Do you ever feel tense, nervous, and jittery at the same time? That’s how I felt when I woke up Friday morning.
It was the tenth of Kislev – my mother’s yahrzeit. Just thinking about my mother fills me with a longing so strong, I could cry.
She’s buried in Eretz Hachayim, in Beit Shemesh. I usually try to give a shiur or donate a sefer before the yahrzeit, as a zechus for my mother’s neshama. This year, I was recovering from a broken leg, going out often for physical therapy, and trying to put myself and my house back together.
Kav 417, the Jerusalem-Beit Shemesh bus, wound its way along the highway. I generally enjoy intercity bus rides, but this morning I was troubled. I wanted so much to do something special for my mother. I wondered whether we could find a minyan to say kaddish for her.
My husband accompanies me when I go to her kever, so I asked him what he thought of the idea. He shrugged. “Not too many people are coming out to the cemetery on a Friday morning – certainly not in this weather. Remember, candle lighting is a little after four p.m. Even if we’d find a few men, they’d probably be hurrying to get back home in time for Shabbos.”
His skepticism put a real damper on my already troubled spirit on this gloomy, overcast day. I gazed out the window, at the droplets of rain sliding down the sill, and then back at the people on the bus. A little girl sitting next to her mother in the seat in front of us turned to her and asked, “Matai kvar nagiah habaita?” (When will we get home already?)
I found myself going back in time, 40 or so years. It was a legal holiday, which for us yeshiva kids meant no school bus transportation. We were one of the few families in our community that didn’t own a car. On legal holidays, we were usually dependent on other people for a ride home from school. Often, we got a ride from our next door neighbors, the Strassberg family.
The school bell sounded at 4:00. I slumped my knapsack over my shoulder and walked down to the school’s ground floor to search for Rivky and Etty Strassberg. My third-grade sister, Chani, waved to me from her classroom. Most of the girls in her class had already been picked up.
There was no sign of the Strassbergs. I was starting to get nervous. Chani’s wails did little to comfort me. But I was the big sister! I told her not to cry and took her by the hand to the school office. Mrs. Tepper, the ever-efficient secretary, was closing up. She let me use the phone to call home. The line was busy.
By now, Chani was bawling, and I was pretty miserable myself. Would we be stranded in the building overnight? Mrs. Tepper kindly took some chocolate chip cookies out of the cookie jar in her cabinet and put some on a plate for both of us. She dialed my mother.
This time my mother answered. She had just spoken with Mrs. Strassberg, who had explained that her daughters had gone to their cousin’s house straight after school. My mother asked the secretary if she could wait with us while she called a car service.
Twenty minutes later (which seemed like eternity to Chani and me), my devoted mother arrived at the school, beaming and drenched. She had been in such a hurry to get us, she had left the house without her umbrella, and waited outside until the taxi picked her up. We exited the school building and got in the cab, and Mom asked the driver to first drop off Mrs. Tepper, who lived on the other side of town. Tired and hungry, Chani whined, “When are we going home already?”
I snapped out of my reverie when I heard the electronic bus tape announce our stop. The rain had let up somewhat as we started to hike up to the cemetery. Talk about physical therapy – this was a steep hill to climb. One of the special things that happens when we visit my mother: It’s often raining as we walk to and from the kever, but while we recite Tehillim, the rain ceases.
Here and there, we saw a few men and boys. I still had my heart set on having a minyan. But how?
We arrived at the kever, where I had made up to meet my sister, Chani. Chani lived up north and was coming by car. I started to say Tehillim, and the tears started to pour. I took a wad of tissues out of my pocketbook, and noticed a van of young men pull up to the side of the road. My sister drove up behind them. One of the men came over to us and asked if we wanted a minyan to say kaddish.
They had come as a group to daven at the kever of their rebbe whose yahrzeit was on Shabbos. One of them confided that when he woke up that Friday morning, he had decided he wanted to help another Jew have a minyan.
I felt so gratified, so thankful to Hashem for granting my wish to honor my mother. I’m sure there wasn’t a happier person than me at the cemetery that day.