Whispers in the cemetery
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Whispers in the cemetery

Cemetery visits to our parents are part of the trajectory of our lives. At these holy spaces we have intense quiet conversations with those who loved us first. We are compelled to renew our bond and tell them of the lives we lead, but, especially, how sorely we miss them and how much we wish they were still among us.

My husband and I visited his parents at Beth Israel in Woodbridge last week. They were, as usual, very good listeners as we shared our stories.

And soon, we will convene with my parents in Herzliya’s Old Cemetery.

We will share the news that our family will gather for a bar mitzvah. My parents never met my sister’s first grandson, a serious and handsome Sabra, Amit Ravid, who will be called to the Torah in the now-bustling city of Modiin, a place Mom and Dad knew only from the ancient tales of the Maccabim.

But, I wonder, what if they actually hear us as we relate the rhythm of our lives? Are they beaming with pride as we boast of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their myriad accomplishments?

We, like an EKG with its jagged waves, have rises and falls, equivalent to good news and not-good news. Do we cause our parents unrest when we express concerns? Or do they rest in peace, as we hope? It eases us to whisper our news and to articulate what our fears may be, to those from whom we have always sought sage advice and wisdom. After all, it is they who were the first to know and care about us.

Are they worried, as are we, about health and procedures and conditions and about the daily dangers of life and their impact on our family, their family? Do they even comprehend that we, my husband and I, are now old, or do they see us as we were, vibrant, active, and youthful? Most probably they do not see or hear us at all. Yet we continue to visit and assume that they hear and cherish our communication.

Can they hear our misheberachs? Our gomels? Can they also hear our schehechaynus? Are they with us even when we are not their visitors at the cemeteries?

Do they know that a grandson of ours, Aaron, great-grandson to them, soon will be a paratrooper in the IDF? We know that they would share our pride, as we yearn for his success and safety. They too would wish him hatzlecha as he joins the most moral army in the world.

Did they celebrate with us as Eitan married Dita, and Adiel married Matt, and Benji married Erica, and Yoni married Nina, and Liat married Chaim? And can they pray, please, that the rest of our grandchildren will stand under the chuppah and embrace other equally wonderful and happy young people according to the laws of Israel?

Can they share in the arrival of our three great-grandsons, Noam, Itai, and Lior, and pray for many more, bonded to am Yisrael by their beautiful Hebrew names, and the lives they lead?

But then, from the personal to the world around us. Are they shocked? Do they think we live in better times than they did? Can they even believe the tales we weave?

All four of them, our parents, believed in the dream of America. Was it ever the reality?

All four of them believed that to be Jewish in America was a guarantee of the future of our people. Was that, too, ever the reality?

And, of course, they all believed that advanced civilization would mean the end to war. Do we hear from their graves “a bitterer gelekhter”? A bitter laughter?

They would not believe that the corona pandemic actually happened. Is still happening. Penicillin was discovered during their lifetime. They would have expected it to end contagious diseases. They never knew the difference between viral and bacterial, nor did they ever hear about vaccine resistance.

They did, however, know of the wonders of vaccination. Each of them carried scars on their arms from smallpox vaccinations, and each made sure to follow through on the many vaccines that protected their children. They clearly would not believe that there would be people, seemingly normal but clearly not, who would deny themselves vaccines. Those are the people identified as anti-vaxxers. Our parents would have called them “meshuga.” Of course. And appropriately so!

They would never believe the miserable phenomenon of the evil, unprecedented president, the criminal Donald Trump. He would have carried that same sobriquet, “meshuga.”

And they’d have been incredulous to hear about people believing whatever lies he spewed; dishonorable political “leaders” and, most abhorrent and shocking, even a few fellow Jews. Our parents had tremendous respect for the government of these United States. Would they still?

Could they believe that some Jews are wavering in their support for Israel, many of them young, the future of our people? “How could that be?” We’d have no answers.

They would refuse to believe that anti-Semitism was again, or still, thriving. Even in America!

Of course they’d never understand computers or smartphones, or cars driving themselves. That’s to be expected. We don’t exactly understand those things either!

And thus, we prioritize what we say and the questions we ask. This makes us understand our own lives a bit better.

A bit…. Maybe.

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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