After weathering many decades of freezing winters in Detroit, Leah and her second husband Benyamin retired from their jobs in education and decided to move to sunny, warm Florida. When they moved, they didn’t miss the cold at all, and happily adjusted to their new surroundings, tending to their lovely, flower-filled garden, enjoying their neighbors, community activities, and the wild flocks of birds that rested in their yard during migration seasons.
They proceeded to lead a quiet, private retired life, delighted with visiting children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren. Soon after one of those family visits, Benyamin, at a routine doctor visit, was startled to be diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Sure, he had some aches and pains, easily attributed to “aging” – he was, after all, nearly ninety – but the recommended blood tests and exams definitely confirmed cancer. So with his typical “get up and go” positive perspective on life, he was willing to do whatever was the recommended treatment for his medical situation.
The next six months flew by quickly, with some annoyances, some challenges, and eventually some serious decisions of whether or not to continue with chemotherapy and radiation. As time went on, the cancer progressed and he weakened.
Leah and Benyamin were both so used to being independent that Leah did not consider asking anyone for help. She herself assisted Benyamin every day, from morning until evening, and frequently during the night. Weekly calls with her children were still upbeat, though realistic and frank.
“It’s not easy!” “He is getting weaker.” “He’s not feeling too great.”
When Benyamin was niftar at home, in his own bed, Leah called the local chevra kadisha to come aid her. Then she called her children who lived in far-away points of America, Europe and Israel to let them know the news that her husband for nearly forty years had passed away.
Soon after the shiva, when Leah was alone in her home, she heard a knock-knock-knock sound on the living room window. She was startled; after all, she was now living alone, in her eighties, with no one around to help her if trouble was knocking. She wondered who could be there knocking on her window!
Cautiously, she peeked from the hallway towards the living room porch, and there on the window sill was a mourning dove, peeking back at her, “Coo, coo, cooing” softly.
Relieved, she returned to her bedroom. Then she heard that same “tap, tap, tap” knocking sound on the bedroom window… she glanced that way and saw the same mourning dove again, “Coo, coo, cooing” softly.
Bemused, throughout the day, whichever room she entered, the mourning dove appeared, “knocked” again, peered gently at Leah and “Coo, coo, cooed!”
“I’ve never in my life had a mourning dove knock on my window,” she told her daughter Batya over the phone. “I’ve hardly ever seen them in our yard, they aren’t even native to Florida. This has never happened before! What do you think this is all about?”
Batya thought her mother’s story sounded like something she’d read in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book! “Morning doves make a soothing ‘Coo, coo, coo’ sound in the morning, so it probably came to sooth you,” Batya offered. But when her husband, Baruch overheard what she said to her mother, he interjected, “The name mourning dove is spelled with a “u” for mourning, not morning.”
“What? I never knew that. You must be kidding!”
“No, it’s true,” he responded and went to get one of their Torah books about different wildlife.
“Hey Imma, Baruch said that your visitor is known as a ‘mourning’ dove not a ‘morning’ dove. And it says here that the ‘Coo, coo, coo’ sound is almost always sung by the male bird to its life-long mate.”
Fascinated and amazed, Batya read more, “Chazal tell us of the many wonderful qualities which the dove possesses, qualities which are also associated with the Jewish people – and hence the use of the dove as a metaphor for the Jewish people, and a symbol for peace, for shalom.
“Wow, Imma, I can’t believe this! And then it says, ‘In Noach’s ark, when Noach released a dove after the flood to see if there was dry land anywhere, the dove returned with an olive leaf in its beak. This was a special moment, infused with the joy of new life. The dove became a symbol for new beginnings, great expectations and redemption.
“In Shir Hashirim, which describes the special loving relationship between G‑d and His Nation, the dove is an adjective often used to describe the kallah, the Jewish people.
“Imma, I guess Hashem sent you a dove to say hello, so you know that you are never alone and saying goodbye means also starting a new beginning.”
“Just like a dove once she meets her mate never leaves him for another… just as a dove whose fledglings are taken from her nest still doesn’t abandon her nest…, so are the Jewish people faithful to G‑d.” (Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 1)Chava Dumas