S he’s the first thing I notice as I walk down the stairs of my apartment building, onto the block that is pulsing with music, with noise, with life.

It feels like your run-of-the-mill, homey, neighborhood hachnassas sefer Torah: The van blares music, bright lights flashing so you get the sense you’re visiting a dated disco. A chuppah is set up right behind the disco-van monstrosity, and children are running back and forth, back and forth under the chuppah, taking turns playing chassan and kallah.

A large, jolly Sephardic man is going around distributing bourekas and rugelach, cracking jokes with the adults (especially the Anglos — he seems to love practicing his English), stroking babies’ cheeks fondly. There’s a drink stand with sodas standing tall, and children surround it like moths to a light, giddy from excitement and caffeine. Within minutes of the delivery, the streets are already sticky from spills, and crumbs and bakery wrappers line the sidewalks.

People seem to be streaming in from all directions, mostly by foot, our small block turning into a game of Rush Hour with the cars. Happy chatter fills the block as more and more families congregate in front of the apartment building from where the sefer Torah will leave, to be brought to a nearby shul amid dancing and singing and sweat and joy.

But all I see is her, amid the laughter, the lights.

She has that kind of beauty that keeps drawing your eyes to her face. She’s not fair skinned, blue eyed, nor blonde, she’s barely 5 foot 2.

Yet I can’t help but stare at her flawless Mediterranean skin, high cheekbones, strong nose, hair wrapped in a beautiful green-gold scarf perched high on her head like a crown.

She’s smiling now at the photographer who is chronicling the event, surrounded by three small children. Their deep brown eyes, flecked with caramel, mirror hers, as they lean in closer, surrounding her, their buoy in the turbulent sea this past year has wrought upon them.

A beautiful, vibrant family, but the absence of the young father is jarring. In fact, that is why we are here tonight, for her late husband’s yahrtzeit celebration.

Celebration, not mourning. There is not a tear in sight, only smiling faces.

I can’t help but stare at this beautiful, young, smiling woman, and wonder if inside, she cries; I wonder how deep her pain runs. She is a queen, dignified, as she greets her friends, air kissing their cheeks and smiling. As she kisses, does her heart thrum in grief? Was her pillow tearstained last night as she envisioned this event? Her presence bespeaks poise and confidence, yet I wonder how much is a farce, and how much is pure, unadulterated bitachon.

Amid hugs and mazel tovs, she enters back into the apartment building, to watch as the Torah is completed, final inky letters etched onto thick, curling parchment. A few moments later, the immediate family leaves the building as a united front, the young man’s father grasping the sefer Torah with all his might.

I watch the older gentleman dance under the chuppah to the beat of the blaring music, to the sound of the singing crowd, beard flecked with gray, eyes shut tight in concentration, in prayer. His face is alight with joy, full and true and real. I look closer, for the pain that certainly must be there.

Perhaps it is, among the deep lines crisscrossing at the edges of his eyes, woven into the deep creases along his mouth. But it is overshadowed by a calmness that reigns, a serenity that pervades his presence. He is celebrating his son’s life with joy, with dance — with Torah. With life. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 544 – Shavuos 2017 Special Edition)