Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Checking In

Greetings from stormy California.

The last week and a half have been a worlwind. (Whorlwind? Where's a dictionary when I need one?) The process of getting my ticket to America, packing, arranging for someone to watch my apartment and take in my mail while I'm away (thanks, R.W.!), cancelling or postponing my work assignments, and running errands in the last minute (thanks for driving me around, Beth!) was insane.

But, thank God, I got to Boston well in time for my grandmother's funeral. Omi had actually planned and paid for her funeral years ago, and it went just the way she wanted. She would have been pleased. A lot of people showed up, especially friends of my parents, and it was very dignified and went smoothly. We buried her with a little American flag on top of her coffin, just as she'd asked.

I wrote a eulogy for her on the plane to Boston, crying the whole time, and forgetting that on Chanukah we don't give eulogies. However, the officiating rabbi told me that if I turn it into divrei mussar -- lessons we can learn from Omi's life-- then that would be OK. It was a hard speech to give, but I was so happy to be able to honor her. I loved her so much. Perhaps soon I'll post the speech to the blog.

It is often said that the Jewish traditions surrounding death are very psychologically intelligent and cathartic. One thing that I appreciated was the custom to stay at the grave until it is completely covered, and for members of the family to help fill the grave (helping to bury a person is considered a very great mitzva, since you are doing a kindness for the deceased -- giving them a dignified burial-- which they can never return to you). I stood there in my Shabbat coat, shoveling dirt over my grandmother's coffin, and although it was morbid, it also helped me internalize the finality of her death. It gave me a sense of peace, knowing that she was being given a proper burial -- something denied to most of her family, who were killed in Treblinka -- and that she was being buried by people who love her, rather than by anonymous grave diggers. All the grandchildren took turns filling her grave. It is a tremendous merit, that, being buried lovingly by one's grandchildren.

After the funeral my parents and I went to Cleveland, where my mother sat shiva. The community there was wonderful. Even though my parents have lived there only a year, they got visitors every day, and many neighbors and a shule committee made sure we had delicious hot food delivered to our door every day.

Now I'm on a brief visit in Cali to see my nephews, and will be returning to Israel shortly.

It's too bad I came for such a sad reason, but all things considered it's been a nice visit. I'm happy that I was free to honor my grandmother, help out my parents, and play with my nephews. Can't ask for much more than that.

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