Musings on Jewish Education and Jewish Living

Archive for September, 2013

For Everything There Is a Season…

Four years ago yesterday, I received a phone call from my niece, Shira.  I knew instantly it had to be bad.  After all, it was Yom Tov, and Shira would never have called me on Yom Tov unless she had to.

“You have to get here quickly.  Eema has a brain bleed.  She’s in a coma and they don’t know if she’s going to come out of it.”  As it turns out, my sister had suffered a massive stroke, just one day after receiving the diagnosis of acute leukemia, too advanced to treat.

Backing up approximately 12 years prior to that, I remember the day my sister called me to tell me that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  She had, of course, diagnosed herself – and it was at her suggestion that her doctor tested her for MS.  Over the course of the next decade plus, she never let the MS stop her.  Sure, it slowed her down, but with the best possible attitude, she attacked each day with grace and enthusiasm for life.

My sister was a music teacher, mostly strings.  She was a talented violinist.  When she reached the point that she could no longer accurately position her fingers on the strings, she began to play the cello and discovered that she loved it even more than the violin.

No matter how tired she was or how much pain she was experiencing, she never let it interfere with her celebration of Shabbat or Chag (holidays).  It was rare that her table was not full with family and guests.  Her four children all chipped in to help clean and prepare.

My sister was hyper-organized, even in her final hours of consciousness.  The night she got her horrible news, Shira stayed with her.  In retrospect, it was as if she knew she wouldn’t make it another 24 hours.  She ran through lists in her head, telling Shira what she needed to do to put my sister’s affairs in order.  “You need to cancel my lessons, refund payment to these people, go through my files,…”

And then she was gone.  I caught the first available flight to Boston, which from Jacksonville, FL was not until the next morning.  I missed my connection due to a flight delay.  My nephew made it to Boston from Israel before I made it from Jacksonville.  By the time I arrived, there was nothing left but a heart beat.  I held her hand as she passed from this world to the next, surrounded by her children.

Tonight and tomorrow we mark the fourth yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of Ellen Gail (“Elana”) Adler Nouriel – Eidel Gitel Elana bat Menachem u’Mariasha Risha.  While I miss her every day, my heart is especially heavy this year even as it rejoices.

The day after observing her mother’s yahrzeit, Shira will stand under the chuppah to be joined with her bashert.  Truly cause for rejoicing and celebration.  And while her Eema won’t be there with her, I can’t help but reflect on the many ways she really is there. Her sons, Benny and Yoni, bear a physical resemblance to her, and her younger daughter, Leora, shares with her the search for identity and journey to becoming her best self that my sister took at about the same age. But it is Shira who is so much her mother’s daughter, from her passion and drive to her love of all things Star Trek, from her intelligence to her absolute devotion to her siblings.

We just completed our celebration of Simchat Torah, the holiday of cycles.  Even as we end the reading of the Torah, we barely take a breath before returning to the beginning.  So it is with our lives.  As I remember my sister tonight and tomorrow by lighting a yahrzeit candle and saying Kaddish in her memory, I will also rejoice in the goodness and the gifts she left behind.  And while I sadly am not able to make the trip to Israel to rejoice with the bride and groom, you can bet I’ll be rejoicing for them.

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to respond here or if you prefer, send me a private email at

Yizkor Elohim… The Power of Memory

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 

This quote from Charles Dickens pretty much sums up how I feel about September and the Hebrew month of Tishri.  These months which always overlap to some degree, this year almost entirely, are a roller coaster of emotion.  September and Tishri both bring great joy, as we celebrate the Jewish holy days, family birthdays and our anniversary.  They also bring the most profound sadness, as one of those September birthdays should have been celebrated by my sister.  We also say Yizkor, the memorial prayers, twice in Tishri, on Yom Kippur and again on Simchat Torah.  And two days after Simchat Torah, I will observe the fourth yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my sister, Ellen.

Last night I lit two yahrzeit candles, one for my sister and one for my mother.  This is a traditional observance whenever Yizkor, the memorial prayers, are said as they are on Yom Kippur.  Lighting these candles never seems to get any easier, even though the day to day certainly has.  Last night especially, I felt a great reluctance to light them, almost as though not lighting them might somehow bring them back.  With a pain in my heart, I lit each candle.

So why do we/I continue to perform these rituals when they’re so painful?  If the every day is okay, why do we inflict the pain of Yizkor upon ourselves?

There is great power in remembering.  Without these rituals, we might actually choose just to go through our lives being and feeling okay.  With them, we have a structure that forces us to remember.

This year, as I made numerous challot for the holidays, I remembered the year my sister and I figured out together (over the phone) how to make a braided round challah.  I remember how much she loved to open her home to family and friends and the guest who had nowhere to go for Shabbat and holidays.  I remember how the silliest thing could set us off and how we laughed together for hours at a time.

This year, I remember my mother’s finally embracing Jewish learning once she retired and my parents moved to a retirement community in Florida.  I remember the look of pride on her face as she sat in the front row of the congregation as I sang the High Holy Day liturgy as cantorial soloist.  I remember how utterly devastated she was by my sister’s death, and how much joy she reaped from her grandchildren.

In a few hours, we will say the Yizkor prayers.  My heart is already heavy with the anticipation.  No matter how painful remembering is, I owe it to my loved ones, who filled my life with blessing.  And I owe it to myself, because remembering their examples makes me a better person.

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to respond here or if you prefer, send me a private email at

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