Abbah (father) and Emah (mother) are gone, the Shivah (the immediate period of mourning someone’s passing) is over, and it’s time to put things away. Some things will be stored, others given to Tzedakah (charity).
You never thought you would have to decide what to do with Abbah’s Tefilin (phylacteries), or Emah’s head scarves. At least not this way. Sure, one day, far in the future, far, far in the future. But not like this, not so suddenly. And not for both of them at the same time. Sleeping gives no break because the nightmares of that horrible attack come back again and again.
You still have a few years to go before your Bar-Mitzvah, but you have to be a man now, and not just for yourself. You have to grow up, and fast. You have no choice really. Yes, there is lots of help thankfully, but others have their lives to live and even though you are young, way too young for anything like this, you recognize that. In fact, you can already start to see people pull away ever so slowly so they can take care of their own children.
And that’s OK. You are old enough to get it. There will be those, the very close ones, who will always be there, and this makes you feel a little better. You will be staying with them now.
You look at the bookcase of your father’s Seforim (Jewish books). The Tanach, the full Jewish Bible containing, the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. The Talmud (volumes of Jewish legal discussions and commentary dating back over 1500 years), the Siddurim (the prayer books), all kinds of seforim written by many rabbis, some from many years ago, some from today. The “Benchers” (small after-meals prayer books) piled so high, that if they didn’t sit against the side, they would fall over.
And you remember how your Abbah was so proud to keep adding to the bookcase, squeezing in Sefer after Sefer, book after book, until a couple shelves were bursting from being so overcrowded. You smile a little inside because you remember Abbah saying it looked like the afternoon bus on Erev Shabbat (Friday before the Sabbath).
You still remember how your Abbah explained a Pasuk (verse), that you thought was a bit confusing. Abbah so enjoyed teaching and helping you learn. You remember his arm around your shoulder as he helped you read the Mishna (the Rabbinic Oral Law precursor to the Talmud), slowly, always patiently, repeating the words as many times as it took.
You can again see the glint in his eyes, hear his reassuring voice, see him sway back and forth, moving his hands in exact rhythm with the discussion. Then you see the broad smile when he knew you understood.
You turn toward the small table holding the Shabbat candelabra. You can almost hear Emah announcing she was “benching licht,” lighting the Shabbat candles, sanctifying the holy day. You knew the candles welcomed Shabbat even before the sunset did, and you knew that when Emah made the announcement, that was it. Everything not Shabbosdic (appropriate for Shabbat) had to be put away.
And Emah made sure you were ready. Showered and dressed in your Shabbat clothes, the dark pants and the white shirt, shoes newly polished, your best Kippah (yarmulke) on your head, prepared for the walk to Shul (the synagogue) with Abbah.
You remember how Emah “benched licht.” She lit the candles, stretched her arms and hands out over them and waved her hands toward her. Then she covered her eyes tightly with her hands, one over each eye and silently said the Beracha (blessing). When Emah finished, she always turned around toward you to kiss your cheek, tears in her eyes.
You think about how you once joked, saying, “You don’t have to cry, Emah, I’m ready for Shabbat.” But you knew she had tears because the candles also acted as a memory for those close relatives who had passed away. One day, you know your wife will do what Emah did. And there will be two added candles, one for Abbah and one for Emah.
* * *
Chanukah is here too soon, way too soon after he was taken. Say it. After he was murdered.
You walk over to the china cabinet and as you do you see the large, ornate, ornamental Menorah through the glass cabinet door on the top right shelf. Like many Jewish homes, the Chanukiah, as it is known in Modern Hebrew, will not be used for the holiday. This one acts as one of the proud symbols Jews display in their homes. It is as beautiful in its design and sparkle as the holiday is with its ancient rituals and warm, family participation.
You never thought you could feel so much grief and heartache when preparing for something that was supposed to be so joyful.
Like everything you look at, even outside the home, the Menorah reminds you of him. And especially so. You remember how years before, he once joked that this Menorah stood guard over the other Menorahs, those hidden a few feet below behind the cabinet doors with no glass through which to see. Hidden, happy, family secrets containing, among past memories, everyone’s Menorahs to be used for Chanukah.
You dread pulling on the handle and opening the door. But the holiday is here and you know he would want you to be strong. There are others after all, and the holiday must be observed. He would want everyone to smile and not cry, as hard as it might be. You look away for a moment and can see his sparkling smile, hear his infectious laughter.
You pull on the handle and open the door to reveal the Chanukiot. One for each family member. None is as big as the “guardian Menorah,” none as shiny and clean. These are silver-plated and brass and wood. They are worn, a bit scratched and three are somewhat coated with wax from previous Chanukahs. But appearances deceive. These Menorahs are more precious than diamonds.
You take the Menorahs out and put them on the dining room table. You stare at his, one that uses olive oil, and you remember how he loved getting it ready. How he meticulously poured just enough oil into each branch cup. How he wanted to learn the Chanukah Berachot (blessings) even as a toddler so he could chant them along with his father. What do you do with this Menorah? Should you leave it out? Should you put it back?
Then you look at the Menorah you use for the holiday, the menorah you have used for thirteen years. He made it in kindergarten. A foot-long flat piece of wood, with steel nuts glued to the wood. A crooked line of nuts, each one’s center the perfect size to hold a Chanukah candle, the last candle holder in the line, one nut glued on top of the other for the Shamash, the candle that is used to light the others.
You know that his name is scrawled on the underside – his just learning how to write it back then, but you cannot bear to look. Over the years, you have had to keep gluing the nuts back on, but no matter. The Menorah could never be less than perfect in your heart. As he was.
* * *
.מִנְּשָׁרִים קַלּוּ וּמֵאֲרָיות גָּבֵרוּ לַעֲשׂות רְצון קונָם וְחֵפֶץ צוּרָם
יִזְכְּרֵם אֱלהֵינוּ לְטובָה עִם שְׁאָר צַדִּיקֵי עולָם
They were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions,
to carry out the will of their Creator and the desire of their Rock.
May our God remember them for good,
together with the other righteous of the world.
Av Harachamim (Father of Mercy) prayer, circa 1096 CE