Monday, July 08, 2024

Blessings from a Memory | A Weekend of Family, Friends and Food

This past weekend was my Mother-in-Law's yarhrzeit (the anniversary of her passing away on the Jewish calendar), and her unveiling (the ceremony where we reveal her inscribed headstone at her gravesite). So yes, this past weekend was an emotional and difficult one. And yet, we found ourselves among family and friends, and so more than anything else, this was a weekend of love, comfort and joy.

The house rang out with sounds of laughter as her grandchildren ran through it playing hide and seek and putting who knows what down the laundry chute. Chana carefully selected jewelry from her Grandmother and Great Grandmother's collection. Gavriella searched among her Grandmother's purses to find a couple of keeper's to take home, and one to use for the unveiling. Tzipora unleashed her inner runway model as she tried on her Great Grandmother's furs. Dovid and I made plans for reviving his Great Grandfather's Cine Kodak 8 Model 25 movie camera. Tzipora found a notepad in one of Grandma's purses with the item candlesticks for Tzipora crossed off, showing that her Grandmother was thinking of her and had, no surprise, bought her a special gift.

My Sister-in-Law brought the piano to life using sheet music from my Mother-in-Law's childhood. She also carefully poured through a stack of records in the basement, unearthing a number of keepers. Uncle Ron had the kids entranced with his stories and wild games of poker. My MIL's closest friends filled the porch, dining room and living room with the sound of kibbitzing and kvelling. When it came time to setup or tear down, we found her friends, with years of experience hosting parties from when we were kids, ready to effortlessly make this happen. My mom used her shopping skills to deftly resolve a wardrobe crisis with one of the grandchildren, all without missing a beat.

The house was filled with my Mother in Law's favorite color: pink. Pink plates and cups for the meal after the unveiling. Uncle Ron and I wearing pink shirts. And instead of the classic black and white cookies, Malek's made us a special order of pink and whites.

Friends took home books, camels and dishes, giving us a true sense of pleasure knowing that Shira's Mom's possessions would continue to be treasured. We ate the greatest hits: cold cuts from Lipmans, eclairs from Malek's, bagels from Bruegger's and Shira's favorite, Hebrew National Bologna from Fox's. My Mother-in-Law's sister made the long trek from Tucson, showing that family and 'being there' was a sisterly trait baked into their DNA. Our friends Lauren and Nick, and My Brother and Sister-in-Law road-tripped in from Virginia, schlepping kids on an 8 hour car trip; something we simply don't have have the words to thank them for doing.

Heck, even American Airlines did their part and upgraded us to First Class on both flights.

On Friday night, we asked Uncle Ron where the matches were to light Shabbas candles. Check the second drawer in the kitchen, he suggested. Sure enough, we pulled out the drawer and found a collection of match boxes. Looking in the back, we found this gem:

As far as we can tell, that's a box of matches from Shira's Mom and Dad's wedding reception. I'm certain in their wildest dreams on that night they could never have imagined the family and community that they would be destined to build for themselves and their children. To be a part of this legacy is an honor and a pleasure.

During the unveiling ceremony, Shira read these words. They capture her mother and the moment so perfectly.

Well, a year has gone by. A little more than a year in the secular calendar, and somehow, and I wish I could tell you Elana and I had done it on purpose, this is her actual yahrzheit. We really can't thank everyone enough for being here. Coming from all over. It truly means so much. And thank you Rabbi, I know she would be grateful for you doing the ceremony today. Another family gathering she would have loved to be at. All of her nearest and dearest, right here.

I miss her so much. On the odd times when my home phone rings after 8 pm, I kinda get a jolt, because she was the only person other than spammers that ever called my home phone, so I still have a pavlovian reaction. Mom? I don’t answer, and just pretend she’s calling to say hi.

Or when I open a cookbook and see she had the foresight to inscribe each one she gave me, whether it was for our first Chanukah after we were married, or ones much later on. It seemed silly at the time, but she knew what she was doing. Of course it meant she completely sabotaged my efforts to whittle down my cookbook collection when I wanted to donate a few, but that’s ok.

But I felt most sad when I found things unfinished. An unfinished needlepointed tallit bag for Dovid. A list planning for Ben and my’s 25th anniversary. Kids travel diaries for a trip to Panama with her grandchildren that she was so excited for that was not to be. Because her life, was a life unfinished. She had so much more she wanted to do. So much more of herself she wanted to give.

And I’ll finish with a funny anecdote about cleaning out Council Rock. You can imagine that this has been no mean feat. Given that my grandparents lived there since 1954 and then my mom and dad moved in after they died and transferred all of their possessions, I called the cleanout an archaeological dig. Layer after layer, not knowing what we’d uncover. And yes, we uncovered many treasures, such as my grandfather’s high school yearbook, my father’s birth announcement, pictures that my grandpa sent to my grandma during the war from Africa, my best academic achievements from 3rd grade. Every single correspondence ever sent to my mother, many from all of you standing here today. So, yes, I called this an archaeological dig. So much history. And then I found a bag. And the first thing I saw in it were cigarette packs from Israel. Ok. I knew my mom smoked. But then we realized. Inside the cigarette packs were actual pottery from my mom’s actual archaeological dig in Israel. And we weren’t surprised at all.

Cleaning out the house was not a chore. It was actually her final gift to us. That house was not full of trash. It was full of her most prized possessions. Not her good jewelry - that's missing. Memories of times with her lifelong family and friends.

May her memory be for a blessing.

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