By Larry Gordon

It was the morning of my father’s fifth yahrzeit. At the end of Shacharis, in a shul in Brooklyn, where we were still living at the time, I finished reciting Kaddish when a friend walked over to me and unknowingly asked, “The first year is not up yet?”

I retorted that, no, it was actually the fifth yahrzeit, and that was the end of that. But that moment jolted me as I realized that people who are not family or closely involved with you have no idea about the details like this that are such an important part of your life.

That said, next week in Israel, G-d willing, we will be observing my father’s 32nd yahrzeit. Yes, the first year is indeed over.

But what has transpired over the passage of more than three decades? Over all these years I have found myself sometimes grappling with our father–son relationship—what it once was and how it has changed. First let me note that these last 20 or so years are different than that first decade, when I was still trying to reconcile the profundity of the loss.

I can say this about the experience of three-plus decades—back then, I felt like I had been robbed or cheated; I don’t feel that way now. Of course, I still feel that I could have had many good years with my dad, and I wish that my mom did not have to be alone for the last 27 years of her life.

I have both their photos staring down at me from atop a bookcase in my office. I notice the photo of them just about every day. Sometimes I stare back for a few extra moments, but of course they don’t blink. What I’ve been thinking about for many years now is distance. How could people with whom I was so close for so long sometimes feel so far away? Is it the physical distance, or is it all this inanimate time that has maneuvered itself between us?

That day 32 years ago, Chanukah as I knew it was shattered and would never be the same. On the sixth day of Chanukah, before sunrise, I stood with my mother and siblings, Hatzalah members, and a doctor neighbor, adjusting to a sad and difficult new reality.

I knew the moment it happened that the plan was to go to Israel, as it had been on the drawing board for many years. It is the type of information you park somewhere in your psyche and then just plain forget about for as long as reality allows. But, inevitably, that day comes—usually unexpectedly.

My brother Binyomin and I were on a 4 p.m. flight to Ben Gurion that afternoon. I know I’ve recounted those moments a number of times over the years, but I never get tired of writing about it, and as far as our readers are concerned, many relate to me that they do not become too tired of reading about this subject.

Here at JFK, several young men wanted to organize a minyan for Minchah and started to count us among the ten men required until they realized that we were on the way to bury our dad in Eretz Yisrael and that we had the status of an “onein,” which technically renders one a halachic non-entity. That was a sobering few moments, which brought home to us our transitional state—not just as far as a minyan was concerned but about life itself going forward.

Last Friday night, when it was quiet and late, I was hoping that I could somehow force myself to see my dad in a dream. Of course, you can try all you want but those things rarely work. That said, my father has appeared to me a few times in dreams over the years, but in a cryptically limited fashion.

There are two dreams that stand out, but my father does not say anything in either one. I noticed how good he looks—robust, with the look he had in his eyes in the prime of his life. In one of those dreams I am observing a wedding scene from a distance. I see a crowd of people and notice my grandfather standing there and that leads me to believe that if my zaide is there then my father has to be there, too. I continue looking more intently until I spot him in the crowd, almost obscured by two other people at the wedding.

Now we are approaching the point, in a few years, when the number of years without him will be equal to the amount we did have with him, and that is perhaps a tipping point of sorts.

Baruch Hashem, all his children are grandparents today. We reflect on the life my dad lived and the baseline he demonstrated to us as a parent and later a grandparent. And we can also look ahead with pride at the generations he and my mom and their parents created.

There are children and grandchildren who are named for my dad, Nison. While we have tremendous nachas from all the children and grandchildren, even their parents will tell you that there is something about the kids named Nison that stands out, though at this stage it is too early to qualify what those traits and characteristics are.

We will have a family Chanukah party next week, G-d willing, before we go to Eretz Yisrael. And I will be aware—as I have been for the last 32 years—that Chanukah is beautiful and meaningful but just not the same anymore. In the early years, when I sometimes went alone to Israel to fulfill my father’s request that one of his children visit the kever on his yahrzeit, for all intents and purposes Chanukah concluded after the fourth night, as it was off to the airport once the menorah was lit.

So at the end of next week, I will once again stand on that mountaintop in Bet Shemesh, reciting Tehillim at the kevarim of my father and mother, my father-in-law, Aharon Tzvi Nudel, and my brother-in-law Shimon Fishel, who passed away two months ago.

Today they kind of dominate that neighborhood on Eretz HaChaim. My father is the senior member of the group and the catalyst who drew the others to join him on that section of the mountain when it was their time.

It won’t be as hot up there as it is in July, and we will be able to commune, converse, and share our thoughts and hopes for the future. Our commentaries say that just like our G-dly soul, which is the engine of our bodies, yearns to rejoin its source on high, once a person passes on, a part of that soul lingers around the grave, also yearning to enter that body and live once again. That’s why, as I understand it, we visit and pray or just feel connected when we are in these situations, and that is particularly true on the day of a yahrzeit.

Some of these ideas may be considered otherworldly, but that is exactly what they are. Our youngest son, Nachi, who most resembles my father, was born on my father’s birthday, 10 Shvat. And I have a friend who lost his father last year and just completed the 11 months of Kaddish two weeks ago. His first male grandson was born on that same day, and the Pidyon HaBen will take place on his father’s first yahrzeit.

Events of this nature cannot just be coincidences or quirks of the calendar. There is something going on out there; it is all just a bit beyond our grasp.

Third Yahrzeit Of Dr. Richie Friedman 

{IMG Cheryl and Richie Friedman

{Caption: Cheryl, ybclc, and Richie Friedman, z’l

This was a loss for both a family and a community. Dr. Richie Friedman was a New York doctor who touched our lives in ways we didn’t even know. Richie was a surgeon and for many years was better known as the medical director of Hatzalah for New York State. That’s a big job, with huge responsibility.

Richie Friedman lost his life three years ago on a motzaei Shabbos while walking home from shul that rainy night. A driver who was probably going to pick up children from a playdate or on the way to buy pizza just did not see Richie as he walked along a side street here in the Five Towns, still dressed in Shabbos black with his shtreimel atop his head. His son-in-law Shmaryahu Ryback told me that because of the weather, someone in shul offered him a ride home, but Richie declined because he kept Rabbeinu Tam z’man and would never compromise on that for a ride home, even in the rain.

Writing these words is heartbreaking, so what can be said about how his wife, Cheryl, and their eight children dealt with this sudden and unbelievably tragic loss?

A Hatzalah spokesperson said: “During his tenure, Dr. Friedman served as mentor and guide to thousands of EMTs and paramedics. He worked tirelessly to ensure that our responders were always at the forefront of emergency medicine best practices by leading countless classes on a wide range of topics, educating our responders on the latest tools and techniques, and delivering a rigorous quality-control program through constant case review. Dr. Friedman always took the time out of his busy schedule to assist our volunteers when they sought his advice or needed his guidance. As medical director for our organization, Dr. Friedman was pivotal in crafting policies and procedures followed by Hatzalah, as well as several other emergency medical agencies, related to equipment, medications, and protocols used by our responders.”

“I sat in numerous Hatzalah meetings with Richie, and one thing was clear—very few people were able to match his passion to provide the best medical services for our agency,” said Rockaway-Lawrence area coordinator, Scott Orlanski.

Today, three years later, Richie’s memory is an inspiration to Hatzalah volunteers throughout New York. But while he was all these things and so much more, and the impact of the loss is extensive, nothing is greater than the loss to his wife, children, and family.

Richie’s levayah took place just hours prior to the onset of Chanukah. “After the funeral we went home to begin sitting shivah,” Cheryl Friedman says. “A few short hours later, Chanukah began. It was by far the most devastating experience for my children and me. My older son was given the responsibility to light his father’s menorah. My children were scattered around the room, every corner occupied by a child crying—in some cases uncontrollably.”

Their emotional devastation was compounded by the realization that their father’s Chanukah menorah would be lit for the first time without him.

Of course, it was difficult for me to talk to Cheryl about her loss, but, as she knows and as I articulated anyway, I am somewhat equipped to at least discuss the experience in view of the loss of my son-in-law, Moshe Hirsch, close to three years ago as well. I have watched my daughter Malkie and her five children deal with the loss of their husband and father in a number of different ways.

I asked Cheryl how the children are doing, and before I let her respond I added that the same question is occasionally asked regarding my grandchildren. From the start my response has always been: Ask me in ten years and I will try to answer then.

In that context, Cheryl, who is a therapist, explains that all her children, who are at varying stages of life, deal with their loss differently. She says some go to visit their father’s kever in Queens on a regular basis. Some are more connected to their father’s things. There are some children who openly share their thoughts and feelings while others keep their thoughts to themselves. Each child finds what works for him or her in the mourning process.

Richie Friedman was the consummate and proverbial community leader, but he did not see himself that way. He saw a job that needed to be done and gladly stepped up to do it. “During shivah, hundreds of people shared stories of how my husband helped them—stories that Richie never told us. He believed very strongly in HIPAA and in the confidentiality of those he helped.”

“I was brokenhearted and devastated,” says Baruch Ber Bender of Achiezer. “There is no other way to describe it. His was a death that was shocking and painful and just impossible to fathom; I know these are not only my feelings but rather the feelings of so many in the Five Towns, in New York City, and of hundreds of Hatzalah members worldwide.”

Naturally, we try to make sense of these senseless tragedies. But as Cheryl Friedman says, “There is no explanation and Hashem runs the world.” For now the important thing for his family and all of us to do is to remember a good man who did extraordinary things that will forever be discussed and admired because, as Richie used to say, someone had to do it—and Richie did.

May his memory be a blessing to his family, friends, Hatzalah, and all of Am Yisrael.

Anyone who would like to share a story about Richie is invited to e-mail drfriedmanstories@gmail.com. The family is compiling a book of all the shared stories.

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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