Monday, November 25, 2013

In Good Company

Prior to Stella’s funeral we spoke to a psychologist and good friend about our boys. We wanted to know who should come to the funeral, who should stay home and how to help our boys through this terrible time. We decided that our two oldest boys should come with us to the ceremony which would take place in our yishuv, but that no one would join us at the cemetery. We would send the boys home with a friend (and another psychologist) who would watch over them while we were at the cemetery.

I’ve always thought of my oldest as being stoic and of my second as being sensitive and more emotional.  But a funeral is a great equalizer, transforming everyone into puddles of tears. And so were my boys. And as we left the funeral and got ready to head to the cemetery, Yehuda (my second) was adamant that he was coming with us. No pushing or prodding from either myself or his older brother would budge him. I looked to my friend, the psychologist, for confirmation that this was alright, and was given the go ahead. And so, Matan went home and Yehuda continued on with us to the cemetery.

I watched Yehuda closely at the cemetery and had a few of my friends take responsibility for him when I needed to be with the Frankl children and comfort them. When it was all over and we were back at home, Yehuda had a few comments to make.  He remarked about all of the yishuv members who lingered after paying their respects to Stella in order to pay their respects to other yishuv members who had died. They gathered by the middle aged man who just didn’t wake up one morning, by the 4 year old boy who had an accident, by the 17 year old who went out for a run and was cut down with a heart condition, by the other young mother who died of cancer and more.

And then he said,“I think I saw Chanan’s grave, Mommy.”

I think every parent wishes to shield their children from death and from cemeteries for as long as life will allow. And we’ve done so with our children up until now. But at some point, pain finds us all and we must be a part of this part of life, just as we are of so many others.

And so there I stood, having just buried my best friend, with my 11 year old telling me that he saw his childhood friend’s grave for the first time.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I said to Yehuda. “Just like Chanan was.”


At the end of shiva (the 7 day mourning period), the family returns to the cemetery. So, last Wednesday, the Frankls returned to Stella, accompanied by their closest friends. And we said some prayers, cried and reflected. When we finished with the ceremony at the grave, everyone started to disperse. Matan moved away from the cemetery and Josh lingered at Stella’s grave long after everyone else left. But it was Yehuda that I was watching.

He turned around and headed directly for Chanan’s grave. In the last 7 plus years since Chanan died, we have reflected and talked about him often, but we’ve never felt that it was appropriate to bring Yehuda to the cemetery with us. But now, he was here. And he was drawn to his young friend who left us all far, far too soon.

I went to join Yehuda, and there we stood, Chanan’s father, Yehuda and me. And I hoped that Chanan’s father didn’t mind having Yehuda standing there; that it wasn’t too painful to see the juxtaposition of what might have been with what became reality. And I hoped that Yehuda was strong enough to handle the moment.

And we stood and reflected and prayed, and then walked back to our cars with thoughts of Stella, of Chanan and of so many others from our yishuv floating in our memories.

Stella, you are in good company. And I am sure that you’re already cooking up meals for your new Neve Daniel community and looking over the children who have joined you from this community to your new community in Olam Habah (the world to come). May you find as much friendship and beauty there as you did here, and may you continue to be a shining light of chesed and comfort to those who have passed. You will certainly continue to be one for us, here on Earth.   

Stella at Matan's bar mitzvah; Photo by Kinamon Ron

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Saying Goodbye to My Rockstar

“Do not press me to leave you, to turn back from following you, for where you go, I will go and where you sleep, I will sleep; your people is my people and your Gd is my Gd. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.” The Book of Ruth

For the last 16 years, Stella and I have lived out the modern version of the story of Naomi and Ruth on the international stage from Potomac, Maryland to Neve Daniel, Israel. From our beginning under the starry sky of the sukkah, we have stood by each other and been as one people. Sometimes I was Naomi, leading Stella on the path and guiding her. Other times, she was Naomi to my Ruth, guiding me and showing me the way.

When we met, Stella was Naomi, inviting us into their home that night when Yarden scared us in the Glashofer’s sukkah. She embraced us with that warm smile and delicious food, as only she could, inviting us to a community meal. As we started to think about life in Potomac, Stella and Yarden guided us, invited us for more meals and embraced us with enthusiasm and warmth.

Through the years, as we moved in to the cul de sac in Potomac and started to build our lives, we carried each other through. We gave birth to Matan and Rivka within 9 days of each other, and Stella continued to be Naomi, leading the way and helping me through my first pregnancy, my first experience as a mom.

I love this 6, not 1...but it's so typically us with Stella always watching out for me and quietly in the background.

Then, on the night that we told the two of them, on Rosh Hashanah of 2003, that we were picking up and making Aliyah, I became Naomi to Stella’s Ruth. I put out my hand, and led Stella to the land to which we all dreamed of arriving. And we opened up the possibility that the dream might really come true.

In the summer of 2005, I was once again Naomi, welcoming all of the Frankls with open arms as they descended from the plane to their homeland. ” Where you go, I will go, and where you sleep, I will sleep; your people is my people and your God is my Gd.” And we were reunited yet again.  I remained Naomi for a while, carrying Stella metaphorically through the trials and tribulations of Aliyah and watching her, and her family, flourish. Stella approached every task with zeal, every challenge with enthusiasm. Whether it was learning Hebrew and studying for every exam or it was making friends or finding new chesed projects to enjoy, she was always in the thick of things.

And as Stella got grounding here in Israel, she often became Naomi to my Ruth, teaching me lessons about friendship, modesty, chesed and kindness. As her Hebrew name says, she has always been my rock and my star. She was always the rock - grounded, the one to turn to, the one to rely on..but she was also the star - the one to reach for, the example to try to emulate.

And then Stella got sick. And you would think that I would have become Naomi for good, leading her through the terrible time. But even throughout the sickness, our roles were often reversed. Soon after her diagnosis, she cornered me in her kitchen. “Romi” she began, “Are you ok?” And I wanted to laugh, or cry. “Am I ok?” And that was our Stella. She was often Naomi during her illness, racing up the stairs when we all wanted the elevator, jumping out of bed to make dinner when she could, inviting people who had made chesed meals in order to say thank you; giving brachot to the woman with the cart who came through offering chesed meals at Sharei Tzedek, always having an ear for her problems and a kind word for her deeds. Naomi was constantly setting the example for me, her Ruth.

And now, of course, I have become Naomi for a final time. You did it Stella. You transformed yourself in the course of your lifetime so many times, embracing Judaism, embracing Israel, and leading your family to a life of promise and beauty here in the hills of Gush Etzion. Look at all that you’ve accomplished in your far too short life. Look at the people who are here today to celebrate your journey and your incredible spirit. 

“Where you go, I will go…your people is my people …where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.”

“Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.” Today, we embrace those words once again in our lives as I, Naomi, literally carry my Ruth to her final resting place. Often times the choices that we get to make in our lives are more powerful than the things that are thrust upon us. You chose Judaism and embraced it with a fervor that few could hope to emulate. And you chose me as a sister on the journey through life. I will forever be grateful for that choice. Josh and I promise to keep your family close to our hearts forever as we lead you today on your final journey. And, in Stella fashion, we must thank the community of people here, in Potomac and through Sharei Tzedek and around the world who have held the Frankls and us, embraced us and helped us through. And we must offer a special thanks to the incredible medical team in Neve Daniel who jumped in with such compassion and direction at the end.

My dear Ruth, my Stella. Your people are, indeed, my people. Your Gd is mine. “Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.”

Rest in peace and love, my dear friend.

I love you forever, my rock star, Stella.

Goodbye My Rockstar

Here is one of my favorite pictures. It's from Matan's bar mitzvah in April. Stella has moved on to the stars. Funeral today at 11 in Neve Daniel.

May she be appreciated in Shemayim as much as she was by all of us.

Love you my dear friend, Stella