In the midst of panic in much of the country, last week I was invited by my cousin Tammy in Kfar Saba to come to her home for a dinner. She would not allow me to travel by bus and instead sent her brother Eitan in Tel-Aviv to pick me up in Rishon Lezion and to bring me back home.
When I entered her apartment, I was at once overwhelmed by the large crowd gathered. All members of my beloved family from my father’s side. The table was set for 15 guests and was heaped high with steaming bowls of cholent… two kinds: one with chicken and one with beef. Beans and potatoes, of course.
It was accompanied by several kugels, 9 different salads, bowls of fresh vegetables, baked chicken, and so many more plates of food I cannot remember them all.
After the guests had finished eating the main meal, dessert was brought out. It consisted of two large cakes, one with candles, and followed by a string of balloons, paper hats, all bearing the words, “Happy Birthday.” The balloons and a large tin container of chocolates had been ordered by my beloved daughter, Liora, from New York.
It was a surprise birthday party for me, having reached the age of 87. I was overwhelmed by the surprise, by the assembly of every member of my family, by the abundance of so many delicious home-cooked foods, by the great show of love with hugs and kisses from all.
In spite of government health advisories to refrain from kissing, it was overlooked on that glorious day. The feel of the kisses remain on my cheeks even one week later. The love of my family is indescribable. There are not so many wonderful loving and caring families as mine. Their love and devotion to me makes me a very rich man. Gold and silver, diamonds and precious stones, cannot compare in value to my family love.
Tammy’s father, my cousin Binyamin, was at my wedding in Tel Aviv in January 1960. His beloved father, my cousin Mordechai, led me to the chuppah for the wedding ceremony. Binyamin’s grandfather and my grandfather were brothers and their mutual love in the late 19th century and the entire 20th century continues with their children and grandchildren into the 21st century. It is a love that cannot die.
A slice of the chocolate birthday cake baked by Tammy was put on my plate. The candles were blown out by one of the youngest children, and with the first bite of cake on my fork ready to reach my mouth, all assembled broke out into song… “yom huledet samayach”… Happy birthday to me.
It was followed by the traditional good wish “ad maya v’esrim”… may you live to be 120 (the years of the life of Moses) but this time I added. “Please make it 121 years. I don’t want to die young.”
Laughter followed hand-clapping, smiles and good wishes from all the family members. I was overwhelmed. It was my first surprise party and the happiest one of my life. I can’t predict that I’ll make it to 88 but the memories of 87 will remain in my heart forever.
No matter the numbers, if I follow the pattern of gematria I am only 15 years old. (8 plus 7 = 15).
The young child who blew out the birthday candles on my cake came over and sat on my lap.
“Are you really old?” he asked. “You don’t look old. My saba (grandfather) looks old. He has white hair but you don’t.” I was hesitant to tell him that coloring the hair occasionally does wonders!
One week has passed since that glorious day. But it is a day that will live with me forever. Thanks to Tammy and her wonderful parents Binyamin and Shulamith who kept the secret from me.
My one birthday wish: to live to celebrate many more happy family occasions in good health, safety and in a love-filled togetherness. Amen. Ken yehi ratzon. So may my wish be fulfilled.