Sunday, March 29, 2009

Something To Kvell About -- Part 2

In January, I wrote about my youngest son giving his first d'var Torah for our shul's congregation after davening. It was rather impressive then, and he gained the impetus to speak again.
Noam decided he wanted to choose his future bar mitzvah parsha, Parsat Vayikra, which was read yesterday in shuls worldwide.
Very diligently, he worked on his words of wisdom, pulling out THE LITTLE MIDRASH SAYS to guide him. Late in the week he came and read to me what he'd written. Wow, he had sat and found important things to say without my husband or I giving him guidance.
I'd invited my mother to come and be with us for Shabbos so that she could witness her youngest grandson up on the bimah, giving his "drash".
The rabbi introduced him as "nine-year-old Noam Saban, currently a student in grade 3, who, in 4 years will be celebrating his bar mitzvah with us, and will now give us a taste of his parsha Vayikra."
This boy managed to impress us all; I didn't feel right accepting "yasher koach's" for the fruits of his labor, as I truly had nothing to do with it.
To top off the afternoon, at the lunch table, my mother pulled out a gift she'd brought for Noam. It wasn't a newly bought gift, but rather one of my father's small siddurim. (prayer books) I took it from her and she told me to open it up; on the flyleaf, in my father's handwriting it said "Noam Itamar". It was as if this book would have been meant for him! And how a propos with his giving this d'var Torah that day, a reflection of what he will G-d willing speak about in four years, it was like a bar mitzvah gift meant for this little boy.
I was in awe, as we all were around the table. Even Noam stared at the book, picked it up gently, kissed it and leafed through the pages, announcing the tefillot he was finding.
My mother said this wasn't the siddur that my dad used on a regular basis, but one she thinks he traveled with, when they did travel (which was very infrequent the past 8 or 9 years). None of the other siddurim or Tehillim that my father used have any of the other five grandchildren's names written in it. This is the only one, and she thinks that perhaps when Noam was born, his Zaidy wrote his name in the book...perhaps for him to have one day.
It was very moving for us to witness Noam receiving this precious gift, for us to witness that he recognized the true value and meaning behind this special gift (highly noticeable in his look of awe as he stroked the book and kissed it) and for how fitting yesterday's Shabbos was for him to receive it.

The Beauty Remains...

Although Henri Matisse was nearly 28 years younger than Auguste Renoir, the two great artists were dear friends and frequent companions. When Renoir was confined to his home during the last decade of his life, Matisse visited him daily. Renoir, almost paralyzed by arthritis, continued to paint in spite of his infirmities. One day as Matisse watched the elder painter working in his studio, fighting torturous pain with each brush stroke, he blurted out: "Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?" Renoir answered simply: "The beauty remains; the pain passes."

I'd like to think of my father that way. Yes, he's gone, leaving behind a great void in the lives of many, namely his wife, his children, their spouses, and grandchildren.

But this man left us with a legacy: of Yiddishkeit, education, personal philosophies, wonderful memories, strength and stamina, to name but a few. Most of all, he left this world with a good -- a WONDERFUL -- name, one of the most important things a Jew can leave behind.

That is his gift. That is the beauty that remains...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Excerpts from a Letter...

I wrote a letter on Sunday to my first cousin (who flew in and delivered the first hesped at my dad's funeral service), his wife and children, and to his mother -- who, thankfully, survived the war with my father.

...We have now lost someone very precious to us – a father, husband, grandfather, brother, uncle: Yaakov Arieh ha-Levi.

You well know what my father was about: what human and Torah values he upheld, what respect he commanded from others when he did not seek it, what nurturing he and my mother provided, what goodness sustained him, what survivor personality helped him endure.

So many times he was hospitalized; so many times did he return home….a little worse for wear, but with all his fine attributes intact. These attributes shone through to his last days.

Yes, it was a difficult week for us, as I’m sure it was for you. But it was a much-needed week, and on my father’s behalf, a much deserved week. I’ve always felt sorry for people who haven’t had the opportunity to sit shiva for more than an hour because of a Yom Tov. As others have said, it truly is helpful.

It isn’t that I heard lots of nostalgic stories throughout the week, but it’s the people who came to pay a shiva call or those who called us from all points in the world. It was overwhelming and heartwarming to see people from all walks, from all stripes – from our various schools and universities, from our shuls, from our social circles, etc. They came out of the woodwork to honour our father’s memory…and our family.

For that reason, I wasn’t so sad; I remained composed throughout the week of his last illness, and through my father’s petirah [burial] and shiva. More than anything I’m grateful – because we had my father for so many years, and because of the solid foundation he and my mother provided for us; I’m proud of my father’s strong belief in Hashem and his always keeping his siddur or Tehillim close at hand – and making constant use of them. My father was always the “ehrliche Yid.” I am also thankful that my father is no longer in pain and that his neshama is reunited with those whom he loved dearly and missed terribly for all those years.

It is these emotions that supercede any sadness and true grief. I know that I will have many moments when I am sad because of my loss, and perhaps people cannot understand that I haven’t been crying all this time, but my father was all goodness, and that knowledge sustains me...

Hesped (Eulogy) for My Father

For several years, I used to think how I would honor my father in a hesped...what stories I would tell, what descriptions I would use.

But when it came time, the morning of March 8th, to write the words, I decided that less is more. Sure I could tell anecdotes galore -- who can't!? -- but my father was a simple and quiet man and I knew that my choice of words would hold much strength.

My two brothers spoke, and my first cousin who flew in from NY also spoke. In essence, we each said the same things, without having consulted one another. That is a true indicator that we spoke the truth, and those things we chose to say, reflect the beautiful legacy that my father left us with.

Here is the hesped I said:

Eesh Taam v’yashar. A man who lived his life straight and with great morals and integrity.

He valued and lived by common decency, strong Jewish traditions and a deep Kavanah/
faith in Hashem, hard work and a rich family life. My father was a firm believer in hachnasat orchim – the welcoming of guests – and he and my mother were open-armed to everyone.

Generous with all he had, always giving – rarely, if ever, receiving. Always trying to better life for his wife, for his children, while at the same time content with his lot. He chose to never move to a bigger house or buy big-ticket items and it was rare for him to reward himself in any way.

He raised us on shmirat ha-lashon – staying clear of slander or gossip. A few years ago, the wife of one of my father’s best friends told me, “I never heard your dad say a bad word about anyone.” To me, that was the greatest compliment because I knew it was true.

Loved by children, friends, family, and customers, my father was a charming, decent and kind man whose reputation preceded him in every way.

Although he was hospitalized several times over the years, for serious and lengthy stays, he managed to endure, my mother closely at his side. When asked “How do you feel?” he responded with “Not too bad, thank you.” His attitude and survivor mentality always came with the tag line “Let’s hope for the best.” And together, we always did!

Michael’s friend, Salem Alaton, left a beautiful note in the online memorial book. It describes my father very well. I quote: “Jacob endured so much in his life with great strength and fortitude, creating a richly fulfilling environment for his young family after the horrors of Europe. A life lived as a tremendous act of defiance in the wake of the senseless hatreds that took away so much from him.”

To extend on that, I want to read a poem I wrote and published a few years ago. It gave me great pleasure to have my father hear me read the poem at a public reading because this poem represents his life.


Young boy – a son and brother –
You are a mentor and protector
to so many. Uprooted at an early age –
father deceased, mother struggling to raise
a young family.

The streets of your village
are awash with scholars
who study with the great rebbe –
Talmud, Mishnah, Chumash, Halacha.
You peer through the dusty cheder windows,
longing to join them.
You are too young yet.
And yet, you are too old…
The branch that your mother
and siblings cling to for support.
You must bear fruit for the others,
and labor to do so.

Nature can be merciless at times,
giving and then taking away,
wiping out traces of life and beauty.
In time, a dreadful storm comes,
wiping out that cheder, that village…
your dear ones.

But you, thank God,
have been able to root temporarily
in other places.
And slowly, slowly, you awaken
after that harsh, stormy winter.
Weakened, you are warmed by the sun;
your fragility begins to heal.
And you are replanted yet again.

A husband. A father.
A mentor and protector once more.
You move silently into your verdant garden and kneel,
shovel and soil beside you.
You recall Leviticus 19:23.
“And when you arrive in the land, plant all manner of fruit trees…”

You are giving back to the earth,
Enriching it with new life. A plum tree.
Roots clinging to the cool earth, the tree grows,
flourishes…its branches strong.
Over time it bears fruit, and more fruit.
You harvest from its sweet gifts –
again and again,
repeating the cycle each year.

And you remember your roots…

“And he shall be like a tree planted by
the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither;
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

Psalms 1:3

[and then I ad-libbed and said something like:]

Since I was a little girl, my father and I had a sign-off, “Me-la-la,” which means “I love you.”

[I looked at the coffin at this point]

“Me-la-la, Dad. May you rest in peace.”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Final Resting Place

My beloved father passed away last Sunday, March 8, 12th Adar, at 5:55 a.m. and his funeral service was at 3:00 that afternoon. Shiva was held this past week at my parents' house, and we got up midday Friday because of the onset of Shabbos.

There is much to say about the week of shiva, about my father's last days, and about the man himself, but now is not the time. Suffice is to say that Jacob Adler was a loved, respected and admired man by all whose path crossed his.

Life works rather mysteriously. I've written in the past about my father's early years and the fact that he lost his father when he was only 6 1/2, and a baby sister was born two months after the father died. There were also two other sisters between my father and the baby.

Unfortunately, one sister died of acute appendicitis in a neighboring town during the Holocaust, and the youngest sister died along with my grandmother in their hometown, slaughtered by the Nazis. My father and one sister were sole survivors.

A number of years ago, my parents traveled to Israel together for the first time and went to Yad Vashem. My parents thought that they should register my grandmother's name at least, but lo and behold, when they looked up her name, it had already been registered, by a former neighbor. To say my father was emotionally moved is an understatement. He so wanted to be able to seek out that former neighbor and thank her for remembering his mother, but she had already passed away.

About a year or so ago, after seeing several reminders in Jewish newspapers for people to register names of those who perished in the Holocaust, my mother and father decided that my father's two younger sisters should also be remembered at Yad Vashem. My mother completed the form, sent it in and was told it had been received, but it could take up to a year or more to actually do the formal registration.

Every few weeks while I thought of it, I checked the Yad Vashem website for the names to see if they were already listed. Deep down, I always hoped that the names would appear in my father's lifetime so that he could be at rest knowing that his sisters also had a final and proper resting an archives at least, if not in real life.

When my father passed away on Sunday, I even checked the website, and was disappointed to not see my aunts' names. If I recall, I even checked on Thursday evening, when I came home from the shiva house to sleep in my own home.

I just looked at the website before I began to write this post, and lo and behold there were my aunts' names and brief description of when they died. I started to weep.

The shiva is over; the neshama (soul) of my father was said to be hovering in the home for the week. Tonight we went back to my parents' house after Shabbos to take the customary short walk that some people do after getting up from shiva, the neshama (soul) then taking its leave, rising toward the heavens.

How timely for these Yad Vashem listings to appear now, at the end of shiva, with my father's neshama departing. I am grateful as well as awestruck.

Indeed a sign of Hashgacha Pratis at work.

My father can now rest in eternal peace, his soul reunited with those of his loved ones.

May my father, grandmother, grandfather and aunts be united in a better place.