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Posts tagged ‘Funerals’

Kaddish

“These are people who were killed because they were Jewish, they are bodies of holy martyrs.”
—Rabbi Daniel Wasserman

Words do not come. A leaden ball occupies my lower half; a river of ice runs within. My hometown community suffered a loss that is larger than the holy souls whose lives were ripped from them as they worshipped. This wasn’t supposed to happen here, not here, in America. But this is not about me; rather, it is about my people, my town, my tribe, my family. It’s personal.

Despite the all-too-familiar terror attacks in Israel—Ari Fuld, Ziv Hajbi, and Kim Levengrond Yehezkel murdered within the past six weeks; despite the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher murders in France; despite the shooting attacks at Jewish Community Centers—Los Angeles and Overland Park, Kansas;  despite attacks on Jews individually and collectively worldwide, this was not supposed to happen here. Certainly not in my town, on the streets where I walked, in a shul (synagogue) where I have been, the spiritual home of many people who I know. It’s not about me but it’s personal.

Pittsburgh: Stronger than hate

Pittsburgh: Stronger than hate

The synagogue shooting on Saturday, October 27th occurred on the 18th of the “bitter” month of Cheshvan, or MarCheshvan on the Jewish calendar. The month is characterized as being bitter because it has no holidays. Now it has 11 more yahrzeits, death anniversaries. A madman targeted Jews, came into our place of worship, and murdered 11 people, wounded 6 more, including brave responders from the Pittsburgh Police.

My uncle, who was a hidden child in Holland during the Holocaust said, “It feels a bit [like] when I was 7 or 8 and people disappeared and you did not know whether [they were] picked up or in hiding or what.” You simply did not know.

We awaited the names of the deceased, and as they were released on Sunday morning, we sighed and cried whether we knew them or not. Our family members were on that list; everyone I know knows someone who knew someone…. It’s not about me but it’s personal.

The first of the funerals are today. It is Jewish custom to bury the dead as soon as possible, but it was not possible in this situation; the funerals will continue through the week. I know the pain of the waiting—it is tense and confusing to those of us accustomed to quick burial. We Jews do not have wakes, our dead do not lie in front of us. Not usually, but this situation is beyond unusual. People are planning to arrive from all over to mourn with the bereaved families. However, my synagogue emailed a funeral notice with a request that only close friends and family attend shiva (the seven-day period after burial where people visit the bereaved to offer condolences and support). We all want to mourn together but we must respect the privacy of the families.

At the graveside, the kaddish prayer will be recited by the mourners. “Glorified and sanctified be G-d’s great name throughout the world…” it starts.  The ending is a call for peace, “May He Who makes peace in His heavens make peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.” Kaddish affirms the existence of a Creator and extolls Him. No mention of death or loss are contained in the ancient Aramaic words. It has always given me pause: in the moment of our deepest grief we raise our voices to G-d, to Whom else can we turn?

I’m having a hard time not reading the news, like I’ll hear something new, some detail that will help make sense of the shootings. We’re all talking about it: Pittsburgh, gun control, mental health; hate sites; online forums; Israel; safety; what to do. Glued to the radio, the streaming media, video clips, Facebook—I must consciously disconnect. My sense of safety and surety shivers in horror. What next? How? The questions keep coming. It’s not about me but it’s personal.

I pledge to make my corner of the world a place where light rules, and not the darkness. Do a mitzvah. Do many mitzvahs. I am Pittsburgh, but more so, I am a Jew. Let light reign.

  • Joyce Fienberg, 75
  • Richard Gottfried, 65
  • Rose Mallinger, 97
  • Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
  • brothers Cecil, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54
  • husband and wife, Sylvan, 86, and Bernice Simon, 84
  • Daniel Stein, 71
  • Melvin Wax, 88
  • Irving Younger, 69

They were murdered for the crime of being Jews. It’s not about me but it’s personal. I’m a Jew.

Hashem yinkom damam, “May G-d avenge their blood.”

Happiness is My Choice, 4

I attended a funeral last week. Yesterday I attended a wedding. The circle of life constantly wheels around.

Sublime Happiness - the Bride at Her Wedding

Sublime Happiness – the Bride at Her Wedding

A woman from my congregation passed away, the first person I actually knew since I’ve moved to NYC who died. Her death occupied my mind after I learned of it. She wasn’t particularly young, but she didn’t seem quite old. I spoke to her at a congregational function a few weeks ago, just a few words, and didn’t remark that she looked ill or odd. No death touches nobody; this one touched quite a few. A wooden barrier closed the street to traffic.  Mourners lined the street and sidewalks outside the synagogue as short eulogies were spoken into a microphone by the rabbi and one of her sons. As is our tradition, we followed the hearse, walking a way with it, accompanying the deceased for her honor. Though not very overcast or cold, a mood-swallowing chill engulfed the participants. No laughter, just a smattering of voices, most were silent or reciting psalms while escorting her as far as we could walk.

This lady, her son recalled, dedicated her life to making people happy.  She followed a directive of the former Rav1 of the community, Rabbi Shimon Schwab. When you are walking on the avenue and see a woman, compliment her on her outfit, say something nice and brighten her day was the gist of the message. The son also requested from the crowd that everyone consider honoring his mother’s memory by taking on one mitzvah/positive deed. Smile at someone once a day. Say psalms. Do a kindness for someone.

How wonderful a concept: remembrance through deeds and positive actions. I can choose to create peace and harmony in my corner of the world. I can commemorate a life well-led and carry on her good deeds. Every time I have a good word for someone else, I send a blessing. A smile, a thoughtful gesture, a small courtesy may not take much time or mean much to me… but it could make a whole lot of difference to someone else.

I can choose to be a better person and get over hurts and slights, move on from difficulties, aim my efforts to improve the situation wherever I am.

Yesterday I danced at a wedding! I hugged and laughed and dabbed at my eyes which filled with tears of joy.

I watched the proceedings with my own personal blessings on my lips: wishing the young couple a happy, harmonious life, a long marital bond.  I sat amongst friends, relatives, people I’ve seen before and those I’ve never seen and may never see again. I reveled in their happiness, delighted in the pleasure of the parents, friends, and relatives. A new start, a bright new future as this couple forges a permanent bond.  How special! What a difference from the experience of last week.

Sure, I can focus on the bittersweet: the ones who are not here, the ones who cannot be here, the ones who are not yet married or engaged, the ones who yearn to be so. But now is for the present. Keeping in the present keeps me grounded, not guessing about the future or lamenting the past.  I choose to live in the moment and let my heart soar.

Flowers at a wedding.

Flowers at a wedding.

My philosophy is simple: Happiness is my choice, and I can frame my experience through happy eyes… or choose to see the world as impoverished, mundane, gray and something to be muddled through. I am not the progenitor of this philosophy; I only claim the role of spreading the idea. Through simple action and leading a life aware of blessings and gifts, I can make my corner of the world a better place.

Now isn’t that fun?

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1. Rav, honorific for a rabbi, usually the head of a community or distinguished by great scholarship.

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