A 34 year old woman in New Jersey dropped her child off at day care and rushed to make her train to Manhattan. A very typical story. Average, Routine. As she waited at the Hoboken train station, an out of control train crashed into the terminal building, injuring over 100 commuters, and killing the young mother. She was the only death. How unlikely. How, “not to worry!” What were the odds of this event happening to this person? Infinitesimally tiny. One in many millions. But yet, she is now dead, despite the odds. Hoboken was her Samara.
There is a famous legend that takes place in Samara, an ancient town in Iraq. The legend relates that a man is packing his belongings to flee his home. He has heard that death is coming to claim him so he will escape and go to Samara. Death won’t find him in Samara.
But we next hear from Death. He too is packing his belongings. He too is embarking on a trip. He has an appointment in Samara.
I often think of this story and remember my friend Beverly Allen. We went to Weequahic High School together. She went on to Newark State Teachers College to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. She was a perky girl with wide blue eyes and a long brown pony tail, refined, warm, and as they say, full of life. Not so fast!
In those days, 1958 to be exact, kids didn’t have cellphones or private phone lines in their college dorms. We communicated by mail. Quaint you say. Even hard to remember. We wrote letters to our friends even if they were just a few miles away. Beverly and I wrote letters to each other.
I remember studying hard at my own university, Rutgers, and feeling a twinge of jealousy to receive a letter from Beverly. Her class was going to a Broadway show that week. Lucky her. There would be a chartered bus for the very short trip from New Jersey to Manhattan. She was very excited.
I learned from the newspaper report that those killed by the rear-ender when a truck slammed into the bus were sitting in the very last row. That’s where Beverly had her appointment in Samara. She was killed instantly.
Since then, I always tell anyone I know, never to sit in the very last row of a bus. Ridiculous I know. People have been killed in many different locations on buses. And although I’m rarely on a bus, I try not to sit there when I am. Also ridiculous.
Two young boys, one a classmate of one of our daughters, and one his younger sibling, had their Samara moment. Their father, long divorced from their mother, was a pilot. He owned a small plane which was based in Linden NJ’s airport. He loved to fly and even had a vanity license plate on his car which said FLY and his initials. Often, on weekends, he would take the boys, who lived with their mother, to New England for an overnight, or even a day trip.
One Monday morning the local news reported a horrific plane crash at Linden Airport. A pilot and one of his sons had been killed. The other, my daughter’s friend, was injured. Severely.
The mother buried her younger son and sat shiva at a local hospital where she davened for her older son. I was in the room with her when her rabbi came in to tell her that there was no hope. He could not survive. And he did not. No miracles here. Tragedy in Samara which just happened to be in New Jersey.
And there was a little boy, only 7, who went to the Valley Road School in Clark, New Jersey, around the corner from our house. Somehow, although there was an alert and responsible crossing guard, he managed to be hit by a car, not five minutes away from his own home. Samara was in Clark, New Jersey.
And don’t we all know far too many stories like this? Of course we do. You don’t need me to tell you. Life is totally unpredictable. Death can come at any time, anywhere.
I thought about all this last week as Shimon Peres was laid to rest. We Israelis regarded him as immortal. He would never have an appointment in Samara. So we thought. Some people are seemingly bigger than life. Such was Shimon, our chaver, one of those Israeli politicians that almost everyone had praise and affection for, a surely rare phenomenon. But, Death is not to be bartered with. Death is not to be ignored. Death finds us all. Beverly. The boys. Shimon Peres.
Soon we will barter with God. Our annual Yom Kippur appeal. We’ll never know the answers God and Death work in mysterious ways. Baruch Dayan Emet.