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What Filled the Silence

Leah Henkin

How could I go without music for an entire year? I can barely make it through sefirah! How could I miss my granddaughter’s musical? I knew music was a no-no, and that would be the toughest test.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

"Bubbie, could you come to my performance?” Maya asked. “It’s gonna be so much fun!” 

“I’d love to…”

“Great, I can’t wait for you to see it!” 

“Wait, Maya, is there music?” 

“Oh, yeah… does that mean you can’t come?”

“Right, hon.” 

“Because of Poppy? Because he died, right?” 

“Yes, sweetie. I can’t listen to music this year because I’m in aveilus.” 

A heavy sigh. “Okay. Could you watch me dance in the house without music?” 

“Yes! Let’s plan to do that.”


My father, Yoel Meir ben Simcha, passed away in Teves 5775/January 2015. Even as I write these words, tears form. I loved my father very much; I wanted him to recover. Hashem had other plans and it was my job to accept the din. 

In the hesped, my siblings and I focused on Dad’s guiding principle: “It was the right thing to do, so he did it.” Whenever he faced a difficult decision, Dad thought through the pros and cons and made the right choice. Like the time his parents became too ill to live alone on their farm in upstate New York. Dad purchased a larger home so they could live with him and he could oversee their care. I watched how treated Dad his parents and older relatives; he became my role model for honoring parents. During his lifetime, and once he passed away, I wanted to do nothing less. I wanted to observe the halachos of aveilus to honor his memory and “do the right thing.” 

But what was the “right thing”? What was the right way to observe the halachos?

I had watched several friends observe the year of aveilus for their parents. I knew I could not attend simchahs, or even participate in social group activities. I knew music was a no-no, and that would be the toughest test. 

How could I go without music for an entire year? I can barely make it through sefirah! How could I miss my granddaughter’s musical? Was I supposed to walk around all year looking sad? That option didn’t sit well for this smiley optimist. I looked for ways to balance observing the halachos of aveilus and my typically upbeat character.

In Joy

Photo: Shutterstock

I thought about my grandfather’s name, Simcha; it became my mission statement. But without the outside simchah-making machines — concerts, chasunahs, or even my favorite music CD —how was I going to be joyful?

 During my morning treadmill walk, I needed something upbeat to keep me moving. I began listening to shiurim from speakers whose messages I connected to. Slowly, I built a repertoire of CDs, online classes, and telephone shiurim.

Over time, I realized that I unconsciously chose shiurim that were either about simchah or emunah. I learned that simchah was more than the joyous feeling in response to a chasunah, bar mitzvah, or other outside event. “Simchah comes from being alive…embracing possibilities and moving forward… [It] is a response to one’s internal climate. Simchah is a state of being happy with yourself.” (Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller)

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