An Overdue Open Letter for Mother’s First Hebrew Date Yahrzeit

Me-teeta, I wasn’t going to put up a second post about you, IsraeLightly is meant to be light, and here I am writing about bereavement!  But then, my friend, Katarina, commented on “An Overdue Open Note for Mother’s First Secular Yahrzeit”.  Katarina wrote: “I was lucky to have met and danced with your lovely mother. Thank you for sharing your memories of her.”  And for good measure, a dear old friend from Chicago sent me a private note about the Monday nights’ dancing place on Belmont Avenue and the song “Rio Magdalena”.  This letter to you is going up because of the beautiful synchronicity between last Thursday’s sleep-time visit and the reminder from these two friends – both of them mention you and dancing in the same sentence.  It occurs to me that if I am going to share about you on IsraeLightly, I am not really sharing if I don’t talk about your dancing.  

On your Hebrew Date Yahrzeit I wrote:

Me-teeta, “Yahrzeit”, this is a Yiddish word meaning “year’s time/tide” and marking the anniversary of the death of a loved one.  You lived all of your life in secular time.  I live in Israel, comfortably balancing between the Hebrew calendar and the secular one.  The first “Yahrzeit” for a parent is very important as it closes the cycle of bereavement which begins after burial with the seven days of condolence time in memory of the deceased known as “Shiva” (“sitting”), followed by “Shloshim” (“30 days”) and closed one year later on the first anniversary of the death.  In the Jewish tradition each period of time has its own strict rules.  But what to do?  You and I have always had our own spin on the sociology of organized religions and their attending rules.  Guided by the overriding Jewish concept that mourning must be sincere and ring true in one’s heart, I sat an abbreviated “Shiva” for you.  At the end of Shiva and during your “Shloshim” I attended synagogue more than usual so that I would have the opportunity to recite the mourner’s “Kaddish” in your honor.  Despite the fact that most people associate this prayer with the death of a loved one, death is not mentioned in the prayer.  The entire focus of the prayer is to magnify, sanctify, glorify, and praise the name of G-d.  The first time I recited it in your memory as I read the Aramaic words I translated them back into English and the line: “May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen.” resonated very strongly for me.  It was then I realized that my observance of your “Shloshim” and beyond throughout the first year of mourning for you would be different from the proscribed Jewish traditions and rules. 

 I did indeed observe the restriction of not drinking wine during your “Shloshim”.  I, like you, love my glass of red wine with dinner, but I didn’t drink wine during your “Shloshim”.  I promise you, I almost heard you mocking me “Wino, why no wine!”  Ok, that was me putting words in your mouth.  Ah Perdon! (Oh! So sorry!), I didn’t mean to make fun of you.  For the rest of your first’s year’s time, it was “loyalty above all”, I observed two family memorial rituals for you.  You know, there was always a lit white candle in your memory and the blue glass I cracked upon receiving the news of your death to turn it into “your soul’s refreshment glass” always contained just the right amount of water.  The lit white “Yizkor” (memorial) candle didn’t just sit in the living room it was with me lighting the dark tent which is my grieving heart.   

The candle helped me remember you singing and dancing.  During this entire year since your passing I took this singing and dancing business of yours firmly into heart!  I remember that you danced in the living rooms of all the places you called home, anytime we moved to a new place amongst the first things you did was have the stereo set up and “probar el piso” (“test out the floor”) by dancing in the living room.  That first dance turned the new place into home.  So during your “Shloshim” and for the rest of the first mourning year for you, oft times with tears streaming down my face, I am not sure if they were tears of missing you or tears of happiness for the singing and dancing, I danced and sang.  Sometimes with my children, sometimes with Jay, sometimes with friends, and sometimes in a huge crowd during a concert, but always with you, I danced and sang.  I danced in the living room, I danced in the kitchen. Yes, of course, I remember that cooking and baking times always include time set aside for “singing and dancing something good into the food.  Singing and dancing gives it love and you feel that when you eat the food!” 

You loved life, music, singing and dancing…there was just no way I was going to spend a year away from all that…nope, not even because the Rabbis said so!  I chose to completely disregard the rabbinic prohibition against singing and dancing during your year-long mourning period.  I did this, because I could not endure the double burden of losing you accompanied by music-less silent grieving.  I know what the Rabbis think about this decision of mine, ok fine, I understand their view.  I just hope that “D-os en Su Santo Cielo!” (“G-d, in His Holy Sky!”) won’t be overly judgmental of my decision.  I am sure that you didn’t mind and that you enjoyed all of the singing and dancing because you always took life in “a manos llenas” (“with two already full hands reaching out for more”).  I am enough like you that by turns the singing and dancing brought me to a good comforting balance about your passing.  Thank you for this. Thank you for teaching me to sing and dance it out!

Me-teeta, we are mortals, G-d’s creation, we do not chose the time or place of our death.  G-d chooses.  I think may-be you managed to get in cahoots with G-d and that chuckling in my general direction He choose your Hebrew date of death.  You see, Me-teeta, your Hebrew Yahrzeit falls on Hay B’Iyar, that is Israeli Independence Day!!  Israeli Independence Day is the beginning of our redemption, our greatest joy on earth, and now it is also your Hebrew Yahrzeit!  I was over at friends and we watched the televised end of Memorial Day beginning of Independence Day program from Mount Herzl here in Jerusalem. As the Israeli flag was hoisted up to the top of the flag pole signaling the official beginning of Israeli Independence Day, your grand-daughter, my friends, Jay and I let out a series of very Israeli wild whooping cheers and march-danced around the living room to the strains of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) Band and you were right there with us.  In my mind’s eye, I saw you at your “90 lbs.  fighting weight” at the top of ‘Strider’s’ mast as the boat peacefully glided along a moon beam in the middle of Lake Michigan, (Yes, of I course I remember that shimmy pole dance of yours on ‘Strider’s’ mast) and you were calling out: “Wepa! Soy libre como el viento!” (“Hooray! I am free like the wind!”). Indeed, Me-teeta, now you are free! “Salve Pa’Ti Me-teeta, Salve!”    

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