“So, who’s coming to hakafos?” asked my father as he got ready to leave for shul on Simchas Torah night.
“Rosie’s going to bed in a few minutes and I have to put her in. Can’t make it. Haven’t gone to night hakafos in years,” I replied, comfortable with my excuse for not going. Pretty valid, if you ask me.
But it’s also the first time that my kids wouldn’t be dancing with their father on Simchas Torah. And I knew that when I initially objected to going to shul. But I was also trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t have to be there, that my father would be enough for my boys in that circle. But although he might have been enough for me as a little girl, there was certainly no reason for me to miss watching them there, maybe making them feel a bit better about not having Moshe there for the first time.
“I’ll be here, I don’t mind staying behind,” Alana said.
Oh. Great. There goes the best excuse ever. The baby excuse that gets you out of so much in life. Thanks, Alana!
“OK, so I’ll come meet you,” I hesitantly responded to my father.
I quickly finished a few things for dinner after we lit yontif candles and, with my mother by my side, started out toward the Island shul.
It’s a shul Moshe and I have been members of since we got married 14 years ago. Moshe decided to join the shul his cousin was a member of, which wasn’t far from our first residence in Cedarhurst. We loved the shul, the families who davened there, the rabbi, his wife, and family.
We’ve always been involved in the goings-on of Kehillas Bais Ephraim Yitzchok. My boys went to shul every Shabbos and yontif. With four boys in a row, pretty close in age, as soon as the little one would be toilet-trained, Moshe would take him along and leave me with the newest addition. It was a chance for me to relax and a chance for Moshe to bond with his boys and teach them the importance of going to shul every week. Like ducks in a row, the boys would file out of the house and trail behind their father, who would lead with a stroller in tow, in case of an imminent tantrum from the littlest of the bunch. Depending on their age, they’d file in and out of shul, some would play or attend groups, and some would frequent the main room for candy from the candy man. Dovid (the big man-child on the Hirsch campus) would be Moshe’s sidekick, wanting to be with him always.
For the past few years, I couldn’t make it at night on Simchas Torah, but I’d always go for hakafos during the day, watching with the other women as our kids waved flags and clutched their stuffed Torahs on the broad shoulders of their fathers.
It didn’t hit me until erev yontif that this holiday is partial to men and their children.
What happens when there is no father around? What do those kids do? How will they feel? Will they want to continue coming back to shul week after week? How will they be OK?
All of this was racing through my head as we neared the only shul we had ever attended.
All this, and the fact that I hadn’t been back at shul since March 28, 2019.
The day of Moshe’s levayah. Which took place at the Island shul.
I’m sure that wasn’t unintentional. I’m sure that I was avoiding it and coming up with every excuse in the book to not come back. I also don’t think anyone would blame me for not going back, for a while at least.
But, as with all the new firsts in our life, the shabbosim, and yomim tovim, the first time is the hardest.
As we drew closer to the shul, my mother whispered, “What are the chances they’ll come out now so we can just go home?”
Wishful thinking, Ema.
As I walked into the shul, memories of the levayah hit me hard. Seeing the crowds outside running to their respective shuls for a joyful celebration instead of the throngs of people waiting outside seven months ago to pay their final respects to my husband, to watch via a live feed outside the shul, was a welcome change. But it still brought me back to that day. I walked into the main room of shul, desperately wanting to disappear into the wall behind me, to just be a regular person like I used to be, not a 38-year-old widow with five children who suddenly lost her husband a week after Purim.
Some brave souls approached me to say how good it was to see me. I received some beautiful sentiments and thankfully saw some friends. I noticed the longer-than-appropriate looks from women I knew and some I didn’t know, who surely knew who I was only after their daughter/daughter-in-law/friend/mother/mother-in-law whispered to them. I sat in a quiet spot and looked towards the area I sat in seven months ago. My face was dry this time, as opposed to the last time I sat here, listening to the hespedim as the tears fell rapidly. Instead of that hushed silence, the sounds of sobbing, and the speaker crying out at the injustice of losing such a special soul too soon, the men danced and sang in a circle, holding the sefer Torah, happy to be there for a simcha instead of an unimaginably sudden and tragic levayah.
I watched the boys as my father tried to keep up, carrying one on his shoulders. Dovid danced and looked genuinely happy. Such a nice change from the last time I saw him sitting with me, surely in a state of shock, unable to understand why or how this was happening to a kid his age. But now, he belonged there. Like maybe he wasn’t sure what his place would be, but now he knew that he’d carry on Moshe’s legacy in the Island shul, the way Moshe would have desperately wanted.
He danced with the Torah, the way Moshe would have. He danced with Rabbi Ralbag and Rabbi Kamenetzky, who made sure to come for my boys because he knew that while he couldn’t fill the void they’d feel this Simchas Torah, he would do what he could. As I watched Gavi sitting on my neighbor’s shoulders, I knew that Moshe was watching all this and a sense of calm washed over me. Knowing that no other time would be the first time I was coming back since the levayah was a huge comfort.
It pushed me to go back the next day to attend hakafos and a kiddush, and I’m sure I’ll be there for many more happy occasions as the year progresses.
A special shout-out to the editor for asking maybe 15 times in 10 minutes who would be going with him to hakafos, which was his way of indirectly asking me, “Hey, you coming to hakafos?”
Thank you to Alana for taking all of my mommy excuses away and always holding down the fort.
Thank you to the managing editor (Esta) for being the best sport and support. Always.
Thank you to all you Island shul congregants for what you said and what you didn’t say. They were both perfect.
“Once you confront the fear, the fear will disappear.”
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 40. Malkie has been sharing her thoughts with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.