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And…

Credit: Michael Feldstein

Several years ago, my wife purchased a small but beautiful piece of art for me on my birthday – it is a stained glass colorful rendering of the Hebrew letter vav (see the photo).

She knew that my favorite letter of the Hebrew alphabet was vav – not because my name begins with that letter, but because the letter Vav is a connector, translated as the word “and.”  In the Torah, the word “vav” is the hook that connected the curtains of the mishkan to each other.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to be a connector.  When someone is looking for a new  job, I’ll try to connect him or her to the right person who might be a help in finding a new position. While I chaired the community growth initiative for our community here in Stamford, I tried to connect potential residents to others who lived in the community and who might assist them in their search for a place to live.  I get great joy in connecting people to a doctor, lawyer, or other professional who I trust and who I feel can help them.  Occasionally I even try to make the ultimate connection … and set up individuals on dates for a potential shidduch.

I believe that Jewish life remains empty unless we are connected to each other. You cannot be a Jew by yourself.  In joy and in sorrow, you need the presence and the support of other Jews.  And they also need your support.

Judaism is not an I-Thou religion; it is a We-Thou religion. To be a Jew means to be connected both horizontally and vertically to every other Jew in the world. To be a Jew means to be a descendant of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel. To be a Jew means to live with vavim — hooks that connect us to all other Jews throughout the world, wherever they might be.

Our daughter, Tova, of blessed memory, was an extraordinary connector as well.  During the shiva for Tova last month, we learned how far, wide, and deep her connections were, as many individuals shared stories of how Tova made the extra effort to always connect with them in various ways.

We knew about some of her connections.  But there were many others which just blew us away.  There were high school classmates who she went to school with two decades ago, and who shared the impact that she made on them.  Shlichim from Israel who spent a couple of years in Stamford … Tova went out of her way to make feel at home while they were here, and continued her connections with them years after they had returned home.  There was one young man who Tova worked with for a couple of years who had moved to Nepal, and who reached out to us to share how much Tova meant to him.

How did she accomplish all of this?  Interestingly, I think it can be traced back to the word “and” – the letter “vav”.  Our son Yosef articulated it well at the shiva, when recounting her ability to connect with others.

Here’s how he described it:

Most of us are inherently nice and friendly to each other.  When we see each other, we will almost automatically say, “Hi, how are you doing?”

Tova always went one step further, though. When Tova met you, she would say, “Hi, how are you doing, AND <fill in the blank with a personal question>?”

When Tova spoke with a co-worker, she would say, “What’s up, AND have you seen the sixth episode of <insert name of favorite TV show> yet?”

When Tova caught up with a family member or friend, she would say, “What’s new with you, AND what will you be doing to celebrate your birthday that is coming up next Wednesday?”

When Tova ran into someone she hadn’t seen in a while, she would say, “I hope everything is good with you, AND how are your kids Sara & Joshua enjoying the music lessons you told me they were signed up for the last time we talked?”

There was always an “and” when Tova greeted you – something extra and personal she would add to make sure you knew that her greeting was just for you and that she really cared.  It’s a trait that very few people possess, but it’s one with which Tova definitely was blessed.  And after she died, and we heard all the stories from those she affected, we realized how powerful those personal words can be.

Perhaps we can all stop for a moment – and think how we can add a vav to our greetings to make our connections more lasting and permanent.

I think our daughter Tova would like that.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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