Raise Your Spirits

There is a local group of women who put on plays. The group is called Raise Your Spirits. I have not had the pleasure to attend one of these plays yet, though I know many of these wonderful women and other amazing work they do. Just knowing them has often raised my spirits. As I already posted something earlier this week about the roller coaster I am on at the moment, I really wasn’t planning on writing any more, but this morning during the shacharit prayer additional thoughts came to me and asked to be shared, so I am doing my best in the countdown to both sunset which will bring Shabbat and also mincha, the afternoon and third and final prayer of the day, and the last one for this, the fourth year, where I will say Kaddish to elevate my mother’s soul. I was feeling unexpectedly emotional both last night and this morning-after all, it has been four years now, I have healed in many ways, learned to live with the loss, and there are other griefs that have taken the forefront like one from earlier this week and one from next week as well, that one a loss for our whole nation and only one year old. But I realized that none of my emotions felt heavy; even the sadness was only because although I had the support of friends in shul (synagogue), I hadn’t thought to ask a female friend to be with me in the women’s section. So after last night’s prayer, I simply texted a friend who I can go to for hugs, no questions asked, if needed (everyone needs these people, and I love all the huggers in my life!), who immediately said of course I could stop by; even just this “yes” helped lift my spirits already. Actually, this morning when I started thinking about writing some of this, I did think how amused my mom would have been that a blog about her yahrzeit would be called “raise your spirits”!  To go on- I wrote that in Israel, people have (as I attended earlier this week) a tradition of going to the kever (grave) usually (I think) with others, saying kaddish, tehillim, el moleh rachamim, and then having a gathering. I do not have the ability to go to either of my parents kevarim, being 6,000 miles away, and I don’t often have a gathering, although on a workday I often bring what we call kibbud- snacks and drinks, so that others can make blessings in their names. Sometimes a rav will say some words of torah, or ask me to share something. This is beautiful too. Today, instead, I was zocheh (privileged) to share the day in the most beautiful way, by joining the bris for my best friend since childhood’s first grandchild. It is an amazing milestone, and it meant being able to see her children and the children of others we grew up with who live here, as well as her parents who became great-grandparents! (along with the grandparents on other side!), and our friends parents–multiple generations–it was so beautiful and heartwarming and…just wow.

In all, though, at the end of this week, I have one main feeling, and that is that I am grateful. Part of what brought on tears and the need for a hug last night was not feeling empty but this: I was worried because usually, our shul’s minhag (tradition) is that women are welcome to say kaddish, but they say it along with a man. I am fine with that, because the one time I said it in a different shul and they have women say it alone, it turned out no man was saying it, and boy did I feel in the spotlight. The only time it was a problem was the time when I was saying it during the year of avelut (mourning), when I tried to go as often as I could, and I managed to get there one evening when it was really hard that day, and then when it came time, NO ONE said it, and all the men started leaving. I felt voiceless at the time, so I didn’t protest, just left, sad and angry and upset, but also: I took action. I spoke to someone at the shul, and now, just like they sign they put on the women’s side to say that men weren’t allowed in there (another change I accomplished that year– I know my mother is proud), they have a sign women can turn so men know that they are saying kaddish and that a man will start to say it. But, since I now have only one day a year to say it, I was worried, and reached out to a shul staff person, who contacted someone else who contacted me, who said he would be there this morning. I also called a friend who said he would make sure to be there last night. In the end, there were other male mourners at the times I went. But that wasn’t what counted. For me, what lightened my heart, what mattered, was the people who were there for me, who made an effort to be there because I asked. To say yes to a hug, no questions asked. I still remember, and yes, I am calling you out and asking for a complete refuah for you, Yael S., your meatballs and rice were the first meal I was able to eat properly that Thursday night, four years ago, five days after my mother’s levaya. There were so many people, I wish I had a guest book–it is all a blur. I wish I could remember all the people who came out to see me, to be with me. Those who sat and just held my hand, those who had their own memories to share–it was all good, as Miriam says.

Earlier this week I posted that I believe there is a pattern. Someone told me they are jealous of people who believe that, that they wish they could believe in that. An actor and comedian, Patton Oswald, lost his wife not long ago. He quoted her as having said about the world that it’s all chaos, be kind. This week’s parsha, half a year away from the time we reread it in connection with our turn everything upside-down [like this world sometimes seems] holiday of Purim, is Ki Tetze, about Amalek. Who was Amalek, and what is their connection to Purim? They were the nation that saw the Jewish people, freshly saved by Hashem from Mitzrayim, and wanted to dilute the miracle, wanted to show the world no, there is no God, only chaos; no plan, only pain. So they attacked the old and the weak, those who could not protect themselves. And generations down the line, when the king of the Jewish people, Shaul, was told to wipe them out, he showed them mercy instead, which further down the line led to Haman still being alive for the Purim story, and trying to wipe out all the Jews. But God, though hidden at the time, had another plan, and saved the Jewish people. In our day, it is hard to point to a specific nation of Amalek. It is easy to see the idea behind them, though. It is the person who preys on the weak and the old, rather than helping them. It is, as Shoshana Judelman beautifully and succinctly summed up in her pre-shabbos vort this week, the self-doubt in all of us, that stops us from doing what we might to help others, to help ourselves become better people.

I don’t judge those who don’t see the pattern- sometimes I struggle with this myself. In that case, it is still good to look at the world and say yes, maybe it is chaos, but what can we do about it? We can be there for others, we can be kind even when we’re feeling cranky (I’m not a saint, I find this hard plenty of times!), we can focus on the positive—like the amazing gift of seeing  generations of families celebrating simchas together!—we can all do what we can to raise each other’s spirits.

L’iluy nishmat Rachel Devora bat Yitzchak v’Deena Yehudit, z'”l

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a TWELVE year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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