By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
In true editor/father fashion, my father casually sent me a closeup picture of my late husband, with the large print of his latest written piece clearly staring back at me from the picture.
He titled the article “A Bittersweet Month” and that’s how the most fun month for the general Orthodox population feels like in our family.
It’s the juxtaposition of bitterness, sadness, regret, longing, anger, and endless unanswered questions with the sweetness of the good times and memories that we’ll always have. The sweetness of allowing for us to have a second chapter where we can appreciate the things we might not have the first time around.
A combination of so many different emotions in addition to bitter and sweet that left our family to deal with a loss we’d never fully recover from.
When he died suddenly around a week after Purim of 2019, on a most ordinary day during an ordinary week, it established a memory that could never be forgotten.
It holds an importance to us the way that national holidays hold for some.
The way birthdays and anniversaries do, too. A yarhzeit is an anniversary in a way, an annual landmark of a life-altering event, although with the opposite emotional charge. As the month, day, hour, and minutes tick closer to the moment when it all changed and could never be reversed.
With that one moment in time meaning more than an accumulation to all past moments in life.
Our fourth year is quietly approaching the end of our former lives and the start of a life we had to mostly improvise.
As adults, we’re proficient actors who can convince a crowd of people from the outside that we’ve got a clue what we’re doing, but when you’re standing in the middle of a grocery store, scanning the new Pesach-prepared aisles for your staple ingredient for meatballs for that night’s supper and get a phone call informing you of this type of news, all bets are off.
You can no longer pretend that you’ve got it all figured out, and what’s worse is that you now have to tell the children and your family that there will be painful, uncharted life roads ahead.
There were so many layers to this devastating change:
We had to learn how to face people and have the courage to redefine what it means to have all this happen without any choice of our own.
I made the choice to use my loss as a springboard to share with others that the worst possible things can happen but that it might still be possible to choose happiness and hope, eventually, on most days.
It’s a tall order after such a tragedy, I assure you that.
I can safely say that experiencing his death and all the “afters” that go along with it was the hardest thing I’ve lived through.
Despite that, immediately after it happened, I’d quickly grab hold of moments to be grateful for.
Since Purim had just happened and it had been the first of our now-annual carnival, I kept thanking G-d over and over for the gift of giving the kids that last sweet memory with their father.
The first thing I did after getting up from shivah was something I knew he’d really love: writing a Sefer Torah in his honor. Something physical that the kids could have to commemorate the epitome of who their father was—a man who lived to help everyone around him. Whose happiness was never based on personal gain or pleasure. What made him happiest was when others were happy, and his efforts were the cause of that.
He existed on this earth for a relatively short time but did a tremendous amount of good while here.
He left an impression on all that made us proud to be his and I felt like it was only fitting to have a dedication like this, to thank him for his love, support, and thoughtfulness that has thankfully gotten us to a much happier place, years later.
When the idea first came to fruition, thanks to our neighbor Nathan, who planted the idea, we started a GoFundMe page to raise the money necessary to get the Torah written.
It was then that I realized how impactful our story was to others. The money was raised in a couple days from many who either knew Moshe or knew our family. Our community is amazing. Jews are amazing. People can be amazing. But also: Moshe was amazing. Amidst our family’s own personal hell, so many souls and dollars sent us much-needed hugs, letting us know that we were not as alone as we thought, that Moshe would not be forgotten, and that they wanted to do something concrete to help. Moshe in his lifetime, in a partnership with G-d, had made sure that our family would not need to rely on tzedakah from others for survival, another fact of which I am so consciously grateful. But the project of writing a sefer Torah in his name was a way others could give to us and to his memory.
This was an opportunity for people to partake in this mitzvah, because his death was felt so deep among so many that this created a way to do something beautiful from the shattered lives we were trying to sort through and preserve.
And although at that point I was floating through life in a cloud of shock, denial, and early-onset grief, I remember grabbing hold of this mission.
The mission of making meaning out of something as unimaginably sad as a young husband and father leaving for work in the morning and never coming back home that night.
It gave me a purpose and a focus and reinstated some sense of direction and control in my life that had been turned upside down.
The original goal was to have the Torah ready for Moshe’s first yahrzeit, in March 2020, conveniently the same week that COVID-19 shut down the world.
I recall the feeling of initial surprise after receiving news about this global virus that would prevent us from living our lives as we were accustomed to. It also prevented me from restarting a life I thought I wouldn’t be able to without him. By the time that year ended and I felt closer to my old self, there was a worldwide pause that would further delay my learning how to be this new version of me.
Thankfully, with a lot of thinking, writing, processing, introspection, some humor, and a ton of support, we’ve gotten to a place where we can have an event for a man we will never forget and will always love.
It’s taken a few years longer than we thought it would, but it’s a day that will arrive with the happiness and excitement deserving of such an event.
Four years to others might seem like a relatively short time, but to us it’s been an entire lifetime away from our past reality. We had to lose it all, learn how to live without him, and then welcome new opportunities, new love, and a new future, which I believe was given to us thanks to him advocating for us from another place.
He always took care of us, and he continues to, so this is a thank-you from us to him.
The weekly minyan he wanted here continues and grows, and now we’ll have this last essential holy piece to complete our household. There are still notes of bitter, but in a lot of ways we’ve come full circle as a family.
When we take the Torah out of the ark, we sing: “Her ways are pleasant, her paths are peace.” We pray daily to “make Torah sweet in the mouths of our children.” Now, our children will perpetuate Moshe’s Torah in a unique and personal way.
These days, the sweet in our lives definitely outweighs the bitterness. Torah is the tree of life, and we cling to her sacred sweetness, gifted to us by the love of so many other Jews, to help us, always.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.