I remember the first few thoughts I had after giving birth to my oldest son Dovid. Firstly, ouch. Secondly I was relieved that he was well and healthy. He was placed in the NICU as a newborn because I had a fever at his delivery.
As I hobbled into the nursery and saw the giant 8 lb. 2 oz. baby among the other 4-pounders inhabiting the nursery, his healthy form and pink face that was a clone of his father’s brought an instant smile to my face. Then I continued wincing in pain because everything hurt.
Another thought that went through my mind in those early days wandered way down the road to a time that’s happening this very week. Under no circumstances could I in my wildest dreams have imagined my current life. Dovid was a dangerous oldest child to have for many reasons. First among them, he was an ideal baby. I recall in my early days of motherhood when I decided to reinvent myself as a domestic goddess (still working on that one) and I’d immerse myself in cookbooks, attempting to make an edible dinner and one night it was Moroccan cigars with phyllo dough that I didn’t bother covering with a damp paper towel. I had placed Dovid in his swing and realized three hours later that he’d been asleep as the phyllo dough crumbled in my fingers and I read through another cookbook trying to figure out what I had on hand to make a plan B dinner. I think I succeeded with pasta and jarred sauce for the win.
But I digress. The point was that unless Dovid was hungry or dirty, he didn’t complain. He slept in a hallway of our one-bedroom apartment for the first nine months of his life. We thought ourselves genius first-time parents by keeping the TV on at max volume while he slept away, seemingly unbothered by the hustle of our lives that we continued even after his arrival.
We moved into our house when he was 10 months old; I decided that the day had come when we’d no longer rock him to bed. I took a long look at baby Dovid and said, “Ok, I’m going to put you into your crib now and walk away. I beg you, go easy on me. I have NO idea what I’m doing. Really.” I gingerly placed him into his crib and he looked around at the mobile, at his new room, and observed me as I quietly backed away from his crib, holding my breath because I felt like I was getting away with something clueless first-time moms didn’t usually get away with.
I shut the door and stood there for a few minutes, waiting for the crying to begin. When it didn’t, I went downstairs and reported the whole event to Moshe later that night, telling him that I was pretty sure I’ve cracked the code to sleep training babies.
It wasn’t always so simple and streamlined — he was a baby after all and had his moments. But for the most part, he was a really good child. He was an attentive student, always receiving accolades from his teachers and rebbeim.
He was a good friend, and always sweet, sensitive, and inclusive to kids who weren’t his friends. He had a maturity beyond his years when his uncles convinced him to go to a sleep-away camp that no one in his school attended.
When the head of the camp asked why he’d want to go somewhere without any boys from school, he replied, “My uncles love your camp and consider it their summer home. Besides, I can have school friends and separate camp friends.”
He was 8 years old at the time. He seemed to have the Moshe “do-the-right-thing” DNA embedded in him since birth.
In the past year, there were times that he wouldn’t come home immediately after shul and he’d attend the kiddushim of local classmates who were bar mitzvahed. He’d coordinate things himself, never wanting to burden me with more than I already had on my plate.
He said Kaddish for his father, whether it was on a plane to Israel, at a ski resort in Pennsylvania, at Barclays center for a basketball game, or after bar mitzvahs when he’d try unsuccessfully to put together a minyan.
He insisted on learning his parashah in its entirety even after corona hit New York and we weren’t sure what would be. He’d continue going to his leining teacher week after week because he heard Moshe’s fervent wishes when we’d speak about the boys’ bar mitzvahs in passing conversations.
I know Dovid listened as Moshe made his wishes known. I know he heard his father say time after time that his sons would lein their parashah like Moshe did. Dovid knew his father’s wishes and like reciting Kaddish for the year, he dedicated learning week after week to the memory and love that a son has for his father. Especially for a father who has to miss out on such a joyous and momentous occasion.
How does he balance it all at his young age? How does he remain G-d fearing and frum after losing his father at such a young age?
How does he wake up happy in the morning and go to sleep soundly at night? How does he manage to inspire his mother every day to be a better person for her 13-year-old son?
I wish I knew the answers but instead I remain thankful to the person he is, the child he was, and the man he’s becoming in a few short days from now and I know with every move he makes, he questions what his father would think and he bases his actions and decisions on that.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about walking Dovid to one of the first bar mitzvahs of the year. I wrote about what I’d say to Dovid if I had the courage to get up in front of a room of people and speak about how special he is.
But never did we imagine being here. Canceling the plans for having a party he deserves so much and instead holding it in the driveway of the home he grew up in.
He’s been accepting and cool through it all and I have to recognize that it’s because he’s so acutely aware of the real importance in life. He knows all too well what really matters and a big party with all the trimmings isn’t one of those things.
He’s only a 13-year-old boy, but is a man in the most important ways. Disappointments are a part of life but they are not something that’ll tear you down unless you allow them to.
Summer camp closures and not celebrating his long-awaited birthday after suffering a terrible tragedy followed by a year of firsts is daunting for even fully matured adults.
I see time and again that whatever challenges life throws in his direction, he meets it head-on with a faith and a trust in G-d that I hope to one day emulate in my life. He’s an extraordinary boy and I know his father is so proud of the man he’s become. Tomorrow won’t have me standing at a podium nervously reciting a speech that I’d practiced in my room for weeks.
Instead, I’ll write from my heart and hand it to him so he could have it and look back to a time when he wasn’t so sure he’d get through tough times with a grace and faith of men twice his age.
Dovid, one of the many things I admire about you is your commitment to tefilah b’tzibur. A big portion of the Siddur is comprised of pesukim from Tehilim, which was composed by Dovid HaMelech, one of your namesakes.
Dovid Hamelech didn’t have an easy life. The Midrash Tanchumah notes two pesukim in his magnum opus with opposite beginnings and the same ending:
“Tzara v’yagon emtzah uvshem Hashem ekrah” — “I find troubles and pain, and I call out in Hashem’s name.”
The second verse:
“Kos yeshuos esa ub’shem Hashem ekrah” — “I raise a glass of salvation, and call out in Hashem’s name.”
Whether Dovid Hamelech was suffering or rejoicing, his go-to was one and the same: call out in Hashem’s name.
Dovid, this has been a year the likes of which no one should have to endure, for us as a family and for you in particular. Yet every step of the way, your tefilah was steadfast:
We cried, we laughed, we felt, we dealt. And no matter what, every single morning, afternoon, and evening, you held fast to “ub’shem Hashem ekrah.”
That stability, that commitment, that conviction to navigate the choppy waters of life and nisyonos with unwavering emunah is something I pray will stay with you throughout your life.
You inspire me and uplift our whole family. Your Kaddish for your father is complete, but your kiddush shem Shamayim is ongoing.
I know every Jewish mother thinks her kids are special, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that you are a shining light in Klal Yisrael. I am both insanely proud and profoundly humbled to be your mom.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions 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.