NOACH’S DOVE, MAGRITTE’S PAINTING, AND FORMATTING YAHRZEITS
I love Magritte. His works speaks a world to me, almost all of them. I am visiting the exhibitions of his works endlessly, read all possible monographs with ever vivid interest, and am paying homages to the places connected to him. His creations are very close to my mind. Many years ago, at one of the important Magritte’s exhibitions, I was stricken by a great painting which I loved from the first glance from afar. It was harmonious, it was mystifying, it was breathing and almost speaking. And so very sad, with a cloud of sadness all over it. I came close, and I saw the title: Le Seize Septembre ( The 16th of September).
I needed a fresh air. September 16th – and as it happened, Elul 16 – is the yahrzeit of our daughter Julia-Yenike. She passed away being just 12, of complications during the treatment of osteosarcoma, the direct consequence of the Chernobyl catastrophe. That devastating for me and my husband date is absolutely surreal day in our lives.
For quite a while, I was trying to find out what meaning the date have had for Magritte. My research and discussions with experts turned fruitless. We only know that in a usual for Magritte manner, he named the painting after it had been completed in 1956, most likely doing it on the suggestion of one of his friends.
I was thinking on this elegy-lie painting every every September 16th, for quite a long while. Then, in 2013 there was a very elegant commemoration of our Yenike’s memory at the New York Jewish Children’s Museum with one of their exhibits being named after her. We had a choice with it. And we chose a very special laser King David’s harp playing Jewish melodies including one’s own compositions. This custom made harp was made from olive tree, and it is beautiful, interesting, unusual, gentle and attractive.
We are ever grateful to Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson whose idea it was, and to our good friend maestro Evgeny Kissin who joined us at that unique and so very meaningful for us ceremony with his mother Emilia. The lights of the David’s Harp in New York and the sounds of its melodies has soothed the infinite sadness of Magritte’s painting, to me.
One of our close friends did ask once: “G-d, I just do not get how did you manage? I think, I would not”. And he is a tough soldier. This is a normal reaction for any normal being, I think. The answer was and still be: “I do not know”. Only recently, I have heard some kind of helpful explanation by a great Rabbi who happened to be in the same situation, as we were, only three decades later: “ This is the card that we were dealt with, and we need to live”. The Rabbi is Rabbi Yonah Fuld, Ari’s father. Rabbi Yonah’s words were the first words that were somehow settling for me. I’ve heard them on my daughter’s 30th yahrzeit. The first thing that I’ve read on that morning was Ari’s brother, Hillel’s reflection on Ari’s first yahrzeit and how family took it.
But yet before that, in 2005, there was another passing on the same day which was very hurtful for both my husband and myself. Simon Wiesenthal, dear friend and the person whom we both perceive as one of the very people whom we call as our teachers, passed away on Elul 16th 2005. Living until 96, Simon was blessed to live a very long and unique life, most of it happily with his beloved wife Cyla. I never saw anyone who has changed so dramatically after passing one’s spouse. Cyla, wonderful woman, passed away 18 months before Simon. After that moment, strong, equipped with incredible vitality and stern will Wiesenthal did shrink to almost non-existing and visibly lost man. I never saw such total devotion, and so overwhelming longing to be expressed so graphically. Passing of Simon was a serious blow to us both. His portrait is on one of our shelves, where from he looks at us in the way only Simon could look – to crack the person in no time. And to burst in a good laugh with close ones and his soul-mates.
Ten years after passing of Wiesenthal, another very close to us friend left this world on the same day, Elul 16. It was Moshe Rubinstein, the former long-time gabai of our synagogue in Finland. Moshe was a member-of-family kind of friend, very knowledgeable, deep and kind person. A blessing. We spent all Jewish holidays together, always, with him and his sister Sarah, and there was such deep organic warmth in our relations that we loved to think that it would last forever. When this kind of people are leaving this world, there is a constant feeling that he is just around the corner, and is, actually, here. Maybe, he is. It is still felt like that.
And then, a year ago, September 16th was Sunday. I am not that good with remembering the logistic detail, but this one I would remember for good, I think. It was the day of the Ari Fuld’s murder, and I still feel the shock, that tsunami of a shock that overwhelmed me when I heard and seen, and heard and seen, unable to believe it. I always treated this reaction: “It is just cannot be” as belonging to a Hollywood manufacturing of life. Until I experienced it literally, in the case of Ari’s shocking murder. I told to Hillel this morning on how my husband and I were gleaned to a Mac’s screen through the night a year ago, and how we cried with them all there at the Ari’s funeral. I remember all the details of that so surreal night as it had happened yesterday. And G-d, how much better if it would never happened. Especially with the people like Ari and that incredibly Fuld family, the very best of our people.
Our Jewish sages are teaching us that for every big drama, there is a compensating event to follow. This is what keeps our world standing. On Elul 17th, the next day after this very special and very difficult day for us, the Wiesenthal’s family, the Rubinstein’s family, the Fuld’s family, and many families who have their yahrzeits on the day, four and a half millennia back, Noach let his dove out of the Arch. What is behind this fact and that symbol does settle me a bit, just a bit, on this day.
The dove did return on Elul 23d, a week after our Elul 16th day. Four and a half millennia after, on the very same day of the return of the Noach’s dove, 9/11th had happened, and from 2001 onward, the day is a collective yahrzeit of its victims. There is nothing that can illustrate the eternal, palpable and powerful drama of our people better than co-existence of these facts, a sign of a great hope and the time of mourning over our loved ones.
“We must live”, says incredible Rabbi Yonah Fuld ( and ‘yonah’ means dove, not coincidentally at all), and it is a bit easier for me to bear on Elul 16, the most painful day in our life, knowing and thinking that it is followed by Elul 17, when the Noach’s dove was let out of the Arch.