Ashrei
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Ashrei

We hadn’t known it, but our New Jersey shul seemed to be awaiting the arrival of Marc and Edith.

When they became part of us, we knew that we had needed them all along. We knew what we never had known before. We knew that they had come as blessings, to do all the things that still remained to be done. The things that we thought no one could do.

The morning minyan was an example. It had languished for many years. Changing the time didn’t change the meager numbers who showed up. Sending reminders didn’t do it either. The bagels were the most powerful weapon. But who would get up even earlier to pick up fresh bagels every morning? Marc, of course.

The seudah shlishit was in similar trouble, until Edith started to provide homemade kugel, which she served fresh, hot, and delicious. We Jews do like to eat!

No one sent Marc on his bagel mission and no one sent Edith into the kitchen to make the kugels. But all of those who knew the shul well knew that these two could and would do anything for our community. They always did.

If there was any kind of collection of money for whatever worthy deed or need, there was Marc, reminding us that we were obligated to help. In truth, no one could ever say no to Marc. It was just impossible.

They joined up with us long into their marriage. They had both endured the Holocaust, separately, each unaware at first that the other also had survived. It was a great miracle. They came to America with hopes and dreams and commitment to all things Jewish.

It was after they had raised a son in another state that they made the move to New Jersey. They burst onto the scene of our traditional shul, many years in existence, and they became its elders. They were everywhere. Any observance, any function, anything at all, found them among us. It didn’t take long before the entire community knew them and loved them.

And even more than what they did was the generosity of spirit in which they did it. It was soft-sell all the way, no demands, only smiles and warmth and love.

And so it was that the community thrived until one very sad day, when Marc was abruptly struck down by a massive stroke that left him without speech or comprehension. It took a while for all of us to reconcile ourselves to that, but our first obligation was to help Edith. She had never learned to drive and needed to visit Marc daily at the nursing home. She needed to shop and she needed to go on with her own newly challenged life. Everyone wanted to help do this holy work. We made a schedule, and we all cared for Edith as if she were a mother to each of us.

Marc did not improve. There were constant visitors, each maintaining that there was some recognition. Some glint in his eyes. There were not. Marc was in a long-term coma, from which he would never recover. Nonetheless, community members continued to visit him, to try to provoke a response from him, to tell him how much he meant to all of us. Nothing worked. He was no longer inhabiting his body. But he clung to life.

Meanwhile, Edith fought her own battle with dementia. It was as if Marc’s illness had sucked the strength from her and left her confused and without understanding. Our shul struggled with the loss of both of our elders.

I would like to report a happy ending. If this were only fiction, I would. But this is fact, and I cannot fabricate what never happened.

Yet on day there was an amazing miracle, one that I will never forget. If not for the other people who shared it with me, I would think I imagined the whole thing.

This is what happened.

Our former rabbi, who had made aliyah to Jerusalem, was visiting New Jersey. I was lucky enough for him to have called me on arrival. He asked me to drive him to see Marc in the nursing home. Naturally I agreed immediately, and we set a time for the following day. I did warn the rabbi, however, not to expect any kind of response from Marc, as none would be forthcoming. Marc would neither acknowledge nor recognize the rabbi, nor would he engage with him. It was brutal but honest, and I needed the rabbi to be prepared for the discouraging visit that we had planned.

We arrived at the nursing home and walked together to Marc’s room. The rabbi sat down at Marc’s bedside and took his hand, stroking it gently. No response from Marc at all. Apparently Marc could neither see the rabbi nor hear him. His demeanor was unchanged. He was in a vegetative state and could not be roused.

The rabbi spoke to him softly. He said, Marc, remember when we used to sing together, and the rabbi began to sing Ashrei yoshvei beitekha.

Suddenly, as if a dam had burst open, Marc began to sob, loud, poignant, unforgettable shrieks of pain. A nurse ran in and admonished us to stop disturbing the patient.

This haunting story has been with me for many, many years. Did Marc remember singing Ashrei? Was he, in his brain, a living human being with thoughts and memories of his days of health and living? What had happened? I do not know. I shall never know.

I only know what I have seen. I cannot ever forget it. It was probably the most spiritual moment in my life. I’m sure the rabbi concurs.

We saw a man rise from the dead, ever so briefly, and ever so tortuously.

Marc died a few days later. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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