Monday, May 02, 2011

Honoring my father's memory

  Oz Avraham 'Finishing' a Tractate a few months ago
On the Shabbat before Passover my whole family all my children and grandchildren were in Mitzpe Ramon where we enjoyed each other's company and had our meals together in a local guest house, so that no one had to interrupt their Pesach preparations to cook and we didn't get any new chametz in any one's house. A lovely time was had by all. On Saturday night we all gathered together to mark my father's eleventh yahrtzeit (anniversary really, but it sounds so much more appropriate in Yiddish).
A traditional way of commemorating a yahrtzeit is by making a siyyum. studying a book or a tractate (of Talmud or Mishna) and gathering a minyan, reciting the last sentences of the book, teaching the meaning of that section and then reciting a formula in which the one who learned acknowledges that he has finished learning the section and promises to return to learn it once again. A special kaddish is recited.
David did a siyyum marking the culmination of his studying a tractate of Jerusalem Talmud. (Hopefully, he will write about that himself.)  
My first-born son and his first-born son (named after my father) learned a tractate of mishna together in time to do a siyyum too. So we had three generations participating. I felt particularly blessed that we were able to be together and remember my father. Both David and I spoke about him and I explained to my family the significance of the direct descendants of the deceased doing mitzvot especially (but of course not exclusively) on his yahrtzeit. (I explained it here but my kids don't really like reading in English.)
My father, Abraham Rich was the son of hard working Jewish immigrants, educated in New York City's publics schools and also in the traditional Jewish synagogue after school program, where he learned to read Hebrew for prayers and prepared for his bar mitzvah. Richmond Hill was a warm community, I know that because it was my first synagogue experience too, and my father's teacher, Mrs. Tombeck, taught me the ins and outs of shabbat prayers. I have been told he was known as 'honest Abe' and I know that he always believed in fairness and equality.
I remember my father only with a mustache
He and my mother were determined that their children would have a better Jewish education than they were able to get. To that end they looked for a school that would be suitable. They enlisted my mother's cousin, a Hebrew teacher and her husband a Rabbi to help find a school in the wilderness of Queens. (Yes, in the 50's orthodox Jews lived in Brooklyn.) I clearly remember sitting in the sunshine in my grandparents backyard in Richmond Hill when he came out calling 'who's got my girl?' with a braod smile on his face. My mother looked up and asked 'you found a school?' and he answered 'certainly looks like it!' And in the end, it did work out. (Along the way, there was a point when money was tight and someone suggested that maybe it wasn't necessary for a girl to have a day school education. My father told the man, if my daughter doesn't get the education, my son won't either. I have always more than appreciated that.)
This is the Saba my kids knew
A very early memory of mine is of my father putting on tfillin in the morning and standing at certain parts and then sitting down again. I remember asking about why he sometimes stood and sometimes sat. As we learned more, he learned more and as a family our observance became stronger. By the time my parents planned my brother's bar mitzvah keeping shabbat had become so important to them that instead of a party their invited the whole family to a hotel for the entire shabbat, so that no one would have to desecrate shabbat to come. I remember a long difficult phone conversation of his with a first cousin (of his) who wanted to come only to the service in the morning. He did not give in, she did not come. Everyone else did and it turned out to be a wonderful celebration.
My father became an active member of a number of shuls and was gabbai for a while. He was not the gabbai concerned with giving out the honors, he was the gabbai who had the key. You could rely on him to get there first and set things up. And of course, tell people to keep quiet during the service.

Savta & Saba
Another thing about him was his amazing patience. I don't think I every would have learned the multiplication tables if he hadn't made flashcards and taken the time to drill it into me, over and over and over again. I can also say that I did not learn long division in school. I learned it from him. And when my kids were being taught some new-fangled system for 'understanding' division I sat them down and said, "I'm not sure what they want you to do but let me teach you what Saba taught me." And I taught them the way he did. (My mother taught me to 'borrow' when subtracting. Most of my arthmetic skills I learned at home.)

I always felt secure in my home and with my family. Whether it was at the beach with the waves crashing around us or climbing the stairs to the crown of the Statue of Liberty I aways felt safe and secure when my father and mother were around. I am also grateful for the encouragement and understanding shown for my Zionist activities and later when I came to Israel. He was a very creative grandparent and overcame language difficulties to create a lovely relationship with our children.
May his memory be a blessing to us all.
יהי זכרו ברוך


mother in israel said...

Thank you for this touching post. Yehi zichro baruch.

Leora said...

This is beautiful. I love his comment about educating his daughter! He radiates kindness.

Anonymous said...

IMHO the reason for the importance of the direct lineage is similar to something I heard in the name of R' Chaim Kanievski-when asked if one needed to mention the name of the individual one was doing a mitzvah "in honor of" (that's a whole post in itself), he replied yes, except for a parent since the assumption is that whatever a child does, it directly links to /reflects on the parent (see the last page iirc of the red tent)

Nicely done although we both know that we could never do justice to the description (which is one of the 2 reasons I attribute his kvurah being erev pesach when no hesped is permitted - and as an ish halacha he wouldn't have wanted a "we can't say a hesped but.." loophole (the other of course has to do his son's quirky personality)

Batya said...

You've been blessed with wonderful, loving parents. I feel privilged to know them. Please send my love to your mother.

Anonymous said...

This is a very touching post. When someone has a relative or friend who dies I always tell them, "May you find comfort in your memories." I see that you have.

Anonymous said...

I also liked your father's remark about educating a daughter.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

יהי זכרו ברוך, thank you for posting this.

Mrs. S. said...

What a beautiful tribute to your father z"l!

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