Poem: Angels


If the groans and shrieks of martyrs, the shofar cry

of Yom Kippur really rend the heavens, then I picture it

like this: clouds are ripped as if by swords, and angels spill

and spread across the world.

                                            Once a rabbi fled from Poland

to the tranquil town of Tzfat, enduring unutterable privations

and fear along the way. As the Galilean hills lift and lull

his tired feet, an angel infestation fills his red, chapped ears.

Their voices chirrup from synagogue

                                                        to synagogue, he can

almost glimpse their ragged white beneath the turquoise doors,

like lice beneath a skirt of lettuce. And so he leaves for Tiberius

complaining that the angels had kept him up at night.


From “Immigrant” (Black Lawrence Press, 2010)

Marcela Sulak, author of “Immigrant” and the chapbook “Of All the Things That Don’t Exist, I Love You Best,” has translated three collections of poetry from Habsburg, Bohemia; and Congo, and is co-editing “Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of Eight Hybrid Literary Forms.” She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University. 

Take Me Out to the Bar Mitzvah…


Roger Owens has been pitching with the Dodgers for 50 years, ever since the team moved from Brooklyn. His accuracy is uncanny, and he remains a crowd favorite. He throws under the leg, behind the back and even two at a time, sometimes more than 30 rows back.

Owens, also known as the “Peanut Man,” started tossing peanut bags at Dodger games when the team began playing at the Coliseum in 1958. And Owens, who knows more than his fair share of nutty jokes, also makes a good side income making guest appearances at various bar and (sometimes) bat mitzvah celebrations.

“Everyone wants to do something different,” he said. “They want to reward their son for all the hard work, studies and learning about his Jewish heritage and his grades at school.”

With baseball’s season opener less than a month away, it doesn’t take much to organize a grand-slam celebration that reflects your child’s love of the game.

The idea of a blockbuster bar mitzvah celebration at Dodger Stadium was played for laughs in the 2006 film comedy, “Keeping Up With the Steins,” complete with Neil Diamond booked to sing the national anthem. But there are ways to put on a baseball theme that won’t break parents, which can include a day at the stadium, complete with hot dogs, ticket booths, an organ playing “Charge!” and appearances by former baseball greats.

Locations

Renting space at either Dodger Stadium or Angel Stadium is not as expensive as one might expect. The Stadium Club or Dugout Club at Chavez Ravine can be had for just $650, said Jill DeStefano, partnership management executive with the Dodgers. However, costs for food or beverages are separate, and prices can range from $35 to $100 per person.

Renting out the field is also an option, albeit a much more expensive one, she added.

Angel Stadium’s Diamond Club, Knothole Club, Homeplate Club and Music Garden in Anaheim cost nothing to rent, according to Ron Lee, division manager of premium services. Once again, the cost comes from food and beverages, plus security. Aramark, the professional services company in charge at Angel Stadium, also allows clients to rent the field at a minimum of $25,000.

Still, the teams are accommodating — as long as the celebration isn’t on a scheduled home game or in October (“It’s empty because we want to be in the World Series,” DeStefano said). May and November are popular months at Dodger Stadium, but the baseball season is tricky, because the team doesn’t know its playing schedule until the year before.

Julia Erling, an Aramark catering sales specialist, said November through March work best at Angel Stadium, but annual Motocross events eliminate renting the outfield in January and February.

But if everything works out and the stadiums are available, “The sky’s the limit,” DeStefano and Lee said.

In Los Angeles, one can pay for batting practice, either on the field or in the indoor batting cage, or pitch in the bullpen, complete with radar gun. Both parks can have videos playing on the giant outfield screens and have DJs hook up their equipment to the stadium sound systems.

Food

Andrew Atwell, Aramark’s West Coast senior executive chef, said all options are available: plated food, buffet or “action stations,” in which the cooks interact with the guests. “It’s all in the presentation,” he said.

Action stations could be anything, Atwell said: fish, salad, a carving station or dessert featuring crème brulee. To keep with the theme, hamburgers could become sliders, complete with condiment bar with different cheeses, lettuces and grilled onions. Hot dogs could have onions, sauerkraut, horseradish, cheese, peppers or salsa.

If guests specifically wanted kosher food brought to Angel Stadium, Atwell said Aramark would contract with kosher caterers and have the food brought.

Levy Restaurants, which provides catering at Dodger Stadium, has used Kosher on Wheels for its kosher catering needs.

Special Guests

After he’s introduced as a surprise guest during the celebration, Owens, the Peanut Man, walks out wearing his own uniform, carrying a box filled with plenty of bagged peanuts to toss. He then makes a two- or three-minute speech during which he tells the guests about how great it is to be at the party, recites what school the honoree attends and areas in which he or she excels (baseball, usually) and how proud the parents must be. He’ll crack some peanut jokes, then stick around and sign autographs.

DeStefano said former Dodgers, such as Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and “Sweet Lou” Johnson, have made appearances, “but they’re more for the adults.” Getting current Dodgers (Russell Martin is a popular request) is more difficult, because the team might be on the road or the player might not live in Los Angeles during the off-season.

Erling said stadium tours are offered, and former Angels pitcher Clyde Wright (1966-73) might be the tour guide. Player appearances are subject to availability, but expect to pay at least $5,000 for a current player and $1,500 for a former player.

Theme Touches

If a stadium party is out of reach, event planners suggest leaving details for a baseball-themed party up to the imagination. Ticket booths, seating assignments that resemble ballpark tickets, table centerpieces that look like baseballs or include team names and logos are common.

Paula Gild of Gilded Events suggests costumed performers dressed as concessionaires bringing out the hot dogs, popcorn, Cracker Jacks and other stadium-type foods.

For more information, visit:
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Roger Owens

Look up to see angels


Vayera is a rich portion throughout, but I linger on the iconic images in the first lines: Abraham sits at the opening of his tent in the heat of the desertday, recovering from his circumcision. He looks up and sees God, in the form of three men, often described as angels, standing nearby. Abraham rushes to welcome them and offer hospitality. They, in turn, provide comfort for his convalescence.

These images could be the cover art for manuals for our caring communities, bikkur cholim associations and chevrat kadishah (burial societies). These illustrations of mutual generosity, which provided the rabbis of the Talmud with role models for the prescribed human behavior of “walking in God’s way,” could also illuminate instruction books for our social justice projects. I pray that they can be emblems for America as it rises to greet an era of compassion and caring.

Abraham’s bounteous welcome and the reassuring visit of the men/angels provide archetypes, embodying our injunction to act in imitation of God. We Jews literally begin our day by affirming in full voice the practices of a caring community. These activities, as well as others, such as “performing acts of lovingkindness,” and “making peace where there is strife,” are enumerated in each morning’s liturgy. Every day, we recite these directions for holy behavior, along with the promise that these deeds will be rewarded both “in this world and in the world to come.”

While world-to-come” benefits are enticing, I am most concerned with rewards in this world. Having been lucky enough to visit caring communities throughout the world, I have observed the most successful ones are those that emphasize both the caring and the community. Their success is measured not just by gallons of chicken soup served, hospital beds visited or acts of social justice advocacy, but also by the longevity of the participation of the volunteers, the strength of their relationships with each other and the sense of personal satisfaction and growth that those volunteers receive from their involvement with the community. The rewards of community and individual fulfillment are the “this world” bonuses promised by the liturgy.

I believe that the people who provide the most comfort to others serve from a stance of altruistic self-interest. This paradoxical phrase implies that those who serve do so not just to “help the unfortunates” or “give something back,” but also because they recognize that in helping others they learn about themselves and have an opportunity to grow. They know that comforting a mourner may remind them of their own unfinished grief issues or that visiting a sick person might expose their own fears of vulnerability. They know that serving meals at a homeless shelter may raise questions about their own values or those of their neighbors. They know, as well, that confronting these issues in the company of others will make them deeper, stronger people, more able to serve others and more at peace with what it means to be human. They discover that those who best serve others cultivate their hearts of wisdom through companionship when they return to their caring colleagues to speak of what they have witnessed in others and what it has taught them about themselves. They debrief together. They study together. And they pray together.

These successful caregivers and community advocates know that, as the Talmud tells us, we serve round things in a house of shiva because “like the pea, sorrow rolls. Today’s mourner is tomorrow’s comforter and today’s comforter is tomorrow’s mourner.”

There is no condescension in service to those in need. There is a recognition that, as Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav said, “All the world is a narrow bridge.” All of us must cross that bridge. Our greatest gift to each other and to ourselves is to provide and find companionship on that narrow bridge.

We train caregivers and community advocates to recognize the commonality of human experience by asking them to look into the eyes of others in the room and see not just the superficial things that differentiate us and may cause us to have pity on challenged individuals but the spark of God that we all share. Then, we instruct them to ask each other, “What is it that keeps you up at night?” This invitation to share deepest concerns helps to identify situations and issues that need our attention.

Volunteers refine their ability to hear the needs of others as they decide which actions they will take to provide support and healing for individuals and the community. This form of “leadership by listening” has roots in the community organization techniques of the Industrial Areas Foundation, where President-elect Barack Obama began his career. “Leadership by listening” was the foundation of his campaign. Volunteers were instructed to call voters and listen to their concerns rather than tell them what they should believe. Moved by what they heard, they turned to each other when they hung up the phones. Sharing their experience, they built a community that is much deeper than a campaign.

As we sit at the opening of our tents, nursing the wounds of war, fear and economic distress, may we lift our eyes and perceive a new era for our country. May we, like Abraham the Patriarch, be comforted by the appearance of what Abraham Lincoln called, “the better angels of our nature” as they come to transform our country into the caring community for which we pray every day.

Rabbi Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist and spiritual director. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001). She teaches at the Academy for Jewish Religion and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is on the board of the L.A. Community Mikveh and Education Center. She can be reached at mekamot@aol.com.

Within Us


Once upon a time, as God created the world, He decided to make beings in His image. As he generated his own reflection in man and woman, the angels got word of the
project, and were consumed with jealousy.

 
“How unfair!” they cried. “Those humans will have it all. They get to experience life on earth with all the perks: laughter, tears, ice cream, wasabi, softness, scratchiness. And as if that ‘being alive’ stuff weren’t blessing enough, they get immortality as well!” (If God is eternal, so, too, would be anything made in God’s image.)

 
The angels were furious; no being should merit both ice cream and infinity. If heavenly beings were denied earthly experiences, why allow humans celestial ones?

 
So, they plotted against the humans. They decided to hide immortality from them, and assembled to determine how it could be done. One angel suggested, “Let’s hide it far up in the mountains; I hear humans don’t like to shvitz much.
They’ll never climb that high.”

 
Another disagreed: “That won’t work. Those granola hippie Jews God put on the West Coast will surely hike to the top of the mountains and discover it. Better we hide eternality far out in the sea. Most folks won’t go farther than a cruise ship will take them.”

 
Again, others dissented. They realized that any God-like being would eventually access the heights of heaven and the depths of the ocean.

 
Finally, a wise old angel made a brilliant suggestion: “Let us hide the infinite between and within the humans. That will be the last place on earth they would think to look for it.”

 
And so it was.

 
Parashat Nitzavim illustrates the result of the angels’ prank. They succeeded in ensuring that the last place we look for God is right in front of us. The text beseeches the people to take a stand “this day” in testament that the “only God is Eternal,” but acknowledges that we have no idea how to affirm that truth. It speaks to our ignorance of accessing the Infinite, and tries to remedy our delusion. We need not struggle to reach the Divine.

 
Lo bashamiyim hi.

 
“No, it is not in heaven,” God explains. “It is very near to you.”

 
Contact with the Eternal is between us and within us.

 
The parsha speaks to our fantasy that we must search far and suffer long to retrieve this blessing. Were it not, the wording would be different. God would simply state: “Hey guys, check out this groovy commandment I’ve placed right in front of you.”

 
Instead, He addresses our misconception that good things are hard to come by. He elaborates: “[It is not] beyond the sea that you should say: ‘Who will cross the sea for us and bring it over to us that we may do it.”

 
In other words: “No need for drama, difficulty or complication; you don’t need a personal assistant to get this for you. Just open your eyes and see: infinite life is right here, within you.”

 
But we remain blind, instead assuming that if something good happens easily, it is suspicious. We spit three times, even knock on wood, or mumble a “God forbid.” We prepare for disappointment, assume a mistake, because in our estimation no blessing comes effortlessly. Life is hard. Good fortune takes work. Right?

 
Not according to the text.

 
Lo bashamyim hi.

 
Our divine legacy is found within us and between us: “See, I have set before you this day life and blessing or death and curse. Choose life.”

 
Easy. Stick with God for an endlessly good time. You’ll receive immortal prosperity through generations that will flow through you, always have what you need, and live a life of endless possibility.

 
Still, we continue cursing ourselves with dissident struggles — idolizing dramas of the difficult and inaccessible rather than recognizing the abundance we have now. The angels shake their heads as we look everywhere for our hats except our heads, running away from God while He waits within us; She is right here between us.

 
We need only see that the trees surrounding us don’t struggle to grow, they just grow; fish don’t try to swim, they just swim. It is their nature. And it is our nature to exist eternally in God’s image.

 
The angels are tired of laughing at us. They forgive us our good fortune and seek to help us remember. We stand this day, testaments of the infinite Divine presence. There’s nowhere else to look, no place else to be, nothing else as perpetually filled with blessing. We need only accept this present of a moment, this gift of being human.

 
We can stand here and now, present to all the feelings that the angels so covet, in eternal gratitude for having them. We can “Choose life, therefore that [we and our] descendents may live – by loving [our] God; listening to God’s voice.”

 
By adoring our experience, by hearing His voice in one another’s words. We choose life and death: by dying to our attachment to what was and will be.

 
By surrendering to this moment as being nothing but what it is, by appreciating the blessing of our curses. We choose it all, for it is revealed to us as One and the same present from our creator. Eternally within and between us, and we don’t have to shvitz or swim to get it.

 
Rabbi Karen Deitsch will be teaching at the University of Judaism’s continuing education program this fall. You can reach her at karendeitsch@yahoo.com.

A Banner Day


At the beginning of the month, I joined the hundreds of thousands of people who marched from MacArthur Park to the

La Brea Tar Pits in support of basic rights for immigrants, the strangers among us. I was worried about my family becoming separated in the throng of marchers, so I brought a bicycle flag, a little neon triangle on a tall lightweight rod, upon which I’d written in sharpie: “Klein Family.”

We were surrounded by banners, some hand-painted, some mass produced, words passionately imploring in Spanish and English, flags of different countries rippling toward helicopters as we marched ever so slowly.

At one point my husband and daughter became separated from my son and me. My son held up the little orange flag to reunite us. It was just an orange fleck in a sea of waving banners, with no message, no political statement. It said simply: “Here we are. Find us, join us. Don’t let us be lost. We love you.”

Perhaps that was the essence of every banner that was flown that day.

This week’s Torah portion creates a picture of the 12 tribes of Israel marching over the wilderness terrain in well-organized troops, the divisions of Judah to the east of the tabernacle, Ephraim on the west, and the other tribes assigned to positions in between. An army of men, women and children who once marched hunched over from intolerable service to Pharaoh were now marching upright, in formation, in service of God, with banners streaming above them, as it is written: “The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house” (Numbers 2:2).

Some imagine the 12 banners were designed each according to the character of the sons of Jacob, much like the signs of the 12 months of the year in the zodiac. Others say that the color of the banners matched the colors of the 12 gemstones imbedded in the High priest’s breastplate, ruby red, golden topaz, glittering sapphire.

According to the Midrash, the Israelites witnessed the angels at Mount Sinai, each with their flowing banner, singling them out as precious to God. The Israelites also wanted to be unique, to be counted. Bamidbar is primarily focused on counting and arranging the Israelites, who stands where in relation to the Tent of Meeting.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:3) explains: “When the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself upon Mount Sinai, 22,000 angels descended with Him, as it is said, ‘The chariots of God are two myriads, two thousands; The Lord is among them at Sinai in holiness'” (Psalms 68:18), and they were all arrayed under separate banners, as it is said, “Marked out by banners from among myriads” (Song of Songs 5:10). “When Israel saw them arrayed under separate banners, they began to long for banners, and said, ‘O that we also could be ranged under banners like them!’…. They said, ‘O that He would show great love for me’: and this is also expressed in the text, We will shout for joy in Your salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners.’ Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to them, ‘How eager you are to be arranged under banners; as you live, I shall fulfill your desire!'”

As a child, my family would often spend the summer on Fire Island, off of Long Island. I remember walking all the way to the tip of the island, where there stood an old weathered lighthouse that had become a museum.

Inside, there were old pictures of the original family who operated it, parents with two children. The docent explained that the father would make his children wear bright red hats while they played on the reed-swept dunes. That way, when he was high in his tower, he could look down and know exactly where they were.

We run through the reeds, explore the dunes, and our Father, the light-keeper, keeps His eye on us. Not one of us should be lost. At the end of the day, not one of us should be left out. Not one of us should be unembraced by the banner of love, when evening falls, like a blue-and-silver-threaded tallit over creation and everything in it.

Zoe Klein is a rabbi at Temple Isaiah.

 

Angels in America


Angels are everywhere in America these days, and a lot of them are tacky. When I was growing up you saw them once a year, adorning Christmas trees. Since then they’ve swarmed across the thin border that divides religious imagery from kitsch. Gift shops stock angel T-shirts, angel bookends, angel-print pillowcases and little angel wings to attach to your pet chihuahua.

Rarely a week goes by without an angel-themed book on the best seller list, and Hollywood has fallen into step with shows like “Touched by an Angel,” “Joan of Arcadia” and this season’s “The Book of Daniel.”

But this week’s cover story celebrates not make-believe angels, but real live ones.

Jews and angels, it turns out, have a complicated relationship. We borrowed the notion from the Sumerians, the good folks who clued us in on the serpent, the Flood, the ark and writing. The Hebrew word for angel is malach, which means “messenger.” In Jewish lore, these messengers shape-shift between the godlike and the human, not just from era to era, but from reference to reference. In Genesis, Hagar encounters an angel, then later refers to “the Lord” who spoke to her. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but an angel of heaven intervenes to stay his hand.

In other passages, angels take the form of men, visiting Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac; then visiting Sodom to warn Lot to flee before destroying the city. In one of the most physical manifestations, an angel wrestles with Jacob, leaving him wounded. Reading the Bible, you are left with no clear notion of the Hebrew angels: Are they flesh and blood or the voice of God? Are they dreamed of or three-dimensional? The biblical notion of the angel is amorphous, open to argument, hardly the stuff of T-shirts.

In post-biblical literature, angels multiply. Scholars attribute this in part to the influence of other wisdom traditions on Jewish thought in Hellenistic times. By the Middle Ages, Jewish magic and angels were intertwined. By one estimate, the world of medieval Jewish mysticism counted as many as 496,000 angels.

“Houses and cities, winds and seasons,” writes Joshua Trachtenberg in “Jewish Magic and Superstition” (Penn, 2004), “each speck of dust underfoot … no thing in nature exists independently of its … heavenly ‘deputy.'”

Christians got angels from Jews. We meanwhile have all but sloughed off our belief in heavenly intermediaries. With the exception of smallish sects, most Jews see angels not as guardians from above, but as metaphor for the power of our souls, something akin to what that great Chasid Abraham Lincoln posited in his inauguration speech when he spoke of, “the better angels of our nature.”

This special issue of The Jewish Journal recognizes and celebrates those better angels.

Originally we were taken with the idea of the lamed vavniks, the 36. In Jewish lore, these are the 36 people who walk the earth anonymously, pure souls engaged in holy work, whose unique goodness is all that stands between humankind and God’s harsh judgment.

But — here’s the truth — we knew we wouldn’t have enough room in this issue for 36 profiles. The cruel realities of ad pages knocked 26 righteous people off the list.

Ten was the next-best number, because 10 was the number of decent people Abraham offered to find in Sodom to save the town from God’s wrath. Ten people — in this context we chose to consider families as one — going about their lives in humble goodness could indeed change the fate of a People, not to mention a wicked city.

We know that other publications produce annual year-end lists of The 10 Most Powerful or The 10 Hottest New Stars or The 10 Richest. More power to them. But we saw no point in telling people who already know they’re rich, or gorgeous, or powerful, that they are.

The people we chose to profile inside undoubtedly know that they are making a positive difference in people’s lives. They know they are doing so not because that’s their job, not because they have to, but because in helping others, they attend to the better angels of their nature. Some people may buy ceramic angels, and others might believe that angels watch out for them, but these people are compelled to intervene to improve the lives of others — to be the angels that humans have long imagined should exist.

Consider Jennifer Chadorchi, a 20-something Beverly Hills resident who has provided thousands of homeless men and women with food and social services. Or Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen, whose Pico-Robertson home serves as a collection and distribution center for goods to needy families.

Or consider Saul Kroll, 87, a retiree who volunteers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center 35 to 40 hours per week. He’s been doing that since 1987, logging some 24,400 hours. Sometimes he takes a day off to drive his 90-year-old neighbor to the doctor to receive cancer treatments. “Don’t tell someone, ‘OK, call me if you need help,'” Kroll says. “Just go on over and help.”

Now, that’s an angel.

 

Making Sense of My Mother’s Death


Recently, I was working at my school office planning a day of classes and interviews when I was notified of an incoming call from New York. It was my cousin, Shion, a hospital chaplain and a fine rabbi.

“Have you heard the news?” he asked.

I thought his voice sounded pensive and without waiting for an answer he went on to say, “There has been a fire, your mother didn’t make it and your father is in the hospital.”

I was completely overwhelmed. I literally stopped breathing and felt as if I was going to faint. After a while I took some deep breaths and exhaled slowly.

I could not get out of my chair nor could I speak. I wondered how this could be. My 81-year-old mother lived at home with my father and a home health worker. She had been bedridden for seven years and recently, through immense therapy and physical effort, she had begun to take small footsteps and could walk with a walker each day for a short distance.

Living close to Long Beach airport, I tried to find the earliest flight to New York. I was in luck and there was a flight a couple of hours later. I ran home, prepared my small carry-on bag and headed for the door. My wife met me as I was leaving.

“Are we going out for my birthday?” she asked.

As I recounted the devastating news I began to cry, and so did my wife.

For the next four to five hours on the plane ride to New York, my mind worked overtime. Was my father still alive? How did the fire start? Was the house completely burned? Was anyone else involved?

My son and daughter met me by the gate. Zayde was alright and was in a small motel room with my brother from Connecticut. I was relieved on hearing that my father was released from the hospital. At 81, he has been married to my dear mother for almost 60 years. They were inseparable. They produced nine children, all of us are teachers, rabbis or community activists. We all are graduates of religious seminaries and are married with children and grandchildren. We consider our good fortune due to the hard work of our esteemed and beloved parents.

I arrived at the motel. My brothers and sons-in-law plus some grandchildren were there.

“Thank God I am alive,” my father said.

It is only because Chanie, my niece, was in the home that he was able to run for his life. Chanie and her baby were there visiting when the home health worker called “fire!”

The house was engulfed in flames.

“Get some water,” my mother called from her bed.

But by the time my father came with a bucket of water the room was full of dark smoke and flames. The firefighters, who were not from the area, arrived but they could not find a fire hydrant. My father screamed and wanted to enter the home but was restrained.

After the fire was over, the firefighters who inspected the home came out and said that the fire had consumed the entire home but strangely the bed in which my mother was in was fully intact and her body was not burned by the flames. She had died in less than 60 seconds from smoke inhalation.

The fire inspector said that the regular fire station, just a few blocks away, was closed for the day due to physical exams. He offered an explanation for the confusion and the haphazard actions of the firefighters who answered the call.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

There is a story that when God assigned jobs to his angels, he told the Angel of Death to do his work. But the angel protested saying, “I don’t want to be blamed for taking a life. I’ll be hated and cursed.”

“No,” God Almighty answered. “People will never blame you. They will blame the firemen, doctors, police and the public servants. They will even hire a lawyer to prove it.”

I know that when the time comes, nothing or nobody can extend life or take life. There is a time for everyone.

During the night the daughters and sons began to arrive from Michigan, Connecticut, France, England, Israel, San Francisco and Southern California. Grandchildren arrived from Chicago, Philadelphia and Florida. So many beautiful souls all grieving for a great matriarch.

My mother considered herself a quiet lady, putting her husband, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren before her. She told my dad, the president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a rabbinical council for 600 rabbis, to do his work. My mom encouraged him to travel — to Israel, Washington, D.C., Bangkok, Thailand, Germany, England, Switzerland, Italy. You name a country and my dear father had been there, performing a spiritual service, all with the help and encouragement of our dear mother.

As the day went by, hundreds of rabbis, teachers, judges, newspaper editors, businessmen, police chiefs and the mayor of New York came by to express their sorrow. Children also came by and joined in the services being held in honor of my mother. The head rabbinical court rabbis came to pray while the former chief rabbi of Israel personally called — crying and trying to give comfort.

There is a saying, “There are those that can speak about the dead and really have nothing to say, while those that cannot speak have much to say.” Sadly enough, the family experienced both groups.

How do I make sense of this tragedy?

I, for one, found comfort in a short but powerful e-mail I received from an unknown mother. It read: “After finding out about your mother I will try to be the best Yiddishe mother possible. I will be better than ever.”

How comforting were these few words that gave meaning to the death of a Yiddishe mother, transferring her heroic sacrifices to the next generation of mothers.

This article was written on a lonely plane ride home from New York to California.


Rabbi Eli Hecht is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.