Moshe and Malkie Hirsch

By Malkie Hirsch

I’m so lucky. Yes, you read that correctly. Me. I’m the lucky one.

I get to see the most beautiful parts of people when they give selflessly of their time and efforts to me and to my family.

I know that it might have to do with our unenviable circumstances, but I’ve learned that it helps for me to separate the two. To be able to say, “I never wanted my family to know tragedy. But once we did, and people keep coming through for us in the most humbling and generous ways, I can feel deep appreciation for the human capacity for kindness.

Because when it comes to goodness, does the “why” matter as much as the “what?” In my opinion, it doesn’t.

To backtrack a bit, as I mentioned last week, this week was my birthday, and the day was as beautiful as it could have been. The last two years of birthdays were rough, with my 39th taking place in a Pesach hotel three weeks after Moshe’s passing.

A song was sung and a store-bought Pesach cake was placed before me in our private dining room, as I tried holding it together and not make a scene in front of the 35 members of my family who were trying to make this whole birthday thing as normal as possible.

I saw my kids tuck away their feelings of sadness and longing for their missing father for my sake and it touched me deeply. It taught me something about the human condition. About how people walk around with heavy burdens in life and still make an effort to show up daily.

I learned about how one of my kids held his feelings inside for a while until certain anxieties led me to call a therapist who gave him the permission to let it go. And only then did he give himself the ability to emote and communicate how much he hurt, how deep his little boy feelings were, how resilient children are despite even the hardest challenges. And how much stronger a person it creates in the long run.

After all, diamonds go through a tremendous amount of trauma in their formation, becoming the beautiful gems they were meant to be. That’s how people become the beautiful beings we’re meant to be, too. Mitzrayim, which is used as a model for the birth pains that yielded our nationhood, is called the “kur ha’barzel,” the iron pot, the crucible, that forged our faith. Modern-day Israel was built upon the post-traumatic ashes of the Holocaust.

And in our own ways, big and small, all of our lives are a series of pain and pleasure, hurting and healing, suffering and salvation. We cry, we grow, we pray, we learn, we get stronger.

Last year’s birthday was my great glimmer of hope after a year of intense mourning, working on myself to recover, and trying to support my children as they did the same.

People don’t realize this about grief, but it’s actual work. Healing is more active than passive. It takes energy, getting back to the business of new normalcy and living. It’s dealing with the various stages of grief and attempting an updated version of life you never thought you’d have to recreate.

It’s fielding looks of pity, questions from strangers, making believe you have answers for things you don’t know, losing a ranking by no longer being part of a couple, needing favors a whole lot more, and pretending that you’ve got it all figured out for the little people in your life who look to you when they’re really afraid.

And at the start of the pandemic, I was really afraid. But I had to make things seem like they were OK for their sake. So on my 40th, a day I had hoped would enable me to leave my house and do dinner with friends, I was witness to a neighborhood effort to make my special day a bit less pathetic.

There was a line of minivans snaked around the block and horns being pounded, kids sticking out of their sunroof, signs pasted on the sides of cars wishing me a happy birthday, giant “40” balloons handed to me, and (best part) dinner for us that night. The outpouring of love took my breath away.

It showed me that despite the uncertainty of that time for everyone—this was the beginning of COVID—people were willing to put it all aside and celebrate a day with me however they could, knowing and empathizing with how tough it would be for me to celebrate my 40th birthday alone.

I felt like the luckiest girl that day, because I was privy to the type of behavior sometimes you’re not able to see from people—thoughtfulness, creativity, care, and love.

I brought out a need within them to give to me. But am I the giver or the receiver?

Do you give because you love or do you love because you give? Is it an endless cycle? The Hebrew word for love, “ahavah,” actually has the same root as the one for giving, “hav.” And the other word for give, “natan,” is a palindrome, to signify that giving goes both ways. And maybe that sometimes giving is receiving and receiving is giving. That feels so much better than being solely a beneficiary.

I’m a creative—I generally like to live my life without a set plan. When people plan and things don’t work the way they anticipated, there’s always an element of disappointment and I like avoiding that if possible.

I knew that I’d receive a lot of messages and visitors and flowers and love on my 41st birthday. But I had no idea it would be like this.

The only set plan was that my friends Shana and Numi would accompany me to the Ohel, a place I frequent every couple of months.

We visited my relatives in the cemetery and wrote out our bakashos on pieces of paper. I stood near the Rebbe’s kever and thanked G-d for not only the revealed good in my life but also for the not-so-good.

They’re equally important and equally have purpose. The movie of your life doesn’t get viewed in the order that might make sense to you, but that doesn’t mean He’s gotten it wrong. It just means you don’t understand it. In order to accept things, you have to be OK with not understanding.

That day was as perfect as I could imagine it. It was filled from morning to night with the ones who sometimes give and sometimes receive, but always love. Birthdays are a time when we can reflect on the previous year and what’s been accomplished. It’s our personal Rosh Hashanah of sorts.

You can think about how you’ve grown spiritually and how you can improve in other ways for the future. I don’t know if there’s an objective way to gauge whether or not I’ve lived more purposefully in the last year, but I feel it inside.

I don’t understand it all, but I do appreciate it all. My kids notice the shift within me and practice gratitude at times as well.

The heightened gratitude that I feel for everything these last two years has been a complex gift. But when these occasions present themselves and I’m surrounded by a blanket of extra love and comfort, I focus on the people I still have, and it makes me feel very lucky indeed. 

Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of just 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are now privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.

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