Returning from the funeral of my close friend, Rebbetzin Bayla Gold, a”h, I walked home past the coffee shop on Rachel Imeinu Street. Bayla was on my mind. Bayla was the kind of friend who was, “hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget.” The eulogies earlier that July afternoon were held in the shul her husband had built for his kehilla in Har Nof thirty-some years earlier, the shul where Bayla had served as the beloved Rebbetzin.
From the corner of my eye I noticed a familiar face sitting at a table in the open-air section of the café. It was Sharon, a writing colleague. Her expressive cornflower blue eyes and wide smile caught my attention at a moment when I needed comfort.
“Az men lebt, derlebt men,” If one lives long enough one experiences just about everything, a Yiddish expression my grandmother used to utter with a sigh. That includes accepting death following terminal illness. Death in a hospital bed, or in a home-style hospice with loving family present, as my friend Bayla’s family experienced. And sometimes in horrific circumstances, the kind experienced fifteen and twenty years ago during the second intifada, after the failed Oslo Accords, when Arab suicide bombers blew themselves up on buses, on crowded city streets, in coffee shops and in public spaces all over Israel, murdering thousands, leaving hundreds of families torn apart; widowed and orphaned.
Online I came upon a site with a simple suggestion to help people overcome disaster:
“Frame every so-called disaster with these words: In five years, will this matter?”
Five, ten, sixteen or 37 years – YES! Of course it still matters! To the next of kin, it always matters! The loss of a great friendship is difficult to forget. The loss of vibrant lives matters forever. Memories of soldiers missing in action touch our senses. History is a reminder of past tragedies that are a calamity if, G-d forbid, repeated.
A heart stopping event occurred a few months ago when the remains of Zechariah Baumel, Hy”d, a soldier missing in action for 37 years, was returned for internment in Israel. Along with his remains were the tzitzit he wore the day his tank was attacked in the Sultan Yaqqub battlefield during the Lebanon War. Zechariah’s father continued to search for his missing son all the years of his life, until he passed away. An entire country stood in awe, identifying with this soldier and his family on the day he was laid to rest on Har Herzl in Yerushalayim. It mattered to all Israel that Zechariah returned home.
The final month of the Jewish calendar year, Elul, is the time we seek forgiveness, and repentance, and prepare our souls for the New Year. Elul generally coincides with September.
“Black September” connotes a black month, and is the name of the terror group that kidnapped, tortured, and massacred 11 members of the Israel Olympic team in Munich in September 1972, Elul 5732. Terrorists and suicide bombers must never be forgiven, their victims never forgotten.
The 13th of Elul, (September 9) is another one of those unforgettable disastrous black days. Sixteen years have passed and it is still a day that matters, the day the Applebaum family commemorates the yahrzeit of their loved ones. It is a day when my memory dwells on the father and the bride, Dr. David Applebaum, Hy”d, and his daughter Navah, Hy”d, the eternal bride.
This country has known many bloody days, tragic events that are unbearable, yet a bride – a symbol of love, purity, hope and joy – murdered together with her outstanding medical doctor father, on her wedding day, killed by a suicide bomber, is the harshest memory to bear.
Elul includes my father’s yahrzeit, Reuven ben Moshe, z”l, and 42 years later, we still visit the cemetery on the 22nd of the month. Joining me is my youngest son named for his grandfather. The years may pass, but my father’s memory does not fade.
I know that Elul, September, is not all black. There are many happy events that have taken place in our family during this month; many white, pink, and blue days fill the month when the King is out in the field, when Hashem is out there waiting for us, His hand stretched in friendship and love for His children, waiting for them to follow His bidding.
Rosh Chodesh Elul is the day my husband and I became grandparents, the day our first grandson was born. I shall never forget returning from the cemetery on my father’s yahrzeit, and being greeted with news of the birth of our eldest granddaughter, who twenty years later married in the month of Elul, and produced our first great-grandson the following Elul. There have been weddings and britot, bar and bat mitzvot in Elul. Despite tragedy, celebration of life, lasting friendships, seeking good in every passing day, continues.
This year the 17th of September coincides with the 17th of Elul. Number seventeen in gematria, Jewish numerology, is equivalent to the word tov, good! We’ve been given a second chance, another election day coming up in Israel on Tuesday, September 17. Our sages noted that Tuesday is paamayim ki tov, twice as good.
Is this date coincidental?
It is meant to remind us to look forward. As Golda Meir said, “Pessimism is a luxury a Jew may never allow himself.” Thus, regardless of election results, I remain optimistic. This year will be a good year for Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.
Throughout Elul, we wake to the sound of the shofar. Thirty days of shofar blasts that attempt to waken the soul, to remind us of past deeds that need improvement or rectification. The sounds emanating from shofarot are further reminders that what we truly await is redemption, the shofar of Moshiach to herald in the year 5780. A New Year filled with peace and friendship among our own people, and among the nations of the world; a year filled with good health, and kind hearts, that will still matter even one hundred years from now.