It is difficult to find something positive in the death of a loved one except perhaps, the legacy that they leave behind.
My husband’s uncle, Nissim Attar z|”l passed away in Ashdod at the age of 84. Nissim was born in Morocco and enjoyed a relatively good and economically secure life until the late 1960s when he became insecure living as a devote Jew in an Arab Country. In 1970 he and his wife Sarah made the decision to immigrate to Israel. At an older age, learning a new language and seeking employment were challenging, yet Nissim was not detoured and hung steadfast to both his faith and Zionist ideals.
The first funeral I attended in Israel was for Nissim. There was no chapel service rather we stood in the heat of the day under an enclosure in the cemetery. It was here that prayers were said and words about his life spoken. In a slow procession with women following behind men, Nissim, wrapped in his prayer shawl, was laid to rest in the soil of the Land that he cherished. As we left the cemetery, Sarah, with dwindling strength whispered in my ear Nissim holech, Nissim left.
Days following the funeral, we traveled to Ashdod to attend the Shiva.. It was there that I sat with Nissim’s oldest daughter and listened as she told me of a man who had come to the apartment the evening prior and sat weeping in a chair at the far end of the salon. The man, similar in age to her, looked not at all familiar and so she approached him and asked who he was. In voice rich with emotion the stranger replied that he felt almost as her brother having sat at Nissim’s side for the past forty years in the synagogue just down the road. Every Shabbat, the man explained, Nissim would wrap the tallit, his prayer shawl around him as the Kohanim recited their blessing over the congregation. Nissim’s daughter had no idea of the connection nor the obvious impact that her father had on someone she had never before met. How is it, she told me, that at the end of the day we can know so little about our parents and their lives outside of their relationship with “us”, their children..
Nissim’s daughter’s story brought back memories of my own father’s passing and my recollection of sitting at his hospital bed side struck by the realization that I was ignorant of so many facets of my Dad’s life; his relationship with his grandparents, his favorite composer and author, his after school jobs and what he regarded as his greatest professional achievement. With pad of paper and pen in hand I began to scribble madly his response to the random questions I posed. Although extremely close, I was filled with regret for not have taken the time to ask my Dad, not in a moment of crisis, but just in conversation, over a can of Pepsi when I was a kid or a glass of wine when I was a mother, the details of his life, his desires, fears and personal challenges.
Battling bumper- to- bumper traffic with three agitated teenagers in the backseat we questioned whether or not we should continue to make our way to Ashdod for the traditional seuda, the meal for the completion of the first seven days of mourning for Nissim. We were loathe to walk into the service after it had begun and face the embarrassment of an obvious late entrance, but we continued on in spite of concern. We arrived just as prayers were ending in time for the meal. Nissim’s daughter approached me looking worn, the reality of loss written on her face. She pulled up a folding chair and sat beside me and with a fresh crop of tears settling in the corner of her eye, said how much her father would have liked all of this; his children, grandchildren, relatives and friends gathered together in the synagogue he attended daily eating the spicy Moroccan salads that he enjoyed so much. The simplicity of what truly mattered to Nissim she had fully captured and I was ever so grateful that we had put forth the effort and made the trip.
Too often we live with; would have, should have and could have. We race through phone calls, visits and e-mails with our parents because there is always something else to do and some task that needs our attention. We can really love our parents and even take care of them in their later years without getting to know them in the same way that they know us. Nissim halach, he went, leaving the legacy of a lesson he didn’t know he would share.