On my very first day in our new home, I sat shiva for my beloved father, Yisrael ben Kalman. That was not our plan, but we all know the truth about plans is that they are merely intentions, not irrevocable decisions.
There are different types of moving that humans do. We move our bodies, which are constantly in motion. We move our minds to learn, to accept or reject, to understand. And of course we move our homes, our locations, our own centers of the universe. And we moved away from our slavery in Egypt. To this very day we celebrate that freedom at our joyous holy days that we call Pesach.
We cannot exist without movement in our bodies, inside and outside. We cannot exist without movement in our minds. However, moving our homes is mostly optional. Normally, for myriad reasons, we choose to relocate. It is mostly elective, but few people remain permanently in the homes in which they were born. It is often said that the average American lives in his home for about five years. My guess is that we Jews defy the average and stay somewhat longer. Nonetheless, we too often are on the move.
Thus, 18 years ago, shortly before Pesach, my husband and I sold our two-story colonial-style home in Clark Township and bought a condominium townhouse in West Orange. We could not have known in advance that the move would be sadly coinciding with my father’s death. This intersection of two very normal human activities, moving and mourning, made for conflicting needs. We needed to be in Israel, where my father became abruptly ill, and we needed to be in New Jersey, where getting our belongings sorted out, deciding what to toss and what to take, was a substantial job, requiring a commitment of time and energy. Our hearts led us to Israel. Our hands were busy in America.
I sat on my father’s bed in the Achuzat Beit elder care facility in Raanana. It was not typical for him to be bedridden. He was normally in perpetual motion. When an elevator was available, he would opt for the stairs. With even a glimmer of sunshine he would be out for a walk of several miles, often to visit my mother in her final home, the Old Herzliya Cemetery. On those trips he would often carry a rag to clean the gravestone of the omnipresent thick coating of dust, a reminder that Israel is a desert country with ubiquitous sand blowing throughout the seasons. He walked everywhere, no longer dependent on a car at all, and eschewing taxis or public transportation whenever possible. He remained in movement, in motion, for almost all of his nearly 98 years. But on that day, when I sat on his bed, he could no longer continue to be a man on the move. He was approaching the end of a beautiful life, a life of happiness in marriage and avoidance of illness. His cure for any ailment was an aspirin. He was able to pull it off because he had hardly ever been sick, and when he had any malady, it was always something acute and curable, never chronic.
Hence, when he told me he would not be at the seder that year, I knew he was correct. I didn’t argue or try to deny or defy the obvious. My sister and I both knew that he would soon be leaving us. We did not, deliberately, rush him to the hospital or seek any intervention. Death is normal, and death can be a friend. Prolonged death is also movement, but it is movement toward suffering. Dad was moving toward a peaceful end to what had been a peaceful life. His death was on our radar, and we knew we should give heed to the sound of the death knells without keening or reeling or anguish. We had to let him go, unwillingly, but kindly and with support that would show him love without the torture of unhelpful mitigation.
But where would I be for those final days? Could I really leave my husband behind and stay in Israel for the duration of Dad’s dying? There were endless decisions to be made for the move and legalities pursuant to the closings, on both property transfers, normal unchallenging stuff that still had to be done. I decided to say my farewells in Israel and return to New Jersey. I did not intend to return for the funeral. My father no longer needed me and was actually no longer aware of my presence.
I returned to New Jersey. At 5 on that same morning the phone rang, and of course I knew it would be my sister. And of course I booked an immediate return to Israel. How could I not be there for my father’s funeral? Totally impossible. Our daughter Amy joined me for the trip. We arrived in time for the brief graveside ceremony, attended by an impressive coterie of friends from shul, community and Achuzat Beit, as well as my sister’s friends and those of our niece and nephew, Tali and Ilan. Dad was wrapped in his tallit and lowered into the ground, to be reunited with Mom. We then returned to our Herzliya apartment for a few hours of shiva before heading back to Ben Gurion airport.
Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, my husband was in charge of all the details of the move, from the closing at our lawyer’s office to the actual move. Our attorney and dear friend Stan Fink had anticipated all the needs and signatures needed for us to have the closing go smoothly, in absentia.
The movers did their job with no additional problem and my exhausted husband was ensconced in West Orange with furniture and belongings intact. Now there was an additional consideration, preparation for visitors for the one partial remaining day of shiva, before the Pesach seder began.
When I arrived home, everything was in order. B’seder, as they say in Hebrew. Visitors arrived, and many welcomed us to the community, a gesture that is simply unforgettable. At that busy time of year, strangers came to greet us and console and comfort us.
Most wonderful was the touching love of our son-in-law, Rabbi Mark Cooper. It was his idea to do a brief Chanukat haBayit ceremony, a celebration of our welcome to our new home. He installed a new and beautiful mezuzah that adorns our front door until this day. A shiva and Chanukat haBayit are not normally synchronized, but Mark knew that it was important for us to find an inkling of joy as we started our lives in our new home. My dad would have approved!
Thus we attended a seder and celebrated Pesach as always. Life is filled with surprises and moving moments. Some are sad and some are redemptive. May we all know many shared celebratory moments. As I remember my father, I am grateful for his lifetime of beautiful sedarim in his long and joyous life.
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!