Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A Night of Celebration, Joy and Memory

Nine and a half years ago, Yehuda lost his first friend in Israel. When we moved here 11 and a half years ago, Chanan befriended Yehuda. While Yehuda didn’t know a word of Hebrew, Chanan would smile at him in daycare and they would play together.  As Yehuda integrated and learned, they continued to be friends. He had a very special place in Yehuda’s heart.

And in ours.

This painting of Chanan was done by his sister, Hadas, as part of her senior project.
She won a college art scholarship with this work.
Then he was gone.  

I’ve written periodically about the strength that his parents, Tzippy and Pinny, have shown through the years and the incredible love, commitment and fortitude that they’ve demonstrated. Within weeks of Chanan’s death, they started a weekly class for the little kids after shul. Pinny gives a dvar torah (a Torah lesson) for twenty minutes or so, they do Kiddush and then they give out a treat. For over nine years they have been showing up to lovingly learn with other people’s children each week. They also designed and created a beautiful park where children go to play every day and to keep Chanan’s memory alive.

Now, they commissioned the writing of a Sefer Torah (a new Torah scroll).

Before Yehuda’s bar mitzvah, he expressed a desire to incorporate Chanan’s memory into his bar mitzvah, as their birthdays were two days apart and they would have shared their simcha.  We called the Sivans to ask if there was something that we could do. Pinny told us that the family was commissioning a Sefer Torah to be written in Chanan’s memory and that they would find a way for Yehuda to be part of the process.

Having a Sefer Torah written in someone’s memory is one of the highest ways to memorialize them and to cherish their spirit. The Sefer Torah is given to the community and used in shul. Yehuda was given the honor of purchasing the belt that goes around the Torah, and we had it embroidered with a message that said “In the memory of my dear friend, from Yehuda Sussman.”

Tonight, the Sefer Torah was brought to Pinny and Tzippy’s house. A number of people were given the honor of filling in the last letters and then Yehuda was honored with rolling the Torah, securing the belt and placing the beautiful covering.
The Sefer Torah being finished.
Pinny Sivan in front of the Torah.

Yehuda putting the new belt on the Sefer Torah.

The Torah cover and belt
There were hundreds – hundreds – of people in attendance and Tzippy bought balloons and candy for all of the children. One of the Sivans' sons-in-law is a musician and he filled the night with music along with two friends.

The Torah was danced to the shul like a bride and groom being escorted under the wedding canopy. The community danced around the Torah, around Pinny and Tzippy and around the larger family. 

At one point I was completely overwhelmed with memories.

At Chanan’s funeral, Pinny was literally held up by two of his brothers. I will never forget the emotion, the grief, the desperation of that day, nor will I forget that image of him. Tonight, while under the canopy and while embracing the Sefer Torah, Pinny was again flanked by his brothers as they danced in joy and song and love. The juxtaposition of these images and these memories was overwhelming.

When we reached the shul, there was more joyous dancing and singing. Yehuda and his friends, the boys with whom Chanan should have grown up, joined with Pinny in a dance. There were very few dry eyes as we watched them together. Yehuda held the Sefer Torah with one arm, and Pinny’s shoulder with the other, as they danced and sang and remembered.

Finally the Sefer Torah was lovingly placed in its new home, in the Aron HaKodesh (the Ark) where it will now live and inspire.

It was a night that none of us will soon forget. Just as we will not forget Chanan, his dear spirit, his floppy hair and his vibrant smile.

In the midst of the pain that the Sivans have experienced, and in the midst of the turmoil and pain that we are all experiencing in Israel at the moment, it was a night of celebration, of joy and of memory.

May the Sivans be comforted by the beautiful mitzvah they have performed in the memory of their son and may we all benefit from the learning and growth to come through the Sefer Torah that they have given to us today.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Slice of Life in Israel

This was posted today on the Israel Forever Foundation website. Enjoy!

If you want to feel a slice of Israeli society, then go and have a mammogram done. (Sorry, guys. I guess you can go for a colonoscopy.) Recently, I took the day off of work in order to have a mammogram. While we are focused on terror and external threats, we also have to do the internal housekeeping that keeps us safe, and healthy.

Hala, located in Givat Shaul in Jerusalem, is one of the most elegant medical facilities. It’s run with patience, respect and privacy and is housed in a beautifully decorated and comfortable large space.

While I waited for my mammogram and then for the meeting with the doctor, I had to laugh. I rarely leave my own little bubble, working and living in Gush Etzion. But when I do, I love to be reminded how different things are here and how much Israelis regard each other as family.

One would assume, sitting in a waiting room to get the results of your mammogram, that people would be private, nervous, quiet.

Not here.

As I checked in, the woman working there said, “Oh. Neve Daniel. Do you know….” and then rattled off a list of friends. We chatted for a few minutes about our mutual acquaintances.

A few minutes after I sat down in the spacious waiting room, a 75 year old woman started waving her phone around and saying, “Does anyone know how I move this picture on my phone to send it to my daughter?”

“I don’t know honey,” replied her seat mate.

“Oh, no problem,” said the young woman on the other side of the room. “Come here mamale and we’ll do it together.”

And so they sat together, saving pictures of grandkids and then sending them to the daughter.

Next, there was the Russian woman in the corner watching a video on her phone – with full volume. We were all privy to the exciting adventure, and she even showed it around a few times (even though I don’t think anyone else in the room knew Russian!).

Finally, there was the policy that they’ve recently implemented at Hala to give you a number. Rather than using your name, they explained to me, they give out numbers and they call your number when they need to.

“Number 376,” they called a few times. Ok, I thought to myself. That’s a fine system.

Or, it was, until they started interchanging my number and my name whenever they felt like it. “376?” they called one minute. “Romi?” they called the next.

Well, there went that formality and secrecy.

And as I checked out, the woman working there said, “Oh Neve Daniel. Are you on the really windy side or the slightly less windy side?” Laughing, I replied, “The slightly less windy side. “Oh,” she said. “The vatikem (old timers). Good for you. That’ll help you integrate better.”

And with that, and my clean bill of health in my hand, I walked out of the office as I heard, “Number 381?” “Linda?” behind me.

We are, after all, family in this crazy place we call Israel.               

And that we call home.