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One Year Later: Meaningful Memorial Tributes to Our Daughter Tova

Credit: Michael Feldstein

“Morning comes and morning goes with no regret.
The evening brings the memories I can’t forget.
Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs.
And empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs.”

  • Don McLean

This week we will be marking the first yahrzeit of our dear daughter, Tova, z”l, whose yahrzeit will be observed on the ninth day of Shevat (Friday, January 19th this year).

We conducted a meaningful Jewish unveiling ceremony (hakamat matzeiva) this past week at her gravesite for family members, where we shared memories of Tova and added pebbles to her gravestone.  My wife Sharon, our son Yosef, and I will be reciting kaddish on the yahrzeit date, of course.  We are sponsoring a kiddush and seudat shlishi at the two shuls to which we belong in memory of Tova.  And this past week I gave a shiur dedicated to the memory of our daughter to members of our Stamford community.

However, those are things that one expects to do on a yahrzeit for a loved one. I’ve always admired individuals such as Sherri Mandell, who was able to create an incredibly important and meaningful tribute to her son Koby after he was brutally murdered in a terrorist attack by establishing the Koby Mandell Foundation.  For more than 20 years, The Koby Mandell Foundation has helped bereaved mothers, fathers, widows, orphans, and siblings who have lost loved ones due to an act of terror and other tragedies to rebuild their lives and create meaning out of suffering.

Devora Halberstam, who became an advocate for gun control and promoted anti-terrorism legislation after her son Ari was murdered by a gunman, is another example of someone who was able to transform a tragic event into something positive.

Others who have lost loved ones in an untimely fashion have also established similar charitable efforts or built significant educational programs that honor the memory of someone who has departed.

What could we do in Tova’s memory that would be both a lasting tribute and meaningful to her life?

Fortunately, there were several people who answered that question for us – and with our permission moved forward with a couple of incredible memorial efforts.

The first occurred right before Shavuot, a few months after Tova had died. Sharon works as a sales representative and events coordinator for kosher groups at the Armon Hotel, and several of the people who she deals with both at the hotel and in the community organized the purchase of a sefer Torah, which was dedicated in Tova’s memory and gifted to us.  Sharon and I decided to leave the Torah at the hotel, where it is regularly used by different groups who daven together at the hotel on Shabbat.  We also brought the Torah to our own shul on the yahrzeit Shabbos, and our son leined from the scroll.  Tova loved going to shul on Shabbat, and I know she would have received great joy knowing that a Torah in her memory was being used each week by guests at the hotel.  And the words of our Torah have lasted for more than 3,000 years – so there is no more of a lasting tribute than a Torah scroll.

Several months ago we received a phone call from our friend and neighbor, Jessica Katz, and Tova’s close  friend, Allie Morag.  They were wondering whether we would be interested in having a park bench at the park directly across the street from us dedicated in Tova’s memory.  They said that they both would be willing to raise the necessary funds needed for the bench.

What a beautiful way to honor Tova’s memory!  Tova grew up playing at that park, and later in her life loved to take her nieces and nephew there.  It was the perfect memorial tribute – both lasting and meaningful to Tova’s life.  Sharon and I immediately agreed to the project.  The fundraising campaign was launched on her birthday in July, and in a matter of a few days all of the needed funds (and more!) were raised.  Last month during Chanukah, the bench was installed … and we officially dedicated the bench in her memory.

Finally, Sharon and I have been working closely with the Jewish Community Center in Stamford, where Tova was employed for 17 years at its JumpStart program, to establish a fund to assist employees at JumpStart in furthering their education.  Tova was privileged to work at an organization that valued her work … and that encouraged her to go back to school for her degree.  It took her a long time, but she finally earned her degree, with the help and support of the JCC.

Sharon and I are proud to announce the establishment of the Tova Feldstein Fund, which will assist JumpStart employees financially with furthering their education.  If you’d like to contribute to the fund, please visit www.stamfordjcc.org/index.php?src=forms&ref=DonationsCommerce_Tova.

We are still grieving for Tova.  Although I go about my day-to-day life normally, there are certain triggers that occur at various times that immediately remind me of our daughter. One of them is on Friday night.  Tova lived in her own apartment, but almost every Friday night she would join us for Shabbat dinner.  I’d give her a blessing, and we would catch up on the week’s activities.  Now on Friday night I see the empty chair where she used to sit, and it makes me very sad.

We will never stop grieving for our loss.  But we are comforted by the fact that, together with our family and friends, we have been able to establish several lasting ways in which we can remember Tova’s good deeds and the special person who she was.

May her memory always be for a blessing.

“You will be missed, because your seat will be empty.”

  • Samuel 20:18
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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