The seeds that she and my survivor father, a”h, planted in silent heartache, but with pure emunah,so many decades ago have borne beautiful fruit.
Most Pesach observers – after a week of overdosing on matzah and potatoes – in a myriad of manifestations look forward to when Passover has, well, passed over. They are awash with a palpable relief, in much the same way as when a nasty storm has passed over and life can return to normal.
As the last days of Pesach approach, some even allow themselves to visualize the chewy/crusty/soft/ hard bagels, rolls and buns they will sink their teeth into when the chag finally concludes.
For me, however, the ending of Pesach signals the immediate approach of my mother’s yahrzeit, a day that releases long ago memories from the emotional archives stored deep in my heart – a day that also triggers the inevitable sober contemplation of my own mortality.
My mother, Leah bas Shimon, a”h,was niftar on the 25th day of Nissan, almost four years to the day she suffered a massive stroke that damaged a huge area of her right-sided brain.
She wasn’t supposed to survive a brain attack of such proportions. But my mom, an Auschwitz survivor, went into survivor mode and within days regained her ability to swallow and speak, and be her very bright, sharp-minded self. This happened to the amazement of her medical team, who, based on the “facts,” had envisioned her to be pretty much in a vegetative state.
Her left side from the neck down, however, remained paralyzed. But this dismal state of affairs did not deter her from trying to “fix” it through years of strenuous physical and occupational therapy.
From this and many other examples in her life, I learned an incredible lesson that has fortified me through my own life challenges: don’t give up. Even if you continue falling, get up and try again and again. Failure does not lie in the non-achievement of a goal – but rather in surrendering its attainment prematurely.
The days of our lives are filled with stressful situations and daunting tasks that sap our mental and physical strength. At times we get so overwhelmed that we just want to run away. Some do, figuratively, by numbing their senses and awareness of reality with alcohol or drugs, by indulging in bad behaviors, or simply by being in denial.
It is easier to avoid or walk away from a long-term challenge than to confront one. Similarly it is so much more effortless to saunter on a soft, grassy path to nowhere than to sojourn on a rocky, hard road to somewhere.
But that wasn’t the way my mother lived her life.
On a small scale my mother could have just resigned herself to never walking again – so why endure hours of daily, relentless therapy? And on a large scale, as a Holocaust survivor, she could have opted to stop living – and not struggle so hard to survive.
Dying would have been so much easier. Living meant remembering – and dealing with unbearable loss and torment.
But she fought ferociously to remain alive. However, having done so, she could have opted to be childless; after all, why take on the extremely arduous and nerve-wracking task of raising Jewish children in a world that had callously allowed over a million of them to perish?
Why take the life-draining risk that it could happen again? After all, as we warn ourselves in the Haggadah, “In every generation they are standing to annihilate us.”
A cursory glance at the history of the Jews confirms that statement, no matter where we were geographically, economically or socially. Our history is replete with invasions, enslavements, exiles, massacres, the Inquisition, pogroms, the Holocaust, suicide bombers, etc.
My parents came to Canada just a few short years after a Canadian immigration agent, when asked how many Jews would be allowed into Canada, opined, “None are too many.” He and his ilk certainly would not have lost sleep if a new generation of Jewish babies were to be wiped out on the home turf.
Having children would mean for my mother (and father) sleepless nights, non-stop worry, constant anxiety, relentless stress, and economic sacrifice (for a day school education).
But she wasn’t afraid to take the hard road. And when that road proved to be full of potholes and stumbling blocks, and she fell, she would dust herself off and continue the journey. And when there were roadblocks, she would find a way around them – even if it meant losing ground and having to start again.
Of course, there are times when refusing to see that some goals are just not attainable is wrong. Accepting one’s reality and making one’s peace with it is the first step to successfully dealing with it. But first you must try achieving the reality you want, and then try again and again, before accepting that it is beyond your reach.
At some point, my mother accepted her paralysis – and adjusted to that reality. But she never relinquished her fight.
As I get older and the stresses of life accumulate with each passing day, I remind myself of her fortitude, determination and resolve in dealing with the hurdles facing her – and I draw the strength to face my realities.
It’s been five years since her petirah, and much has happened since. Grandchildren have married, more great-grandchildren have been born, milestones have been reached and celebrated, and challenges have been faced and for the most part overcome.