One Year Later
Is it possible that a year has already passed?
This week we will observe the first yahrzeit for my mother, Sora Roiza bas Aharon (Rosalind Gordon), and a few days later, the first yahrzeit for my father-in-law, Aharon Tzvi ben Moshe Asher (Hershel Nudel).
Both were the same age when they passed away — 95 — and I’ve begun to think that the mid ‘90s is an especially dangerous time, though it is said that reaching that age is the fulfillment of arichas yomim, lengthy and good years, so we need to be mindful of as well as thankful for that.
During the past year, my mom had a greatgrandchild named for her, and my father-in-law had five great-grandchildren who were given his name at their b’risim.
The family in general seems to lean in the direction of having boys, as they outnumber the girls significantly — hence the imbalance in the naming process. At least that is what it is so far.
My wife and I are headed to Israel this week to observe their respective yahrzeits that are six days apart from one another. I am kind of an old hand at this in some ways, as my father passed away more than 28 years ago and it has been an annual ritual to observe his yahrzeit in the fashion that he requested—with his children visiting his kever on the day of his yahrzeit.
Just for the record, we do that, and we all visit when we are in Israel, which cumulatively is several times a year.
But for my wife, an only daughter, and her brothers, this is a new experience. My father-in-law was a Holocaust survivor who escaped the fate of the rest of his extended family and managed to make his way to New York with my mother-in-law, may she live and be well, with a remnant of the Novardok Yeshiva.
They escaped because those with the yeshiva managed to make their way to Siberia, where they lived under brutal conditions but were protected from the Nazi onslaught by the Russian military.
It was a quirk of history and one man’s and one woman’s survival that resulted in what today is five new generations of shomrei Torah and mitzvos in the United States and Israel.
As for my father-in-law, his long held plan was burial in New York in a cemetery where some of those who traveled with him to the States in 1946 were also interred. But then, from the paperwork we have in hand, it seems that he quietly changed his mind, and between 1997 and 2000 paid several thousand dollars for plots in what was then a relatively new cemetery, Eretz HaChaim, in Bet Shemesh.
As the readers know this was a whirlwind and indeed very unusual week for us. I like to recount and reminisce about the details because it was over those few days that I felt Yad HaShem, His very presence and guidance in our lives, a presence that at times is more obvious than others for reasons beyond our grasp.
Looking back a year now, though it all unfolded very slowly, in retrospect it seemed that everything happened very quickly. There was my son Nison’s aufruf with the presence of my brothers, my sister, and other family and friends. My mother was at home but was having breathing issues and was taken to the hospital, where she passed away at about 2 a.m. Sunday.
That Wednesday, I sat shivah in my home until 2 p.m. We then locked the doors and I went up to my room to shower and shave and get dressed to go take pictures at our children’s wedding. I recall looking in the mirror — as shivah was now suspended according to rabbinical guidance — shaving, and thinking to myself, “Is this real?”
I wondered to myself, “Here I am sitting shivah for my mother and getting up from shivah to go to dance with my son at his wedding.” It was surreal, to say the least.
Through the previous few days I had heard many things from many different people who either experienced or knew about similar situations. One I can still recall is someone who said I should not dance at all at the wedding. Another person said that he knew of a situation like this and the person sitting shivah danced at the wedding but was wearing sneakers, as we do when we mourn for the Beis HaMikdash on Tishah B’Av.
Interestingly, our good friend from Bnei Brak, Rav Matisyahu Lessman, arrived that afternoon from Israel for the wedding and said that he had discussed the issue with Rav Chaim Kanievsky prior to leaving for New York.
He said that Rav Chaim’s psak, was that I should not demonstrate even a hint of mourning or aveilus that might diminish the simcha in any way. And that is the way it was.
One of the odd things about this entire process and experience was how after the wedding was over, the next day I once again dressed in my suit pants that I wore to the levayah, and my torn white shirt was once again on my back. That night I once again changed personas and attended sheva berachos for the young couple. Because I did not travel to Israel with my siblings for the kevurah, my shivah was completed on Friday afternoon, while my brothers and sister got up from shivah on Sunday morning.
Then we had Shabbos sheva berachos close to home, only to learn after Havdallah on Saturday night that my father-in-law, who had been in a comatose state for a number of months, passed away on Shabbos afternoon.
The next day there was another funeral, and then sheva berachos at night that my wife, who was now sitting shivah, did not attend, but in which I did participate.
So what can I say? It was a long year and I’m pleased that my Kaddish recitation was impeccable with minyanim prepared in advance wherever I was.
An additional odd thing was that after I completed the 11 months that one recites Kaddish for a parent, that afternoon after Minchah (I didn’t even wait for the next day) I was invaded by a flu bug that kept me flat on my back for practically three full days. I guess a mother watches over a child.
So let me tell you a little about my mom. She was born in New York in 1921 and lived with her parents in the Bronx. She has a brother, her only sibling, who is four years younger than her. He fought in World War II as an 18-year-old soldier and was injured in the Battle of the Bulge.
My grandparents came to the U.S. from Austro-Hungary in 1910. We were very close to our grandparents and they stayed with us for weeks at a time during quite a few summers, while my parents traveled to Israel and Europe. My mother was always fiercely caring and devoted to her parents, and I am always mindful of how she demonstrated that dedication in so many ways.
My parents met at a wedding here in New York in 1943. I don’t think there was a shidduch crisis in our community at that time, and even if there was, my father had a way of making his own way and getting done what needed to be done, and one of those things was marrying my mom.
Though she lived in her own home until her last day, she was weakening with each passing day. It was just a few weeks before the wedding and somehow I genuinely believed she would be able to attend for at least a brief time. When I would see her I would say, “Ma, are you coming to the wedding?” Her answer always was, “Yes, if you’ll invite me.”
That Wednesday night I felt her standing at my side with the chassan and the kallah. Before the chuppah we davened Ma’ariv and I said Kaddish. And then I danced the night away with my complete heart and soul and a conflicted joy, all in her memory.
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