Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Year of Mourning- Shloshim Ends

Shloshim ends tonight. Two phases down, but for me the year has just begun. Most people do not realize that shloshim ends mourning most of the time. It is only for a parent that the mourning restrictions continue for a full year. It’s an interesting statement about the complicated relatiuonship of child to parent, a relationship like no other.

Of course, that is not to say that emotions suddenly change on day 7, day 30, or at the end of the year. There are things no one tells you about. Brain fog is the worst for me. I move through days forgetting what I’m doing. I forget. I can’t get moving. I say half a sentence and stop, not fully realizing that I did so. I am clumsy. I bump into things (even more than usual). I am tired, not physically. My mind shuts down my body.

 Today began particularly hard. It’s darker than it was. Though the days are getting longer, sunrise is also slightly later. Darkness in the morning affects me. I have trouble focusing on prayer. It doesn’t bother me at the end of the day. It feels normal then. It’s -24 Celsius. I should be huddled under my covers, but instead, I have pulled myself from my bed to get to minyan in the dark. The sky brightening slightly as we pull out of the driveway.

Today is 10 Tevet, a fast day. As we get to Avinu Malkeinu I am overcome by emotion. I need to leave the room. I sit, in the quiet darkness of the breakfast room sobbing. I am out of control. At first I fight it, but then just give in to the tears. Why now? What’s the trigger? The tune of Avinu Malkeinu? I only hear it in my head. The shatz isn’t singing. After about 10 minutes I get up, tears still streaming; finish my tefillot, and remove my tefillin. They feel constricting instead of comforting as they usually do. I want to rip my tallit from my shoulder as well, but stop myself. I straighten the siddurim of the shelves. Giving myself a job helps stem the tears. Sitting once again I practice the haftarah for Shabbat, given to me in honour of the shloshim. It’s not what I would have chosen, but no one asked me. It’s the norm. So I’ll do it. I return to minyan when I hear Aleinu. Mourner’s Kaddish is coming. I recite the words quickly and quietly, now with my tallit fully wrapped around me like a child in a blanket, holding in the tears I don’t feel like sharing.

The sun shines now, deceptively warm through the window. All I want to do today is curl up in my bed. Life has other plans.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Year of Mourning - Minyan Antics & Day 27

With the holiday weekend (how odd that Christmas has this effect), I've been at Pride every minyan. It's different than joining another community. I know the shul intimately. It's mine in a way the other aren't. I wander into the kitchen. I know where the good food is hidden. There are chocolate bars and lollipops in the office. I know just what's there because I buy them. I bring a tallit and tefillin to Beth Emeth each day, but I have a set that lives at Pride. I understand the inside jokes.

It's hard to believe that the shloshim ends Thursday night/Friday morning. Has it really been that long?

It's been long enough for minyan to become routine for the entire family.
It's long enough that people know I don't speak in the morning (not while I pray, not all).
It's been log enough that when I said Shabbat shalom to the morning minyan at Beth Emeth they responded, "Aren't we going to see you tomorrow?"
It's long enough that sometimes I am tired of going to minyan.

Yet, it hasn't been long enough.

The crying has stopped (at least for now). Memories are still shared frequently. I wonder if we did that before, but didn't realize because all was so normal.


Then there's stuff like this...

Monday- The Lerner hall, right outside the chapel at Pride has a long table. It was filled with stuff that needed sorting and organizing. Our ritual director was doing it, but got sick. So there it sits. But not anymore. Besides the clutter, the havdalah stuff is there and the hanukiyah. There is also some oil splatter from the hanukiyah. It's messy. I don't like clutter. I find it distracting. I also don't like the image it sends to minyan attendees. By the seventh minyan in a row I can't take it anymore. I can't help it. At lulls in the t'fillot I begin to organize - after I've finished my Amidah, but before the repetition. Between Kedushah and the Torah service- after I've finished my davening, but the minyan is only on Ashrei.

15 siddurim, 2 machzorim, and 1 chumash returned to the shelves in the chapel. 
Genizah materials in the genizah box. 
Pictures set out on the piano instead of in a pile on the table. 
Books to be sorted in a box with others, placed in the corner instead of out in the room. 
Can someone explain why the is a bag filled with night light lightbulbs? 
Also there's a large plastic bag and a cabinet with discarded tallitot and tefillin. And an old, dusty tv monitor, likely from the old security system. 
The hanukiyah and havdalah set are moved to the side table along with a box of new siddurim. 
The old havdalah candles that should have been discarded now are, along with old batteries that were sitting there. (Again, why?) (There were two for the garbage.) The kiddush cup is in the kitchen for washing. (I draw the line at doing the dishes, but I did fill it with water.) 
The table is wiped down.

I no longer worry about where I can put my bag while I put my tallit on. No one will comment. I'm not even sure if the change will be consciously realized. But I breathe a little easier.

Tuesday- It's Sean's day off, and a day off from school, so kids are all asleep. Sean is getting up as I ready to leave. I make myself a cup of tea in a travel mug, and grab the compost to take out. I place my tea on the car bumper to put the compost in the bin. The cover is frozen shut. It takes real effort to pen it; something I am not good at in the morning. Finally open, I take the compost and the garbage to the curb for collection. I get in the car, and drive to shul. I retrieve my tallit and tefillin. Begin to put them on. Realize I forgot my kippah. Go get it. Put on my tefillin, and begin to pray. Minyan hasn't started yet, but I like to do Pesukei D'zimra on my own. At the end of Birchot Hashacher I look for my tea. It's not there. I am confused. Suddenly I realize where it was. It was on the car bumper. Damn.

When I came home I looked for the mug. It's not in the garage. It's not on the driveway. It's not in the street. I wonder how far I was able to drive with it still on the bumper, and how it could have stayed. Maybe someone picked it up. I hope they enjoy the mug. It was filled with good Tazo chai tea.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Year of Mourning - December 16 - One Week Ends, Another Begins

Sometimes life seems almost normal. People say, "How are you?" And at that moment I am okay.

Then there are the other times.

I take kids to school. I go to work. I cook meals. I shop for groceries. It's all normal. And yet, very much not normal. I can't multitask. I forget names of people I've known for years. My focus is shot.

Friday night I started crying at dinner. No specific trigger. Just started, and couldn't stop. How can there be a world without Daddy? Gavi, the family's comic relief, took one look at me, and said, "Eema's broken." Then he brought me the cat, and gave me a hug, setting me off laughing. So there I was, crying, laughing, completely confused.

Regarding t'fillot - there's a lot more keva (the requirement of prayer) than there is kavanah (intention). Weekday Shacharit is meaningful, but Shabbat, Shabbat seemed empty. It was loud and it was fast, an assault on my senses. People greet me, and I realize they don't know my father died recently. Why would they?

I keep realizing the things I won't do this year. I won't see "Come From Away." (Yes. I do have tickets.) I won't be at my children's music night. I won't be at the gala celebrating the Masorti Movement in Israel's 40th (even though I actually will be. I'll need to be there for speeches etc., but leave for the party part.) I won't be at my daughter's play. I won't be at our annual Rabbi Burns Night (our own version of a Robbie Burns Party). I won't be at Sean's cousin's wedding. I won't be at another wedding. I won't attend the Second City event during the RA convention. And I'm only up to May.

There will be more. Likely many more. More mental confusion. More random crying. More events I miss.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Year of Mourning- Midway into Shloshim - Day 13

Most people know about the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish by aveilim following the death of a first degree relative (parents, children, siblings, spouse), but lesser known are the restrictions beyond. For thirty days following the burial (the time period is sometimes changed within the Jewish calendar) the restrictions of shiva are eased, but the mourner does not fully enter society. While back at work and interacting with the world, joy is still limited. Any mourner can tell you the feeling linger well beyond shiva (or other religious mourning practices). The mourner refrains from things like buying new things, cutting hair, or attending social events and public entertainment. For a parent, these restrictions are extended for an entire year. This means my family has an extra ticket for Come From Away in May. Though I joked that since I cry from the opening number, it's not really entertainment, I will not be attending. It's okay. I believe the process to make sense, not just halakhically, but emotionally.

But then there are the ridiculous ironies. Let me explain by sharing a silly moment from last night. I am not a morning person, and so I generally decide what to wear the night before when my brain is awake and my eyes open. Women's clothes are not designed for tefillin. (Okay, neither are men's clothes, but they are more adaptable.) I often put on a t-shirt to pray, then change into whatever top I am going to wear to work. Why? Many of my tops either have cuffs that cannot be pushed above my elbow or no sleeves at all. The tefillin shel yad (for more info on what tefillin are, and how they are worn, try Wikipedia) is placed slightly to the inside of your weaker arm on the bicep (my left). Nothing is supposed to come between the tefillin and the skin. If my sleeve won't allow for the proper clearance I have a problem. In synagogue, where I'll be for the next year, it it not appropriate to wear a sleeveless top. I have put tefillin on with a sleeveless top, and a jacket over the tefillin. I generally prefer not to do this, especially in winter. So this is me last night. "Ugh (or some other sound approximating this), I have no tops or dresses that I can wear with tefillin!" Sean replies, "And you can't buy anything new for a year." "Oh! My! God!" This is followed by more frustrated noises; me trying on various tops and trying to roll up the sleeves to no avail; and some light cursing along with a few repeats of "Oh. Come. On!" Sean, while sympathizing, laughed through most of my comments.

Like so many halakhic issues, there are loopholes. Clearly I will need to attain some tops that both look professional and can be worn with tefillin. Keren may need to wear them all first. We'll figure it out. Meanwhile, today I wore an older Jets t-shirt with a nice poncho over it so no one would know what it was. (Speaking of loopholes, the poncho was once a four-cornered garment, which would require tzitzit. I sewed the corners together.)

One more day of laughter and tears. But today no tears at Shacharit. Things improve.

Monday, December 11, 2017

T'shuvah- Turning & Returning - From Erev Yom Kippur

Tonight Jews around the world will gather in synagogues to recite Kol Nidre. For 25 hours we will stand together, reciting our t'fillot. Our prayers are recited in the plural, stressing our responsibility to each other as a community. We will examine the last year, and look to the future with hope.

Certainly the past year yielded many moments of frustration. As a Zionist and Masorti Jew, I often find myself at odds, loving Israel, but also tired of the constant struggle. In these moments perspective is important. Though the news shows the drama - the Israeli government abrogating the Kotel agreement it so widely touted two years ago, or supporting ultra-Orthodox manoeuvres to solidify their power over conversion, marriage, and even the bedroom through mikvayot. What we don't see in the news, what only those involved know, is the progress and promise of Masorti in Israel and around the world.

MERCAZ-Canada is one of 17 MERCAZ chapters around the world, covering over 800 kehillot in 36 countries. In Israel, Masorti is growing in leaps and bounds. Twenty years ago Masorti was barely a blip in the Israeli consciousness. Today there are almost 80 kehillot, up from 63 five years ago. Each year more than 850 children celebrate bar and bat mitzvah at Masorti services each year, plus another 200 who participate in the nation-wide Masorti b'nei mitzvah program for children with disabilities. Ramah-Noam sets new participation records each summer at its award winning camp. 50,000 students, in 325 schools, receive participate in TALI Jewish studies. Though not State recognized, more brides and grooms choose Masorti wedding ceremonies each year. And yes, the Masorti Kotel attracts 20,000 visitors, more than 700 minyanim each year. This growth is what pushes the ultra-Orthodox to push back so strongly. And this is what gives me hope.

The drama of the Kotel struggle may receive the attention. But when all is said and done, Masorti can make the difference between an Israel for all Jews and an Israel where observance is regimented and coercive.

Tonight, as I begin my t'fillot with hope for the future, I will pray for an open and pluralistic Israel, and after the holiday, I will again begin working towards it.

A Woman Among Men - From my phone, written May 12, 2016

Today I am sitting in a fascinating study discussing doctor assisted death. Dr. Rabbi David Novack is teaching. Nine students sit in study - 8 men and me. I find I am fascinated by the idea that in 2016 I still sit as the only female Conservative rabbi in the GTA. 

I sit in the center of the table, clearly part of the group. I don't believe my colleagues think anything of the differences among us. Normally neither do I. But once in a while I am self conscious. I notice the difference, and it is me.

I am welcome. I am respected. I am included. Yet sometimes I am lonely. Without reason it appears. Perhaps it is a lack of common experience. These are my friends and colleagues, the people with whom I spend so much of my time. 


I always meant to finish this, but somehow it never happened. Still, I believe it's worth posting, worth sharing, worth saying (as it was) out loud.

Kitty Blog #??? August 2017

What a year?! Last June (2016), Nora started breathing like Darth Vader. (I'm a big Star Wars fan. If I had the force I could get to my food without opposable thumbs.) Anyway, long story short, she was very sick. Besides worrying about her, I really felt for her. I know what it's like to have to go in the car week after week. I hate the box. Nora's smaller, so it's not as bad, but it's still no fun. I get really worried when she doesn't come home overnight. I may pick on her. She is my sister after all, but what would I do without her. By July it was a lot better, but she still had to go to the hospital once a month for the whole year. She also had to take a pill every day. I don't mind that. They always put it inside a treat, and I hardly notice it, but Nora just eats around the pill. Jen has to give it to her every day. They both hate it. On the plus side, Jen feels bad and gives Nora treats. When I'm standing there, Jen feels guilty and gives me treats too! It's a pretty good deal as long as Nora stays healthy. 

Kids were gone for the summer. I miss them lots, but I also like the quiet. I don't have to worry about switching beds regularly so no one feels slighted. Jen doesn't mind when I lie across her. I like sleeping with her best. She cuddles without complaining. Then, in August, Jen went away. It was really too quiet, and there were fewer treats and table scraps. After a little time, Sean put both Nora and me in the car for a really, really, really, really, really long ride. It felt like it would never end. Sean opened the boxes, but I just hunkered down in a corner wishing it was over. Nora sat right in Sean's lap. She's a lot braver than me.

When it finally did, there was Jen! I was pretty pissed about the ride, so I hid under the bed to make them feel bad. After they were asleep, I lay down across Jen's legs. No point in me feeling bad. The room we were in was really small! There were great places I could jump, and I figured out how to get to Nora's food. That was pretty cool until I ate so much my stomach hurt, and I threw up all around the room. Then I did feel guilty, especially since Jen and Sean stopped leaving Nora as much food as she wanted after that. Sad.

After a couple of weeks Jen put us back in our boxes, then in the car. Another ride! It was awful. This time there were bags in the back. Nora perched right on top where she could look out the window. I can't understand how she can do that! The word moves by so fast. How does it do that? Jen held me for a little while, then I curled up at her feet. After forever, she picked me up. I looked out the side window. There were a lot of stores and lights. Things moved a little slower, but I don't think the outside world should move at all. Thank God we were home. I didn't know if we'd ever be home again. It was so good to have Jen and Sean back in our house and in our big bed. I snuggled right between them. That's how life should be.

This week everyone started packing again. It was mostly Jesse's stuff. Last time they did that he went away for a long time. I don't like that. Why do people travel so much. Don't they appreciate the wonderful house we have where we can all be together.

A Year of Mourning - Post-shiva - When Reality Sets In

It’s quiet now, although some visitors still trickle in. It’s better than having everyone disappear at once. There’s still plenty of food. I busy myself by packing some up and freezing it in single servings. The baked goods also go into the freezer. It’s quiet, too quiet. Mom and I support each other. In some ways we’re also simply moving past each other. My days revolve around minyan and what I can do to help Mom. I’m not sure of the focus of her days. At times we sit and talk, about Dad or Mom’s plans for the next week or month or year. 

Shabbat is... I lack words. Perhaps it’s best just to say Shabbat is. Mom is napping when I going to minyan Friday night. I leave dinner in the oven. We eat quietly. It’s calm and nice. Mom’s not feeling well in the morning. She says she wants to go with me, and I’m sure she believes it. But minyan was never her thing, and I believe she doesn’t really want to be there. There I’m accepted as part of the minyan now. Everyone looks for me to arrive. I think they will miss me when I leave. 

Shabbat morning brings flurries. By the time I walk home from shul it’s coming down hard. There is little wind, and the temperature isn’t too cold. It’s like walking in a wonderland. I sing some zemirot as I walk, enjoying the time outside. 

Going home Sunday morning seems odd. I tear up waiting at security. On some level it wasn’t real until now. But now I’m going home and I’ll never see my father again. So I sit quietly crying outside the gate while waiting for my flight. 

On the plane. I’m among the first to board. I locate the exits and recite tefillat haderekh, my own regular routine. I’m okay until the plane begins to taxi. Then the grief hits me. I wonder what my seat mate is thinking, this young woman silently sobbing, tears flowing from my eyes and down my cheeks. I’m strangely aware that the collar of my sweater is now damp. It’s as if the grief heightens senses. I wish part of shiva could have been at home, surrounded by my own support system. Instead I needed to support my mother and aunt. On the one hand, I could not imagine sitting without them. I needed the family time, the shared memories and laughter. On the other hand, I also needed my community, my minyan(im). It’s too real now. I can’t be home soon enough to hold my children and curl up in my own bed. To have Gavi and Keren stand next to me, supporting me while getting support, as they did when we got the news. Keren asked for comfort food for dinner. There isn’t enough in the world to fill the hole in me. Maybe that’s why shiva is so filled with food.

Coming in for a landing. It’s only 12:35. It feels as if this day has lasted forever. Soon we will be on the ground, and the rest of shloshim, the routine of the next year will set in. I cannot wait to embrace it.

I wrote in an earlier post about the waves of emotion that ebb and flow, at times cresting like a tidal wave. The trip home is like that. While away our Permanent Resident cards expire. I need to enter through immigration instead of passport control. The guard asks me about why I left before my new card arrived. As I explain, I begin crying again. Then I try to explain how these moments come and go. Now I'm laughing while crying. The poor guard lets me leave quickly.

The first minyan at home. I sort of dread entering our shul, Pride of Israel.  Everyone wants to talk to me, though some hold back, seeming to realize I'm somewhat overwhelmed. Tears come, but do not escape my eyes. Monday morning I'm at Beth Emeth. Only a few people know me. It's a little easier. Tears still threaten, but it's getting easier.

A Year of Mourning - Saying Goodbye to Daddy (Nov. 30, 2017)

So today’s the day we say goodbye to my father. The funeral service is in NJ followed by a long trek to Wyandanch, the land of cemeteries and camps. I went to camp very close to our to family plot. Visiting the cemetery has always been a normal act, but I cannot imagine a more abnormal act than burying someone you love so much.

November 30, 2017 (Facebook posts)
7:42 am
I took a picture of the ladybug in the house. It must have come to say goodbye to its favourite gardener.
11:57 am
Taking Daddy on his last drive through New York. In Brooklyn now. One hour (unless the traffic holds us up.) to Wellwood Cemetery.
12:33 pm
Passing Hempstead. Remembering Daddy taking me to gymnastics class followed by a ride on the carousel at Nunley's. Open road. Wellwood arrival about 1pm.
12:36 pm
Baldwin. Freeport. Merrick soon. Like riding the LIRR with Daddy.

12:38 pm Jones Beach. Daddy used to take us beach combing in the winter. We collected buckets of beach stones, beach glass, and seashells. I still love the beach in winter best.
12:45 pm So many memories. Riding with my uncle Paul, and cousins Roger and Aaron. How wonderful it is to be sharing this moment, no matter how difficult, with people I love and who love me.

A Year of Mourning - And So It Begins - Shiva

Beginning to understand just how important shiva is. I knew, but didn't really KNOW. 

Everyone keeps saying, "How are you?" Well, it turns out grief comes in waves, but those waves are mitigated by the throngs of people who love you. I am so grateful to Merrick Jewish Centre and Rabbi Klein for making sure we could use the shul as the home away from home it was for so many years.

So much food arrived during the first days. Bagels. Deli. Egg salad. Tuna. Lox. Whitefish. Potato salad. Cole Slaw. Pickles and olives. And cookies, cake, and more cookies.

(If you haven't seen them, please check out these videos on YouTube: iShiva and The Seven Days of Shiva)

Clearing out some of the shiva food. I keep hearing my father.
(In a loud voice) “Whadya throwing that out for. It’s still good.”
“Daddy, it’s turning. It’s tingly.”
(Still loud) “No. I’ll eat eat. Save it.”
Russell and I expected to contract food poisoning, but Dad would always be fine. He had an iron stomach. On the day Daddy died, we returned from the funeral home to find there was a bowl next to the sink with an almost unrecognizable mixture. I do remember it had a half-eaten chicken leg and 1 1/2 slices of a beet. Only God, and maybe Daddy, knew what else was in there.  I know the shiva food is going bad. So why do I feel just a little guilty. (Okay. I do know why. I still think it’s nuts.)

Shiva isn’t so much one smooth period, rather a series of disjointed moments rising and falling with emotion. Memories are shared and laughed over. Family drama bubbles under the surface as we attempt to be strong for our mother. Though we know she’ll be fine in the long run, her anxiety flows when no one else is around (as if we or our aunts and uncles would allow our mom to become a bag lady wandering the streets). In moments of clarity she will admit she has investments to live on. Our father made sure of that. But then the ball drops again, and we’re back in the abyss.

Each morning I attend minyan, feeling both part of the community and separate from it. I arrive before they begin, counting the men. In a minyan that just gets there and doesn’t count women, I find myself wondering if I will be left as the tenth, unable to say Kaddish, making plans for next steps. As the shatz (the prayer leader) begins reciting the ancient blessings of Birchot Hashachar, I find I cannot recite amen to the blessing thanking God for not making me a woman. I wonder if anyone has thought about the idea of reciting that blessing aloud where women are present, and what they would do if I pointed it out. Ironically, as on the same day these thoughts cross my mind an article pops up in my Facebook feed about a famous and trusted scribe, Abraham Farissol, who changed this formula to thank you God for making me a woman and not a man. One morning we did have 9 men. As we davenned on our own I thought about asking the men to step outside with me so I could recite Kaddish. One, then two, then three men came up to me to say, "We don't have a minyan, but if you want to count us and recite Kaddish, we'll answer." I did, and they did. An interesting compromise.

The disjointed nature of my days shows in my Facebook feed, from leaving Toronto, through the funeral, and into shiva. As extended family returns home, I am unable to truly sit. My brother and I split the responsibilities - deciding on and putting out meals, washing dishes. Big Brothers/Big Sisters calls. They will be coming to the neighbourhood on Monday. We have to clean out Daddy’s closet NOW! And so this is how I spend a morning. Bills are being gone through. Drawers searched for information to put Mom at ease that she’ll be able to handle this. The “Seven Days of Shiva” (see link above) plays in my head. We are honestly disappointed the kugel wasn’t potato, and we do have another shiva to attend when we finish Daddy’s. At times I am both grateful an disappointed more people aren’t here. Too many friends are too far away. 

By day three I’m the only one still wearing my kriah ribbon (actually a scarf). Russell wears his shirt when we pray. Otherwise it hangs on the ear of the paper mache llama. (Yes. Really.) I will be the only one saying Kaddish for a year, three times daily. But I already know I will miss Maariv Saturday night and Shacharit Sunday morning. There’s no shul to walk to for Saturday. The one nearby says Mincha at 12:30. My flight Sunday prevents me from attending that morning. Barely into the second week and already missing. Some nights here our timing is a bit off. Maybe someone will shine a flashlight outside the window so I can convince myself that it’s lighter. I love standing next to my Aunt reciting Kaddish with her. We stand so close I feel we are supporting each other.  Today, in the middle of Maariv, she called Daddy a fink for dying. It was such an Elkin moment. We were looking out the back door almost expecting to see Daddy kneeling by his garden. His shadow lingers there. “That was a really finky thing to do. How could you do this to me. Bruce - you fink!” I agree. (Fink was the name Daddy called us when he was telling us to do something ridiculous that we’d never agree to. “Go out and get me a Boston cream pie, but not like they make today - like from my childhood with real, fresh whipped cream.” “No” "You’re a finky kid.” It always made me laugh, but tonight I wanted to cry.

Got up from shiva this morning. Took a short walk just down the driveway since we needed to take Russell to the airport. It seemed strange to take the covers off the mirror and discard my kriah scarf. Now there’s too much to do before I go home. Cleaned some of the garage. Daddy was a gardener, and there were dozens and dozens of plastic pots and styrofoam cups. I piled most into the recycling. Swept. Then took Daddy’s clothes out to the garage for donation. 

Thursday morning. Mom is moving things around. No more trucks or rocks in the living room. I’m happy to see she’s exerting her own personality. There was a leak in the kitchen to be fixed. And then my first minyan beyond shiva. It was both odd and comforting, a feeling I expect to encounter many more times before this is over. Last night I realized that there will be no more mornings to lie in bed, no cold weekends to hide under the covers. A large part of my own psychological health is about to be sacrificed to tradition, and I don’t know how I feel about that. 

Following retirement, my father studied at Yeshiva Etzion on Long Island and in Queens. Though the students were in their 20's, he was welcomed. Daddy wasn’t easy. He wasn’t an Orthodox Jew. He was a mitnaged who challenged religion. He wanted to know and to deeply understand. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Avraham Gaon, welcomed Daddy and challenged him right back. Over the years they developed a deep friendship. In our sorrow, we neglected to inform Rabbi Gaon immediately. I spoke with him today. The yeshiva will be dedicating their learning to Daddy for a month. (Cue tears.) Just received a condolence call from a student at Yeshiva Etzion. He never knew my father. He said, “I knew your father was very close with my rabbi, and I heard so many wonderful stories about him, so I wanted to call.” Wow. (Over the next couple of days more students called. Really - wow!)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Year of Mourning - Aninut - Mourning No Man’s Land (Nov. 29, 2017)

So I’m an Onenet. Russell and I arrived yesterday (November 28). Everyone else arrives today. The funeral is set. It’s paid for. Taharah will be done later today. We’ve chosen a tallit, his favourite. I wonder if maybe that one should have been kept. But there’s no changing our minds now. It’s a tallit I made for him almost 2 decades ago. It seems fitting that he be wrapped in it.

And so we wait today. We wait for others to arrive. We look at photos. We share stories. We cry and we laugh. Mostly, we wait.

A Year of Mourning - The Moment Life Changes (Nov. 27, 2017)

At 7 am the phone rang. “Daddy’s gone.” Not expected, but also not fully unexpected. The kids surround me, just leaning against me making contact. 


Calls, calls, calls. Plane reservations. Laughter. Cursing. Laughter. Tears. Tears. Tears. Oh my GOD! More phone calls. Emails and Facebook. Wow Facebook. It’s both a service and an outlet, a place to express my feeings in the moment.  

The next couple of entries will share my posts. A snapshot of the path through aninut to shiva through my eyes, but lacking the responses, responses which show connections to so many people I love and who love me. 


November 28, 2017
10:03 am
It is with great sadness that I share the news of my father's passing early this morning. Russell and I are headed to NJ. In this moment I just want to share how much I appreciate all of my friends and family, and the special people who make my life what it is. (From the airport, where Russ and I landed within 25 minutes of each other, we headed straight to the funeral home, Aunt Dawn, Uncle paul, Mom, Russell, and me. So simple for such a major even t in our lives.)
  5:51 pm 
And it’s settled. My father’s funeral service will be Thursday morning in NJ with internment at Wellwood Cemetery in Farmingdale (about 2:00pm), with the first day of shiva to follow in Merrick.
Thank you everyone who is asking. We will post more information as we know.
With love.

8:55 pm
Thank you all so much for the love, condolences, and virtual hugs. It's amazing to me how much the virtual web of support helps. Thank you also for reaching out about service and shiva times. We will update this information as we have it.
Funeral services for our father, Bruce Elkin, will be held on Thursday, 11/30, at 10:15 AM at Mount Sinai Memorial Chapels, 454 Cranbury Road at Evergreen Boulevard, East Brunswick.
Interment will follow in Wellwood Cemetery, Farmingdale, NY. For GPS use: 1228 Wellwood Avenue, West Babylon, NY 11704, at about 2:30 pm.
The first day of shiva will follow internment in Merrick, time and place TBD. Shiva from Friday morning on will be at 31 Birmingham Lane, Jamesburg, NJ, concluding the morning of Wednesday, December 6.
Afternoon/eevening services will be at 4:20 PM.
Donations in memory of Bruce Elkin may be directed to the Bruce Elkin scholarship fund at

A Year Of Mourning- Beginnings- From Aninut to Shiva, Shloshim to Shana

From the moment a close relative dies Jewish law guides us. It’s routine and requirements guide us through the days (and nights). Sean suggested I blog the year of mourning, sharing the ups and downs.

There are found essential periods:

  • Aninut - the period from death to burial. The word connotes poverty or suffering. It’s understood the mourning is most intense then. In fact, others are prohibited from consoling the mourners during this period. How can someone be comforted when your loved one still lies dead before you. 
  • Shiva - From the burial to day seven The day of the burial counts as day one. This is the time of comforting. The mourners typically gather in one or more homes, while extended family and friends visit. Food has always been associated with taking care of others, and the food at a shiva usually flows freely. 
  • Shloshim - The 30 day period from the funeral. From shiva through the end of shloshim the mourner still limits her/his interaction with the world, but mostly returns to normal. Entertainment is limited.
  • Shana - The first year of mourning. Some entertainment continues to be limited. The mourner continues to recite Kaddish at thrice daily minyan, begun at the graveside.
It’s easy to enumerate the steps. The reality of it is something else. I’ve known and understood the details most of my life. I know that Jewish mourning practices are psychologically sound. I’m in awe of this. And I’m experiencing it. It’s helpful. It’s healing. But I also knew then and know now that mourning isn’t a straight path. There will be ups and downs, crying at weird times, anger, joy, and so much more. 

For now- minyan time...