Exactly ten years ago, Jewish time, my father Merle’s soul left his body as his monumental run with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma came to an end. Surrounded by my mother Arlene, my brothers and me, with five of his eight grandchildren in the next room, my father took his final breaths. Two days before Purim, 5766, I became an onen and then on Purim, while most of the Jewish world celebrated, I became a mourner. In his memory, I took the second aliyah to the Torah yesterday morning, was enveloped by a mournfully majestic El Maaleh Rahamim that transported me back to that moment in time when my father was placed in the ground, and, as is custom, recited the Kaddish Yatom, the Mourner’s Kaddish at the end of the service. As I write these words, the flame of his tenth yartzeit candle dances in the early morning light.
I am up early this morning as I am preparing for another trip to Israel. I am hoping that whoever is assigned to 19K on today’s United Flight #84 does not have an issue sitting next to me. I remember too well that experience last month, the humiliating feeling that coursed through my gut as I realized I was facing “Jewish Gender Discrimination.” However, I also remember that not so long ago, I actually participated in those “airplane minyans” during my period of extended grief following the death of my father and then sadly nine months later, my mother. It was important to me that I say Kaddish on a daily basis, as was my custom during my mourning period. While not warmly welcomed by most of the participants in those minyans, I was not excluded because of my gender. I was able to honor the memory of my parents as our tradition commands.
As I get ready to return to Israel to join in the 20th Anniversary celebration of the Partnership between Cleveland and the Beit Shean Region (both the City and Emek HaMayanot, the surrounding region/azor), I remember how much my parents enjoyed the detailed e-mails I would write from Israel. As I shared the ups and downs of building meaningful relationships between American Jews and Israelis, I would comment on the mood of the country. Mostly, I wrote about my experiences of not just witnessing, but participating in the making of modern Jewish history. As I assumed leadership roles, my parents shared my stories with pride and then, they shared the pain as well.
I will never forget when my family took a cruise to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary; our beautiful family vacation was rocked by the news that a terrorist attack had occurred in our Beit Shean. Dad expressed his solidarity by proudly wearing the Chai I had bought for him that night to dinner. I knew my parents would help with our three children as I made plans for yet another trip to Israel, this time to pay five shiva calls to families in Beit Shean.
During my time as Chair of the Partnership, I paid too many shiva calls, visited too many victims in the hospital, delivered too many checks from the Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror. When I stepped down in 2004, I was emotionally exhausted but I knew we had kept the Cleveland – Beit Shean connection strong during the very dark days of the Second Intifada. As Partnership 2000 outgrew its name and became Partnership Together, I delighted in knowing that the miraculous work continued with more and more members of both communities being impacted.
So, I return to Beit Shean for the celebration, not just as a former Chair but as the founder and supporter of yet another amazing Partnership program, the Cleveland and Beit Shean chapters of HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir. When we began our work in the Beit Shean area 20 years ago, could we have imagined that teenagers from our region would join with 400 other Jewish teens from across America and Israel on the stage of Carnegie Hall? As part of the festivities, two chapters from Israel, Beit Shean and Carmiel, will be performing and through their song, will demonstrate in the most beautiful way what it means when the Jewish People come together and sing in harmony. The Beit Shean chapter is under the direction of Maestro Hadas Sturman who approaches the work with charm, grace and enormous talent. Hadas conducts other choirs in the north of Israel and just presented a huge presentation of the music of Walt Disney! I would imagine during these rather dark days in Israel, some good old fashioned fantasy and a spoonful of sugar goes a long way.
Speaking of a long way, I return to thoughts of my upcoming flight and wonder what would happen if I did, in fact, try to participate in a minyan this afternoon, either at the gate or on the flight. If I explained that I was saying Kaddish for my father, on the anniversary of his Tenth Yartzeit, would I be tolerated or would I be excluded, because I am a daughter saying Kaddish for her father? Rather than subject myself to the humiliation once again, I will be content knowing that I said Kaddish for Dad yesterday, that I lit the candle for him last night and that I try, every day to make his memory a blessing. As far as saying Kaddish on the plane for him on this 12 Adar 5776, that idea will flicker like the flame, knowing that while I cannot participate in a small-minded minyan, I celebrate the participation in a Partnership that embraces the best of the Jewish People!