He was dying.
There was no denial from me or from him. His zest for living and his remarkable fortitude and strength could sustain him no more. His robust good health had finally subsided, like an ebb tide, slipping from the beach. He had whispered to me from the bed in his room that he, my father, Sam, would not be at the seder a few days hence.
I knew this would be true.
He drifted off and after a bit I left the room, knowing that I would never again see him. I was en route to Natbag, Ben Gurion Airport.
I was torn and desperate. My father was dying, and that very day I was flying back to New Jersey? He deserved more. He had been an amazing parent, inspirational and kind. He had been devoted to his family, his parents, his five siblings, his wife, and us, his kids. And he adored and was beloved by his many grandchildren. There were then 12, but he didn’t live long enough to meet the next crop of seven, five in Israel and two in America. The first of those seven is called Sam.
His time on Earth was over. He was a few days short of his 98th birthday, concluding his chapter and closing the book. It was a book about a brave man who never seemed to worry or fret and who was satisfied with his share of life. He devotedly cared for his family and the Jewish people. He was an inveterate reader, an industrious hard worker, and a person defined by his high moral principles. And he was indeed a lucky man! His days had never been marred by tragedy. We could say with no remorse that he had had a good, long, healthy life, surrounded by love, a happy life. Is that not the optimum?
I left for the airport. The flight back to New Jersey was painful, draining. But the very next day was moving day. We were closing on our new home. There was much to be done and Dad and I had said our farewells. He was in good hands. My sister was a loving daughter and her family was there to support her. And the staff of Achuzat Beit, Raanana’s amazing senior residence where Dad had been living those last few years since Mom’s passing, was there 24/7.
As soon as I arrived home I got busy with the chores of moving. Odds and ends and documents to sign, last minute stuff and the uncertainty of moving to a new home after many good years in the old one. I finally fell into bed, exhausted, physically and emotionally.
At 5 a.m. the phone rang. I knew. Of course I knew. But I had decided I wouldn’t go to the funeral. It was the right choice. How could I leave my husband in the middle of the move?
Immediately I realized I couldn’t do it! I had to go.
I returned to Israel. Our daughter Amy accompanied me. We arrived in time for the burial at the Herzliya Cemetery. The service was brief. Dad had wanted no eulogies. And then he was lowered into the precious earth of Israel, where he lies next to Mom.
My sister and I sat shiva that night, until Amy and I returned to Ben Gurion Airport.
Back in New Jersey I needed no reminder to go to the new house. The next day would not be a day to unpack a half century of our belongings. It was the end of the brief shiva; the following evening we were to host a seder.
I was sustained by the support of those around me, including some members of the new community whom I barely knew.
Remembering your generous visit, Rabbi Asekoff and the new neighbors who visited, and who became friends.
Remembering the Chanukat ha beit, Rabbi Cooper, so that we could associate some joy with our welcome to our new home.
And remembering walking into that new home and seeing our furniture, laid out then as it still remains 16 years later. My husband had carefully placed the furniture exactly as I would have. It was comforting to view our belongings in this unfamiliar space.
The shiva passed. It was a remarkable shiva, for a remarkable human being, commemorated in two homes, 6,000 miles from each other. No doubt halacha was compromised, but Sam would have understood. He would have wanted our family to be together in remembering him and in celebrating Pesach. This we were able to do.
And so we shared our departure from Egypt and our departure from Israel on that same seder night. The candle lit for mourning had been extinguished and was replaced by the candles of celebration, of Yom Tov. We recited the Shehechayanu to thank God for bringing us to that moment. We shed tears and crowded around the seder table.
That is the continuum of Jewish life. And so it was.
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!