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Mar 21 2014

This Week’s Torah Portion Offers a Glimpse into the Pain of Losing a Child

By at 10:11 am

fire

This post is part of our Torah MoMmentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Shemini. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

Maybe it’s my morbid streak, but the darker Torah stories are generally my favorites. After all, if the Torah portrayed a perfect world, I would just feel worse about my own messy life. Instead, reading these ancient stories makes me feel like things are OK. My life isn’t perfect, but no one’s is or ever has been. So I love that Torah stories aren’t all about angels and flowers.

But although I still appreciate stories of veiled seduction and secret weapons, I find that becoming a mother has (somewhat to my dismay) lessened my delight in stories of child sacrifice and gory deaths. And rather than appreciating the drama of this week’s portion, I found myself feeling sort of disturbed by the family tragedy.

Without warning, two of Aaron’s adult sons, Nadav and Avihu, are suddenly killed by God after offering a “strange fire” on the altar. It’s shocking. It seems to come out of nowhere. And God seems so…casual about the whole thing. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 10 2013

I’ve Been Talking to My Son About Death Since the Day He Was Born

By at 10:13 am

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I kneeled by my mom’s side as she lay at home in her bed under the care of hospice. “Bittersweet,” she said as she smiled through tears and put one hand on my small belly. That moment together would be one of our last. She died just two days later. I was eight weeks pregnant.

Prior to the very end of the year in which my mother battled cancer and then battled the side effects of the chemotherapy intended to attack that cancer, she was an active and involved nana to my niece and nephew–the kind of nana who got down on the floor to play, who sang and danced the hokey pokey, who listened on the phone with endless delight to impromptu cello rehearsals, and who worried, like any good Jewish grandmother, whether or not they brought a sweater.

My son has no other grandmothers. My husband’s mother has been quite ill for many years. Even if she was told she has grandchildren, we are not sure she would understand or remember. My husband’s stepmother, a lovely woman, has seen our son only twice.

As a child psychologist, I’ve spent time thinking about how to talk to children about death. I’ve read the literature. I’ve talked to my young clients about death and dying. I’ve advised parents. When and how do you tell them? How much do you share? What age is too young? Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 22 2013

I May Not Be Jewish But I Want to Sit Shiva

By at 4:07 pm


shiva

This past week, my 85–year-old grandmother passed away rather suddenly. She was the only grandparent I ever met, and for a couple of years when I lived with her, she was more like a parent figure. My “Grams,” as we called her, was tough as nails. She raised four kids after her husband died at 45 years old, and she was left with nothing. She didn’t even have a driver’s license.

Grams worked 40 hours a week at a six pack store up until about two months before she passed. She always said she wanted to die by “getting hit in the a** by a mac truck.” Well, cancer was her mac truck and it happened rather quickly. Grams was checked into the hospital on a Wednesday, diagnosed on Friday with stage IV cancer, and died Saturday afternoon after the whole family got to say goodbye. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 15 2013

Why I’m Grateful for the Saddest Day of the Jewish Year

By at 5:02 pm

bricksTisha B’av starts tonight. I won’t say that this is my favorite Jewish holiday, but it is, perhaps, the one I am most grateful for.

In case you’ve forgotten, Tisha B’av is the saddest day of the Jewish year, a day of fasting and mourning. It commemorates the destruction of both temples, as well as number of other tragedies that have befallen our people over the centuries.

This is not an easy holiday for me to relate to, for many reasons. I am a Jew living in America in a time of relative safety and security. My generation has never known a time when the State of Israel didn’t exist, and few of us have experienced overt and personal anti-Semitism. While the shadow of the Holocaust and the other tragedies of our history follow us throughout our lives, they rarely impact our daily functioning in a meaningful way. We have never fled for our lives. Compared to those who came before us, we have so little to mourn.  Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 3 2012

Taking My Kids to the Cemetery

By at 3:02 pm

gravestones cemeteryMy grandmother’s unveiling was this past Sunday, on Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year. Except the day wasn’t especially sad for me. My grandmother passed away just months before her 96th birthday and she lived a very long and full life. She was well loved. And while I wish my grandmother could have met my daughters, born just two days before her death, I think we’re pretty lucky to she got to meet–and got to know–the six other great-grandchildren who came before my own. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 27 2012

Tisha B’Av With Kids: Why I Won’t Be Mourning

By at 2:38 pm

tisha b'avTisha B’av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, starts on Saturday night.

In addition to the fall of our beloved Temples, we have much to grieve this year. The murders in Colorado. The war in Syria. The memory of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team who were kidnapped and murdered in Munich, Germany in 1972–a tragedy that will go unacknowledged during the London Olympics this year.

We have much to grieve.

Yet many of us won’t, myself included. We may post an image or brief statement on a Facebook page or Twitter feed, and then get on with our day, running errands, planning playdates, fixing meals, managing tantrums. We may take a moment to remember, but we probably won’t grieve. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 28 2011

A Loss and a New Year

By at 8:23 am

My grandfather died on Saturday morning. He was 97, and he was beloved.

Within 36 hours of his passing, over 100 friends and family members gathered at his country club (my grandfather wasn’t religious—the golf course was his sanctuary) to remember him, console each other, and support my grandmother. We recalled his love of pickles and bialys, his decades as a jazz musician, and his commitment to early morning lake swims, regardless of the water temperature. Most of all, we remembered how much he loved his family, especially my grandmother, his wife of over 50 years.

I’m back home with my husband and daughters now, and I’m feeling foggy, sad, and exhausted. Rosh Hashanah starts tonight, and I’m not quite sure what to do with everything. Just last week I was buying crafts for the children’s services at our synagogue. I was thinking about my intentions for the new year, and wondering whether or not my preschooler will actually try the honey this year, and how I’ll get it out of my toddler’s hair. Now I’m worried about my grandmother and how she will weather this transition. Now I’m missing my grandfather, and remembering when he sang at my wedding almost 8 years ago—the dance floor was packed, the band loved him, and no one could believe he was 90 years old.

Two weeks ago I went to a class at our synagogue about the High Holidays. Our Rabbi spoke about traditional greetings for the new year, and she reminded us that while we may wish each other a sweet or good new year, we don’t usually offer greetings for a happy new year. She was only partially joking when she said that we all know it’s not going to be a happy year, so why even say it? Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 15 2011

Why Leiby Kletzky Matters

By at 10:37 am

Mourning Leiby.

Leiby Kletzky (z”l)* was kidnapped this past Monday. He allegedly slept in his attacker’s home that night and was found dismembered on Tuesday.

The words lose meaning as I utter them: kidnapped, attacker, dismembered – all lose meaning when we think of a mother and father being told how their son was found. Leiby will never come home again.

The cynics among us will cry out: Poor Leiby…but what about the others? What about the children murdered every day in our own cities, gentile and Jew alike? Why do we care so much about the story of a Hasidic child murdered in Borough Park?

The story draws attention to a sick and solitary man who clearly demonstrated a history of significant mental health problems but was left to attack Leiby. The story draws attention to an insular and very private community of religious Jews that many of us know little about; a community often disparaged simply because we don’t know much about them.

But do you know why I care so much about Leiby Kletzky and his family? Because as Jews, we grieve for this family. We as a people lost Leiby Kletzky.

Jews are an ancient tribe who have been dispersed throughout the world over thousands of years of a difficult history. And wherever we land, we maintain a connection. We rejoice together across the world, and we mourn together when a child is murdered.

Almost 8,000 mourners gathered in Borough Park to honor Leiby Kletzky.

Judaism is about finding and creating beauty. It is fun and happy and silly and delicious. And sometimes it is tragic, mournful and full of despair. There are days we set apart to experience grief as a global community such as Tisha B’Av (August 9 this year), where we sit on the ground as in mourning, and we refrain from luxuries, indulgences, and niceties. We Jews know joy, but we also know grief.

It is taught that in the present world, we are protected from knowing the true reality of suffering that exists. If we felt it, we would never stop crying.

There will come a time when we are released from the chains of the pain of this world. In this “World to Come,” we will be free to mourn the loss of beauty of innocence that our imperfect world allows. It may seem counterintuitive that mourning that loss allows us to release it. But I have to believe it will be so.

And in the World to Come,  Leiby Kletzky will be home again. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

*a Hebrew expression for “may his memory be a blessing.”

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