Raecele and I clicked from the first minute that we laid eyes on one another in the first grade when we attended #3 School in Bayonne, N.J. We lived a mere few blocks away from one another and would spend fun time together at each other’s homes.
Once Raecele and I graduated from high school, however, we attended different universities. I studied at Stern College and dormed in the city. Raecele attended a university in New Jersey. Eventually life took us in different directions. I moved first to Connecticut and afterwards to the U.K. I returned to the States, but nowhere near Raecele. We simply lost touch – until recently.
Although not tech-savvy enough to utilize Facebook Messenger, Raecele’s name came up on my phone, so one day, I messaged her. She responded. To my delight, we picked up right where we had left off so many decades earlier. When I wondered aloud during one of our subsequent telephone conversations what had caused our rift, she good-naturedly replied, “Well, Pen, you were busy with your bunch of kids!” I responded, “What does that have to do with anything?” I have to admit that I was disappointed in myself for permitting our connection to fray. Both of us share June birthdays so I invited her to come out to celebrate together. But the reunion was not to be.
In Chabad, we have a minhag of offering brachos to others on our birthdays because the Rebbe zt”l taught us that on one’s birthday one retains the koach that Hashem yisborach imbued within each one of us when we were born. And so, on June 4, Raecele’s birthday, I called to ask her to give me a bracha.
She hesitated, so I didn’t press her. Toward the end of the conversation, however, she announced: “Pen, I have a bracha for you,” and she haltingly recited the “Shehechiyanu” blessing. I was nearly in tears. I explained that one customarily recites this blessing after reuniting after 30 days and here it’s been 40 years! In my view, although she took my request literally and chose to recite a bracha instead of verbally wishing me well, she indeed picked just the right blessing to say after our reuniting.
On my birthday, toward the end of the month, I called to wish good health for both her and her husband Stan. A few weeks later, she admitted that by recognizing her birthday, I had uplifted her in that Stan, who formerly loved to celebrate her birthday, presently suffered from cognitive issues, so I had comforted her by remembering her yom huledes. Unfortunately, Stan passed away a few weeks later, having suffered from cancer as well.
Throughout the last several months, Raecele and I had been in touch either via telephone or Facebook so I could continue to check up on her. To my surprise, she thanked me again for the chizuk that I had given to her. Her comment somewhat assuaged the feeling of disappointment that I felt for having lost touch with her for so long.
Unfortunately, however, she confided that her own battle with yenna machala was progressing. It was actually her second bout, but in her usual positive approach to whatever challenges she faced, she felt confident that she would give “the Big C” a run for its money.
I asked her for her Hebrew name and continued to remind her that members of my family, as well as rabbonim that I know, were making Mi Sheberachs for her. I also sent her name to different Tehillim groups. She appreciated this very much.
She needed to enter the hospital and was having a difficult time with the chemo this time. She was not up to speaking but continued to respond to my FB messages almost immediately, until suddenly I received no response to my last two. After Shabbat, I decided to call her, assuming that if she couldn’t speak, a family member would pick up the phone.
Her phone was disconnected.
Her obituary was listed on Google.
Hashem had reunited us for a brief time. We brought one another warmth and chizuk.
I have to tell myself that she wants me to know that she is “good” and no longer in pain.
My dear Rochel bas Yisroel, I will never, ever forget you.
I love you!