January 7, 2004
As some of you may have noticed, I didn’t post anything for a few weeks. A little while ago I posted a ‘current events’ commentary. However, I’ll request your forgiveness and in addition, post a second, more personal article.
Almost four weeks ago my father died. He, and my mother, may she be blessed with many more years, visited us this past summer, for two weeks. In May Dad had undergone successful bypass surgery, and by August the doctors declared him healthy enough to make the trip from Sarasota, Florida to Israel. His strength still hadn’t returned as had been expected, but tests to determine the reason could be put off for a couple of weeks.
For Mom and Dad, visiting us in Israel was more than a generic trip to see the kids. Despite their dwelling in the United States, my parents’ heart was here, in Israel, and in Hebron. Dad had been active in Hebron events for quite a long time. Many years ago he accepted the post of treasurer of the Hebron Fund in New York. More recently, both he and my mother lectured about Hebron and participated in public debates and programs concerning Israel’s presence in Hebron and Yesha.
After moving to Sarasota almost 15 years ago, Dad initiated formation of that city’s chapter of PNAI – Parents of North American Israelis and acted as the group’s first president. Shortly after his death the group’s members decided to rename the chapter after my father. PNAI’s international board, upon hearing of his passing, had a tree planted in his memory, an honor usually bestowed only upon board members.
Mom and Dad came to visit almost every year. Since we moved to Hebron, over five years ago, they would rent a room in the Beitar Guest House in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, and walk back and forth to our apartment in Beit Hadassah. Upon occasion visitors to Hebron would stop them and ask directions – how to get to Ma’arat HaMachpela or Tel Rumeida. At the height of the Oslo War, when shooting attacks upon the community were a daily occurrence, they didn’t hesitate about their visit – they were coming to Hebron! When friends and relatives, aware of the situation, asked them how they could visit such a dangerous place they responded, “If our children and grandchildren can live there every day, why can’t we visit for two weeks?” And despite the shooting, they did just that.
We have a custom of celebrating everybody’s birthday during the summer months, when they would come to visit. A couple of years ago it was somewhat surrealistic – we were all sitting in our Beit Hadassah living room, surrounded by presents, singing birthday songs, with somewhat unusual background music – the sound of massive gunfire all around us. But that didn’t stop them.
This summer, while here, my parents were blessed to participate in the wedding of one of our daughters, Aderet. As are most weddings, it was a truly joyous affair, and for us even more so, due to their presence. Wedding pictures are always something to treasure, but these photos are particularly special – complete family portraits, including everyone, from great-grandparents to great-grandchildren, pictures that we will cherish forever. Little did we know that this would be the last time we’d all be together.
After returning to the US, Dad underwent various tests and before long the doctors found what they were looking for. They couldn’t promise a cure, but they could attempt a reprieve. Treatment began, but to no avail.
I visited my folks in Florida in the middle of November, when Dad was still on his feet. He wasn’t well, but could get from the bedroom into the living room, sit and eat a little, watch TV and chat. But when I bid my farewells, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see him again.
His condition deteriorated fairly rapidly. I was in touch with them daily and finally decided that the time had come to make another trip to Florida. When I arrived on Tuesday afternoon Dad was asleep – he slept almost constantly. He opened his eyes once or twice, recognized me and was able to briefly smile before returning to his slumber. And that’s the way it was for two days, until twelve in the afternoon on Thursday, when his soul departed from his body and left us. I was there, together with Mom, at home. It is written that the soul, on its way to the next world, departs via Ma’arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, in Hebron. It was comforting to know that Dad’s last stop in this world, on his way to the next world, was right down the road from us, here in Hebron.
All people, upon the death of a loved one, search for consolation. One Jewish mourning custom calls for the bereaved to eat an egg immediately following conclusion of the funeral. The egg symbolizes the cycle of life, which goes around and around, seemingly without a beginning or end.
And so it really is. I found my consolation two nights ago when my oldest son, Elazar, married a wonderfully sweet woman named Avital. It was not easy for me to celebrate, for it is still less than a month since Dad passed away. But standing under the marriage canopy, the Chupa, together with Elazar and Avital, I could sense his presence and delight at his first grandson’s wedding. For that is the cycle of life, one generation departs and another generation commences.
Many years ago Dad was told that, due to a medical problem, he would never be able to have children. Despite that, he married my mother, and less than a year later I was born. Dad was privileged to have two children, eight grandchildren and a great grandson during his lifetime. And he knew of, and rejoiced in Elazar’s impending marriage.
We should all merit such rewards in this world.
May his memory be blessed.