Remembering a Friend on Purim

Purim is not one of my favorite holidays.  I don’t enjoy dressing up – trying to be someone I’m not even just for a few hours is just not my thing.  And the mishloach manot – preparing the gifts to give to family, friends and neighbors – causes me heart palpitations.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit but I do find it stressful trying to figure out what to buy, how to pack and who to give it to.

This year, two days before Purim, a dear friend and classmate, Rashi Lieberman-Minkowicz, suddenly passed away in her sleep.   I was in no mood to celebrate Purim, the holiday when we are commanded to be happy and to have the most fun.   I’m never particularly excited about it anyway and this news just made me want to curl up in bed and cry all day.

Just a couple of months earlier, we had celebrated our twenty-year high school reunion and I was fortunate enough to reconnect with Rashi.  Everyone at the reunion was happy to see her.  She was friends with us all.  It didn’t matter what your background or beliefs were; she would give you the time of day.  Her sudden passing, leaving behind her husband and eight children, was a total shock to everyone.  Our class was hit hard, not only because it was the first death we experienced together but because we related to her as a wife and mother and we did not know how to move on.  In our group class email, her cousin (another classmate) shared an email with us before it went public.  It is an email from Rashi to her cousin who lost her mother earlier this year.

‘This Friday is Bubby Rashi’s yartzeit and I keep thinking today of the story of how Zaidy Gansbourg was dancing on Simchas Torah just a few days after Bubby Rashi died with such intense joy. I keep asking myself what am I taking from today’s tragedy and the yartzeit of Bubby Rashi. As my bitter tears fall into my mixing bowl I can’t help but wonder if Zaidy Gansbourg would be proud of my falling apart. Would he be looking down and seeing that we are truly living his message or are we falling apart which is the easy way out?  Obviously we know what we need to do.  Somehow we need to transform the energy of our crying into joy because joy is as productive as sadness is destructive. Both require energy… To be joyful in face of unbearable sadness is the hardest challenge of all. But Zaidy did it as a true chassid and an entirely G-dly man. We need to take his lead and triumph over our natural reactions to this crazy world of pain and darkness. If God could be crazy so can we. Crazy enough to accept His challenge and forge ahead. Just rambling but I need to keep saying this so I don’t completely destruct. May Zaidy Gansbourg and Bubby Rashi and Shaya Gansbourg look down at their family and offspring and know that while they are gone we continue to keep their spirit alive by smiling while we are weeping and by continuing to climb the arduous mountains that are put in our way. And may the neshoma of Shaina Chaya bas Rochel Leah be begging Hashem along with all the other special neshomos that were take way too soon that Moshiach should come now! With love, RASHI!’

Even after her untimely death, Rashi was giving us strength and a reason to move forward.  After reading the email, I decided to make this Purim the happiest ever!

I started the celebrations by hosting a community Purim l’chaim (adults only) at my place and had a wonderful time (the alcohol might have helped a bit). The next day I was determined to attend all four Purim parties in Edmonton.  We Edmontonians stay true to our reputation as being polite and friendly – each party took place at a different time during the day so as not to conflict.  I attended Beth Israel in the morning with the Harry Potter theme.  What amazing décor!  The detail that was paid to every aspect of the event, from a movie showing to the dining hall and to the adult and children activities was incredible.

I then went downtown to the Beth Shalom/TBO /Federation event.  The kids’ activities, the megilah reading, the purim costume contest (I won for best adult costume!) were all enjoyable and the Purim Shpiel – wow, it was just adorable.  I then drove back uptown to the Kollel event which was one big merry feast.  The food was delicious (it was the only place I got to sit and actually eat).  They also had activities for the kids, balloon making and face painting.  The final party I went to was back in the west end at Chabad.  They held theirs at the Fantasyland Hotel Ballroom – and what a ball it was.  It had the largest attendance as well as jumping castles and chocolate galore.

It was fascinating to attend each party, to see how each one served different needs in our community.  What was also interesting to see were the different crossovers of people, how some people went to two or even three parties.   Some attended to enjoy themselves, others attended simply to show support.

That’s what so amazing about the Jewish people.  If we all can learn to accept one another’s differences and be understanding of every individual’s manner of celebrating the holiday, we will be a step closer to our Father in Heaven.  In the memory of my dear friend Rashi, may we all accept and be tolerant of our differences.  We have enough people who don’t tolerate us – if our own family can’t appreciate who we are and what we do, then how can we expect the rest of the world to learn from us let alone accept us?  Let us work shoulder to shoulder as we strive to be a light unto the nations!

By the way, Pesach is my favorite holiday (it also happens to be around my birthday) even with all the preparation and cleaning that goes into it.  I particularly love the seder, celebrating with family and friends – I believe that it is the ultimate holiday and the one that G-d truly loves, especially since we are celebrating our nation’s freedom as one.  May we all love each other and accept all the members of our family this holiday.  Chag sameach!!