Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 121

August 5, 2022 (8 Av 5782)

We Walk Through

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health. We look forward to you joining us this Shabbat morning, at 10:30am, for our services, which will take place in the sanctuary and also be available on our regular Zoom prayer link. We also thank Elaine Lyubomirsky, who is sponsoring this week's Kiddush in honor & memory of her mother, Sulima Khimishman, who many will remember from Cliffside Park.

This Saturday night, we will commemorate the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, referred to as Tisha B’Av. (Please scroll down for the service times and Zoom link.) During this full twenty-six-hour fast day, we recall the destruction of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem. While Yom Kippur is sometimes called the white fast, Tisha B’Av is called the black fast. The prayers and readings of the day are meant to lead us towards reflection, from both a personal and national perspective.

Personally, for me, this year’s Tisha B’Av will be one of great sadness as I mark the first Yartzheit of the passing of my sister, Ellen. So many of you were kind enough to reach out to me and my family during that difficult time, and I cannot be more grateful.

Like the rest of my siblings, Ellen was adopted, so you can imagine the surprise and delight I experienced, as a five-year old coming home from school one day, being told, this is your new sister!

While memories are, of course, numerous, one of the daily rituals, as she got older, was playing a game called “run-lift.” My brother and I, anxious to get home after school and being somewhat impatient with our “slow moving” little sister, would hold her under her arms as she ran, and then, when we yelled “lift!”, she would pick up her feet as we continued to run and she would be tossed into the air, supported, while laughing (and arriving home on time).

Ellen had a difficult life. At a young age (way before its time), she was diagnosed with severe learning difficulties, which made her potential success in school nearly impossible. While academia would never be her forte, she developed a passion for nature and farming.

Ellen moved first to a kibbutz in Southern Israel, before relocating to Washington State and then Central British Columbia, where she lived a life surrounded by God’s glorious works of nature.

Married five times, she raised four incredible kids by herself. Pnina is a veterinarian technician in Alberta. Noam is a sought-after contractor in British Columbia. Shai (who was born with cerebral palsy and was not expected to ever walk) works at the local paper mill. Isaac, the youngest, is in school in California.

I attended her last wedding about three years ago. Ellen was marrying a woman named Lisa, who had terminal cancer. Their relationship and connection was inspiring, even as they both acknowledged that it would be short-lived. Nonetheless, they celebrated each day and supported each other, in sickness and in health.

The final news of Ellen’s passing last year was shocking to me. She herself had been diagnosed with cancer, but chose to conceal it from the family as she didn’t want anyone to make a fuss. She purposefully chose to spend the last two-weeks of her life in nature, at the campsite, where she and Lisa were married 18 months earlier.

Admitting that the reader’s overall take away from this brief biography may be depressing, allow me to share that Ellen always had a great attitude, loved being a mother, and loved being my sister (we spoke almost every day!).

Like Tisha B’Av, my sister’s Yartzheit allows me two potential reactions: sadness or hope.

We all face tragedies and setbacks. Our tradition encourages us to learn from them and recall the words of Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” We do walk through. We walk through when we hold each other in times of sorrow and we walk through when we gather at times of Simcha and celebration. We walk through when we build community. We walk through when we study Torah, and we walk through as we pray together as a congregation. Finally, we walk through when we lovingly remember, hope, and build for a better tomorrow.

As we enter Shabbat and prepare for Tisha B’Av, we will recall tragic times for ourselves and for our people, but more importantly, we will keep alive memories and ideals, as we build towards a future of kindness, caring, happiness and peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
201 562 5277

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