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.
A thousand years in your eyes are merely a yesterday. But humans you return to dust, saying, “Return, you mortals!” Psalm 90:3-4
Mitzi had done a masterful job in explaining Shivah to Beth. For two days Beth was very much part of the Goldfarb clan. She was not at all surprised at the number of friends they had, even though their family was small. Beth also found out that a typical Jewish funeral was held within twenty-four hours of death but that Ayala’s had been delayed an extra day to allow family from the states to arrive.
At the end of the second day Beth knew she had to make a call to Luke. If too much time passed, he would be beside himself and that wouldn’t do her kids any good. Beth knew that Luke would be paying special attention to news about the Middle East and that any report of the recent bombing would have him frantic.
Although she wasn’t anxious to share the awful news, she made the call. She also knew that she couldn’t get by with leaving another message. That was the coward’s way out and Luke deserved better.
The phone rang three times. One more time and voicemail would pick up.
“Hello?” Luke answered.
“Hi! How are you?” Beth sincerely wanted to know.
“We are doing great. Doing my best to keep the house up for you. Enjoying time with the boys. Catching a glimpse of Sophia as she runs from here to there. Hey, did you know that conferences were this week?” Luke had obviously not heard news of the explosion.
Beth had actually forgotten about conferences and said so.
“No biggie. I can make it. Meghan is enjoying my shortened schedule because it is giving her more time off!”
“Well hopefully that shortened schedule will still be working for you when I get back so that I can enjoy it too.” Beth cringed at the words and yet felt they were spoken in all honesty. She did hope that Luke would shorten his hours so that they could get to know each other again.
The sarcasm wasn’t lost on Luke who remained silent for a few seconds before saying, “So, what kind of sights have you been enjoying?”
This was it, Beth’s opening to somehow share what had been happening during her stay in Israel. “Well,” she began. “I’m not sure where to begin so I’ll just go ahead and say this. You know the Goldfarbs, the family who has been so gracious to me? Well, on Sunday, at the end of our day at the marketplace, there was an explosion and Ayala was killed.”
Luke’s previous silence had been a warm up act for what now followed. Beth wasn’t sure if she should continue talking or wait for him to digest what she had just said. She opted to wait. She thought of the countless times she had seen people interviewed on television and how a reporter would masterfully let an interviewee speak endlessly, hanging him or herself in the interim. Beth didn’t want the same thing happening to her and restrained herself from offering further information until asked.
After a full minute, Luke asked in rapid succession, “Are you okay? Are you hurt? Who set off the explosion?”
All legitimate questions, Beth thought, and since she had never opened the paper to get more information about the event was able to honestly say, “I’m fine. I’m not physically hurt. And, I don’t know who was behind this.”
Silence preceded Luke’s next question which took Elizabeth by surprise. “How are her husband and children? That must be a horrible thing to go through.”
Every once in a while Luke did this to Beth. She expected to have to fight to remain in Israel and here her husband was inquiring as to the well-being of the surviving Goldfarbs. She was touched. “Considering the circumstances, they are as well as can be expected.”
“I assume you want to finish your stay? Or do you want to come home early? Beth, your obligation is to your family.” Beth could tell from the tremor in Luke’s voice that he was pacing the floor and choosing his words very carefully. Luke was a very protective man, both to her and to the children. Sophia’s dates dreaded it when Luke was home. He was never overtly rude to them but he never, ever went out of his way to make them feel welcome.
In some ways it felt suffocating but in other ways it was comforting. Mostly it depended on Beth’s mood as Luke remained the same throughout their married life. He was a rock. He loved and cared for his family unlike anyone Beth had ever known.
“No, I don’t want to come home early. I want to stay. I want to offer my help in any way. These are wonderful people Luke and if it is at all possible, I feel like I have known them forever.”
“Beth, I don’t agree with that decision. It is one thing to hear of tragic events but quite another to have been involved, first hand. I believe you need to come home.”
Beth knew Luke needed to see that Beth was safe and would remain safe while she was in Israel. She wanted to reassure him but didn’t know how. Life felt more and more like happenstance, chance, luck of the draw, and she knew there were no words to allay Luke’s fears.
“Luke, please, I do not want to come home yet. I want to finish my trip, as planned. So, what have you guys been doing?”
Luke remained silent, obviously weighing the pros and cons of boarding a plane and forcefully bringing his wife back home. Not happy with Beth’s decision but knowing that it was firm, he proceeded to tell Elizabeth that he had been somehow inspired to take the children to church on Sunday. Beth felt that there was no coincidence in the timing. The Lord knew she would need to be covered in prayers and Luke had responded to the call. They were more connected than she had realized.
They finished their conversation with Beth asking about Michael and to speak to Sophia, Joseph, and Sammy. She spent a few minutes telling them how much she loved them and then hung up. Sammy told her that Luke had taken over her “tucking in” responsiblities but that he wasn’t near as good as she was. Sammy had always liked his back rubbed a certain way and that had been Elizabeth’s job from the start but she had to admire Luke for giving it the old college try.
When Beth hung up the phone, it was late in the day. She languidly moved around the apartment. There had been a silent stand-off between her and the paper on the counter. After the first glance at the headlines, she had folded the paper in half, headlines inside, and had yet to open it. Still not ready, she walked past it and into the kitchen for a glass of water.
She couldn’t remember if she had eaten any dinner and rummaged through the cupboards. Nothing there. Mitzi had given her a small bag of groceries and Beth had loaded them into the refrigerator without really paying attention. Opening the refrigerator door Beth saw, with tremendous gratitude, a few containers of hummus, tabouli, and cheese. There was a box of matzoh in the cupboard and she made herself a nice, light meal. She sat at the table and looked out at the city. How could such a holy and anointed place hold such sadness and tragedy? She couldn’t get over the inconsistency.
Getting up, Beth walked into the kitchen and washed her lone plate and fork. There was still food in the containers in the fridge and she knew Mitzi wouldn’t mind if it were a day or two until they were returned. One common denominator Beth had found among everyone she had met was that, without an exception, they were all truly giving people. Nothing was said without sincerity. If someone offered to do something for you, he or she meant it.
There was great peace in that knowledge and Beth made a pact with herself to work on that trait. She had always been the kind of person to offer this or that and then felt overwhelmed if taken up on her offers. From now on she would offer her time or effort and consider it a “mitzvah” if she was then called upon to deliver. She needed more mitzvahs and less stress. Mitzi and Ayala and Miriam and all the Goldfarb friends and neighbors had shown her how to embrace the opportunities God gave for each and every one of us to do good deeds for one another.
The previous chapters are listed below: