By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
Death has this funny way of sneaking up on people at the most unexpected of times.
Not to say that any time of the year is an opportune one to lose someone you love, but sometimes, it’s just a real shock.
After celebrating a beautiful yontif with my parents, kids, and some siblings, I received a call from my father informing me of the petirah of my uncle, my mother’s brother Fishy—Shimon Fishel ben Ahron Tzvi—on the morning after yontif.
Fishy spent most of his adult life living in Israel, only returning to New York around 15 years ago due to some health issues.
It made sense for him to be close to family so that they could oversee his general care and so he could have visitors at the facility where he lived.
My father, although his brother-in-law and of no blood relation, became his primary advocate along with my mom and were the ones who visited him regularly. They would often do snack runs for Fishy’s favorites.
We’d joke about Fishy’s reactions when my father would be unable to find the right gum or flavor of licorice; it would include an audible “Oy!” or “Larry, the strawberry, not the cherry! Plus I’m out of cheese curls…”
During the last 15 years, it became part of my parents’ routine to purchase clothing, pillows, and back scratchers. They’d get him the stuff he liked and catch him up on the current events happening worldwide and within the family.
He was known to have a photographic memory and knew his nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays by heart. The fact that I know my kids’ birthdays is impressive to me—I can’t imagine knowing those of my extended family.
Fishy came close to dying more than a few times, and during those times, my father would be in close contact with doctors, caregivers, his siblings, and other family members.
I could sense an overall shift in the energy as they waited, consulted, and hoped for a miracle. And every time, he’d pull through and my father would compare him to that feline species known to have several lives.
When he died on Thursday morning, it came about without any of the drama that usually prefaces a medical emergency—the intubation or being reliant on machines to help keep him alive.
This time, it happened quietly, as the other members of his family were recuperating from the Jewish New Year—the time that determines each person’s fate for the year—and he slipped away.
Fishy suffered greatly in his life on this earth, the way some people do. The way some people struggle with every life circumstance, whether it be in marriage, with child-rearing, or in overall health (emotional and physical).
He was the child of Holocaust survivors who witnessed the murder of their entire families in Poland. Everyone, on one level or another, was a victim.
Regardless of his burdens and suffering, of the plethora of health issues that plagued him, and the fact that the people closest to him didn’t support him the way they should, he was really happy.
He was happy with very little. He loved following politics and sports, loved keeping in touch with his family, even though he hadn’t seen them in many years and maintained a relationship strictly over the phone. He didn’t have an easy life, but he chose to make it a good life. This week, we’ve been davening repeatedly for “chaim,” asking for a good life, with all the specific qualifiers we as humans believe that entails. We want health, parnassah, and nachas, and the perfect sourdough.
During this time of year, everyone’s in a frenzy wishing all their near and dear (and not so near and dear) a shanah tovah and asking for mechilah (forgiveness) for any wrongdoing they might have committed.
It’s a human’s response to regaining a control they think they have, sparing them from an unfavorable fate.
As the logic goes, ask for forgiveness and get another year.
Fortunately, we’ve got a loving G-d, One Who’s not vengeful or hateful.
One Who wants His creations to introspect and strive to do better and be better, year after year.
To mirror the image of our Creator.
I could tell you one person who didn’t need to ask anyone for mechilah during this time of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah—that was my Uncle Fishy.
He didn’t speak ill of others. He didn’t busy himself with family drama or friend politics or any of the silliness that takes up large portions of our lives.
Maybe it’s because of what he’d been through in his life that enabled him to see the bigger picture and know what was petty and what was important. He knew what life was really about. He didn’t just daven for Hashem to give him the kind of life he wanted; he opted to make it that way, despite the challenges and limitations he was dealt.
Although he’ll be missed by his family and my mother and father, he’s in a place where he’s finally no longer in pain. A place where he was greeted by his father and brother and lauded for the many good middos he held on to despite living through much hardship.
HaMakom yenachem eschem b’soch aveilei Tzion v’Yerushalayim.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.