Shani Weinmann Kay

A Mourner All the Same

The Hebrew word לזכור is used to describe remembering loss on this particular day, Yom Hazikaron. What does it mean to remember? In Hebrew, to say נזכרתי is to articulate that lightbulb moment of fleeting inspiration to do something, talk to someone, or accomplish something quickly before the forgetting clouds the memory. To remember is to commit to action for those moments. To forget is to fall back into the recesses of the subconscious and to rely on the conscious mind to continue living. So what action can be taken after the remembering of Yom Hazikaron?

I have received the title of forgotten mourner. Someone who may look familiar to people in some respect, but would never be placed in connection with a specific event. Just an ambiguous face among many like me who stand in the shadows while the lights are on someone else. Who am I, but a distant relation, a title used in passing when describing a person that is married to one’s sibling and therefore just a reference point for discussing that sibling’s world. Who am I, but a choice that one individual has made amongst an entire network much larger than themselves. Here I am, a mere representative of that decision, that choice, yet not considered a beating cog in the machine that is family. The world sees me as an addition; a placeholder for those future blood relatives that I will create with my own body and soul. They will be immediate and I will remain a remnant of the process of bringing them to life as a background to their journey. There is no part for me in this storyline, other than a point of contact with the inner circle. Parents, siblings, girlfriend, and friends are the narrators that the world wants to hear. They speak with the emotion of a lost future and of remembering their loved one so that the world does not forget. 

As I stand here on the sidelines and pass between the mourners to offer a hug, a word of strength, or a simple nod of support, I collect their pain unto myself. I circle the storylines one after the other and take bit after bit so that the entirety of the family network does not crash. By now, I feel as if I am Solomon holding up the walls to save the people. The question is, who carries me if not the people?  Who will catch me if my hands start shaking and I can no longer hold up the walls? Who will take my words and put them to paper or record my testimony or give me the stage so I can tell my story? The story of an only child who found a big brother whom she understood in a way that not everyone could. The story of late night conversations, jokes, love, and support in times when they both needed someone else to finish their sentences. How one look at the other’s face told them everything they needed to know and how to help. How she lost the person on whom she could always rely to back her on anything and everything, no questions asked. 

That is my story and I have realized that the only way to tell it is to take it with both hands and throw it into the world whether they want it or not. To take the microphone without waiting to receive it and say what I need to say. I believe that is what Eli would have helped me do. He would have grabbed it, claiming proudly that his sister had something to say and then handed it over to me. He believed in the power to make his own decisions. He believed in the power of one. He had the ability to stand out from the crowd and do something no one else would dare to do. To claim a title for himself that he felt was appropriate and then stamp it onto anywhere that people could see. He believed that not letting the system contain you was the definition of life’s work and that without a mission, you have failed. 

Some may live long and some short, but it is the time we spend living that is counted, those of us left just have the chance to take those that have gone sooner along with us on the journey to a better world. We get to inspire others through them so they continue living and so our lives may be richer for them. We have to be heroes for them just as they are heroes for us. To believe in ourselves, to know who we are, to know where we stand, and to be aware of what we can give to others are together the mission that Eli lives for.

For me, time passes in stages, one blending into the next until I am not sure which one I am up to and whether I look forward or backwards as if living inside of a tumultuous Newton’s cradle. I am swimming in a sea of constant uncertainty and staying afloat means dropping my own pain into the sea so that the others’ do not drown. I am the platform they can stand on as they are surrounded by the lights of people wanting to know their story. I take the moments of silence, the pauses, to reflect on myself and write the words meant to be spoken out loud by those who need them. Through the course of it all, I try not to forget myself completely for fear of melting back into the subconscious, only to be remembered in that moment of action before slipping away again. To be forgotten is simply to lose sight of the mission. So I continue carrying the mission and nod knowingly to wherever Eli is right now because I know that even if I am only a reference point or a choice made by someone else, I will continue to share my words with the world any way that I can. Remembering is to take the mission, find the part that speaks to you, and perpetuate the mission statement of Eli Kay in order to make the world a little bit better today than it was yesterday. I will make sure everyone knows that they can be heroes just like Eli because this is my mission:

A hero is a regular boy from South Africa with a big heart and lots of passion to do good. A hero is someone who remains true to themselves and stands by their values. A hero is someone whose accomplishments are measured not by the degree they hold, but by the impact they have on others daily. A hero can be anyone if they only tap into what makes them special and use that to affect positive change on the world around them and in the people they interact with. A hero is you and me and Eli if we only stick to who we are as the Jewish nation and our commitment to others and to the G-d who put us here. 

As Eli put it best in a video of him jumping into a freezing lake and giving a joking speech that he had no idea would be so true: “אם אני מת, אהבתי את כולכם, אני הייתי אני, ויאללה.

“If I die, I loved you all, I was myself, and Yalla.” 

About the Author
Shani Weinmann Kay was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and Yeshiva Atlanta before coming to Midreshet Harova and then joining the IDF. She is studying Dance and Psychology.
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