem knowing that only clinging to Him would help them deal with their tremendous pain.

A few years later they once again had to deal with illness. This time it was with my sister. It was also with my mother. They were each diagnosed with cancer in the same week.

But my parents continued to climb that ladder. Rung by rung. Searching for Hashem. The rung of self-examination to the rung of attaching themselves to Hashem. The rung of looking inward to themselves to the rung of becoming closer to Hashem.

And in reaching the top, they were omeid b’nisayon, reaching an exalted level of emunah.

That emunah brought them shleimus in their avodas Hashem.

It is not possible to be omeid b’nisayon and still be ordinary.

I look back at my growing-up years. My family name was well known. But I was too immature to feel any pride in who I was. My parents gave us so many special memories to hold on to. But I was too young to appreciate what they were creating for us.

I now realize that my parents were ordinary people….but their lives were extraordinary.   They were two ordinary people who struggled with their tremendous nisyonos in an extraordinary manner, growing together, achieving greatness on their journey to meet the King. And these two ordinary people, reaching exalted levels of bitachon, met their Creator in an extraordinary manner, with a song of emunah on their lips and simchas olam al rosham.

Today I want to shout out for everyone to hear, “Yes, I grew up in a special home, and I am grateful for all the wonderful memories I have. I am proud of where I come from. I am proud of my family name.”

My Mother’s Yahrtzeit

My Mother’s Yahrtzeit

I was about to leave to the grocery store when the phone rang. It was my mother. My stomach dropped. She didn’t sound good. “Mommy,” I said, full of concern, “what is going on?”

She answered, “I just spoke to the doctor. The results just came in. There is cancer all over my body. He is willing to try to treat it, but from a medical viewpoint I don’t have too much time.”

MY mother’s yartzheit is coming up. And the memory of that conversation sits heavy on my shoulders. So many memories from that summer sit heavy on my shoulders.

Most people remember Hurricane Sandy and all the destruction it caused; I remember Hurricane Irene and how sick my mother was. We lost our power, and it took a few days to have it restored. But all I could think about was keeping my cellphone charged. I couldn’t lose touch with my mother.

As the summer was ending, her health was deteriorating. I have memories of speaking to my sisters and my aunts. We had to make sure that someone was there with her. She was so weak. Although she didn’t want to admit it, we knew we couldn’t leave her alone.

The school year was starting. As a teacher I felt irresponsible not to be there on the first day of school. The turmoil raged inside of me; it attacked me fiercely and mercilessly with self-doubt about where I belonged.

Friday afternoon I knew the answer. My mother needed me. My class would have to be okay with a substitute. That Shabbos, as I watched my children in the park, many neighbors asked me if I was all ready to start the year. I smiled and said yes. But my stomach was in knots. I didn’t tell them that I would be flying out of town to be with my very sick mother.

As Rosh Hashanah approached, my mother was fearful. She obviously couldn’t travel to be with any of her children. She knew how difficult it was for any of us to come to her for Rosh Hashanah and again for Sukkos. She kept asking, “What will I do? How can I do this yom tov alone?” Each time I repeated the same thing: “Ma, don’t worry. Something will work out. We won’t leave you alone.”

She didn’t have to worry – because on Rosh Hashanah she wasn’t here anymore. And I was left with a big gaping hole and a heartache so huge.

As her yahrtzeit approaches, I would like to talk about her, and I hope it will bring an aliyah to her neshamah.

When I got married I thought I would need my mother less, but instead I realized how much more I needed her. A new husband, a miscarriage, cooking suppers, a hard pregnancy, grocery shopping and a newborn were just a few of the many times when I turned to her. She was always there for me yet never overstepping her boundaries and coming too often.

She was a very engaged bubby. She had a really special phone relationship with my oldest son. She knew what each child liked and disliked. And if a child was sick, she made sure to ask about him or her until he or she was better.

She understood the importance of being there for her community. She took on many projects for the community, never thinking that she was doing anything out of the ordinary. She always seemed to be doing small favors for people, not even realizing that what she was doing were considered favors.

She created a happy environment in her house. It was an easy place to be. Throughout the years there were many people who enjoyed hanging out there. She always had time to listen to people, advising them if that was what they wanted; she had an uncanny way of seeing the full picture and pointing out facts to others that they didn’t see themselves. She also had a special way of calming down anxious people.

She had a lot of kibbud av v’eim for her parents. When she first got married, long-distance calls were a big deal, so she and they set a schedule. She called her parents on Motzei Shabbos, and they called her on Wednesday night. This schedule lasted until she was nifteres. As she got busier, she didn’t forget. If she knew she would be out on Wednesday night, she made sure to tell them. When they came to visit, she took such good care of them, happy to do whatever it was that they needed. As she watched her parents growing older, it bothered her so much that she wasn’t there to do her part together with her siblings to meet their needs.

She lost a son, a husband and a daughter. But she held on tightly to her faith. She never let go, no matter how strong the pain. As the Mashgiach of the yeshivah said: “I learn the Ani Ma’amins; she lived the Ani Ma’amins.”

I have a message on my voicemail. It’s from August 6, 2011. It’s from my mother. She says, “Hi, Miriam. Nothing important. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

But so many tomorrows have passed. And I cannot speak to her. I know that this year she isn’t worried about Rosh Hashanah. As she sit on high in a better world, I hope and daven that she can be a meilitz yosher for my family and all of Klal Yisroel that it should be a simchadik year and that we should be zoche to the geulah Sheleimah.