Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is available in paperback and on kindle and is being reprinted on Catholic News Agency with author’s permission. Cheryl’s non-fiction book is called Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with Her Past.
I say to the Lord; You are my God; listen, Lord, to the words of my prayers. Psalm 140:7
Elizabeth woke up earlier than usual on Monday morning. Opening her eyes she was overcome with a mixture of emotions too great to bear. Her first thoughts were along the lines of relief that she had left a message for Luke Saturday morning and that she could get by another day or two without calling home. This would give her time to collect herself and arrive at a way to share what had happened without sending complete and total panic through Luke.
On the heels of relief were thoughts of sadness mingled with curiosity. What should she do now? Should she ask the neighbors what might be expected of her? Should she consider herself part of the Goldfarb circle of friends and participate in the mourning process? Or should she extricate herself, quietly and without notice? These questions hung in the air, above the bed, like the humidity of a August summer afternoon. Except now there were no lake breezes to remove the burdensome weight in the air, there was nothing Beth could do but suffer under the heaviness of it all.
Laying in bed, Beth decided that inaction might be her undoing and she forced herself to get up. The fog seemed to move with her from room to room. There was no escaping its powerful hold on her thoughts, her emotions. Walking into the bathroom, Beth stared at the clothes piled on the floor. She saw the droplets of blood, dried and darker than yesterday, staring back at her. She was immobilized by them. They ridiculed her inability to pull herself together, reveling in their power over her. Beth couldn’t figure out why she had not just thrown them away and made her first conscious decision in fifteen hours.
Leaving the bathroom, Beth walked to the kitchen closet where she had seen a few garbage bags. Taking one in her hand, she walked back to the bathroom and began opening the bag. Picking up the clothes, Beth shoved them into the sack and tied it up, just like she had done hundreds, even thousands of times with the kitchen trash at home.
Beth thought about how the household chores had seemed to have been divided up over the years. Tying up the garbage bags from the kitchen and bathrooms had become Beth’s job while taking the cans to the curb was Luke’s. Once the garbage men picked up the trash, every Monday morning, Beth then dragged the empty cans back into the garage. How mundane it all seemed as she carried the tied sack to the front door. She knew she would never look at trash the same. What was wrong with her that she was thinking of her household chores when Meir and his children were making funeral arrangments for their mother. How completely befuddled had she become?
People often threw around the phrase, life goes on, but did they realize how it was both incredibly sad and hauntingly true at the same time? Yes, life was going on all the while the Israeli police were investigating the bombing and families were burying their dead. After that, what would there be? Families attempting to deal with their losses while others had long forgotten or moved on to the next day’s headlines. Beth didn’t know what was more tragic; that life did, indeed, go on, or the loss of life itself. Both seemed incredibly sad to her as she contemplated her own mortality.
Beth opened the door to the apartment to walk the trash to the building’s receptacle on the main floor. She stopped at the door, put the bag down, and walked back into the bedroom. She remembered a newspaper stand outside the building and wanted to purchase a paper. She grabbed a handful of coins and decided she would try combinations until she machine opened. She also pulled on the overcoat that went with her loungewear. She knew she could get by with the outfit as it was a hybrid between a jogging suit and pajamas. Her feet were shod in slip-on canvas mules, also a cross between a shoe and a slipper. She picked up the keys off the hook by the kitchen and opened her door.
To her surprise and dismay, Beth almost ran into a neighbor who had a hand raised to knock on Beth’s door. She recognized the face but couldn’t come up with a name. Staring at one another for what seemed an eternity, the woman finally spoke, “I am Ayala’s neighbor, Mitzi, we’ve been introduced but I am sure you have met many of the Goldfarbs’ friends over the past couple of days. I live down the hall.” Mitzi was pointing in the direction opposite the elevator.
Beth obligingly looked down the hall and then turned her gaze to Mitzi. “Hello,” was all Beth could come up with and had no facial expressions with which to accompany the salutation.
“I wanted you to know that Ayala has done nothing but talk about you since she met you.” Tears welled up in Mitzi’s eyes and Beth struggled to control her own emotions.
“Thank you for sharing that,” Beth offered.
“The reason I tell you this is because the next seven days the Goldfarbs will be sitting Shivah. This will be their mourning period for Ayala. I know it would be very special to them if you could visit them during this time. They all seem to have fallen in love with you. I wanted to share this with you because I thought you might not know how they feel about you and how good it would be for you to see them.”
The fog seemed to lift from Beth’s brain and she hugged Mitzi. Tears now streamed uncontrollably down Beth’s face as she said, “Thank you for letting me know. I will be there for them. They have been so warm and caring to me I feel like they are my family.”
Mitzi gave Beth a short explanation of what the next week would hold. She told Beth what to expect when she entered the Goldfarb home; mirrors would be covered, David and Meir would be unshaven, all would go without the luxury of showers as they honor the life of their mother. Mitzi told Beth that everyone would be sitting on low stools, or even the floor, and that there was a traditional greeting that is said to a mourner.
“Please teach me this greeting,” Beth all but pleaded with Mitzi.
“I’ll tell you what,” Mitzi said. “You finish what you were doing and come over to my apartment for a cup of coffee. I will teach you the greeting.”
“That would be so kind of you. I will be there in half an hour.”
They parted ways and Beth watched which apartment Mitzi walked into because when she had originally pointed down the hall, she could have been indicating one of two apartments that were at the end. Once Beth saw the correct apartment, she took her clothes to the garbage bin and bought herself the current edition of The Jerusalem Post’s Christian edition. Glancing at the headlines, she folded the paper in half, with the screaming words and horrific pictures on the inside. Opening her door, she placed the paper on the kitchen counter and walked to the bathroom. Deciding that she would stay in the outfit she was wearing, she brushed her teeth, ran a comb through her hair, splashed water on her face, and headed to Mitzi’s apartment.
Knocking on Mitzi’s door Beth found herself entertaining odd thoughts. How fortunate am I that everyone speaks such fluent English?
Mitzi opened the door and ushered Beth into the kitchen. She was talking in hushed tones and immediately explained, “My husband has not been feeling well and is still in bed.” Beth nodded her head in understanding. It was a small apartment and a little noise would carry a long way.
Mitzi had prepared a fresh pot of coffee and there were two cups on the table. There was also a tray that held bagels, smoked salmon, some garnishes, and a few slices of cheese. “Please, let us eat. I know Ayala would never settle for you going hungry!”
As they each made themselves a small plate of food, Mitzi continued sharing some of the customs and practices of Shivah. Beth knew that Mitzi would welcome any questions from Beth, but Beth didn’t seem to have enough energy to get the words from her brain to her mouth. The fog was deep in her brain cells. She was hoping that Mitzi wouldn’t question what Ayala had seen in her.
“There will often be at least ten men gathered in the Goldfarb home throughout the next week. Ten men constitute a ‘minyan’ and is important because we believe that this is how God calls us together to pray. This is especially important so that the Kaddish can be said.”
Beth remembered Kaddish from Saturday’s synagogue service and heard David’s explanation rattling around in her head.
“Everyone will bring food to the Goldfarb’s and you will see that after tomorrow’s funeral service the main food will be bread and hard-boiled eggs. There will also be chickpeas and bagels. These foods, being circular in nature, remind us of the never ending cycle of life and death. It is something we feel blessed by and we remember how great is our Creator.”
Beth was struck by another of her odd thoughts and blurted it out before her brain had a chance to grab it, “Will David still become a rabbi?” For some reason Beth knew this was very important to Ayala and, having seen the pride and joy in Ayala’s face when she talked of David’s decision, knew that Ayala would want David’s plans to continue.
“I am sure, more than ever before, David will become a rabbi and will honor his mother’s life and death in all that he does.”
Beth knew that Mitzi was right and was thankful that Mitzi hadn’t given her a puzzled look at the peculiar question. “Would you please teach me the greeting now?”
Mitzi smiled and knew why Ayala had taken such a liking to this young woman. She was clearly affected by the terrible tragedy and wanted, so very much, to share in the family’s grief, maybe hoping to alleviate it even one miniscule bit. “I will say it a few times, first as it is said, then I will say it slowly. Then I will say it word by word and have you repeat it after me? Would that be good?”
The teacher in Beth liked the format of the lesson and agreed.
Mitzi began, “Ha-Makom yinakhem otkha b’tokh sh’ahr avalei Tzion v’Yerushalayim. This means, ‘May the Almighty comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.’”
Elizabeth’s lesson continued for more than twenty minutes while she mastered the phrase. This was very important to her and she prayed that it would somehow show the Goldfarbs that her heart ached for them and for the loss of Ayala.
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