As I drive around some areas, I still see some sukkahs standing on porches and in front yards. I don’t know if the people in these homes just did not get around to taking them down or if it’s that time flies at such a breakneck speed that it just makes sense to leave it up until next year.
That said, on Monday morning I heard my WhatsApp signal ping on my phone at about 4:30 a.m. It woke me up, so I reached over to take a look, though I figured it was spam, some errant message, or something along those lines.
I put my glasses on to check what it was about and saw two photos. The pictures were taken in the cemetery in Bet Shemesh. One photo was of my parents’ headstones and the other was of my father-in-law’s headstone, which is located right near the other two. The photo was from my nephew Simcha who lives in Neve Yaakov and runs his own interior contracting and building company.
I looked at the photos and the time they were sent; it was mid-morning in Israel. I voice-texted Simcha, inquiring as to why he was in the cemetery in Bet Shemesh on this otherwise regular Monday morning. He responded that he had a client in the city and figured that if he’s there already, he will go up that tall, imposing mountain to where his grandfather (his wife’s grandfather, actually) and my parents are interred in the same area of those vast grounds.
He returned an audio text saying that he was near my father’s kever and he knows that my father’s yahrzeit is in Kislev, so he stood there and recited some chapters of Tehillim and thought about all of us here stateside. He said there was a minyan nearby at another kever so he asked them to join him at my parents’ and father-in-law’s kever, and someone recited Kaddish.
This touched my heart in a deep and profound way. I know that it is Kislev and that my father’s yahrzeit will be in just about three weeks, on the 30th of Kislev, right smack-dab in the middle of Chanukah as usual. This will be the 29th yahrzeit, and regardless of how you view it, that is a long time.
After I saw the photos Simcha sent and listened to his message, I could not fall back asleep and began to think that yes, indeed, it is Kislev and once again very much that time of year. As time marches on, the events of that Chanukah almost three decades ago simply do not fade. On the contrary, they remain frozen in time and extremely vivid despite all the years that have passed.
This year I will not be in Israel on the yahrzeit, which is kind of conflicting for me because I decided many years ago that I would take on the responsibility to be there on the day of my father’s yahrzeit regardless of the difficulties involved. And an assortment of obstacles have presented themselves over the years, but still I can report that on the overwhelming number of years I was there, climbed that mountain, and walked up to my father’s kever and verbalized what I was thinking by saying, “Dad, I’m here.”
Some years I was there a few days early and on occasion a few days or even a week late. This year I will be late, perhaps even a month late, but for a very good reason that both my Mom and Dad will definitely understand. You see, our son Menachem (Nachi) will be having his aufruf a few days after the yahrzeit, followed by his wedding about a week after that.
Sure, I guess I could leave for a few days and then return like nothing happened, but I think I’d rather be here and ask my father for a raincheck. Of course, I am not discounting the possibility that one of my siblings will be there on the yahrzeit so I guess I should check on that as the time is arriving.
Nachi is the youngest in a series of six. When my son Nison got married about 18 months ago, it was, as the reader will recall, during the week of shivah for my mother. Of course, things could have been a bit more manageable if these events would have taken place at different junctures in the course of the year. This is, however, the chronological reality that we are dealing with.
Arising from sitting shivah and preparing to go dance at your child’s wedding is a surreal experience. It is contradictory and difficult to reconcile, as you might be able to imagine. Even more bizarre is coming home from the wedding late at night and then the next morning putting my torn white shirt back on and returning to my low-to-the-floor chair furnished to us by the good people of Misaskim.
Even more dreamlike is finishing the day of shivah and then getting dressed again to go out to sheva berachos in the neighborhood. Of course, there was some debate and halachic discourse about the proper thing to do. Rest assured that I had proficient rabbinical guidance, without dropping any names, directing me not to do anything that would diminish the simcha of the new young couple. It was incongruous and even emotionally clashing, but still it had to be done the way it was done.
For many years after my father’s passing, Chanukah was not what it used to be prior to that. It must have been for about a decade and a half when, in order to be in Israel for Ma’ariv on the night of the sixth day of Chanukah, I had to scoot out to the airport for that long and not-so-relaxing ride to Eretz Yisrael after lighting the fourth wick on the menorah at home.
As the kids got a little older, we sometimes took a few of them with us to Israel, and on several occasions we took them all. It became apparent that Chanukah in Israel every year was part of our destiny. And I have to add that I quickly noticed that this was one of the most beautiful times of year to be there. I can recall on different years landing in Ben Gurion Airport in December and it was 99 degrees in Tel Aviv, and at other times being urged to leave Jerusalem because of an impending snowstorm. In Israel, a snowstorm means about two inches of snow or maybe even less than that.
This year, the yahrzeit falls out on Shabbos, which is referred to as the trifecta version of our tefillos. That means that it is Shabbos, rosh chodesh, and Chanukah, which means taking out three Torah scrolls for the leining and reciting just about every word in the Siddur—everything that is not usually recited in our davening, the words and tefillos below the lines, in the parentheses, and so on. It is the day on which I have come to feel that we just say it all.
As a child I never thought that I would have to deal with this type of situation, but here I am gladly as well as uncomfortably dealing with what has becomes my new reality. We thank Hashem for all the good things he has bestowed on us and for giving us the strength and fortitude to endure the hardships that are an essential component of this world’s reality.
And I have to thank my nephew Simcha in Israel for being aware that the advent of Kislev means the arrival of one of those momentous days on our annual calendar. I also have to thank him for that pre-dawn ping on my phone the other day that woke me up in more ways than one.
Major Shuvu Event
Almost three decades ago, Israel was facing a crisis once again. The march was on, and there was a major population influx under way as up to a million Russian Jews had the obstacles to their emigration lifted and many were on their way to Israel.
Amongst the many issues that had to be dealt with was who was going to seize the opportunity to provide a Torah education for thousands of these young and impressionable Russian Jews. Here in New York the concern was being addressed most profoundly by Rav Avrohom Pam, zt’l, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas.
Rav Pam was most concerned about the opportunity to inspire and educate young Jews who were unfortunately being raised in a Jewish educational vacuum. His students, led by Rabbi Avraham Biderman, rose to the occasion and planted the seeds that would blossom into a vital educational network in Israel that has changed a nation with education.
Today the schools operate with a more than $39 million annual budget, a good part of which is funded by the Israeli government but still leaves the organization with a shortfall each year of about $8 million. This is the juncture at which Shuvu over the years has turned to its supporters in the U.S., and particularly in New York, for their philanthropic largesse, which over these last 28 years has both sustained these yeshivos and allowed for their great growth and expansion.
This Sunday, November 18, the Five Towns community will have the opportunity to demonstrate support for these efforts at a breakfast reception at the home of Abe and Sherree Belsky in Lawrence. The featured speaker over the Shabbos dedicated to communal support for Shuvu, as well as at the breakfast, will be Dayan Yonason Abraham of London.
The Shabbos weekend and the Sunday reception is dedicated in memory of Simcha Belsky, a’h, the son of Abe and Sherree, a young man who passed away just a few weeks ago and who has left an indelible impression for good and positive work.
Simcha was a cheerful person whose care and concern for family and friends was overflowing. It is only a natural progression of that reality that in his name thousands of young people in Israel will have the opportunity of a valuable Jewish education. Simcha is sorely missed by all, and we pray that his memory be a berachah for his family, friends, and all of Klal Yisrael.
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