My Address to the Rabbinical School Minyan:
This week, we read about Abraham, the famous story. As Debbie Friedman puts it: “To a land that I will show you, to a place you do not know…” and it goes on. Every year as I read this parshah I am compelled to look at a journey, my journey, where am I going, why am I going there.
This year, the journey that I am on is very different than last, and much more difficult. As most of you know, My father passed away 60 days ago tomorrow. The journey that I am on this year is painful, is new, is lonely. As my dad blessed me two years ago on Shabbat lech lecha “As Avram is commanded to make his journey into an unknown future may you continue on your own journey. But unlike Avram you know that you do not travel alone – that you have the love and support of family, friends, so many people and clergy from shul and k’lal Yisrael.”
On all my other journeys, I went with the support of my father, my grandfather, who also passed away 28 days before my father, my family. This year, I am journeying without my pillars of strength into an unknown land.
And, although the place is familiar, the journey is new. And on this journey, I find myself experiencing new things, new feelings, and new spaces. Many of you I have just met, and only know me as I am now, a mourner, Many of you don’t know my story, don’t’ know about my father, the man I am mourning so very deeply. This community feels new, even foreign sometimes.
One of my father’s favorite Mishnayot in Perkei Avot states: SEPARATE NOT YOURSELF FROM THE COMMUNITY” and yet, here, I find myself on many occasions separating myself from our community, or unintentionally feeling like an outsider. So, I’d like to take just a few minutes to share with you some things I have been feeling, noticing, and needing to tell you. This is me, as I stand here today.
1. Kaddish: One of the hardest parts of my day is saying the kaddish. I often feel like the “Last Man Standing,” alone in the room. When I have thought about Kaddish before, I always envisioned being with a Kaddish Minyan, in a space where I would almost never be the only voice. I would have the support of a community, going through similar phases. Instead, I am blessed to say Kaddish in a community that is aware of the ins and outs of mourning, and a community where I am the only mourner, a special status. Some of you may have noticed that I often say it with my eyes closed. I do this for 2 reasons. The first is because I want to see my father’s face, my grandfather’s smile, and have a moment in time with them. Sometimes I am successful with this, sometimes I end up having flashbacks of my father’s last days in the hospital. The second reason is because I am uncomfortable. I often feel alone and as if a thousand eyes are staring at me, piercing me, and I just want to run. I know you probably don’t intend to make me feel that way. In fact, you probably look to show me you support me, but sometimes it just feels so off putting, It makes me feel so outside.
2. I cry, a lot, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that something happened. Most of the time, it’s just because I am grieving, and it hits me in waves. Some days I’m pretty o.k and most days, I struggle. You should know that I grew up in the shul, sitting next to my father and grandparents. So much of who I am, and why I want to be a rabbi is tied to these memories. I hear my father’s voice teaching me to be the Shatz, I remember conversations we have had about prayer, in fact the last coherent conversation I had with my father was about my feelings on prayer these days. To add to it, my grandfather’s literal last words were the shema, and my father’s last conscious act was leading Minchah at my grandfather’s shiva. This is the way of my family. I have always had a deep emotional attachment to prayer, and so, sometimes, I cry. I can’t help the tears, and I can’t stop them, they just creep up on me. The best thing to do is just support me, ask me how I am, smile at me, sometimes I just need a hug and let me cry
3. Talking. I love to share myself with others. But, sometimes I can’t start the conversation. I am finding it very easy to retreat to myself and my studies, and often separate myself out. What I’m asking is for a little support, if you want to. Ask me how I am, I won’t be offended. If I answer with “breathing” it’s because that’s the best I can do that day… just keep asking
4. Grieving: While Shiva lasts 7 days and my shloshim were cut off by Rosh HaShanah, I am still very much grieving. I never fully dealt with my Papa’s passing and then on top of it am forced to deal with my father’s death. I am still very much in the beginning stages of this process. And in many ways, I did not grieve with “my community.” My grieving was manipulated and shaped by my families expectations of me. As I journey down this road of grief and healing, I invite you to join me, help me, and support me as I create my own process of grieving here.
5. If you want to know about my dad, what happened, anything, I am more than happy to share, the gifts of his life and the challenges of his health. I need a little pushing and pulling, and I need help. My journey through my father’s illnesses lasted 7 years, but throughout that time, He was my number one fan, my confidante and my best friend, He taught me so much about myself and the world, and It is so hard to go on without him.
I very much hope that this is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. I hope to share with you my journey, and help each of us grow into the leaders we will be one day. My daddy always taught me to make the best of the situation, everything can be learned from, and most of all that his memory should be for a blessing. His life was about people, helping people, caring for people and talking with people. I hope we can talk.
I know this is a lot to take in, but as part of this community, as a member of our journey, I wanted to let you in, share myself with you, welcome you into my journey.