I write this post, upon the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the most Holy Day in the Jewish calendar. A day where Jewish people transcend their physical selves and work to become more spiritual beings through prayer, fasting and repentance. One of the most poignant and emotional moments in the Yom Kippur prayer service is Yizkor, where we pray for the elevation of the souls of family members that have passed on. This prayer connects us to our roots, our ancestors and to soldiers and martyrs who died while sanctifying G-d’s name. While praying Yizkor, this year I took the time to let my mind wander and think about the people I have lost, my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and my father. I thought a lot about how my father’s struggles, efforts and sacrifices brought his family closer to G-d and a religious lifestyle.
My father was my role model and a highly spiritual and religious Jewish man. He was a brilliant, kind, generous, loving, creative and passionate. He was committed to his family, his wife, his daughters, his traditions and his people. In many ways my father’s life was a typical Jewish American story during the 1950’s, he grew up in a Traditional American Jewish family. My grandparents belonged to the local synagogue and attended the mandatory Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. His family lit candles on Chanukah and attended a Seder on Passover. They had a weekly Friday night dinner and then watched the baseball game on TV. Only kosher food was eaten in the house, but outside they had no problem ordering from the local Chinese Restaurant. My father went to Hebrew School and had a Bar Mitzvah. When he was a boy Judaism was present, but it was certainly was not a central focus in his life. He was just one of the guys, a sports fan, a football player, a big guy with a bigger heart.
The beginning of my Father’s spiritual quest began when he was in college, where he took a number of courses related to Holocaust Studies and Jewish History. He became active in the Zionist movement and went to Israel to spend time on a Kibbutz for a year, where he moved water irrigation pipes. He immersed himself in Jewish history and culture. When he met my mother, the two of them decided that they would become more observant together and raise their family in the Orthodox Tradition. My parent’s road toward religious observance was certainly not always an easy one, many of their friends and family members did not understand why they were eating Kosher 24/7, could no longer go to family reunions and birthday parties on Saturdays and why my father wore a Yarmulka on his head.
My father’s full spiritual commitment solidified during the last years of his life. After he became CEO of a million dollar software company, that he developed and lost , when his parents passed away and when he became seriously ill. During these times, his religious observance was his comfort and strength. Instead of becoming depressed and sullen, as he lost more, as he suffered more, he turned to G-d, to the shul, to learning groups, to his Rabbi and to his family. On Saturdays, my sisters and I would proudly push him in a wheelchair to shul. During the week, rain, shine, snow or sleet, he would ride on his motorized wheelchair twice a day trying to earn the coveted honor of getting to shul earlier than the Rabbi. During this time, his efforts in Jewish learning were rigorous. He did not accept anything without questioning, researching, debating. With the help of his Rabbi, he opened his heart and his mind, to Rashi, Pirkei Avos the Gemara and Mishna. Despite his physical pain and challenges he felt alive.
When his illness became worse, the community that he was now an integral part of organized volunteers to drive him to dialysis treatments. When financial crises arose, they were there to support him financially. When he needed a kidney, fellow shul members offered to get tested to see if they were a match. When it became apparent that I was the best match, our Rabbi counseled him, consulted experts, gave him Chizuk, which helped him be at peace when the time for the transplant came. His spiritual journey, had brought our entire family back to Klal Yisrael, a people, that cares, supports and prays for one another.
My father’s story is just one of many . Every day I associate with wonderful religious men and women who are kind, learned and hardworking. My father has been gone for almost 8 years now. But the faith he gave us, has helped us accept and continue to thrive despite our devastating loss. When I look at my family and my sister’s families, their commitment to the Jewish people, I know that my father’s journey, though painful, was worth it. My daughters are part of a community, where they are taught to hold their bodies and minds in the highest esteem. They are taught that they are daughters of a King and in turn have to be kind, modest, respectful and generous and live up to their fullest potential. As a family, we keep Shabbat and Holidays with the ultimate commitment to Halacha and Tradition, while at the same time experiencing the joy in our religious customs. At their young ages, my children already understand their responsibility to G-d , our ancestors, to the Torah, to the Jewish community and to future generations. When I watch my Chaim, my father’s namesake, learning Parsha and Halacha, reciting Tehilim for the sick, praying from a siddur and understanding what the Hebrew words mean, at the tender age of 5, I know that my father is smiling down from Heaven. As his spiritual journey is complete. He successfully brought his family back from the threat of assimilation and indifference, which has led so many of our people away from Judaism. He reignited the flame in all of our hearts, which is our commitment to G-d, to Israel, to the Jewish people, to our Traditions and our Holy Torah.
It is because of my father’s difficult quest back to Torah Judaism that I am so passionate about fighting against biased statements directed against Religious Jewish men and women. It is why when people suggest that Traditional Jews’ commitment to the Kotel is some kind of Rabbinical turf war, I become livid. It is why I am tenacious about my commitment to supporting traditional religious prayer services and practices. It is why I fear for Israel and for its future if we forget that all the blessings and protection we receive is from G-d, and our devotion to the Torah and our commitment to Him. It is why I believe it is our responsibility to protect our ancient traditions to ensure that future generations can pray the way our ancestors did, in Israel, at the Kotel, in a spirit of unity, respect and dignity. We are just one link in a long chain, a chain of Mesorah of Tradition, we must all remember where we came from and where we are going. G’mar Vechatima Tova to all, may we all merit following the path of true righteousness and true peace and unity for Klal Yisrael.