Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Musings: Cocoon of Comfort

Miriam Klein Adelman

When my sisters and I begin with the stories, we’re performers on the stage of shivah stools. The audience’s faces alternate between awe and sorrow

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

 Mishpacha image

SPECIAL EFFORT I can’t hurt her feelings. She made a special effort to come; there’s no way I’m going to tell her to leave. I feel that way with everybody. They take time out of their busy schedules to be menachem avel. I refuse to intimate in any way that I am tired or that I have just repeated the same story 25 times

N oiselessly they enter and remove their coats. Tucking them over their arms, they sit on folding chairs placed around the room, around the mourners. From my low perch on my stool, their faces loom above me.

“How old was he?” a neighbor ventures.

“Ninety,” I answer.

Faces relax.

Oh, he was old. It’s not that sad, their faces are saying.

Others, like my old school friend, Sasha, takes my hand in hers, “I’m sorry,” she says simply.

A family friend walks in and I want to beg her, Please stop looking like you’ve just gone to your own father’s funeral. Her expression of overwhelming sorrow as she sits down, never taking her eyes off mine unnerves me. Uh-oh, I’m not feeling overwhelming despair, I think, why is she looking at me like that? If I don’t mirror her feelings, she’ll think I’m a terribly unfeeling daughter. I mean, maybe the loss will hit harder after shivah, maybe it won’t. But I’m okay now, stop looking at me like that! I shout in my head.

Some invite conversation. They want to hear all about him, all about his long, amazing life. They know he was in both the American and Israeli army when he was younger. They want to hear the stories.

I look over near the lamp table. My sister Frieda is holding court, entertaining neighbors and business associates. “After my father came back from fighting in the Philippines in World War II,” I hear her say, “he wanted to fight for Israeli independence. So he joined the Irgun, an underground group committed to rousting the last of the British from the land. He called his mother as the boat was leaving for Israel to say goodbye, but she refused to come to the phone. She was so upset he was once again leaving for war.”

When my sisters and I begin with the stories, we’re performers on the stage of shivah stools. The audience sits with faces alternating between awe and, when they think of it, sorrow. I usually begin with my American-born father’s burning desire to fight for the Jews being exterminated in Europe. Sometimes, I start with his early life growing up in prewar Williamsburg and the romantic story of his parents’ marriage.

“My grandmother’s older sister in Dej, Transylvania, wasn’t getting married and that meant that according to their custom, my grandmother couldn’t get married, either,” I explain to the comforters. “So she decided the only way was to come to America, which she did by herself. Well, not really by herself,” I continue, “my grandfather, who was her cousin, followed her with the plan to eventually marry her, and within a few months of arriving on the lower East Side, they got married.”

At this point my throat is running dry, and I stretch out my arm toward my sister as if to say, “Take it away, your turn.” (I think I actually say it).

 

Sima picks up the thread and talks about my grandfather starting off with a new job each week, and getting fired after not showing up on Saturday. Eventually, he got a job with a shomer Shabbos matzah factory, Horowitz Margareten, and after that, opened a butter and egg business, and so became his own boss.

I realize this is a piece of history. Not of a tzaddik’s holy life, but of a simple Jew in the early 20th century, fighting to keep his family religious. “People don’t realize today the courage it took to keep Shabbos and risk their livelihood,” some of the older visitors say. “They look at the knitted kippah and don’t give the respect these people deserve. Our children wouldn’t be here today if not for our grandparents’ mesirus nefesh for Shabbos.”

It’s time for lunch. We move to the kitchen. Nieces, nephews, and my children take shifts. They’re here to serve us. How radical. How comforting. (excerpted)

Related Stories

House of Mirrors: Chapter 21

Rachael Lavon

He’d spent the past three days being kind, empathetic, understanding, supportive. He’d listened. Com...

Straddling Worlds

Rivka Streicher

“The first year it was fun. Maybe the second. But now… A little difference never harmed anyone. Can’...

Windows: Frum Women’s Dreams

Adina Soclof

If frum women produced Disney movies, the song “Dreams Come True” would have a stanza about a Pesach...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War.
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript.
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child.
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
Zivia Reischer and D. Himy "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"