Grandpa – I’m still overwhelmed by your uncanny sense of time. You always had a way of knowing what needed to be done and when, and your recent choice of when to move on from this world was no exception.
I assume that you knew that you were returning your soul to our Maker on the 27th day of the Jewish month of Nissan – the day that was designated as Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. Perhaps you also realized that, by waiting for my Mom to arrive from Israel to attend your funeral, you would be buried on the day that, in practice, Yom Hashoah is observed this year. But I wonder – did you know that you passed into the next world only one short hour after the biblical Joshua’s yarzheit? Did you plan that too?
For quite a while I’ve sensed that you and your peers across the Atlantic were living different parts of a unified reality. While many of our relatives and our People were ruthlessly torn from their futures by the cowardly Nazi regime, you sailed the high seas with the American Navy, fighting for the country of your birth and the freedoms that it gave you. Even then, you knew what was and what wasn’t your time. You and the men that you helped off the torpedoed USS Fiske were not ready to say their good-bye’s. You had more to do. More to teach. More to learn.
What was it like as Shabbat came to a close? Were our nation’s Holocaust heroes there? Were they waiting for you? Were they welcoming you? Was there a choir of millions of souls calling to you from heaven, saying: “join us Grandpa, you’re one of us. We’re all part of the same story”? And when they were calling your name, did they also call you Grandpa?
I truly believe that you epitomized so much of who we are as a people. Nothing about you was the hametz –the leaven – that symbolized our ancient Egyptian taskmasters. For you it wasn’t about the way things looked on the outside, about an attempt to subjugate others to an inflated sense of self-worth or about the ephemeral taste of this world’s passing pleasures. You were all matza – a modest, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, straightforward and real human being who was above and beyond the traditional confines of time and space that limit all peoples, except for the Jews.
You did your GED exams only after you became “Grandpa”, teaching us all that it’s never too late. When I was in high-school, we all gathered around your Friday night dinner table to hear you recite the kiddush blessing over the wine – not in your customary English but, for the first time, in its original Hebrew. And you achieved yet another milestone by taking up the regular study of Gemara when you were well into your eighties. But Grandpa – it’s not just what you chose to do and when, but how you chose to do it.
In truth, it’s awe-inspiring. Your soul-searching honesty, genuine respect and heroic humility allowed you to attain what you never dared to dream. When your children chose to return to their heritage, you chose to follow them. The more the family grew the more your love grew. The more we achieved the more you achieved. The more we learned from you the more you learned from us.
It’s just like the message of Eliyahu the Prophet:
“And he will return the hearts of the fathers upon the sons,
and the hearts of the sons upon their fathers”. (Malachi 3:24)
And Grandpa – who else is attending your funeral? Is Joshua there? I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that he is. You remember when you visited us here in Ariel? Did I mention that Joshua is buried a bit more than a mile away from our home? The two of you are similar in so many ways. Taking the next step. Doing what has to be done. Moving us along from exile to redemption.
Is that what it’s all about, Grandpa? Is that the idea? Moving forward, even if we can’t make sense of the past? Taking our parents, grandparents and ancestors with us and making them part of who we are so that we can meet the challenges of the future?
If that’s it then maybe I’ll be able to do what you did. Maybe I, too, can succeed in learning from my children.
By the way Grandpa, do you know what they did? It was so sweet. Just before Mom – they call her Savta – just before Savta left for the airport the kids filled a little Ziploc bag with some dirt from Savta’s garden in Beit Shemesh. They gave it to Savta so that she could bring it to you. They were so excited about sending you some of the Land that you cherish, so that it could embrace your body in its resting place as your soul continues to soar to limitless heights. It’s their way of bringing you with us, and sending a part of us to be with you.
Yes Grandpa. Yes. You don’t need me to tell you this, but you, your peers, and your biblical predecessors all have it right. We are who you were, and you are who we will be.
Will you let them know that, Grandpa? Can you tell them? I know that you’ll be looking for what you can learn from everyone else there – the countless souls who gave their lives so that we – the Eternal People – can continue to carry the torch. But please Grandpa, please. Please say something. Please comfort them. There’s so much that they can learn from you. Please tell them that your descendants are theirs. That we really are in this together. And that you’ve taught us to teach our children to learn from theirs.
May your soul be bound in the bundle of life; T-hey Nishmat-ha tzrurah b’tzror ha-haim.