We had just finished celebrating the High Holidays in Boca Raton. With the intensity of those days behind us, we were looking forward to visiting my family in New York. The kids were so excited and counted down the days until they would see their Bubby and Zayde, aunt, uncle, and cousins. Never did I realize that while I was deciding what clothes to pack for the Yom Tov of Sukkos, I would also be packing clothes for my father’s levayah.
The first days of Sukkos were so beautiful – all the family together, the long meals, my children fighting to sit next to their Zayde. Even the weather was perfect. The topic of conversation was my dad telling my bechor, Yoni, how happy he was to buy him tefillin for his upcoming bar mitzvah. My son would joke around with him that he should buy him a car instead. My dad would say, “A car will get you far, but tefillin will get you much further.”
My father loved shul; he would always talk about the importance of place and time in Judaism. He was saddened when one of my sons didn’t show up at shul on Shabbos Chol HaMo’ed. I explained to my father that he was just tired from staying up late the night before; my father responded, “Would he have been able to wake up on time if he was going to the Giants game, instead of to shul?” The truth is, my boys were scheduled to go to the Giants game the next morning, and I knew there is no way they would have missed it, no matter how tired they were. “Well,” said my father, “shul is more important than any Giants game where we just watch a game of players. In shul, we participate as the players. The real “Giants” are those steeped in prayer.”
The next couple of days of Chol Hamoed where amazing; we spent so much time together. We went to Hershey Park, bowling, a simchas beis hashoeva – every minute was jam-packed. Even when we got rained on at Hershey Park, my dad was able to turn it into fun. We have so many pictures and memories from that week.
I will never forget the night going right into Simchas Torah. I brought my children to shul with their flags, anticipating the highest high of the year, when we celebrate completing the Torah. My father davened mincha, followed by the rav’s shiur which was about our renewing our love for Torah constantly; even if we just completed it, there are always more levels to attain. Right after the shiur ended, my father collapsed right into my eldest son’s arms. Within seconds, Hatzolah was there. The entire shul started saying tehillim for him.
Everything after that become such a blur: my mother, my husband, and my sister went to the hospital. I went back to my sister’s home with the kids. I didn’t stop saying tehillim. I divided the chapters among everyone so we could complete the entire sefer. I didn’t give up hope. I kept telling Hashem to change the decree.
When my husband came back, I saw it was bad from the look in his eyes. I ran away from him, I didn’t want to hear him say the words. Blindly, aimlessly, I ran right into the sukkah in my sister’s backyard. I cried so hard. All our lives we learn about the sukkah being a symbol of faith in Hashem. We shake the lulav in all direction to show Hashem is everywhere, in the lows and in the highs. In my pain, I realized that I was surrounded by Hashem’s shade. I felt Hashem sending me a message, telling me not to worry, that everything happens for a reason. There, in the sukkah, I made the brachah dayan emes.
After hearing words of Torah on earth, my beautiful father went to learn Torah in the Upper World. The tefillin he so longingly wanted to give his grandson would be his own pair of tefillin.
At first, I didn’t understand how it would be possible for the shul to have hakafos in the place where my father died. But then I realized how beautiful it really was. My father was always filled with simchas hachaim, always cheering people up. He was the candy man in shul. No other day would be more appropriate for his soul to return to his Maker than Simchas Torah.
We are always so happy when a new neshamah comes down to this world and sad when it leaves when, really, it should be the opposite. My father’s neshamah was so holy–he was born on Pesach night and left on Simchas Torah. Such a wonderful neshamah deserved to be danced all the way back home. We danced for him, as his mitzvos danced for him in the Next World.
The next morning, my children danced for the Torah that my father loved. They were embraced by the whole community.
I’m so happy I had this time with my father. Even while his death has been so shocking and the pain is so raw, I pray that Mashiach will come soon. I keep getting messages from Hashem that my father is in a good place. These past weeks, the media has been talking about the rescue of the miners in Chile. Such a miracle, where people arose from underground, alive, after many days and weeks, could only parallel the real techiyas hameisim. I daven that the real techiyas hameisim be soon and that we may all be united with our loved ones again. In the meantime, I will think of my father and everything he taught me. I miss you, Daddy. Thank you for touching so many people’s lives.
May my father, Yehuda Alter ben Zion, have an aliyas neshamah.