Memorial candles

Disenfranchised Grief at Yizkor by Karen B. Kaplan

[Ed. Note: I chose to publish this entry in the blog for the week leading up to Yom Kippur because the Yizkor (Memorial) service on Yom Kippur is so often a major focus in many communities. This article speaks to how memory may be fraught, and not always what we might picture. — JB]

Whether it is Yizkor or just an ordinary service, the prayers before reciting the Kaddish can make some grievers feel even more rotten instead of better. What if a mother or father was not particularly one for whom “we recall the joy of their companionship”? What if “their memory” does not exactly bring “strength and blessing?” I remember in rabbinic school wrestling with the meaning of the Fifth Commandment for those who have or did have abusive parents. How can one be good to oneself, which is a mitzvah, yet  honor such a parent?

For grievers of such parents, the idea of grieving feels paradoxical. It seems straightforward enough and certainly painful enough to grieve a parent whose memories of their goodness sustains you. But a neglectful or downright hurtful mother or father elicits enough loads of guilt and anger to go round. And sadness is more about the protection or help or advice or love that parent did not provide; about the parent you never had. Thus, condolences and standard prayers before the Kaddish hardly bring comfort. Instead they are a jarring reminder of how your parent shortchanged you.

The definition a health professional gives to grieving is “reaction to the loss.” That is a broad enough definition to cover all situations. Still, how to start going about it is much more puzzling to a mourner of troubled parents. What does it mean to sit shiva for such a parent? What does it mean to recite the Kaddish for them? To me, the prepositon “for” suggests doing a ritual or prayer as an act of goodness, appreciation and love. And of course we use the expression “grieving for” so-and-so.

It seems odd to say under such circumstances, that “I am grieving for my mother.” I think part of successful grieving is portraying the process to oneself as honestly and accurately as possible. Otherwise you will hinder  the purpose of grieving in the first place, which is to allow all the feelings, great and small, peaceful and turbulent, joyful and gloomy, an open path for release. Somehow saying “grieving for” sounds like the tears are ready to roll at almost any provocation and that you miss them if not for how they were at the time of their passing, then at least for how they were in better days.

I think honesty in how we use language is one step in figuring out and expressing how we really feel, which is what healthy grieving is all about. As a symbolic baby step towards this goal, I am inventing a new expression for those who did not have parents who could be caring and be there for you:

“I am grieving against my mother.”

Methinks I have found a solution for us unconventional grievers. Let me know if the sentence below helps to express to yourself how you really feel about that louse. Does saying it this way give you permission to stop censoring those less socially acceptable emotions?

“I am grieving against my father.”

Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died  (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. She has also recently published a collection of science fiction stories, Curiosity Seekers (Createspace Independent Publishing, 2017). She has submitted multiple entries published in Expired And Inspired.

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan photo

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan




The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting roughly in January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).


The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.


You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email, or phone at 410-733-3700.


Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at, or


Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at, or email



Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (



If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.


Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.



If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.



The sovereignty of the Judean kingdom in the land of Israel came to an abrupt end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the leading citizens to Babylon in 586 B.C.E.

Why I celebrate on a day of mourning

Just over 2600 years ago, Babylonian armies destroyed the holy temple in Jerusalem, ransacked the ancient Kingdom of Judah, murdered scores of people throughout the kingdom (known as “Jews” – ie, the people of Judah), and hauled off scores more as captives, to the land of Babylon.

Fifteen years ago, around this very day, I stood on the edge of the land that once was a small city in that ancient Kingdom of Judah – on the exact spot where the city guard looked from his tower into the distance and saw flames of light extinguishing in surrounding towns. The ensuing darkness signaled that the Babylonians were approaching and the end was near.

A chill went through my spine.

While the rest of the people on the tour continued walking around the ancient city ruins, I stayed glued to that spot, feeling the warm breeze on my face, looking out into the expansive distance, imagining the terror that must have shot through the city people as they awaited their fates.

Their end was my beginning: the beginning of an exiled people in Babylon, who over the millennia transformed into a thriving, vibrant community — writing the authoritative Babylonian Talmud, launching the first ever Jewish learning institutions (yeshiboth, commonly known as yeshivas), and otherwise developing a rich and unique culture full of stories, music, language, spiritual teachings, architecture, prayers, dance, scholarly works, art, and religious rituals.

After nearly three millennia, my ancestors were sent packing once again: In 1950, my family was among the 100,000 Jewish refugees from Baghdad alone – forced to flee after a surge of anti-Jewish violence throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Most of these refugees, including my family, were absorbed by the modern state of Israel. As in hokey-pokey style: One foot in, one foot out.

While my grandparents, six aunts and one surviving uncle remained in Israel, my father continued his migration to Massachusetts, where he chose to go to graduate school.  There he met my mother, who had been on her way to New York from Colorado. When she’d gotten to the Massachusetts/New York fork in the interstate, however, she spontaneously decided to go north instead.

Together, they raised my sister and me as headstrong Iraqi Jews in Canada and California — teaching us the songs, prayers, religious rituals, food, personal and communal stories, Hebrew pronunciation, and a little of the language of Iraqi Jews.  (I can say the most important things in Judeo- Arabic: “watermelon,” “barefoot,” “hammer,” and “my stomach hurts.”)

I went on to disseminate this knowledge across the world, over the course of two decades, as part of my ground-breaking Jewish multicultural work. Still, as tirelessly as I worked, I could not re-create Jewish life in Baghdad. I was unable to undo the violence and destruction that Iraqi Jews had faced. I was unable to bring back everything that was lost in the upheaval and uprooting. I was unable, in short, to resurrect the Iraqi Jewish community — to bring it back to life as it once was, in bold Technicolor.

What’s worse, over the past few decades, those who grew up in Iraq have been growing old and dying. Meanwhile I have been isolated from so many of these people, for a number of complex reasons. I am an exile within a family and community of exiles. So where does that leave me?  Who am I?  And who will I be when the older generation passes?

Throughout the Jewish community around the world, thsa b’ab is a memorial day — a day of fasting, prayer, and commemoration.  It is a dark day, when people read paradoxically depressing yet triumphant stories about Jews who chose death over forced conversion, even when they had to watch their own children be killed before them. Today is also considered a day of terrible luck, replete with trembling fear, because the temple was destroyed not once, but twice on this day (the second time by the Romans, 656 years later).

I always have struggled with what exactly to do on this day. We are guided to actively induce a sense of grief and despair, so as to honor those before us and to remember being cast from freedom in our own land to captivity in someone else’s. But how, I wondered as a 14 year old in San Francisco, was I to do that, and what use was it anyhow? Actively feeling miserable and scared of moving all day long, because lordy knows what might go wrong next?

About a decade ago, I read an article by someone who suggested that this day actually should be one of celebration and honor: Yes, the temple was destroyed. Yes the kingdom was ransacked. Yes the people were hauled off as exiles. But look what’s come of it: vibrant Jewish life around the world, with the Babylonian exile reaching the far corners of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central, East, and South Asia, and the Roman exile stretching across all of Europe and the Americas.

As a Jewish multicultural educator, that spin resonated with me. Plus it was just so positive, so full of life and the pulsing rhythm of eternal change and transformation. It celebrated Jewish resilience and creativity and adaptation as a people, always surviving, always thriving, always pushing forward into new horizons.

And so, I realized, it is with me personally: Iraqi Jewish life is now gone, as Judean Jewish life once was gone as well. What stands in its place, in my shoes, is a vibrant, creative, pulsating mix of East and West, old school and cutting-edge, religious and secular, traditional and feminist. I express this mashup of perspectives by writing original songs for my band, Iraqis in Pajamas, which fuses punk rock with Iraqi Jewish prayers – making me a living, breathing, invigorating 21st century incarnation of all who came before me. Just like my Jewish ancestors on the rivers of Babylon, I am the beginning of something new.

And that is cause for celebration.

For two decades, Loolwa Khazzoom served as a pioneering Jewish multicultural educator, offering programs worldwide and publishing books and articles teaching about global Jewish heritage. She now channels her Jewish multicultural passion into her all-originals band, Iraqis in Pajamas, for which she is the singer, songwriter, and bass player.

Mourning girl

We Are All Mourners Now and Again by Rabbi Janet Madden

During the burning heat of summer, between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av— the saddest day of the Jewish calendar—Jews remember and mourn the Romans’ breach of the walls of Jerusalem, the sacking of the city and the destruction of the Second Temple. And we remember so much more: throughout history, the 9th of Av is the date on which we commemorate a series of profound Jewish losses.


We Are All Mourners

We Are All Mourners

This time of set mourning on the Hebrew calendar makes the Three Weeks a period of communal observance that is both specific and inclusive. It’s different from personal observances of Yahrzeits, the anniversaries of the deaths of beloved family members, or the four Yizkor services that provide public opportunities each year for mourning by those in our communities who have experienced bereavements. The Three Weeks, and especially their culmination, Tisha B’Av, mark specific traumatic experiences that resonate deeply within our collective Jewish historical consciousness. For me, moving mindfully through the Three Weeks is an annual reliving of mourning that tethers my mind and heart to Judaism in very particular ways.


I find deep comfort and meaning in communal mourning. When I am observing a Yarzheit, I feel set apart; my heart aches with the reminder of my personal loss even though I am saying Kaddish within the embrace of a loving community. It’s not that my heart aches less when we chant the Book of Lamentations—it’s that I am experiencing a different kind of loss. My heart aches differently. When we sit together on the floor and chant a text that is illuminated by a flashlight, we establish a special, intimate bond of shared grief with those who sit with us and with the entire Jewish community, past and present. For me, collectively connecting to our shared sadness reminds me that I am never alone.

Rabbi Janet Madden PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute.

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden

[Ed. Note: Rabbi Janet Madden has agreed to submit a series of entries for Expired And Inspired – watch for them to appear fairly regularly. — JB]




The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017. This is the core course focusing on Taharah and Shmirah ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means.


The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free preview/overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. You are welcome to join us to decide if this course is one in which you would like to enroll. Contact or for information on how to connect to the preview webinar.

There will be an orientation session on how to use the platform and access the materials on Monday, September 4th, 2017, at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST online. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.


You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email, or phone at 410-733-3700.



Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (



If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.


Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.



If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.


Reflections in a mirror

The Place of Sorrow, the Sorrow of that Place by Craig Taubman

When my in-laws Charlotte and Dr. Eli Brent passed away last year, these words by Marsha Falk became a comfort.

“All things are born small and grow large –

except grief, which is born large and grows small”

A year later, these words still resonate – and yet, the loss continues to loom large. We know our grief will soften with time and we also understand that time is not in our control.

Initially, I found comfort in honoring their memory by embracing their life lessons. They were lessons modeled every day while they were with us, and lessons that still resonate in their absence.

 “What’s your price?”

“When a door is shut, open a window.”

“Don’t extinguish flames, light lights.”

As time slips away, I now hear their voices at unexpected times, like Wonder Woman. I’ve never seen a super hero movie, but when Gal Gadot’s mother Queen Hippolyta tells her daughter the following, all I could think of, was my wife

“You have been my greatest love.

Today you are my greatest sorrow”

I saw them in this season’s House of Cards episode 6 when President Underwood turned to the camera invoking these words by Professor Batty to Goofy on how to flip a coin for life’s most important decisions:

“Life is but a gamble.

Let flipism guide your ramble.”

I’m not sure if life’s a gamble, but this past year has certainly shown me that life is fragile, and death is the reminder.

I even saw Eli and Charlotte in a recent article about the terrorists who killed Israeli soldier Hadas Malka. One of the killers, posted a tweet stating: “We are all temporary. The world is not ours. We just walk in it and leave everything behind. God, assign our lives some good for which we shall meet you.” How a person can use this as justification to murder another is beyond me and yet, I heard Eli’s query, “So Craigo, what’s it all about? And I would answer, “I’m not sure.”

This I know. It’s good to still have them in my life in these unexpected moments. It affirming to know that the values they received from their parents to make the world a better place and pursue justice, have been passed on to our generation. It’s comforting to see our children embrace these same values as generous and kind people. I also know that life is fragile and death but a reminder.  I have not figured it all out, but I do know that love is the way in.

It always has been, it always will be.

Craig Taubman has left an indelible imprint on the Jewish American experience through his original compositions and live performances. His songs bridge traditional Jewish themes and ancient teachings with passages and experiences from contemporary Jewish life.

Craig has also enjoyed a successful career in television and film composing music for Disney, Fox, HBO, and PBS series. He wrote the theme music for the Coca Cola Olympic Pavilion, as well as the feature films Andre, Pinocchio, and Disney’s Toontown.

Having traveled for years meeting people from communities large and small, Craig – a natural “connector” – became passionate about bringing diverse people and cultures together. He branched out to plan and oversee the production of community building projects, including Friday Night Live, The Celebrate Series, Jewels of Elul, and in 2013 the Pico Union Project, a multi-faith cultural arts center and house of worship.

Craig recently released 30 Days, a Journey of Love, Loss and Healing, a unique package of thirty introspections from poets, faith leaders, artists, healers and authors, to help people on their journey toward hope and healing.

 Craig Taubman

Get Inspired!

“love your neighbor as yourself”


Craig Taubman

Craig Taubman




The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017. This is the core course focusing on Taharah and Shmirah, ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means.


The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free preview/overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. Contact or for information on how to connect to the preview webinar.

There will be an orientation session on how to use the platform and access the materials on Monday, September 4th, 2017, also at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST online. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.


You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email, or phone at 410-733-3700.



Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (



If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.


Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.



If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.



Jewish End of Life Music by Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael

Expired And Inspired

Expired And Inspired

Jewish End of Life Music

In 2001, I had a conversation with Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi z”l after my father of blessed memory, Mitchell Robinson z”l left this world. Reb Zalman talked about having a CD of Nichum Aveilim music: songs to comfort the mourner. Although I had been singing and recording for many years, at that time I just wasn’t ready to face a whole recording of an end of life genre of music.

The Process

Several years passed and then other friends, family, and colleagues died. Sometimes their death inspired me to compose a song to honor their passing. On other occasions, a song would come to me based on a traditional teaching that I might use in my pastoral work as a rabbi. Without even realizing it, I was compiling a series of “Jewish songs of comfort”.

I once learned that in an African country when a child is born they bring forth a new song. Looking back now, I see that unfortunately over the years, death has written a number of songs for me as well. Sometimes I look upon death as a mystifying detour taking us places we never imagined we would go. I never really wanted to be called to this work of composing songs for the deathbed and grief. Yet I have to acknowledge the bittersweet edge of creativity, comfort, and memory that my collection of songs have offered me and others.

The Result

          In 2014, after my teacher and mentor Reb Zalman died, I made a commitment to working on a CD of End of Life music called, “May the Angels Carry You – Jewish Songs of Comfort for Death, Dying and Mourning. The title of this CD is the title of a song dedicated to Savina Teuval z’l, a Jewish feminist scholar, as I was privileged to write it after singing at her deathbed.

It is also the title of the book written by my life partner, Dr. Simcha P. Raphael, founding Director of The Daat Institute, for Death, Awareness, Advocacy and Training, which is a short collection of prayers and readings for the deathbed, including the lyrics to the songs on the CD.

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach about this music for a public Jewish death and dying series sponsored by the Daat Institute and The Jewish Relationship Initiative. In teaching my session “Wisdom for the End of Life Journey” I researched other songwriters with a similar type of music that could be used at various stages of the end of life journey: Dying, Death, Taharah, Funeral, Shiva, Shloshim and Yartzeit.

A Resource

I have received many recommendations from my rabbinic colleagues in the Reconstructionist and Renewal movements, and from Chevrah Kaddisha members. Many composers are listed, as this music spans the Jewish movements.

I am providing a link to the song sheet of the many heartfelt offerings from various Jewish songwriters. The list is not complete, but it’s a start. [Link to download END OF LIFE SONG SHEET] What is not listed are, of course, the various wordless niggunim that can be used at any time.

Life endings are always hard, and may be complicated and tragic, but music is the great soother. May this compilation be an assist for you at this holy time.

[Ed. Note: The list that Rabbi Raphael compiled spanned nine pages – far too long to include here. She has provided a link to download the list as a PDF file. If the link does not work, please email me at, and I will try to forward it to you. — JB]

Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael

Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael

Rabbi G. Rayzel Raphael is a Reconstructionist Rabbi in the Philadelphia area. She has a private practice, performing life cycle rituals as well as other artistic offerings of her soul. For more information see her website:



In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses. The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual and actions around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with Israelis and British students joining us on occasion.

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, participants raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and the moderator calls on and unmutes participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly and easy to use platform.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions begin at 5 PM PSST; 8 PM EDST.

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions, and will also receive information on how to access the recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is:

On registration, you will receive an automated acknowledgment. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information for the upcoming session, and also receive a message on how to view a recording of each of the sessions.

You can view a recording of the sessions, uploaded after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, we plan to hold time for questions and discussions at the end of each program.

Again, the entire series is free, but we ask that you consider a donation to help us defray the costs of providing this series. The suggested $36 amount works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and extraordinary teachers that present it.

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome.





Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings in the Spring on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays – the day of the week will change in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.


If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the Free one-time online PREVIEW of Nechama session planned for Monday evening March 6th, 2017 at 8-9:30 pm EST (5 PST/6 MST/7 CST/9 AST). The instructors will offer highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes. You can RSVP to


You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses online at A full description of all of the courses is found there.


For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. or, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.



Plan ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference. Register now, and reserve your hotel room!

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017


Registration is now open. Advance prices are good through the end of February. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study, and more.


The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to the Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.


We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. Please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options. Contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700,


Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (



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Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.



Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspired Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.



If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.





Things not to say to mourners (and some things you can do instead)

When friends announce on Facebook that a loved one needs prayers, or is in the hospital, or that they’re going through a hard time, I get a sinking feeling. And while recovery sometimes happens, sometimes, it doesn’t. So when I read, “I am heartbroken to announce …,” my heart breaks, and the pain of my own loss reawakens, in sympathy for the end of a life and for what is to follow for those still with us — a year mourning the loss through text, ritual and the communal embrace that is vital, but stands in contrast with grief’s frequent companion: a stark and searing sense of solitude. 

Death is part of the organic fabric of life, our liturgy tells us, arriving sometimes in a timely manner and sometimes in a shocking and unexpected instant years or decades too soon. But regardless of the individual circumstances surrounding a loss, family members and friends are left to mourn and to try to move through the grief to live their lives in a new normal.

Jewish rituals provide a year of structure for rudderless mourners, with customs that encourage communal engagement while acknowledging that the year is one in which the mourner is set apart from and different than the embracing community. While this state traditionally lasts a prescribed year, in emotional reality, it tends to linger. Five years after my mother’s death, when people check in on me, I’m grateful; Judaism says that I have been done with mourning for the span of a college education, but that doesn’t mean I’m back to the me I was before. It doesn’t mean that my mother’s absence from the world doesn’t affect me anymore. It’s just different.

I remember those first few months, and how many people, hoping to utter words of comfort, instead spewed forth words of frustration, anger, pain and even insensitivity. They were probably as appalled as I was, but I know — and I hope they know that I know — that their hearts were in the right place. I believe they were so concerned about saying the wrong thing that they often said something even less appropriate.

Each mourner is different. Each grief circumstance is different. Each person finds comfort differently, in different gestures and phrases. But here are seven things — in honor of the traditional seven days of shivah — that everyone should try to avoid saying, along with a few things you can do or say instead to express your love and concern for someone who is experiencing a loss.

Avoid awkward moments engaging the mourner, conversationally or physically. There’s a tradition to leave the conversational initiative entirely to the bereaved, to wait until he or she wants to speak. Some mourners crave the physical embrace of community, while others prefer a spiritual support and company, but not literal embraces (especially from virtual strangers). While challenging to all of us who love words and fear silence, or who are more inclined toward long and crushing hugs to convey what’s in our hearts, sitting quietly in a room next to someone who is grieving can send a powerful, wordless message of presence and support (even if you don’t touch). 

“Read” the mourner and be mindful of your relationship with him or her. Are you a close friend, whose embrace the mourner may be expecting, or are you an acquaintance who hugs as an alternative to conversation? If you’re concerned about the potential awkwardness of your physical or verbal interaction, ask the rabbi or a relative what kind of support the mourner may want. You can also ask the mourners if they would like a hug, and don’t be offended if they say no — not everyone wants to be touched by everyone.

Avoid commentary about the illness or the last moments of the deceased. “At least your loved one’s suffering is over” falls into a category of things that people inside and outside the immediate family may think quietly, especially if the deceased has been through a long or public illness, but should not say. Similarly, “at least s/he didn’t suffer,” or “what a blessing that it happened so fast.” You are not the coroner, so don’t offer your opinion on the cause of death or its nature. Instead, sit quietly with the mourner for a while — if there’s an appropriate opening, gently ask the mourner to share their favorite memories or most memorable moments.

Avoid making comments about the afterlife. In some religious communities, it’s comforting to devout people to think about their loved one being “in a better place,” “taking his place at God’s side” or (as I’ve heard religious Christians say) “going to Jesus.” But, emotionally, most mourners do not find comfort in this concept (especially “God needed another angel”). Is there an afterlife? Heaven? Hell? Olam ha-ba, where you study Talmud all day? No one knows; there are too many theological and emotional potholes in grief’s road to cover over with religious speculation about the afterlife. Instead, focus on this life: “I hope the community is the right kind of supportive when you need it. And I’m always available to help you.” (More on this in the next paragraph.)

Avoid: “Is there anything I can do?” Think about the vastness of the word “anything,” and the one thing it cannot include: the return of the lost loved one. Also, offers to help are something mourners receive in abundance at funerals and at shivah, but as time goes on, the offers trickle down to nothing. A year in, people who haven’t been through a loss themselves may assume you’re “fine.” And while you probably will be functional to some degree, at least, you’re probably not “fine.” Instead, if you’re offering assistance, get specific — grocery shopping, picking up kids from school or activities, baby-sitting so that the mourner can have some personal time. Specific offers give the mourner a chance to say “yes” or “no, thanks,” but without challenging them to think deeply about what they need and what you can and cannot provide. And if you’re a friend who really wants to be supportive, offer assistance even after shivah, or during the year of mourning, or beyond, after the offers have faded away but the need for support remains. 

Avoid judgmental commentary about the funeral, the shivah or about how the mourner is grieving. 

In many communities, there is variation in how people participate in mourning rituals. For instance, traditionally, shivah is held for seven days (shiv’ah means “seven” in Hebrew) for a close blood relative (parent, sibling or, God forbid, a child) or a spouse, and in a designated year of mourning, traditionally mourners abstain from “celebration.” But some (especially the non-Orthodox) are altering these traditions to fit their lives: sitting shivah for an aunt, uncle or grandparent, or only observing a few days of shivah. People want to connect to Jewish meaning and tradition, but not necessarily in a strictly Orthodox halachic framework. Saying things like “you’re not supposed to” or “not allowed to” grieve in a specific way is counter-supportive: The function of shivah, in particular, is to help the community gather around a mourner for support, not criticize the depth of their feelings or the minutiae of their approach to mourning. So don’t render a judgment as to whether it’s appropriate or halachic. Instead, if you’ve ever been on the inside of a year of mourning, you can offer, “If you ever want to know what helped me, I’m happy to share.” And if you haven’t been, just be there and listen.

Avoid over-empathizing with the mourner’s experience and emotional state. While this comes from a good place, saying, “I know exactly what you’re going through” minimizes the intensity of the mourner’s emotional state and shifts the conversation to being about you. For most mourners, especially at funerals and during shivah, this is not comforting; it’s a negation of their special status in that space. Occasionally, people double down on these kinds of statements, following up with an anecdote about a deceased pet or another “loss” story that isn’t equivalent — because no story of loss is ever really equivalent. Instead, saying, “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you,” or “I know it’s not the same, but I have some experience with loss if you ever want to talk,” is a better approach.

Avoid using shivah as an excuse to badmouth the community or its members. While this might seem a simple enough thing to avoid, the essential awkwardness that people feel when trying to comfort a community member may result in people blurting out things that are unintentionally hurtful. This may include criticizing the eulogies or the funeral service, or gossiping about the community’s failure to let everyone know the funeral was happening. Listen to the mourner. That’s why you’re there, to offer presence, an ear, and words of consolation when you have them. In most cases, that’s enough.

May we all know only simchas. But in the unfortunately inevitable event of a tragedy, let us focus our love and respect on the needs of those who are in the center of the grief circle, and may we as community members take seriously the sacred privilege of helping those who suffer to know that they are not alone. 

Musings and insight on the afterlife

There’s nothing surprising about a man or woman who muses about death in the later years of life. For Hillel Halkin, however, the fear of dying began at the age of 11 or 12, when he read an article about leprosy in Reader’s Digest and promptly convinced himself that he suffered from the disease.

“In the years to come, I contracted one fatal disease after another,” he recalls in “After One-Hundred-and-Twenty: Reflecting on Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in the Jewish Tradition” (Princeton University Press), a work of both scholarship and confessional memoir. He concedes that the wholly imaginary afflictions of his youth and adolescence seem funny in retrospect. “No one could have guessed that I lay in bed at night praying for another year of the life I desperately craved.”

Born in New York in 1939, Halkin made aliyah in 1970 and has since achieved international stature as a translator of Hebrew and Yiddish fiction into English, and as a biographer, critic, novelist and journalist. His book “Yehuda Halevi” won the National Jewish Book Award in 2010. Now, at the age of 77, the subject is no joke.

“For most of us, the years up to seventy, give or take a few, are ones we retain our strength in,” he writes. “We’re not the same at sixty as we were at fifty, but with a bit of luck, our decline isn’t painfully obvious. It only becomes that a decade or so later. By then, we’re all on death row.”

All of these musings prompted Halkin to accept an invitation from the Library of Jewish Ideas, a publishing project co-sponsored by the Tikvah Fund, to survey and comment upon the Jewish beliefs and traditions that touch on death and dying. He discloses that he is not a religiously observant Jew, but he reminds us that “you can’t have lived in Israel for over forty years as I have without encountering death in its Jewish forms: Jewish jokes, Jewish prayers, Jewish funerals, Jewish mourning, Jewish memorial rites.”

The starting point for his journey of exploration through the textual landscape, of course, is the Hebrew Bible. As Halkin points out, the Torah and the other early books of the Bible — unlike other religious writings of the ancient world — do not have much to say about what happens when we die. “Although I would have been prepared when I died for a descent to an underworld,” Halkin writes in the first person about a hypothetical Bible-reader in antiquity, “I would have had no notion of how to reach it, of what awaited me there, or if anything much awaited me at all.”

The later prophets were more explicit: “For behold, the day is coming that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, all the wicked, shall be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up … ” Here the Messianic idea of judgment, punishment and redemption enters in the Jewish tradition, but it is writ large only in Daniel, a work of the second century B.C.E. “The dead, or at least some of them, will rise bodily!” Halkin explains.

The most important source of Jewish teachings about death, Halkin emphasizes, is the Talmud, in which rabbis and sages prescribe the rituals that observant Jews still embrace during the period of mourning. The underlying rationale of these practices, he writes, is to “allow sufficient space for grief while channeling it into formulaic expressions and surrounding it with numerous prescriptions that make sure its desirable limits are not exceeded.” Too much grief, in other words, is not permitted: “Gradually, mourners are expected to return to ordinary life,” Halkin writes.

Similarly, the writings that compose the Talmud are sometimes “frustratingly ambiguous” and even openly contradictory when it comes to “the world to come” (olam ha-ba), the Hebrew phrase used to describe the afterlife, and just as “unforthcoming” in distinguishing between heaven and hell. Halkin sees a psychological advantage in the lack of clarity and unanimity: “In itself, there is no more to be gained from the contemplation of never-ending torment than there is from the contemplation of never-ending bliss.”

One of Halkin’s great and enduring gifts is his ability to translate the abstruse and difficult passages of the ancient and medieval texts into accessible English, a gift that is much used in “After One-Hundred-and-Twenty.” But the passages that I appreciate most are the asides to the reader in which we hear Halkin’s own voice. He wonders aloud about whether sex in the afterlife will be monogamous, for example, and whether “my celestial body will be a more perfect replica of my terrestrial one, complete with skin and nerves?” Against all the pious speculation of the wise men who have come before him, however, Halkin seems to embody the fatalism of Kohelet.

“I pace and think: what is this thought that I am thinking? It is about bodies and souls, but it is also about the scrape of my scandals on the wooden floor, the pain in the tendon of the heel that I sprained a week ago, the ache in my back from sitting too long at the desk, the August light pouring through the northeast window, the old sheet I hang there every April to keep out the morning sun … and take down again in September,” he writes. “Each time I reach the stairs and turn back, I see this sheet. Its shabbiness annoys me and I think: for years I’ve been promising myself to replace it with a Venetian blind and I’ve never done it.  Soon I’ll be dead and there’ll be no need to do anything.” 

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Loss has no closure

I was just listening to the news about, Lane Grave, the 2 year old boy that was dragged away, by an alligator at Disney World in Florida.

The horror happened in front of his parents. As it was reported, the authorities had given up on finding the child alive, but according to the newscaster, they were continuing their search to find the body in order to bring “closure “ to the parents. 

I have heard the word “closure” used countless times over the years, and as a long time psychotherapist specializing in helping victims of crime and trauma, it is my firm opinion that using this word in this context should stop. In my years of working with those who have had their lives torn asunder, there is no closure to the tragic grief that comes with unexpected loss. It is that road which has no end and in the case of the missing toddler, finding this body will not alter or diminish the devastation this family is just beginning to understand. 

People want to believe that many of life’s tragedies can be tidied up, that wounds can be mended, and that peace and order can be restored. As other people’s misfortune reminds us, we too are vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life. We feel threatened when we see how fragile life can be, and to rid ourselves of our anxieties, we make up a story of an ending called “closure” to make us feel better. 

In fact, we do get better. Wounds do improve, but the road back is often long and circuitous. The use of the word closure is an indicator of wishful thinking and it is infuriating to those of us who know the truth and treat those pained people who have been sold this easy ending to tragic circumstances.

My wonderful father was murdered almost eight years and the murderer has never been arrested. It is easy to imagine that if only they could find the bastard, then maybe, I and my family could finally have “closure” and be freed from the profound pain and ache in our hearts. I would love to see this person found and convicted. I would love to see justice on behalf of my father. But, my father is never coming back, nor is this two year old child who lost his life at Disney World. I don’t write this piece in anger, I simply want others to understand the gravity of loss and know that life is often more complicated than trying to simplify it with one word.

Lin Manuel Miranda, the author of the Broadway show Hamilton, wrote the best words I’ve ever heard about loss. The song “It's Quiet Uptown” captures perfectly the pain Alexander and Angelica Hamilton feel after the death of their son Phillip. “There are moments that words don’t reach—There is suffering too terrible to name—you hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable—The moments when you’re in so deep it feels easier to just swim down” 

Rick Shuman, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles.

Father of 10 killed in terrorist shooting remembered as intellectual and giving man

More than 1,000 mourners attended the funeral for a father of 10 who was killed in a West Bank drive-by shooting.

The funeral of Rabbi Michael “Miki” Mark was held Sunday in the Otniel settlement in the West Bank followed by his burial in Jerusalem. Mark was killed Friday when terrorists opened fire on his car as he drove near Hebron.

President Reuven Rivlin, a distant relative of Mark, delivered remarks at his funeral.

“I stand in front of your coffin, Miki, Michael, in sorrow and anguish, and with me stand an entire nation, together grieving,” Rivlin said, according to Haaretz. “Even before the Sabbath began, the murderer’s hand robbed your family of you in cold blood, in front of two of your children, and in front of your beloved wife, Chavi, who was seriously injured.

“Miki, I am sorry to say that I learned about you, only after your death. I learned that you were a loving and beloved father, grandfather and son. An intellectual who was also a man of action. A person who loved hands-on work, but also excelled in the house of learning.”

Mark’s son Yeshoshua said that “as the years pass, we find greater depth. More people you helped. A community of admirers. You taught us to accept the other. You were a giving man with endless time, attention and thought. A man of perception at all levels.”

One of Mark’s daughter, Orit, called her father “the most amazing in the world.”

“How much you gave. How much you did,” she said.

His children, in a video posted on social media, had appealed for mourners to attend the funeral to memorialize their father.

“Come and hear how good our father was, and you’ll be better people, more loving people,” one of his daughters said.

Along with his wife, Chavi, being seriously wounded in the shooting, two of his children were lightly injured.

Prophets and mensches; Remembering Rabbi Schulweis and Rabbi Beerman

I’ve only fallen in love with two rabbis in my life. One I married. The other was Harold Schulweis. 
He had been ailing for months, so his death Dec. 18 at the age of 89 was not unexpected.
So, too, the passing of Rabbi Leonard Beerman, who died Dec. 24 at 93.  
These were elderly men who lived full and ever-so-useful lives, but still their passing has left a prophet-shaped hole in this community. 
Rabbi Schulweis was the teacher I followed during most of my adulthood, while Rabbi Beerman was my rabbi in my angsty teens.  
This was my post-bar mitzvah Jewish life, when I was dragged twice a year to Leo Baeck Temple, where Rabbi Beerman was the senior rabbi. I was unclear then what the words in the prayer book had to do with me, certain that nothing moral or true could be found in a wealthy shul that my friends and I dismissed as “Our Lady of the 405.” I only agreed to sit through Yom Kippur services because I knew that afterward, on the way home, I could get Welsh rarebit at Du-par’s.
But my parents must have known that Rabbi Beerman could get through to their snide son. Already famous for being the “anti-Vietnam” rabbi, his High Holy Days sermons were calm, firm calls for Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, indictments of whatever political folly was taking place in Washington, demands that his congregation act quicker, speak louder, give deeper. Sitting in the back pew, I learned from Leonard Beerman that religion in general, and Judaism in particular, did not exist to shelter us from the world, but to spur us to engage in it.
A few years later, in college on the East Coast, I decided to protest what I thought was President Jimmy Carter’s foolhardy call for mandatory draft registration. The penalty for refusing to register was severe — young men were going to prison for it. Unsure, scared, I wrote a letter to Rabbi Beerman, asking for advice. He didn’t tell me what to do. But he told me that the best path, always, was to follow my conscience and my convictions.  
Rabbi Schulweis came into my life later, after I starting working at the Jewish Journal. When a major crisis afflicted the community or the world, I would very often turn to him for commentary, or, as the years went by, he would call me. “Bob, I have something I’d like to say on this.” (I was suitably awed by Rabbi Schulweis, and I never, ever thought to tell him that in my whole life, only one person ever called me “Bob”— him.)
I printed his writings, I quoted him, I spoke with him, I followed him. He was ahead of me — ahead of the Jewish world — on so many issues.
We didn’t speak often. Many people were much closer to him — some of them have shared their recollections in these pages. But in the conversations we did have, I always came away with that sense that the more I understood the particular — my Jewishness — the better I could serve humanity — the universal.  
“We need a believable Jewish theology,” Rabbi Schulweis once wrote in the Journal, “not a set of dogmas. We call not for a monolithic set of doctrines, but for the adventure of the ethical and spiritual wrestling with our angels of conscience.”
Death creates a strange neighborhood. I never would have thought to compare these two great rabbis, both so important to my life, had they not by chance left us around the same time.  
But it strikes me that, as different as they were, they had in common two attributes that are a bit hard to come by these days in our leaders: courage and decency. 
These men served wealthy, powerful congregations. But never did they shy away from challenging them, presenting tough ideas from the pulpit, even at the risk of alienating the very people who paid their salaries and built their edifices. Even as Jews became more surburban and settled, these rabbis were lightning rods for controversy. They were pulpit-pounders and activists — and they saw it as their duty not just to comfort, but to confront. 
They did so, though, with a great deal of humanity. I found them both approachable, engaging and beloved. Long after both had stepped down as senior rabbis, thousands of people attended their memorial services. They were praised from the very pulpits where they used to scold and push their congregations. 
That means, I think, that in the honors being heaped upon them both, some praise is due their congregations. Part of what made these men great leaders was that they led people who were willing to be great followers. This is not something to be taken for granted in Jewish life, riven by factionalism and people who think they know better. 
It is ultimately a small thing, a local Jewish community. It is a minority within a minority, 600,000 Jews among 13 million worldwide, among  5 billion people.  But it is filled with gripping stories, big ideas, grand dreams, supreme accomplishments, loving souls and, sprinkled among us, giants. 

Letter to Japan: Why we mourn, what we lost

Many people I meet in Japan ask, why we Jews revere the memory of Chiune Sugihara. The obvious reason is that this man, along with his wife, through their bravery and steadfastness, saved thousands of Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis during the WWII Nazi Genocide, known as the Shoah.

When the Simon Wiesenthal Center had the honor to host Mrs. Sugihara in Jerusalem, on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, I had the honor to accompany her to a Beit Midrash—the study hall of the Mir Yeshiva—the very Judaic academy whose students and teachers the Sugihara had been saved by supplying Japanese visas in 1940. “You and your husband not only saved Jewish lives”, I told her as she shared astonished looks with 2,000(!) young religious scholars. “You see Mrs. Sugihara, you also helped save and insure the continuity of Jewish life and the spiritual and humane values of our Torah (written laws) and Mesorah (Oral traditions).

Indeed, Judaism places parents and teachers on the same plane, with the child/student taught to respect and love them both for their nurturing and caring for their physical and spiritual growth.

That is why the entire “House of Israel” is in mourning. The four brilliant, saintly, peaceful scholars, who were butchered while praying in a holy synagogue, are mourned not only by four wives, many children and dozens of grandchildren, but by all their spiritual offspring—including me.  

When word first came that the terrorist attack took place in the Har Nof neighborhood—an area home to many fellow Americans—we feared that there would be numerous personal connections to the tragedy—and there were. Our hopes were quickly dashed.  Of the three American rabbis who perished, my colleagues and I at the Simon Wiesenthal Center learned that we had fairly close ties to all of them.

In the early 1980s Kalman Levine studied at our Yeshiva for two years where he began his journey of scholarship and piety, before leaving for the Holy city of Jerusalem. After a few more years of study at successively more intense schools, he joined the faculty of a Yeshiva there. His love for learning was so deep that his son told reporters of his father sleeping only a few hours a night. He raised a family. When he was murdered, he left behind a wife, ten children, and five grandchildren. 

Aryeh Kupinsky stood at 6 feet, 3 inches tall. His friends called him the “Gentle Giant.” Some called him the nicest person they had ever met. He was the kind of person you didn’t ask for help, because he volunteered it before you could ask. Before his marriage, he was the study partner and good friend of the eldest son of one of my colleagues. When he was murdered, he left behind a wife and five children.

Moshe Twersky was a public figure whose scholarship and gentle guidance touched the lives of many Jews on both sides of the Atlantic.  As such, his loss was experienced as everyone’s loss. His grandfather, Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik, was one of the most important figures in 20th century Orthodoxy as a Talmudist and philosopher. One of his daughters married Dr. Isadore Twersky, a professor of Hebrew literature and philosophy at Harvard.  His son, Moshe, blessed with the intelligence of his parents, became the head of Toras Moshe yeshiva in Jerusalem—an academy founded by a former colleague from Los Angeles. Rabbi Twersky had many students. When he was murdered, he left behind a wife, five children, and ten grandchildren.

I hope that these details offer a glimpse into the deep sense of loss felt by millions of Jews from Tel Aviv to Toronto, to Tokyo.

There are of other dimensions to this barbaric attack. It could sound the death knell for—the “Two-State Solution” , where after negotiations, Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority would eventually lead a new (peaceful) state—abutting the Jewish State of Israel.

But many Israelis no longer view Abbas’ PA as a reliable negotiating partner. In recent weeks, Abbas himself has incited Palestinians with the false claim that Israelis are “desecrating” the Al Aqsa Mosque. According to the New York Times, Abbas condemned the brutal murders of the rabbis only after US Secretary of State John Kerry forced him to do so. His colleagues in the Palestinian Authority actually celebrated the murders and the murderers. Genocidal Hamas distributed sweets to children in Gaza, as the Jewish families were burying the fathers and husbands. In Amman, legislators held a moment of silence—not for the innocent religious scholars but for their brutal executioners!

Last Friday, I attended a conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Instead of using the rostrum to call for an end to recent violence, including the murder by a Palestinian terrorist who used his car to mow down a three month old Israeli girl in her stroller, Palestinian speakers –diplomats and legislators— unveiled a new lie: That Israelis’ continued “desecration” of Muslim Holy sites threatened to transform the struggle to a religious war.

The opposite is true. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that protects the religious rights of all faiths, including Muslims. It seems that the genocidal religious doctrine of Hamas and the thuggery of ISIS are influencing too many Palestinians, in word and brutal deed. It is they who threaten to morph a political dispute into a religious conflict. If that happens, the Palestinian leadership will plunge their people into an abyss from which there will be no exit.

How Jewish ritual helped me find my way through loss

I had to press my lips closed, the day after it ended.

The ritual was no longer mine. My duty was complete. But the words, with their cadences and rhythms, their alliterative twists — yitgadal v’yitgadash — had become my anthem. For 11 months, I had owned these words, claimed them like land, their cries and God-calls had become, for me, a visitable place. 

How could I now forsake them? 

The last day I said it, my hands trembled. Deep, heavy breaths rose and fell in my chest. The room felt hot. I’m not ready, I thought to myself. I’m not ready to leave this place — hamakom — the place of consolation. When my heart first tore, like the dress I wore to her funeral, the words of Kaddish were what daily sustained me. 

Magnified and sanctified … Magnified and sanctified …

These words were my poetry, the only sustenance for a soul in retreat, for a child who felt like an orphan. I needed these words, in their mystical, mysterious Aramaic, like food.  

May his great name be … in the world that he created … as he wills …

How could I stop mourning my mother? I still needed her. I still needed this.

Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’alam ul-al’mei al’maya …

In the Talmud, Kaddish is likened to Yom Kippur, described as a prayer of atonement on behalf of the dead. One source even tells us that when a child says Kaddish for a parent, “Any decree against them will be torn up and the Gates of the Garden of Eden opened.” 

Is it possible that my mother needed these words, too?

It has been more than a year since I buried her. She was 61 when she died. “Young,” everyone said. She would have loved that. She also would have loved that the coroner’s report began, “The body is that of a 5-foot-5-inch, 127-pound white female appearing younger than the given age of 61 years.” It is true that she was very devoted to proper skin care.

Her official cause of death was blunt head trauma — from a series of falls — leaving her with more than one “dark red subgaleal hematoma.” But that only tells you how she died; it doesn’t begin to suggest the preceding years of decline, the crusade her body launched against itself, or the wrenching struggle of her soul to find some kind of peace. I want to believe she found that peace in death, and that her pain ceased. But the end of her pain meant the end of her life, and, therefore, the beginning of my pain — a pain my family, as her survivors, has to live with every day.

At a shivah minyan for Sheryl Berrin-Klein, from left: husband Donald Klein, son Frank, daughters Jessica and Danielle, and their father, Larry Berrin.

The last time I saw my mother, she lay on a hospital bed at South Miami Hospital, pink-lipped and auburn-haired, her alabaster skin flushed with the final trickle of blood ever to flow through her veins. On life support, she looked just like John Everett Millais’ Ophelia — painterly, peaceful, floating gently down some endless stream. The air in the hospital room was so thick you could choke; a disconsolate quiet punctuated by enormous eruptions of grief. I can still hear my sister screaming.

The next week was a dark fairy tale. A funeral. Bereaved children. Devastated spouse. Eulogies. The pounding dirt on her grave. Shivah. Platters of food. A greenhouse of flowers. So many people. Noise. Rupture. Alienation. Angst. The phone didn’t stop ringing.

When I arrived back in L.A., just before Shabbat, it was as if her death had not happened. No one I’d met in the seven years I’d lived in California was among the nearly 500 people who attended her funeral. Miami was too far, and it had happened too quickly, and I hadn’t had the courage or the time to invite anyone. I flew to Miami, put her in the ground, and then returned to everything as it had been, while my world had unalterably changed.

That first afternoon, I sat on my couch, blank and full of dread. What should I do with myself? Shabbos was coming, and I was alone. Everything was disorienting. The air was hot, humid. I felt dizzy. Services seemed like the safest, most tranquil place to go. So I stumbled, as if drunk, to Temple Beth Am’s Kabbalat Shabbat, the service that welcomes the Sabbath. I had never been there before, but it is just around the corner from where I live, and, at the time, there was nowhere else for me to go. Saying Kaddish would ground me, I told myself. It would force me to stand still in a spinning world. 

At this time, we invite all who are mourning to please rise …

At the end of the service, Rabbi Ari Lucas looked around and kindly asked new people to introduce themselves. He looked directly at me. He knew he had never seen me before and invited me to declare myself. But I lowered my head, wishing to remain silent. Death had rendered me closed. I wanted to be alone, anonymous and far away. Loss had diminished me, my spirit shrunk from grief and pain. 

But I had a duty. For much of Jewish history I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to fulfill this mitzvah, but fortunately I am a Jewish woman living in the 21st century in Los Angeles. Kaddish was mine to claim. As Rabbi Daniel Landes, director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, reassuringly writes in “The Puzzling Power of Kaddish”: “No one is beyond sanctifying God’s name.”   

Kaddish wasn’t a choice. It was my reveille call back to the world of the living. I’d learned of the ritual not in religious school, but from Leon Wieseltier. I devoured his book, “Kaddish,” on the plane ride home from my mother’s funeral. “Help me, Nachmanides. Help me,” Wieseltier wrote. I wasn’t entirely sure who Nachmanides was, but that became my prayer, too. 

When I walked into Beth Am’s daily morning minyan 36 hours later, I wanted to do what was required of me, then disappear. I didn’t want pity; I didn’t want friends; I didn’t want food. I wanted to be an island. 

But community, just like family, it turns out, is not about what you want but what you need. 

Kaddish knows this. It’s why a minyan is required to say it; it demands a communal response. And that response, Landes teaches, “interrupts every other prayer, for Kaddish is beyond all prayers.”  

And so began my ritual of rising to say Kaddish. Each day, I would wake at an ungodly hour to go and do the godly thing, and each day, it hurt like a hangover. At 6:30 a.m., I’d shove my cats from on top of me, roll out of bed, throw on whatever clothes I had worn the night before, grab my tallit and walk out the door. And almost every morning on the way to shul, my sister would phone, and I’d say, “I’m late for minyan!” 

“You say that every day,” she’d tease. 

I still don’t know how to daven the early morning prayers. “If you don’t know Kaddish D’Rabbanan,” one of my teachers recently chided about the rabbi’s Kaddish, said after completing a passage of study, “that means you get to shul more than seven minutes late. That’s the early-bird prayer.” As he well knows, I am no early bird, but it is my firm belief that one should always have something to aspire to. Most days, anyway, the whole service felt to me like a prolonged prelude to the Kaddish, as if all the other liturgy existed as an elaborate exposition in service of this sacred supplication. In the Talmud, Wieseltier reminds us, it is said that the whole world is sustained in existence by the utterance of “Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’alam ul-al’mei al’maya (May his great name be blessed …).” Long before Kaddish became a full prayer, that line appeared in early Jewish literature — not quite verbatim, but close — in Daniel, which was written around 500-160 B.C.E.

One of the Kaddish platitudes people often refer to is that there’s nothing about death in the prayer. It is, instead, explicitly praiseful, a proclamation of God’s greatness. This is a favorite conundrum of the rabbis who love to answer complicated questions: In the face of loss, when you might be doubting the existence of God, how can you praise God? How can there be eternity when death brings finitude? Why believe in something when death brings nothingness? And who decided it would be a good idea to commemorate the end of life with an affirmation that life goes on? For a while, my thoughts were more in line with Nietzsche than Nachmanides.

Then I realized that Kaddish depends on that convergence. “It is about the meeting place of two worlds, human finitude and God’s eternity,” Rabbis Lawrence Kushner and Nehemia Polen point out in Volume 6 of “My People’s Prayer Book.” “It brings us out of our sadness and anger by having us utter appreciation and praise just when we are tempted to deny the importance of both,” Rabbi Elliot Dorff writes in the same book.

Something extraordinary happens when you force yourself to perform a ritual. In high school, when I was competing in the speech and debate club, my mother noticed that the more my partner and I performed — up to six times each day at some tournaments — a mastery began to develop, a perfection of the text, which then enabled this transcendent, creative magic to happen. And so it was with Kaddish: I doubted it would transform me at first, but I did it anyway. And at the moment I least believed, God showed up. 

God first came in the form of Mike Harris. A white-haired, quietly devout Jew with a gentle soul, Mike knew me no more than a few days before showing up at my doorstep — with his wife, Bev, and two grandkids in tow — offering food and care and a year of free synagogue membership. (I would later joke that the worst part about finishing Kaddish was that now I’d have to pay to join the congregation.) Over 11 months, Mike invited me to Shabbos dinners, taught me how to garden and bought me my first siddur, from Jerusalem, with my Hebrew name inscribed on it in gold. When I first saw my name combined with my mother’s — Leah bat Zalman Leibel v’Sara — I realized she wasn’t lost; she was my link to the world.

Morning after mourning, I felt God’s presence through the people praying around me. Through Teri Cohan-Link, who unfailingly greeted any new person who walked through the door, who saw other people’s pain and was kind; who blessed me with holiday meals, gave me greens from her garden and hugged me when I cried. And Roberta Goodman-Rosenberg, who for months mourned her own mother by my side, and even included my siblings at her holiday table, throughout the year offering tips on the business of mourning, the ordering of footstones and planning for the final Kaddish Kiddush. 

And the rabbis, Adam Kligfeld and Ari Lucas, were often present at daily minyan, quietly davening alongside us, elegant in their warmth, gentle in dispensing wisdom.

At minyan, there were all these Jewish angels everywhere, and Kaddish made me see them. I saw how the minyan gabbai, David Kaplan, diligently performed a million tasks, visible and invisible, every single day, to make it possible for Jews like me to do my duty — to mourn, and magnify and sanctify. 

And then there was Sam Tuchband, who noticed I walked to Starbucks every morning after prayers and brought me his empty coffee bags to exchange for free drinks at the store. And the adorable Nate Milmeister, the nonagenarian neighbor I never knew I had, whose effervescent Yiddishkayt brought levity and light to the austerity of the prayer service. On my birthday, Nate bought me cake; he kept my kitchen stocked with lemons from his yard and never missed an opportunity to practice his old-fashioned coquetry: “You’re a sweet bunch of onions!” he’d flirt. Admittedly, I haven’t received many compliments like that one.

The truth is, I could write at length about each person in the minyan — because it was with these souls, in that space, through the words of our tradition and in the presence of our Torah, that I found my ethereal mother.

Every morning I could see her out the window, in the skies, in the trees, even in the traffic. And through the words of Kaddish, I could speak to her. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach taught that Kaddish is what the dead would say to us, could we hear them. It’s a gorgeous thought, and I often prayed, “Let it be: Let it be that my mother exists in a place so wondrous only praise would spill from her lips could she speak.” But what if that isn’t so? What if she exists in a perfect, wondrous place but still cries out because she misses her children?

I’ve come to think of the prayer more as literary manna, a fungible fugue that supplies the seeds for a sublime conversation. Kaddish contains the question and the answer. And, like Shabbat, it is a profound gift to the Jewish people. When we are left to wallow in death’s silence, Kaddish may be the only conversation left. 

A few weeks before my 11 months of recitation would end, I became very nervous and couldn’t sleep. What would I do when it was over? When there would be no more mornings of promptness, of purpose, of complaining to my sister, “I’m late for minyan!” Who else in my life but my fellow “minyanaires” had I let see me so raw? Fresh out of bed, hair unwashed, not a stitch of makeup, dutifully wearing the same things day after day feeling not fashionable, but threadbare. How true are the words of the customary phrase, offered by the congregation to a Jew in mourning — “Hamakom yenachem etchem …” May the place comfort you. My hamakom was the Temple Beth Am minyan, where the only expectation was my presence, not my performance; where I was allowed to simply be, just me. 

Hard though it was, the last day of Kaddish turned out to be the best day. It was filled with family and friends — my father, sister and brother, who were here from Miami; my “fellow fellows” from American Jewish World Service, who had made a minyan for me so I could say Kaddish during the 10 days we traveled through Mexico; and my best rabbi friend from another shul, who even led davening. 

Before davening started, one of the daily minyanaires offered me a blessing. “I hope you found some comfort here,” he said. But that last day, I couldn’t stop trembling. 

My teacher recently taught that Kaddish is like a punctuation mark. Its various iterations — half Kaddish, rabbi’s Kaddish, Mourner’s Kaddish etc. — bookend each part of the prayer service: After Birkat Hashachar, Kaddish; after the Amidah, Kaddish; after Torah service, Kaddish; after Aleinu, Kaddish; and so on. It’s a sign of completion. And it is yet more evidence of the brilliance of Jewish tradition: At the moment of loss, our tradition offers us a prayer symbolic of wholeness.

The loss of my mother has circumcised my heart with an irreparable wound. It is still impossible to fathom that for a time she was here, and now she is not. It is harder still to contemplate all the things she’ll miss, all the years I’ll feel deprived of her presence, her wisdom, her counsel, her love. Should I be blessed to marry and have children, they’ll never know her. For every simcha and every sadness, she’ll remain a ghost.

But from all of those losses, Kaddish brought gain. 

“You’ve added many dimensions to this minyan in ways you don’t even know,” one of the minyanaires said to me on my last day of mourning. “One is, we all know we can get written about at any moment, so we’re on our best behavior!”

If best behavior means being committed Jews who are kind to the core and religiously competent, then he was right. (I, on the other hand, still can’t make it through the whole Amidah with this group of NASCAR daveners.) As I told them on the last day, the Temple Beth Am minyan taught me not just what community is — but the highest levels of what it is meant to be.

Several weeks ago, when my childhood friend Steven Sotloff was killed by ISIS militants, I returned to minyan to say Kaddish for him, as well as for my stepfather, simultaneously. That day, my recitation reeked of rage. As our Miami rabbi, Terry Bookman, asked at Steven’s funeral, “Is there any sorrow greater than this?” 

And yet, even when confronted with profound anguish and despair, Kaddish remained the manna: Kaddish doesn’t tell us God is good or fair; Kaddish tells us God is great — big, mighty, inscrutable. Jewish tradition, thank God, knows better than to promise a life devoid of pain. Instead, it offers us the tools — God, community, ritual — to help bear it. 

Yit’barakh v’yish’tabach v’yit’pa’ar v’yit’romam v’yit’nasei …

Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi in Palestine, was once asked how he, a devout Jew, could associate with secular Israelis. And he answered: First comes yitgadal — magnification. You have to expand your prayer, your soul, your circle. Then comes yitgadash — sanctification. Only once you have broadened yourself, and left that narrow place, can holiness emerge.

The Temple Beth Am daily minyan made it possible for me to yitgadal and yitgadash — magnify and sanctify — to emerge from a cocoon of grief and enlarge myself through the presence of community, the presence of my mother and the presence of God.


Family of slain Palestinian refuses to receive Peres

The family of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the teen killed in an alleged revenge attack, rejected a condolence visit by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Peres’ security detail was turned away Monday when it came to prepare for the visit.

Other visits reportedly have been canceled by police and the Shin Bet security service due to security concerns, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

The family also rejected the condolence statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to an unnamed family member who told Maan that that “we refuse to accept the condolences of someone who agrees on the murder of our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.”

A visit by a delegation of rabbis led by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau was canceled, though it was unclear if it was because the family refused to receive the delegation or out of security concerns.

The rabbis condemned the murder of the Palestinian teen in statements on Monday.

“We as religious leaders need to lead with a conciliatory message to prevent continued pain and bereavement so that no one else is harmed,” Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said.

Some Israeli government officials have come to the family’s home in eastern Jerusalem to offer their condolences, including Shelly Yachimovich, Amir Peretz and Avraham Burg of the Labor party.

The anti-racism organization Tag Meir was scheduled on Tuesday to bring over 600 Israelis by chartered buses for a visit Tuesday to the family’s mourning tent that the organization said was coordinated with the family.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday met with Tariq Abu Khdeir, the cousin of the murdered teen who was beaten by Israeli security forces during a riot on the day of the funeral. The teen’s family said he was the masked youth being beaten unconscious by Israeli soldiers in a video that is circulating on the Internet. The teen said he was not participating in the riot.

Jewish summer camps grappling with murders of Israeli teens

On the morning of June 30, the children began arriving at Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia, Wash., ready for a fun-filled summer.

But shortly before the first little feet descended the bus steps, the sleepaway camp’s Israeli counselors learned from back home about the discovery of the bodies of three teens kidnapped in the West Bank 18 days earlier.

The news about the teens’ fate challenged administrators at Jewish camps like the Conservative movement-affiliated Schechter to deal with the tragedy: what information to present, how to tailor their words to campers’ varied maturity levels and how to mourn the youthful victims while not alarming children for whom camp represents happiness and escape.

Then there was tending to Israeli campers and counselors, for whom the trauma was more personal.

At Schechter, the dilemma for administrators was compounded by the campers being so young — second- through seventh-graders. The teenage cohort wasn’t due until later in the summer.

So nothing was announced that day and no mention appeared on the camp’s website.

“It’s not really a great topic for kicking off camp and having a great summer,” said the camp’s executive director, Sam Perlin. “Getting off to a good start is extremely important.”

Only at the next morning’s daily assembly at the flagpole to sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, did Perlin tell campers that the three missing yeshiva students had lost their lives.

“I didn’t say ‘murdered’ or ‘killed,’ ” he related. “I didn’t say how or why.”

Across the country, Camp Moshava, a Modern Orthodox overnight camp in Honesdale, Pa., took a different approach.

Campers arriving on June 24 were greeted at the front gate with placards hung by Israeli counselors featuring the faces of the kidnapped boys and a message in Hebrew praying for their safe return.

The news of their deaths broke nearly a week later at lunchtime, when each shift of children finishing the meal headed to another building for the daily afternoon prayers, youngest group to oldest. At the Mincha service, the fact of the boys’ death was conveyed at an age-appropriate level.

Moshava’s website the next morning showed images of three Israeli flags arrayed horizontally across the screen above the words “Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet,” the traditional utterance upon learning of a Jewish person’s death. The left column presented news of the deaths of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach.

“We’re a religious Zionist camp. This is what we’re all about,” the camp’s director, Alan Silverman, said when asked about his guiding principles for handling the situation.

Upon hearing the news, he said, “we and the camp psychologists made a plan for each group” that included telling Israeli staffers and campers first. Others were dispatched to share the news with two groups of adolescent campers off site on organized hikes.

Moshava campers of all ages are learning sections of Mishnah in memory of the slain teens. Three eighth-grade girls initiated a project to collect campers’ letters, poems and drawings for albums to be sent to the grieving parents.

“They should feel we are connected, even though we are thousands of miles away,” said Davida Krauss, one of the girls, who is from the Bronx, N.Y. “We wanted to do something for them.”

Krauss said she and two friends came up with the idea because “we saw everyone so sad that they can’t do something — but we really can do something.”

The campers were offered the opportunity during their mid-afternoon free period to gather on the grass outside the dining hall to speak with mental health professionals or with each other, which some did.

Otherwise, swimming, ballgames and the rest of the recreational schedule carried on normally, Silverman said.

After hearing of the deaths of the Jewish teens, several former staff members drove to Moshava in solidarity.

“In a sense, [the camp] is the best place you could possibly be,” said Silverman, who lives most of the year just a few miles from where the Israeli boys were kidnapped in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion settlement bloc and has run the camp for 29 years. “Here you’re with a large community that is grieving together.”

The same impulse hit Israeli staffers at the Schechter camp.

Bar Bamani, a counselor who had flown in recently from his Tel Aviv-area hometown of Tel Mond to work at the camp, said his mother texted him the news just as some of the other Israeli staffers were hearing what had happened.

One of the Israelis began crying, “so we sat together and talked a bit about it, to make sure everything was OK,” said Bamani, 21. “Campers were coming, so there wasn’t much time to sit and breathe and digest the situation.”

During crises, “we feel united and close to Israel,” he said. “That’s the safe place, the family. You can feel the mourning of everyone.”

Bamani expected campers to raise the subject of the tragedy, but said he won’t initiate such conversations.

The camp’s rabbi, Yohanna Kinberg, is helping to launch conversation on the topic. She laminated a photograph of the Israeli victims for display in the synagogue alongside battery-operated memorial candles.

Someone moved the photo to a central walkway outside, where it has prompted discussions among campers and staff, she said.

“This is real, and it’s important to talk about if it’s framed in a thoughtful way,” she said, “not a terrifying way.”

Days after the discovery of the Israeli teens’ bodies came news of the murder of a Palestinian teenager from eastern Jerusalem, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, and later of Israel’s arrest of six Jewish suspects in connection with his slaying.

The killing of Khdeir came up at Moshava in discussions among the high school-age campers, Silverman said. At the Schechter camp, staff members spoke about it informally over Shabbat, Perlin said.

Referring to the aftermath of the killings, along with the rocket attacks launched on Israel from the Gaza Strip, Kinberg said the situation is “spiraling and it’s scary, and it’s very upsetting.”

“I think we’ll have a lot of discussions with the teens on what’s happening in Israel,” the rabbi said. “Since we have so many Israelis here, it’ll be a much richer conversation.”



Sheldon Abrams died July 15 at 74. Survived by wife Tanya; sons Jeffrey (Michelle Breslauer), Steven (Natalia); 3 grandchildren; sister Beverly Manekofsky; brother Marvin. Hillside

Karen Berman-Riddle died July 14 at 51. Survived by husband John; daughter Marie; mother Helen Berman; sisters Freda Berman, Debby (Scott) Carlson. Mount Sinai

Sam Boris died July 10 at 98. Survived by son Michael; niece Joanne Rolston-Martin. Hillside

Sandra Clayman died July 14 at 69. Survived by husband Robert Bloom; daughters Rachel (David) Chalk, Heidi (Robert) Goldfobel; 3 grandchildren; sister Karen Levine; brother Joel Geller. Mount Sinai

Faye Farber died July 7 at 93. Survived by daughter Linda (Dana) Fadler; daughter-in-law MaryAnn; son-in-law James Gillespie; 2 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Lillian Gefter died July 10 at 103. Survived by daughter Joan Stern; 8 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Dorothy Grumet died July 13 at 85. Survived by sons David, Jack (Victoria), Matthew; 3 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Jeanne Hopp died July 10 at 90. Survived by daughters Vivian (Michael) Gordon, Marlin (Mark) Killen; sons David, Lawrence (Anne), Martin (Randy); 12 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Jakir Kalev died July 9 at 77. Survived by wife Rina; daughter Dorit; sister Violet Gurfinkle. Hillside

Ruth Kay died July 14 at 94. Survived by brother Bernard (Teri). Mount Sinai

Doris King Perlstein died July 17 at 88. Survived by husband Ray; daughter Charlotte (Michael) Stone; son Martin Novom; 2 grandchildren. Hollywood Forever

Florence Koplin died July 10 at 95. Survived by daughter Megan; son Larry; 4 grandchildren. Hillside

Stella Kornberg died July 13 at 96. Survived by sons Jacob (Peg), Steven (Cheryl); 5 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Marlene Koshinsky died July 10 at 81. Survived by daughter Susan (Al) Moreno; son Steve; 5 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild. Hillside

Walter Levi died July 15 at 87. Survived by wife Jerri; daughter Gina (Lisa Bone); 1 grandchild; 3 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Sanford Levy died July 17 at 76. Survived by wife Susan; sons Alan (Sheree), Danny and David (Cristina); stepson Danny Stepner; 11 grandchildren; 7 great-grandchildren; brother Edward (Sunnie); sister Helene Marcatoris. Mount Sinai

Roberta Madison died July 13 at 81. Survived by son Jerry (Nancy) Solomon; daughter Susan Vann; 6 grandchildren; brother Mickey. Hillside

Samuel Manson died July 7 at 94. Survived by daughters Margaret (Elliot) Entis, Hilary (Ethan) Stone, Carolyn (David),  JoAnn (Chris); son Richard; 11 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Harold Marcus died July 8 at 80. Survived by wife Eve; daughters Beth (Jeff Ring), Elaine, Madeline (Glenn Simpson); 2 grandchildren; sister Myra (Amnon) Feffer; brother Gerald (Ann). Mount Sinai

Estelle Nelson died July 11 at 104. Survived by daughter Norma (Gene) Berman; 2 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

William Rosen died July 13 at 89. Survived by wife Bella; son Steven (Charlotte). Mount Sinai

Eunice Rosenberg died July 14 at 89. Survived by son Alan; daughter-in-law Dariea; 4 grandchildren; 5 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Ary Shapiro died July 15 at 74. Survived by wife Zhanna Radinsky; daughters Shelly (Jorge) Radinsky-Varela, Yevlana (Boris) Zukovski; son Kirill (Osha); 5 grandchildren; brother Henry (Marina) Zhitnitsky; sister-in-law Anna (Marik) Balyasmy. Mount Sinai

Lev Sokol died July 12 at 75. Survived by wife Lisa; daughter Angela Rosenberg; sons Gene, Robert (Olga), Vitaly (Danielle); 7 grandchildren. Hillside

Mark Stern died July 16 at 56. Survived by father Roger; sister Ilene Procida; brother Frank. Malinow and Silverman

Rosalie Stillman died July 13 at 60. Survived by husband Stephan; daughter Rachel (Joey) Rifkin; son Aaron (Sabrina); mother Ruthie; sister Susan Cutler; brother Lawrence Goldstein. Hillside

Gladys Watenmaker died July 8 at 96. Survived by husband William; daughter Julia; sons Alan, Eric; 4 grandchildren. Hillside

Jack Wax died July 7 at 82. Survived by wife Lenore; daughter Eva; son William; 5 grandchildren. Hillside

Arlene Weger died July 12 at 88. Survived by daughters Roberta (Bob) Knox, Elsa; 5 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild. Hillside

Marjorie Jacobson Wesler died July 17 at 95. Survived by daughters Laurie (Robert Marmor) Wesler, Sanda Wesler Warner; 4 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; sister Rhoda Nason. Mount Sinai

Beatrice Westen died July 11 at 91. Survived by daughter Susan (Robert) Gilson; son Steven (Marlee); 3 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Reflections on the first mourner’s daddish in honor of Memorial Day

Kaddish – The origins of this most famous Jewish prayer are shrouded in history.  Most agree that it began with the central words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” or “May God’s Name be praised now and forever.” One source suggests that the Kaddish was originally recited at the conclusion of a learning session in the study halls of ancient Israel.  After engaging in the sacred task of study, these words were recited to show honor and reverence for the learning and to pay respect to the teacher. 

One legend originates the Kaddish as a memorial prayer when the great teacher of his generation died and his students carried him from the Beit Midrash to the grave. There they recited the words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” to express their profound sadness and gratitude.  It is to say that the greatness of God’s Name is borne out of a teacher’s influence.  Anytime we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish; the words are manifest not only in sadness, but in appreciation for a shared wisdom.     

In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to introduce you to my newest teacher, US Army Veteran SSGT Stephen E. Sherman.  At 92 years old, Stephen is one of the few living African American serviceman.  He now dedicates his time helping homeless veterans.  We met waiting in a line one morning, and in the midst of light conversation, he drew closer, looked me deeply in the eyes and shared, “I have seen what your people went through when I was in the war.  I was there when they liberated a camp in western Germany.  I will never forget the look on those people’s faces when we told them they were free.”  It was a powerful and brief moment that honestly took me aback.  We shared an understanding from an intensely significant time in his life of the burden and responsibility of memory.  Searching for a response, I returned with words of gratitude for him and his service to our country.  Our chance encounter changed the outlook of my day, and now, even several weeks later, my appreciation for the power memory holds in binding the living together.  

This man, who so proudly served his country in World War II, is spending the twilight years of his life serving those who survive. For that he is an inspiration.  But he became my teacher when he reminded me that when we are carriers of memory and respect between us; we too lived out these words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” God’s great Name is praised when we recognized the collective responsibility to remember.

On Memorial Day we will take moments to activate the memory for those who fought to preserve and protect our ideals.   On Memorial Day, we are reminded just how important it is to remember the bravery and heroism of those who gave their lives to defend our freedom as Americans and as Jews.  And more than words of honor and reverence, on Memorial Day the Mourner’s Kaddish should be recited for them too.  Kaddish breathes meaning into the words we wish to express in gratitude for a lesson learned.

For me, SSGT Sherman gave life and being to the countless men and women who died in service this country.  Our shared moment opened up worlds of meaning to connect the Memorial Day of this country with the memorial days of the Jewish lifecycle and calendar.  It is precisely those worlds of meaning that make God’s Name great now and forever.

Obituaries: Oct. 26 – Nov. 1, 2012

Mina Bear died Sept. 18 at 88. Survived by daughter Moraye (John Hall); brothers Nate, Leo Rosen. Hillside

Edythe Berman died Sept. 18 at 91. Survived by husband Isaac; son Paul (Becky) Gerwin; daughter Jeane (Zane Marhea) Freer; stepsons Ed (Robin) Ron, Gil (Nancy); 5 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren. Hillside 

Betty Brown died Sept. 16 at 83. Survived by daughters Janet (Howard) Lutwak, Debra (John) Edelston; son David; 2 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Rachel Cohen died Sept. 15 at 78. Survived by son Solomon. Mount Sinai

Pauline Cordova died Sept. 14 at 94. Survived by husband Tom; daughter Bette (Dan) Marinoff; son Mark (Claudia); sister Betty Angel; brother David Franco; 6 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Robert R. Dubrow died Sept. 21 at 88. Survived by wife Marie; daughter Judy Horton (Brian); son Michael (Shauna). Hillside

Jerry “Hannah” Efros died Sept. 14 at 94. Survived by daughters Susan, Lynda; 1 grandchild. Hillside

Mildred Giesberg died Sept. 16 at 87. Survived by husband Richard; daughter Susan (David Lappen); son Daniel (Carol Lifland); 6 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild. Hillside

Neil Gold died Sept. 21 at 70. Survived by wife Maureen; sons Daniel, Michael (Danny); sister Mona Goldpanitz; 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Aviva Hoyer died Sept. 17 at 95.  Survived by daughters Jennifer (Mark) Holtzman, Stephanie Pinkus; sons Daniel (Megan), Paul (Helen); 10 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Samuel Jacobson died Sept. 18 at 93. Survived by daughter Sharie (Hal Tipton) Woodward; 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Evelyn Kanter died Sept. 13 at 92.  Survived by daughter Terry (Marcia) Rosenthal; son Randy (Pauline); brother Alvin (Elaine) Lewis; 4 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Selma Esther Koletsky died Sept. 18 at 80. Survived by daughter Susan (Stuart) Davis; son Roy Aaron (Barbara); 2 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Evelyn Kravetz died Sept. 17 at 90. Survived by husband Nathan; daughter Deborah; son Daniel. Mount Sinai

Renee Kupferstein died Sept. 17 at 91. Survived by daughter Phyllis (Don); sons John (Drina) Gruber, Ron (Merri); 6 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Elaine Lenhoff died Sept. 19 at 85.  Survived by daughter Carol (Nathan) Nayman; son Alan Lefko; sister Beverly (Bob) Canvasser; 1 grandchild. Hillside

Melvin H. Levine died Sept. 17 at 96. Survived by son Harmon (Tema); daughter Barbara; 2 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Irwin H. Linden died Sept. 17 at 86. Survived by wife Barbara; daughters Margo (Alexander) Linden Katz, Amy; sons Gregory M. (Pamela), Kenneth L. (Kathe), Charles E.; 8 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Victor Lishman died Sept. 15 at 89. Survived by daughters Jo (Ira) Karnofsky, Robin (David) Berger; 3 grandchildren. Hillside

Louis Severin Lockspeiser died Sept. 12 at 91. Survived by wife Toni; daughter Irit; son Gideon. Hollywood Forever

Randall Charles Newman died Sept. 18 at 59.  Survived by wife Janet; daughters Sarah, Erin; brothers Robert (Debbie), Eric (Ronnie) Feldman; father Sidney (Adeline). Hillside

Doris Melnick died Sept. 15 at 97. Survived by sister Edith Sara Zinman. Hillside

David Moss died Sept. 12 at 76. Survived by wife Priscilla; daughter Elisa; son Jeffrey (Wendy); brother Irving; 1 grandchild. Hillside

Ida Pierson died Sept. 20 at 103. Survived by sons Sanford (Mila) Carson, Charles; 3 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Harold Rosenbaum died Sept. 15 at 91. Survived by daughter Jan (Mark) Sass; sons Alan, Eric (Pierre Valet); 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Gertrude Roth died Sept. 18 at 95. Survived by daughters Marsha Ann (Philipp) Wilson, Naomi (Michael) Elbert; 4 grandchildren. Hillside

Rita Rubin died Sept. 15 at 69. Survived by husband Robert; sons David (Ming) Berger, Richard Berger; daughter Kimberlee; 3 grandchildren; brother Stuart (Susan) Nacher. Mount Sinai

Beatrice Saphra died Sept. 21 at 88. Survived by daughter Zane Buzby. Malinow and Silverman 

Anne Margaret Schwartz died Sept. 16 at 93. Survived by daughters Teri, Susan (Robert) Rosser; 2 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Neil Shanman died Sept. 19 at 76. Survived by wife Merle; daughters Allyson (Craig) Barton, Lisa Bacerra; sons Sandy, Kevin (Randy); 8 grandchildren; brother Jay. Mount Sinai

Grace Silverman died Sept. 14 at 91. Survived by son Larry (Gail); daughter Merle Yeager; sister Beatrice Dubman; 4 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild. Hillside

Wilbert Stein died Sept. 19 at 93. Survived by son James (Diane); stepson Howard (Valerie) Price; stepdaughter Elisa (Steve) Rubin; 4 grandchildren. Hillside

Cecile Weiss died Sept. 15 at 92. Survived by daughters Yvonne (Stuart) Lasher, Monique (Marty) Hoch; brother Rudolph Loebel; 4 grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Rose Woronow died Sept. 15 at 91. Survived by daughter Judy (Don) Weber; 1 grandson; 1 great-grandson. Mount Sinai

Davood Yebri died Sept. 12 at 81.  Survived by wife Talat; sons Fereydoun (Roya), Farshid (Roya); 5 grandchildren.  Eden

The Meaning of Memory: A Yizkor Reflection

I grew up in a home filled with food and love and laughter and music and Yiddishkayt and stories. I was the youngest of four kids and we were part of a tribe in Boro Park, Brooklyn, with my uncle Nat’s family living on the floor above us, my uncle Ruby’s family living next door to us, and my grandparents living above them. Nobody ever knocked on the door and nobody ever needed a key, everybody was always barging into everybody else’s home.

My parents were soul mates. They were constantly singing in harmony, walking hand in hand. As I grew, one by one my older siblings moved out and went off to college. And pretty soon it was just me, my mom and my dad. It was quieter, but it was beautiful.

One night when I was 15, my parents went out. They were walking on the street when a man held them up at gunpoint. My father was shot, and he died. And now it was just me and my mom. As you can imagine, the two of us became unnaturally close, the way two broken hearts have to figure it all out together. When I was in high school I tried so hard never to cry; I didn’t want to add to my mother’s sorrow. Instead, I threw myself into my studies. I was such a studious kid, such a nerd. I’d always work myself into a tizzy before an exam, and then I’d turn to my mom on the day of the test and I’d say, “Mom, bless me before the test. And bless my pen, too.” And she’d say, “Nomeleh, don’t you know I’m a good witch. I know how it is, and I know how it will be.” And I would take my blessed pen and scurry off to school.

[More from Rabbi Naomi Levy: A Memorial Prayer for Yom Kippur]

And then it came time for me to go to college. Honestly, I don’t know how she found the strength to send me off to college. How do you send your fourth child off when you have nothing at home but memories of a life that once was? I don’t know how I left, but I did.

And I hated it. It was a culture shock to go from Boro Park and an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva high school to Cornell University. It was so gentile. And preppy. I’d never seen so many headbands and Topsiders in my life. And they kept saying that the ideal Cornelian is a scholar and an athlete. Some Greek ideal. Well, I was no athlete, and I didn’t see myself as a scholar. So I started calling my mom every night, crying hysterically, “I want to go home. I don’t like it here.” And she was so strong. She’d say, “I want you to stay. Trust me, I’m a good witch.”  And then she’d bless me for my upcoming test.

And she was right. After six months and 15 pounds, I did learn to love college and I made new friends and I loved the learning. Though I never did get into athletics.

She was right about so many things. She knew my husband was the right man for me even before I knew it. “Trust me,” she said, “I’m a good witch. He’s a keeper.” And she walked me down the aisle at our wedding. Just the two of us.  Me and my mom, hand in hand. And she gave me away again. It was hard for her to let me go and live so far away from home.

And then the widow with the broken heart became a bubbe with a full heart and a full schedule of friends and grandchildren and volunteering and studies. And her Bat Mitzvah at age 80.

At her 70th birthday celebration, just when we thought she was going to make a speech, she turned around to me and she said, “Nomeleh, I want you to bless me.”

All those years as a rabbi I spent giving blessings to others, all those years she’d been blessing me, and I had never blessed her.  So I placed my hands on my mother’s head, and I blessed her. How can I describe what passed between us?  From that day on, it became our ritual. She’d call me every single night and ask me for her blessing. She had trouble sleeping, so I’d bless her. I’d say, “Mom, I bless you with peace, I bless you with sleep through the night, sweet dreams.”

She had various ailments: her eyes, her legs, her feet, her asthma, her stomach. I’d call her, and I’d say, “Mom, how are your giblets doing?” She’d laugh, we’d talk, and then she’d say, “I need my blessing.” And I’d bless her. “I bless you with peace, I bless you with sleep through the night, sweet dreams.”

Over the last several years I found myself saving her voicemails. People were constantly complaining that my mailbox was full, but I couldn’t erase my mother’s sweet messages: “Shabbat Shalom,” “Happy birthday,” “Shanah tovah,” “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Over the last few years, I’d say we spoke on the phone about six times a day.  She wanted to know the details. If it was a Friday of Nashuva (the Jewish community I lead), she’d call first to bless me and wish me good luck, and then she’d ask, “What are you going to talk about tonight?” And then there were the wrap up calls, “So, nu? How was Nashuva? How did it go? How was your sermon? Was it well received? How many people came?”

If I was traveling to speak out of town, I’d get a call in the taxi on the way to the airport. We’d talk and then I’d say, “I’ve got to go, Mom, I’m going through security.” And she’d say, “OK, call me on the other side.” I’d call, we’d chat, I’d board the plane:

“I’ve got to go, they’ve closed the cabin doors.”

“OK, call me when you land.”

Obituaries: Nov. 4-10 2011

Raymonde Abitbol died Oct. 2 at 80. Survived by brother George Abitbol. Hillside

Renee Gittler died Oct. 12 at 56. Survived by companion Jeffrey Resnick; daughters Jennifer, Nicole; mother Camille Venus; brother David (Renee) Venus. Hillside

Vivian S. Hoffman died Oct. 16 at 85. Survived by daughters Shelley (Jeffrey Ellis), Randi; 3 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Naomi “Mimi” Kaplan died Oct. 13 at 72. Survived by husband Richard; daughter Hilary (Bret) Fausett; son David (Andrea); 4 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Edward Levy died Oct. 11 at 84. Survived by daughters Laurie (Charles) Harris, Nancy (Robert) Tanowitz, Cheryl (Bradley) Cohen, Leslie (Dwayne) Talley; 10 grandchildren. Hillside

George Polinger died Oct. 10 at 88. Survived by daughters Sari, Patricia (Peter) Cohen; son Thomas (Melanie); 5 grandchildren; sister Gerri Strock. Hillside

Irwin Reiner died Oct. 17 at 80. Survived by friend Adrianne Steiger. Mount Sinai

Lawrence L. Richards died Oct. 18 at 78. Survived by wife Marcia; sons Marc (Nancy), Scott (Lisa), Brett, Todd (Mara); 8 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild; brother, Paul (Ilse) Lazovick. Mount Sinai

Gladys Saidoff died Oct. 10 at 69. Survived by husband Nehemia; sons Isaac (Valerie), Joseph; 4 grandchildren; sister Freda Silvera; brothers Avi Glicksberg, Jackie Glicksberg. Hillside

Rohollah Shayani died Oct. 14 at 82. Survived by wife Farokh; daughters Roya (Fereydoun), Shiva (Sina); son Vafa (Elizabeth); 8 grandchildren. Eden

Otto Schaffer died Oct. 5 at 91. Survived by wife Katherina; daughter Erit (Floyd) Siegal; son George (Julie) Schaffer; 4 grandchildren. Eden

Alda Siegan died Oct. 5 at 79. Survived by husband David; daughter Lorian (Billy) Gans; sons Mitchell (Ann Hodgkinson), Gary (Karen) Sandler; 5 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild; sister Etty Korengold. Hillside

Harvey Siegel died Oct. 9 at 71. Survived by wife Wendy Elissa; son Joshua Henry Marshall; mother Sylvia Leib. Hillside

Shirley Sterns died Oct. 12 at 89. Survived by husband Hal; sons Steven (Janice), Garry (Ricki); 4 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Eugene Tabak died Oct. 17 at 92. Survived by daughters Linda (Dan) Lichtner, Eleanor (Elliot) Ross; son Michael; 4 grandchildren; brother Leon. Eden

Benjamin Teicher died Oct. 18 at 92. Survived by nieces Ruth Akiba, Antonia Rabin. Mount Sinai

Joanne Wolfus died Oct. 6 at 89. Survived by sons George (Nanci), Daniel (Christine); 4 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Donald Yospur died Oct. 17 at 84. Survived by wife Shirley; daughter Leigh (Kirk) Davis; sons Simon (Melanie), Gerald; 5 grandchildren; brothers Bernard, Gordon (Sheila). Mount Sinai

TRIBE Life: The mourning after

Each culture has rituals and customs surrounding death, and Judaism is no exception. Jewish tradition and the Jewish community provide mourners with structure and direction during the grieving process.

When a family member dies, those left behind often find themselves in a state of confusion when planning the memorial service, burial, reception and shivah. Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Encino, says he tries to help families with planning and spiritual guidance.

“The fact that we are taken aback by a death means we are not prepared,” Feinstein said. “It’s my job to come in and facilitate a process, such as gathering the community to support the family.”

Jews have two obligations to a loved one who has died, Feinstein says. “We have an obligation to protect the dignity of their body and the dignity of their soul. The way we protect the body is by carefully guarding it and preparing it for burial. We bury the body in the earth with love and care,” he said.

A congregation might have a chevrah kadisha (burial society), a small group of volunteers responsible for the physical and spiritual preparation of the deceased according to Jewish law. In addition to washing, purifying and dressing the deceased, a shomer (guardian) will sit with a body until burial.

Jewish funerals take place soon after death, preferably within 24 hours. Funerals cannot take place on Shabbat or other holy days, and a funeral can be delayed for legal reasons, to transport the deceased or to allow close relatives to travel.

Funeral services can be held in a synagogue, a funeral home or at the gravesite. The service is usually brief and simple, including psalms, prayers and a eulogy. Unlike other religious traditions, Jewish funerals always feature a closed casket to protect the dignity of the deceased.

“We keep the casket closed because it is undignified to have people looking at you when you cannot look back,” Feinstein said.

The body should be buried in the ground in a plain, unadorned casket made of wood. Jewish law forbids cremation. “The body does not belong to us. It is a loan from God, and we need to bring it back with dignity,” Feinstein said.

Either before or after the funeral, close family will observe keriah — tearing clothing or a black ribbon. Parents should make a tear or cut on the left side, over the heart, while all other relatives tear on the right side.

The rites of mourning, Feinstein said, are like a toolbox that one uses to get through the grief. Some people, because of level of observance, use all of these tools, while others find a few of them to be comforting.

Shivah, for example, is the seven-day mourning period observed by immediate family. Mourners remain home from school or work, receive condolence calls and condolence meals, and refrain from entertainment. Observances include reciting Kaddish three times daily at home with a minyan, lighting a seven-day memorial candle, wearing the keriah (except during Shabbat) and covering the mirrors in the shivah house.

Once shivah ends, a mourner returns to work or school but refrains from entertainment and social activities during the first 30 days following the burial — a period known as shloshim. Kaddish is recited daily in synagogue.

A mourner who has lost a parent recites Kaddish daily for 11 months (Shanna) and refrains from public celebration for 12 months. These mourners also begin reciting Yizkor during Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

Each year on the anniversary of the death (yahrzeit), Kaddish is recited and it is customary to light a 24-hour yahrzeit candle, study and donate tzedakah.

When he counsels families after the death of a loved one, Feinstein said he likes to impart the notion that Jewish life and tradition is always about life — that it is life affirming.

“We need to remember that death is a part of life. We need to be reminded that every moment is precious and that we should not waste time,” he said.

Obituaries: Sept. 16-22, 2011

Ethel Baron died Aug. 25 at 90. Survived by daughter Carol; sons Howard, Jack (Rhonda), Mitchell (Miyuki); 3 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Ruzena R. Berler died Sept. 4 at 101. Survived by daughter Olga Martin; 2 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; sister Pepa Rosenman. Mount Sinai

Marguerite Mazalto Bicon died Aug. 16 at 90. Survived by daughter Keti (Rick) Garber; stepdaughter Rozi (Hayim) Cikurel; 2 grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Gilbert Caton died Aug. 12 at 70. Survived by wife Nancy; daughters Debbie (George Smith), Jill (Jeff) Utley, Diana (Randy) Rothschild, Michelle Lee; 3 grandchildren; sister Elaine Bender. Malinow and Silverman

Corene Cohen died Aug. 22 at 95. Survived by sons Marty (Sharleen), Neil (April); 3 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren; sister Eydie (Steve).

Bertha Colton died Aug. 21 at 91. Survied by sister-in-law Angelina Corden.

Edna Florence died Aug. 14 at 89. Survived by daughter Diane Halperin; son Ronald; 2 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild; brother Martin Lynn. Malinow and Silverman

Howard Golden died Aug. 16 at 96. Survived by wife Sara; daughter Joan (Lee) Mandell. Malinow and Silverman

Thea Goldstein died Aug. 9 at 82. Survived by husband Irwin; sons Stanley (Valerie), Howard (Brad); 2 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Sylvia Goodfriend died Aug. 30 at 90. Survived by sister Gwen (Raymond) Wunder; brother Warren Schults. Mount Sinai

Rita Gosher died July 15 at 77. Survived by daughter Iris; son Elliot. Sholom Chapels

Eddy King died Aug. 29 at 99. Survived by daughter Julie (Rick) Meyer. Mount Sinai

Susan Langsam died Aug. 18 at 72. Survived by husband Gordon; daughter Karen; son Eric (Erika); brother Charles Klaif. Malinow and Silverman

Phil Nameth died Aug. 29 at 64. Survived by wife Lauren; daughters Jillian, Danielle; brother Fred. Mount Sinai

Alice Nortman died Aug. 29 at 91. Survived by son Norman (Torie) Krieger; 3 grandchildren; brother Rudy Hadda. Mount Sinai

Ina Fay Press died Aug. 26 at 87. Survived by daughter Susan “Sue” Shulman; son Evan (Isis); 4 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; brother Norman Lester Kaufman. Mount Sinai

Sulamith Proctor died Aug. 15 at 84. Survived by son Jeffrey. Malinow and Silverman

Bette Racimora died Aug. 27 at 99. Survived by sister Rebecca Kaseff. Mount Sinai

Ira Rosen died Aug. 20 at 80. Survived by daughter Sharon D. (Larry) Matalon; son Mordechai (Sarah); 5 grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Irving Noah Rubinstein died Aug. 30 at 86. Survived by wife Rosalie; sons Joseph Neil (Paula), Michael Paul (Robin), Steven Keith (Rita), Sidney Mark (Tammy); 10 grandchildren; brother Alan (Roberta). Mount Sinai

Leonard Mordecai Sacks died Aug. 27 at 83. Survived by wife Norma; daughter Valerie; son Glenn (Ada); 2 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Jacquelyn I. Sage died Aug. 28 at 85. Survived by ex-husband Bob. Mount Sinai

Frances Schloss died July 18 at 75. Survived by husband Stephen; 4 children; grandchildren.  Sholom Chapels

Jeffrey Scott died Aug. 29 at 53. Survived by mother Anita; father Eugene; brother Gary (Julie). Mount Sinai

Sylvia Phyllis Shear died Aug. 26 at 60. Survived by husband Jack; daughter Andrea Charlene (James) Parks; son Daniel Jason; 1 grandchild; sister Rosalie (Rodney Rummelsburg) Odell. Mount Sinai

Percy Silver died Aug. 6 at 97. Survived by daughters Phyllis (Orrie) Wilner, Rhoda Silver. Sholom Chapels

Harry Silvers died Aug. 23 at 87. Survived by sons Marc (Ellen Fleischmann), Herb (Genise); 4 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; brother Paul (Ingrid). Mount Sinai

Yelizaveta Spektor died Aug. 11 at 74. Survived by husband Alex; daughter Marina (Kirk); 1 grandchild; brother Oleg (Lena). Mount Sinai

Zell Stanley died Aug. 4 at 90. Survived by daughter Allison. Hillside

Anne Stein died Aug. 14 at 93. Survived by daughter Linda; son Roger; sister Sally Sugarman. Hillside

Seymour Steinfeld died Aug. 7 at 95. Survived by wife Bernice; daughters Karen (David) Leff, Paula; 2 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Ida Teitelbaum died Aug. 12 at 92. Survived by daughters Barbara (Zelman) Weingarten, Sharon (Christos) Tsantiotis, Susie (Robert) Wallerstein, Nikki (Neil) Lennertz; 10 grandchildren; 8 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Hetty Trachtenberg died Aug. 30 at 83. Survived by daughter Judy Lubin; son Lyle; 3 grandchildren.

Michele Waldman died Aug 23 at 87. Survived by husband George; sons Steven Scott, Ira Alan; 1 grandchild; sister Frieda Fritzie Dobrin. Chevra Kadisha

Millicent Yuda died Aug. 30 at 86. Survived by daughter Deborah Tibor; son Michael; 5 grandchildren.  Mount Sinai

Gregory W. Zack died Aug. 23 at 67. Survived by wife Anne Mosell; daughter Sarah Bassine; son Aaron; brothers Ronald (Suzanne), Daryl. Mount Sinai

Sarah Zubatsky died Aug. 10 at 99. Survived by daughter Jo-Ann (Richard) Geifman. Malinow and Silverman

An incomplete guide to Jewish funerals and burial

When Eileen Isenberg thinks about her own funeral, she has a very clear picture in her mind.

“First I want 20 minutes of sad,” she said, to allow people to remember her, with the second movement of Mozart's 21st Piano Concerto playing in the background.

“Then I want people to bring out the klezmer music and platters of all different kinds of rugelach and chat about the good stuff and the fun.”

When it's time to push the casket down the aisle, she wants a band she's already picked one to break into “When the Saints Go Marching In,” New Orleans-style, and the mourners to step in line and escort the casket to graveside.

“I want to leave my dear friends with a sweet taste in their mouths and a twinkle in their hearts,” said Isenberg, 77, a Reform Jew who isn't planning to die anytime soon.

This is definitely not what a Jewish funeral used to be. At least not in the non-Orthodox world.

When it comes to thinking about the end of life, be it in the business of funeral homes or in the minds of Jews everywhere, the world is changing.

“It's not about mourning the death anymore. People want to celebrate life,” said Isenberg's daughter, Lynn, a Marina del Rey resident who launched a customized funeral planning business, “Lights Out Enterprises,” after penning the novel, “The Funeral Planner” (Red Dress Ink, 2005). Lynn Isenberg believes mourners can celebrate without compromising the life and integrity of the deceased.

Blame it on the baby boomers. One outgrowth of the aging of 78 million largely nontraditional Americans born between 1946 and 1964 is that they are revolutionizing the final frontier with personalized send-offs, both for themselves and their parents.

You can also blame it on our death-denying, death-defying culture. Why fall back on those morose, antiquated and tiresome rituals when we can put some “fun” back into the $11 billion funeral service industry?

And you can blame it on the high cost of dying. And the lower cost of cremation. Along with the opportunity to have our ashes mixed with cement and forged into an artificial reef ball, to rest eternally on the ocean floor.

Or blame it on ignorance of Jewish burial and funeral customs. The fact that we don't know a grave from a crypt. Or what to do if we happen to be unaffiliated, intermarried or tattooed.

Still, while not everyone is jumping on the “I gotta be me” funeral bandwagon, a funny thing is happening on the way to the mortuary.

These days, more and more Jews are breathing new life into Judaism's age-old approach to death and dying. They're also sometimes discovering that the rituals the ones that have always been followed by the Torah-observant world can speak to them as well in fresh and personal ways.

For traditional Jews, this is no surprise.

“It's been done this way for 3,600 years,” said Moe Goldsman, who has served as funeral director and mortuary manager at Sholom Chapels Mortuaries and Sholom Memorial Park in Sylmar since 1989. “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.”

As with most things Jewish, the practices governing burials are based on Torah: “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19), as well as, “As we come forth, so shall we return” (Ecclesiastes 5:14).

They also operate on the principles of respect, speed and simplicity, rendering everyone equal in death, with these key components:

  • Nothing should be done to prohibit the natural decomposition of the body. Embalming or cosmetic enhancement is prohibited.
  • The body is accompanied or watched from the time of death until burial. It is ritually cleansed and dressed in white linen shrouds.
  • Burial is in a plain wooden casket, with no metal parts. The casket remains closed.
  • Burial takes place in the ground, as soon as possible.
  • Flowers are discouraged. Charitable contributions are instead suggested.


Historically, each community's holy society, or chevra kadisha (not to be confused with the Los Angeles for-profit mortuary by the same name), took on the responsibility of caring for the deceased, considered the most sacred task in Judaism because it's a mitzvah that cannot be repaid. Over the years, the non-Orthodox community has relinquished this obligation to the care of strangers.






Jon Kalish of NPR's 'All Things Considered' recorded a chevra kadisha preparing a body


“Someone passes away, you call the mortuary and they pick up the body. You're totally removed,” said Sinai Temple's Cantor Joseph Gole. “It wasn't too many generations ago that you did taharah (the ritual cleansing and purification of the body) right on the kitchen table, in the house.”

Tachrichim or shrouds, Hillside Mortuary

A beautiful shiva

My mother, Sylvia Goldstein, Sura Malka bas Yeshiya, passed away on March 11, the fourth of Adar II. She was 92 and had the full use of her mind and wit
all of her years.

Sensing that after six months of hospital and rehab, back and forth, Mom was nearing the end of her journey I cleared my schedule and flew east on March 2 to be with her as long as the Master of the Universe would allow.

I arrived in Lakewood, N.J., on Monday March 3, dropped my bags off at the house where I grew up and where Mom hoped to return, and went off to see her at the hospital.

Mom’s systems were beginning to fail. The process could be prolonged but not reversed. I was prepared for the worst, or so I thought.

I was fortunate to have two days with Mom, where she still had the strength to speak. So on Monday and Tuesday we said all those things that you want to say to someone you love. She told me how much she loved my brothers and me, she told me she was leaving us and that we should forgive her for not having the strength or will to fight what was coming.

She was comfortable — not in pain or on drugs. I held her hand for hours. I’d leave the hospital late at night and sleep for a few hours at Mom’s house, my house. Tuesday morning, March 11, I got the call to rush over to the hospital, Mom’s blood pressure had dropped and the end was near. I rushed over. I was holding her hand as my brother Paul arrived and the nurse came in to tell us that Mom was no longer breathing. I was holding her hand and couldn’t even sense the moment when her shallow breathing stopped and she had slipped away.

We moved on to the week of shiva. I’ve read several books on the subject of the Jewish laws of mourning. I do not claim to understand the wisdom behind much of the halacha concerning mourning, but clearly sitting shiva is a most compassionate and cathartic process for both the mourners and all those who comfort them.

Lakewood is the yeshiva town. Within hours of the funeral our cousins and friends had made all of the food and practical arrangements for the week.

My mother, who used to say she knew more people in the cemetery than those whose souls were still in their bodies, had an incredible number of young friends. For many years now, if I spent a weekend in Lakewood I marveled at how much kindness continually surrounded Mom. Our house is a block from the yeshiva. Through our kitchen and dining room windows, looking across our backyard and between the neighbors’ houses, we viewed Beth Medrosh Gevorah. Such proximity I thought, naturally, brought out all the neighbors on Shabbos — they don’t say “Shabbat” in Lakewood — doing their mitzvot (good deeds).

Every Friday night while their husbands went to shul, young mothers brought their young children to visit with Mrs. Goldstein, who would hold court sitting in her favorite living room chair, or when not really up to it, in her bedroom, regally propped up in bed as she received her visitors. Many would return on Shabbos afternoon. Most of these young mothers were first introduced to my mother when their mothers brought them over to meet Mrs. Goldstein when they were children.

Mom loved them all and they all loved Mom. She knew their birthdays and their children’s birthdays and when a match was made. She was constantly sending cards for all occasions to this extended family.

One always learns surprising things about a parent during shiva. I learned that these visitors were not coming every week to do a mitzvah. They were coming every week because they loved my Mom. They loved her wisdom and her wit and sense of humor. They loved her warmth and compassion. Many told me she was their special bubbe. Yes, they loved their own grandparents, but they adored my Mom, they missed her, and some were crying almost as much as we were. How could I not know this?

That first Friday night that Mom was gone, these young women decided to spend the evening studying together and remembering my mother. Their intention is to continue doing this every week.

I loved my Mom, my brothers and cousins loved my Mom, but seeing the effect that Mom had on the nonfamily members who were fortunate enough to know her was stunning and powerful. There are always lessons in life, and I always look for the lesson. In this case, I was reminded that we never quite appreciate our blessings as much as someone with a fresh eye and heart.

At her funeral I acknowledged that I had been blessed at birth with many gifts, among them, my parents and grandparents. I loved my Mom and knew she was an exceptional woman, but not until shiva did I realize how gifted she was and how blessed I was to have her as my mother.

I can only hope that I possess those qualities of my mother that will enable me to make more than a small difference in the lives of the people I am blessed to know.

William Goldstein has composed for film, television and concert halls and is nearing production of a Broadway musical. He was commissioned by The U.S. Army Chorus to compose “Zoch Rainu L’Chaim,” published but rarely performed. He has written some nigunnim that are occasionally sung at Beth Jacob. Thirty years ago he was commissioned by the Christian Science Church to compose several pieces, which are performed on a regular basis.


Eliezer Benjamini died Feb. 14 at 79. He is survived by his wife, Leslie; son, Ethan; daughter, Lori; stepdaughter, Carrie Bullock; stepson Jeff Bressler; grandsons, Joshua and Matthew; stepgranchildren; brother Eddi (Dorit); and brother-in-law, Bruce Hackel. Hillside

Lawrence Howard Beylen died Dec. 30 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Joan; daughters, Karen Rice, Andrea (Nathan) Gardner and Margo; and two grandchildren. Groman

Ann Gertrude Blaine died Dec. 24 at 87. She is survived by her nephew, Robert James. Malinow and Silverman

Beatrice Budnick died Jan. 4 at 89. She is survived by her spouse, Frank; daughter Heidi Goldberg; and two grandchildren.

Arnold Burton Cane died Jan. 30 at 84. He is survived by his wife, Ann Carter; three daughters; one son; two sisters; three grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Russell Chase died Jan. 22 at 83. He is survived by his sons, Philip and Douglas; daughters, Susan Levine and Marjorie; eight grandchildren; and friends. Pierce Brothers

Ann Davis died Dec. 26 at 81. She is survived by her sons, Steven, Joseph and Samuel; daughters, Diana, Rhonda and Miriam; 13 grandchildren; and one great- grandchild. Groman

Barry Herbert Gertler died Feb. 15 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Hope; daughters, Nan and Robin; son, Gary; son-in-law Michael; daughter-in-law, Robin; five grandchildren; sister, Illa; and siblings-in-law, Stanleyand Bert. Hillside

Lawrence Merrill Greener died Feb. 22 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Rosemary; son, Gary (Mallory); daughter, Lynn (Marvin); four grandchildren; sister, Faith Pearlman; nephew, Charles Pearlman; and niece, Penny Pearlman. Hillside

Morton Grossman died Jan. 5 at 84. He is survived by his wife, Zelda; daughter, Rachel; and two grandchildren. Groman

Anne Kanner died Feb. 16 at 93. She is survived by her sisters, Helen Samples and Iris; and nephew, Mel (Stella) Samples. Mount Sinai

Asir Kharitonov died Feb. 16 at 68. He is survived by his wife, Maya; son, Alex (Mariana); daughter, Natalia (Yahouda) Zarrabi; and five grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Catherine Leon died Jan. 28 at 95. She is survived by her daughter, Roberta; and sister, Rosa (David) Amato. Malinow and Silverman

Evelyn Maletz died Jan. 6 at 80. She is survived by her husband, Harold; son, Lloyd; daughter, Sherri; and five grandchildren. Groman

Constance Corinne Martel died Jan. 31 at 93. She is survived by her friends, Susan Connelli and Sylvia Lecher. Mount Sinai

Helen Montrose died Jan. 31 at 79. She is survived by her brother, Rabbi Lawrence; and nephew, Rabbi David. Malinow and Silverman

Nejatollah Nejat died Dec. 31 at 79. He is survived by his wife, Parvaneh; son, Albert; daughters, Rosette Younesi and Mahnaz Kohanchi; and five grandchildren. Groman

Dr. Peter B. Neubauer died Feb. 15 at 94. He is survived by his sons, Joshua and Alexander; and grandchildren.

Marjorie Oberman died Feb. 17 at 87. She is survived by her daughters, Lynn (Richard) Kravitz and Judy (Barry) Wechsler; son, Dennis (Deedy); eight grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and sister, Joan Waldman. Mount Sinai

Ethel Reader died Feb. 15 at 91. She is survived by her daughter, Judi Chauncey; four grandchildren; and friend, Arne Wynner. Hillside

Cecile Rivkind died Feb. 1 at 85. She is survived by her daughter, Diane (Bill) Brinson; son, Steven; four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and brother, Morton Newman. Malinow and Silverman

Mildred Schiller died Feb. 14 at 90. She is survived by her daughter, Adrienne; and four grandchildren. Groman

Freda Schlesinger died Dec. 26 at 89. She is survived by her friends. Groman

Ralph Segalman died Jan. 12 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Anita; sons, Robert and Daniel; daughter, Ruth Ancheta; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Groman

Samuel Sideman died Feb. 12 at 79. He is survived by his wife, Naomi. Sholom Chapels

Joseph Simpson died Dec. 22 at 88. He is survived by his son, Myles (Gail); daughter, Joyce (Andrew) Edelson; and three grandchildren. Groman

Dr. Jacob Somerman died Feb. 3 at 90. He is survived by his son, Marnin. Sholom Chapels

Goldie Cooper Sonkin died Dec. 25 at 92. She is survived by her son, Julian (Pamela) Bieber; brother, Melvin Cooper; and two grandchildren. Groman

Roselle Helena Stein died Feb. 15 at 81. She is survived by her children, Bill, Gary (Ricki) and Hal (Joan); four grandchildren; sisters, Edith Zimbler and Judith; and brothers, Hyman and Jack Seiden. Mount Sinai

Kate Stone died Jan. 27 at 99. She is survived by her sons, Jerry (Donna) and Frank Stone; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Arlene Tarr died Feb. 14 at 81. She is survived by her daughter, Stephanie (Steve) Slater; grandchildren, Jessica Rembert and Scott Slater; and sister, Debbie Radwin. Mount Sinai

Mina Tsukerman died Jan. 31 at 88. She is survived by her sons, Isaac (Sofia) and Ilya (Zina) Zukerman; and five grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Fredrick Yamron died Feb. 18 at 76. He is survived by his sons, Bernard (Jennifer) and Todd; sister-in-law, Roberta Giller; and two granddaughters. Malinow and Silverman

Michael Zeitlin died Jan. 6 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Martha; son, David; nine grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and sisters, Ruth Resnick and Ethel David. Groman

Only the best go there

There are moments when half a world away seems right around the corner. At Young Israel of Century City (YICC) on Sunday afternoon, Israel’s pain at the
murder of eight young yeshiva students burned through the Los Angeles Jewish community, just as it has in Jerusalem, where the boys lived, and as it has through Jewish communities throughout the world. The death of eight innocent boys studying Torah at Yeshiva Mercaz Harav shrunk the world.

About 600 people packed every inch of YICC’s sanctuary for a rally and memorial service organized by the synagogue and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and several hundred more overflowed into adjacent rooms and halls. Men, women and children poured into the shul as if it were a holy day to share their grief and dismay, greeting one another with a solemnity that bespoke their communal sadness.

I came as a journalist, but I was feeling a bit raw myself.

Reports of rockets falling on Sderot, then Ashkelon, had filled the preceding week, so by the time of the yeshiva shooting, the impact of the news took a moment sink in. On top of the Qassams, on top of the suicide bombers, we now have gunmen to fear in Israel’s schools — in this case a gunman who intentionally targeted the observant. Soon after we learned of the tragedy at Mercaz Harav, cheers in the streets of Gaza reminded us of the stark difference between us and people who would celebrate such crimes.

I went to the lovely brick home of YICC hoping for comfort. I went to report on the event, but I also went for myself.

It was a spectacularly beautiful Sunday afternoon and hard to go inside. But the shul is also beautiful, with its simple wooden pews and white walls and some revealed brick. In this Orthodox place of worship, on this day everyone sat together to pay respects, without the gender divisions of a service.

The Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper led the proceedings, reminding us of the rebbe who at the gravesite of one of the murdered students said the boys were “like the eight candles of Chanukah.” Cooper told us that the YICC’s own spiritual leader, Rabbi Elazar Muskin, would be leaving the next day for Israel for a 48-hour trip — to visit each boy’s family. And, as a gesture of support for the Jewish State, Cooper asked all those present who had spent a full year in Israel, or who had had families who’d done so, to stand. About 80 percent of the group rose.

Israel is a second home for this group, and what hits Israel hits home. As Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan spoke, it was clear he was moved by the kinship. Newly arrived in Los Angeles last fall, this career diplomat speaks with the clarity of a veteran soldier.

“With Purim just around the corner,” he said, “we are reminded that we have defeated the Haman of every one of our enemies…I know we will prevail.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, too, signaled his support: “In a city with the largest Israeli population outside Israel, we have a responsibility to stand up, to say that we stand with you,” he said.

Going further, Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents Pico-Robertson and who has long been a supporter of Israel, called Mercaz Harav “the purist representative not of what Israel is about, but what Judaism is about.”

“The impulse” to kill the students, Weiss said, “was not political. It was genocidal.”

Then the Wiesenthal’s founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, rose to the podium. He said he had lived, some three decades ago, in the neighborhood of Mercaz Harav and once celebrated Purim at that very yeshiva.

His own granddaughter attends a high school just two buildings away from where the shooting took place and had left there just a couple of hours before the shooting.

But even as he spoke of the particulars, Hier moved to the global: “Just today,” he said, “some NGOs [non-governmental organizations] have charged Israel with creating the worst humanitarian crisis in Gaza, causing shortages of basic necessities. But whose fault is that?” Hier asked. “Hamas never has any shortage of money when it comes to smuggling in weapons, and no shortage in lobbing rockets at innocent civilians in Sderot. Whatever crisis there is in Gaza is because the Palestinians made the wrong decisions and chose the wrong leaders.”

In contrast, he said, “For thousands of years, Jews were the targets of oppression, pogroms, crusades, inquisitions and the Holocaust. You know what we did? We pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps, rebuilt our lives every time, worked hard, and never ever taught our sons and daughters to go out and murder students in schools.”

Hier said he has urged the United Nations to convene a special session on suicide terror, challenging them to do so even as they have done on apartheid, AIDS and global warming.

After all the powerful rhetoric of these speakers, five young men — living American equivalents of the slain boys — read psalms and led prayers, an echo of the shattered voices. Then we sang the “Hatikvah” together, an anthem whose themes of melancholy, struggle and hope perfectly suited the moment.

Before the speeches began, a woman sitting next to me called out to a friend: “I knew one of the boys.” So, when the official event ended, I turned to ask her about him.

Geula Dickerman, 52 and Israeli by birth, said she’d returned to Israel with her family from 1996 to 2001, during which time she lived in Efrat. Avraham David Moses, who was 16 when he died, was a young child there when she knew him.

“He was a blond, beautiful boy,” she remembered. She said that in Israel, it is considered a huge honor and accomplishment to attend Mercaz Harav, “only the best students go there, it’s very difficult to get in,” Dickerman said. Then she shook her head: “They were killed together, studying the Gemara!”

Thousands mourn as yeshiva terrror attack victims are buried

Thousands of mourners turned out Friday for the funerals of the eight students, aged 15 to 26, killed in Thursday’s attack at a prominent yeshiva in Jerusalem.

With Thursday’s shooting, Palestinian terrorists brought the bloodshed that had been limited to an ever-growing area around Gaza to the heart of the Jewish state.

A Palestinian gunman from an Arab neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem stormed into the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem on Thursday evening and mowed down students studying in the beit midrash library. Eight students, including the son of two American immigrants, were killed and several were critically wounded before an army officer arrived and shot the terrorist dead.

In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, many Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate news of the attack.

“It’s a tremendously sad day,” Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said. “There are many dead, and right in the heart of Jerusalem.”

The attack took place as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in Tel Aviv conferring with his security chiefs on how to move forward after a surge of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, the Israeli military concluded an anti-terrorist operation in Gaza against Hamas rocket crews who have been attacking nearby Israeli communities across the border, including Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot. Hamas said Israel’s operation left dozens of civilians dead and called for revenge.

Hamas at first took responsibility for Thursday’s grisly attack but then retracted that statement. A Hamas official said his group “blesses the heroic operation in Jerusalem.”

A previously unknown group calling itself the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh, affiliated with Hezbollah, also claimed responsibility for the attack. Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus last month by an unknown foe; Hezbollah blamed Israel for his death and vowed to take revenge.

The yeshiva students killed in Thursday’s attacks were Yochai Lipschitz, 18; Yonatan Yitzchak Eldar, 16; Yonadav Chaim Hirschfeld; Neriah Cohen, 15; Roey Roth, 18; Segev Pniel Avihayil, 15; Doron Meherete Trunoch, 26; and Avraham David Moses, 16. Moses was reportedly the son of two American immigrants.

After the shooting, anxious relatives of the students rushed to the yeshiva and milled among ambulance staff and security forces. Inside, once the dead and injured had been removed, rescue crews struggled to clean up blood-splattered floors and bookcases. Volumes of Talmud and other religious books were drenched in blood.

Thursday’s shooting marked the first terrorist attack in Jerusalem in four years, and the deadliest attack in Israel in nearly two years. Jerusalem bore the brunt of a Palestinian suicide bombing campaign in 2002 and 2003, but since then Israeli countermeasures largely stemmed the bloodshed in Israel’s capital.

The scene of mayhem and carnage shocked students and teachers at Mercaz Harav, an ideological seedbed for Israel’s national religious movement. Founded in 1924 by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the flagship yeshiva at the entrance to Jerusalem combines Orthodox piety with pioneering Zionism. Many of the yeshiva’s alumni have gone on to top posts in politics and the military.

At the funerals on Friday, Mekaz Harav’s director, Rabbi Ya’akov Shapira, delivered a eulogy charging the government with failing to deliver strong leadership and face down a deadly enemy. He called for a “good leadership, a stronger leadership, a more believing leadership” and said, “The murderer did not want to kill these people in particular, but everyone living in the holy city of Jerusalem.”

The yeshiva is identified with the settler movement, and a number of the victims came from settlements. Funeral processions continued to victims’ hometowns.

Israeli police identified the gunman as a driver for the yeshiva, Ala Abu Dahim, 20, from the village of Jabel Mukhaber, which is near Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. Dahim’s family hung Hamas flags outside their home after the attack, according to reports.

Israel said it would continue to pursue U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians despite the attack.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended peace talks after Israeli troops moved into Gaza a week ago. But after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice this week, Abbas agreed to resume talks, though he did not specify a timetable.

After the shooting, an aide to Abbas, Saeb Erekat, said, “President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis.”

The U.N. Security Council debated a resolution condemning the attack, but passage was blocked by Libya, a temporary council member, which refused to pass any resolution that did not also include language condemning Israeli actions in Gaza.

Condolences poured into Israel from around the world, including from the U.S. president.

The “barbaric and vicious attack on innocent civilians deserves the condemnation of every nation,” President Bush said. “The United States stands firmly with Israel in the face of this terrible attack.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said after Thursday’s attacks, “These terrorists are trying to destroy the chances of peace, but we certainly will continue the peace talks.”

Experts in Israel debated who was behind the yeshiva shooting, differing on whether the Hezbollah-related group could have organized the attack.

Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser to the Israeli government, said it was a credible possibility, noting reports that Hezbollah long has wanted to establish cells in the West Bank.

“This was to be expected,” said Freilich, now a visiting Schusterman scholar at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “If nothing else, Hezbollah has a good record of carrying out their promises.”

Matthew Levitt, a Hezbollah expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Thursday’s shooting does not carry the hallmarks of a Hezbollah operation, which usually is planned well in advance.

Levitt, who has held anti-terrorism positions at the FBI and the U.S. Treasury, said the likelier culprits were Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

If it turns out to have been Hamas, Olmert likely will come under greater pressure to accede to calls for a wide-scale invasion of Gaza to topple the Hamas regime there.

Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.

Mom’s last day

A test of emunah (trust, faith), according to prominent voices in our tradition (Mishna Berachot 9:2), is the ability to bless the bad, as well as the good. Upon hearing of the death of a loved one, can one say, baruch dayan emet (blessed be the truthful judge.)

And might one add, baruch haTov v’haMeitiv (blessed be the doer of good.)

I viewed this injunction as admirable but unrealistic, even uncompassionate, as it places the mourner in an emotionally tenuous position. But you just can’t know, of course, what you will feel until the moment arrives.

My mother, Dorothy, first noticed discomfort in May. In June, she was diagnosed with stage-four cancer of the liver. On average, the specialist told us, patients on her chemotherapy regimen last eight to 10 months, some longer. But after a relatively healthy month, she began a quick decline that caught us off guard every day.

My fiancee, Jody, and I had planned a 2008 wedding. We thought about moving the date forward, but I was needed in my parents’ home, and we did not want to start married life living apart. Instead, we created an engagement ceremony and invited some 80 family members and friends to celebrate with us on the day after Yom Kippur.

But the day before Yom Kippur, a feeding tube was surgically implanted to nourish mom. We spent Yom Kippur learning how to use it. It didn’t help. She took her first pain medication that night.

We cancelled our party and moved the engagement ceremony to my parents’ living room. By the afternoon, however, mom couldn’t even sit up in her bed, let alone move down the stairs. Some 20 family members and friends gathered around her bed. The rabbi, Shefa Gold, asked us to remember that while mom’s body was failing, her soul was thrilled that her chronically bachelor son had found his beloved.

Jody and I cried our way through the ceremony. Our impromptu congregation sang verses from Song of Songs to us before I placed Jody’s engagement ring on her finger. Mom couldn’t speak, but she moved her body to signal her joy, and a huge smile graced her lips.

We invited our extended family to join us after the ceremony. Though no longer a celebration, we wanted to comfort each other and visit with mom.

At first, she didn’t have the strength to see even her siblings. But as the sun set, mom perked up. In small groups, four generations of the family made pilgrimages to her bedside, speaking words of love and appreciation. To some, my mother replied, “I love you.” When words failed her, she took their hands and brought them to her lips.

That night, my sister, Felicia, rose at 3 a.m. to help the new caretaker feed mom through the tube. Unable to sleep afterward, she kept mom company and told the caretaker all about her: that in her 30s, she started backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with her husband and three kids; that she was the peacemaker of the extended family and hosted the annual Chanukah party that kept us together; that she volunteered extensively for the Jewish community; that she was an insatiable romantic and optimist who never dwelled in the past; that she was a talented artist (her paintings are currently on display at the Creative Arts Center Gallery in Burbank).

A few minutes after Felicia left to sleep, the caretaker called her back. While I was calling 911, mom breathed her last breaths in Felicia’s arms.

In hindsight, it is clear to me that my mother was meant to pass on Yom Kippur, when the gates of righteousness are open widest. But as Felicia put it, she willed herself to live one last day, and what a day it was.

We were soon lost in the awkwardness of filling out forms with the paramedics and arranging for the mortuary to collect mom’s body. No one knew what to say, yet we talked incessantly.

Eventually, I came to my rabbinic senses and shooed everyone out of the bedroom. I did as the tradition instructs; I recited psalms. Later, I began to chant Rabbi Gold’s melody to v’chayai olam nata b’tocheynu (“God implanted eternal life within us,” from the blessing after the reading of the Torah).

One by one, my father and siblings entered the room and joined in. Then we each spent time with mom alone, saying whatever had been left unsaid. We chanted together again until the mortuary people arrived.

My parents’ bedroom commands a sweeping view of the San Fernando Valley, facing east. As we sang, the sky turned pink and red and purple, the colors our family of wilderness trekkers had seen so often together, the colors of her paintings. The sunrise moved us like never before. For us now, dawn will always be mom’s time. She passed in deepest night, but as we said goodbye, she once again gave us the gifts of color and light.

At 72, healthy and vibrant, Dorothy died well before her time. I suffered lethargy and other symptoms of depression before my mother died. The shock and then the gradual loss of the woman I knew sent me into the grieving process while she was still alive. But her equanimity made it easier on all of us. Shortly after her diagnosis, she assured me that she had no regrets. Her life had been blessed and full; nothing was missing.

These last few weeks, I have not been in a state of grief as much as a state of awe. I feel saturated with her spirit.

There is such a thing as a blessed death, and it lends one the deep joy that only comes from living in truth. For me that means accepting-not in my head but in my heart-that life and death are flip sides of the same coin, and though the price of life is death, it is worth paying. That we cannot control when the coin is flipped does not destroy the gifts of a life well-lived. Rather, death reveals, in its fierce and unforgiving way, just how precious life is. Baruch dayan emet.

And when a blessed life is sealed with a blessed death — when I think about how much goodness and love Dorothy gifted me over the course of my life — gratitude wells up with the tears.

Baruch haTov v’haMeitiv.

Rabbi Mike Comins is author of “A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007) and founder of TorahTrek Spiritual Wilderness Adventures.

Farewell, my beloved Mom

My mother’s body laid lifeless in front of me, wrapped thickly in a sheet and resting on a table in plain view. Her head and her feet were nearly indistinguishable.

I approached the rabbi to perform the traditional keriah, the ritual tearing of a mourner’s garment. He cut a small piece of my shirt with a blade and instructed me to rip it further. The sound was jarring, and it echoed throughout the crowded chapel at Eretz Hachayim, a cemetery just outside of Jerusalem.

Choking back tears, I approached the lectern to deliver my eulogy, one of several that day. After the eulogies, we said the Kaddish prayer and my Mom’s body was lifted by the men of the chevrah kadisha, or burial society, and carried in a somber, solemn procession to the gravesite she selected several years ago.

It was a mere 13 hours after she died at Hadassah Hospital following a three-week coma.
In Israel, burials happen quickly. They are stark, intimate, raw affairs. There is no casket, no hearse, no funeral-goers in fancy outfits; rather, everyone desses simply. The sheet-wrapped body of the deceased is within sight of everyone, and at the conclusion of the service it descends straight into the earth with no protective casing.

Just three weeks earlier, a call came in the middle of the night that my ailing 91-year-old mother had a seizure and fell into a coma. I took the first flight out from Los Angeles and was at her bedside every day throughout her coma, along with my three siblings who live in Israel.

Mom lived in Israel for 12 years, moving there at 79 after my father, Rabbi Benjamin Groner, had died. For Rebbetzin Frances Groner, living in Israel was a lifelong dream come true. She thrived and flourished in the Holy Land, making new friends, creating a wonderful community, and volunteering and fundraising for numerous causes like Amit Women, Hadassah, Herzog Hospital, Bikur Cholim Hospital and the League of Special Children, to name a few. After more than 50 years serving alongside my father at pulpits in Chicago, Windsor, Omaha and New Orleans, she had finally come home.

I visited her often in Israel, and watched her grow older and frailer over the years. She had suffered a stroke in late 2004 and subsequently declined in health, particularly in the last few months. It was sad to watch such a formerly vibrant woman full of energy and life — a woman who thrived on doing good deeds for others, especially hosting countless guests for Shabbat and holidays — looked after by a caretaker.

Suddenly, Mom’s life was but a memory as her body was swiftly lowered into the ground and shovelfuls of earth were placed upon her. We, the mourners, said Kaddish again, then turned and walked away to begin shivah, the week of intense mourning.

Several hundred people visited during the shivah — friends and relatives, neighbors and acquaintances, even several Los Angeles friends who were visiting Israel. It felt as if the entire nation was mourning with us. Everybody knew just what to say.

In Israel, visiting a shivah house is commonplace and everyone experiences it. Large posters in big, bold type announcing a person’s death and surround a shivah house, so it’s impossible not to feel the loss.

The shivah visitors shared their poignant stories and wonderful memories of Mom. Although I knew about her many admirers and how people adored her, I didn’t know how many lives she’s touched.

“I really want to emulate your mother, her kindness and her concern for others,” said one 19-year-old fan who just began his service in the Israel Defense Forces.

The shivah experience was draining at times, exhausting on occasion, but also invigorating — it was, essentially, a celebration of Mom’s life. Then suddenly, when the shivah ended, we were all thrown back into the real world. Of course, life will be rather atypical this year, as I’ll be saying Kaddish during morning, afternoon and evening services at synagogue every day in memory of Mom.

After returning from five weeks in Israel, I’m grateful for many things, including the caring, professional Hadassah Hospital staff and fellow hospital visitors — Jews, Arab and Christians — whom I befriended. We shared similar fears and concerns about ill family members, and we supported one another. I’m thankful for all the chessed, or lovingkindness, bestowed upon us by volunteers who provided complimentary daily and Shabbat meals.

I’m also indebted to many caring friends, acquaintances as well as my fellow congregants at Young Israel of Century City and Rabbi Elazar Muskin, all of whom supported me during this crisis. They shared their concern and offered much-needed hope and sustenance during some very bleak days. Every e-mail and call I received lifted my spirits and consoled me in the midst of much difficulty and pain.

Finally, I’m grateful to the Almighty for having given me such a remarkable mother who, by example, taught her many offspring about the beauty of Judaism, how to lead meaningful lives and how important it is to do chesed for others. May her memory be a blessing.

Lewis Groner is director of marketing and communications at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. He can be reached at

Turn Memory Into Blessing

Holidays bring up feelings and memories about people who have died. They also offer opportunities to address unresolved issues. The four Yizkor services and the themes of their days correspond to different tasks of mourning.

Yizkor provides temporal focal points where the new people we are becoming meet again with those we have lost, allowing us to continue the relationships and keep them growing and healing. Yizkor allows us to assess our individual growth in a world without those we’ve lost.

Each day provides a unique window on the nature of grief, encouraging us to approach healing from a different perspective and address a different task or season of mourning. Each creates a context for continuing relationships with our dead, helping to make peace as relationships transform from physical to spiritual connections.

Continuing our conversation with those we have lost is essential to healing. These conversations are central to our emotional lives. Yizkor engages memory for healing. The pain of our history becomes less of a burden. Memory becomes a blessing. The conversation is restored.

Each day of Yizkor provides a distinctive frame of mourning issues. At Yom Kippur, we settle accounts with others and with God. We put right our relationships with the people who are gone, asking them for forgiveness.

We focus on unresolved issues, feelings and guilts we may carry. It is also a day to forgive those we mourn. Also called in plural form, Yom HaKippurim, the day of “atonements,” it is a day when we atone not only for our own sins but also for those of others. This contextualizes a dynamic connection that remains between the living and the dead.

Shemini Atzeret, Yizkor’s day two, ushers in the winter season. It is marked by adding to the liturgy a daily prayer for rain. This prepares us for sadness, bringing us closer to mourning’s cold and brittle aspects.

This time of the broken heart is necessary to healing, just as the time when the earth lies fallow — absorbing moisture — is necessary to bring forth the buds of spring. Our tears connect to the rain and necessity of winter to prepare us for spring. Thus, we honor the need for change and contemplate what it means to let go of the past.

The third day of Yizkor, Pesach’s eighth day, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and calls for a release of bondage to grief. It acknowledges the difficulty of yearning for freedom as we seek a new life, as we celebrate spring and the budding of hope!

Finally, Shavuot, the summer harvest festival, commemorates the giving of the Torah and the establishment of the covenant between God and Israel. These themes encourage reflection on gifts given and what they taught, commemorating these gifts with acts of thanksgiving.

For Pesach, the commemoration of the Exodus and the release from the grip of winter and its tears provide powerful healing metaphors. Mourners have insight into bondage as they are held by the grip of grief. Pesach’s Yizkor can move the mourner from concern about the deceased to concern with his or her own healing.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzryiam, means narrow places. Pesach Yizkor might focus on finding the passage from the tight places that remain in the mourning process, restricting peace of mind and enjoyment of life, to the freedom to remember the deceased as a blessing.

Each year, the Passover story is told anew. In re-telling the story, we see how it has changed. Through each year’s lens, we monitor how time has moved us from the bondage to the blessing of memory.

Passover begins with the elimination of chametz, which inflates food and causes bread to rise. Chametz also threatens healing, for when we inflate or idealize the dead, we lose their reality. Healing relationships becomes harder.

The four children come to the Passover table with different attitudes that correspond to the seasons of mourning. The Simple Child represents mournings’ unbearable yearning. The Angry Child is enraged by bondage to past issues and pains. The Mute Child is simply stunned by loss and unable to articulate feelings. The Wise Child has moved on to healing-wholeness.

With whom do you identify? Has the story changed since last year?

Mourners’ bondage may appear as guilt over unresolved issues. They may be bound to live the agenda of the deceased and not their own, like the slaves in Egypt, living in someone else’s land. This exercise may help you, as you move toward freedom.

Bondage to the Past

We may be tied to something fulfilling and unable to let go. We may have unresolved issues. How are you in bondage to the past or living in someone else’s kingdom?

Pharaoh: How is your loss a tyrant holding you in bondage — a taskmaster, as you do its bidding and not your own?

The Plagues: What punishments have you endured because of this bondage?

Matzah: What have you failed to give proper time, attention and nurture due to mourning?

The Sea of Reeds: What obstacles impede your freedom?

Manna: What has sustained your journey?

The Golden Calf: What has distracted you from the tasks of healing?

Moses and Miriam: Who are your role models and teachers in this wilderness?

The Promised Land: Describe your hope for the future.

God: Envision a healing power to carry you to freedom and the Promised Land.

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) Brener is also a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Sitting relationship shiva

The voice on the other end of the cell phone stopped me cold: “I’m engaged.”

I couldn’t breathe. My worst nightmare was happening. My
ex-girlfriend — the one I still hadn’t gotten over, the one I still imagined having kids with — was getting married. How could I not have seen it coming? It had been a year and a half since our breakup, and I didn’t want to see it. She loved someone else.

I went into a tailspin: nonstop tears, no sleep, breakup grief all over again.

But this was worse than before, much worse. This was the real deal. She was gone. Off the market. No way to rationalize my way out of the heartache.

I was desperate. So I called my rabbi.

Now, I’m not religious. My rabbi is a great guy, but I’m not one to call him for this kind of stuff. I have a therapist and the bleeding ears of my friends for that. But nothing had helped me get over her. I thought maybe the rabbi could give me something different, some tidbit of spiritual wisdom that would get me back on track. Something besides the “If it’s beshert” speech my dad always gives.

The rabbi was sure he could help me. He met me at a deli and without delay smacked me with some tough love: “Shep, it’s simple. You’re unhappy because she’s happy.”

Woah, Rabbi, ouch, man!

“Am not!” I said, on the defensive, “I love her, I want her to be happy… I do!”

The Rabbi dismissed this with a chuckle and shook his head: “You’re human. If she were miserable without you, you’d feel better right now. Problem is, she’s moved on and you’re left with a big void. You need to fill up the void with things in your life that make you happy.”

OK, so it wasn’t revolutionary therapy here, but I had to admit it was pretty unbearable to think of her doing bridal showers and florists while I was ordering in pizza and beer. I also had to admit the joy-o-meter had kind of hit rock-bottom levels in the last year. Could the cure be so simple? Do things, lots of things, that make me happy. Paint, go to movies, write, hike.

Fill up the void. That would help, sure.

But what about the regret, the overwhelming guilt? I was tormented by the feeling that if I had only done things differently, if I had only been a better boyfriend, if I had only asked her to marry me two years ago, things could have worked out for us.

The rabbi was having none of it: “She wasn’t right for you. Know how I know? If she were, she’d be sitting here with you now, a ring on her finger and a baby on the way. But, Shep, let’s be honest. You dragged your feet. Maybe you did have an opportunity to marry her. But you didn’t ask her.”

Oh, the sting of it.

“You have to trust that you both didn’t move forward because it wasn’t meant to be,” he said.

Aha. The ol’ beshert. I knew it’d find a way in there.

Truth be told, the pain had been lingering so long, it never occurred to me that our breakup had actually been the right decision. Maybe there really was an inner wisdom at work, stopping us both from taking the next step. We loved each other deeply, but it had been a volatile mix from the get-go. The relationship took so much effort. We had worked our butts off in counseling and still couldn’t save the thing.

“If she had come back to you it still wouldn’t have worked,” the rabbi said, “She’s not the one.”

The “one.” That was it. That was the heartache. In my mind she had never stopped being the one, my soulmate, even after she was long gone.

In Judaism, we sit shiva after a death. We grieve, confront and try to accept. It’s an ancient process, and it helps.

But unlike when my mother died — which was so devastating but so absolutely final — this girl was still out there. There had still been a chance. I never sat shiva for our dead relationship because I always thought she might come back.

I couldn’t fill the void she left, because I didn’t want to believe the void really existed.

But it does exist. And, trite as it may sound, it’s up to me to fill it up and be happy in my own company.

So it’s time, finally, to sit shiva. Face the loss. And let go of the guilt.
My ex and I weren’t beshert. She wasn’t the one. The case is airtight, the proof is incontrovertible: She’s engaged to someone else.

“One more thing,” said the rabbi. “Try to be happy for her. You’ll heal faster.”

Shep Koster is an actor and artist who lives in Los Angeles.