Tag Archives: mother

oh, happy day

Today, July 2, is my mother’s birthday. She died this year, and this is the first birthday without her. And though I miss her very much, it is one of the happiest days of my life. Because today, the Kindle that I bought from Amazon about two weeks ago, finally arrived. I didn’t know how much it would move me to get this digital reading device. And it was a very fitting way to celebrate her birthday. This was her 102nd birthday.

caught in the mirror, taking a shot of my mother

We both loved reading, and used to share books, and recommend books to one another. I know she would have gotten a kick out of the Kindle, because she could have read from it. When I first started reading ebooks on my computer, I told her about it, and tried to tempt her to learn how to use a computer. But she was adamant. She felt she was too old to learn this new technology. ‘You may be an old man,’ she told me, ‘but I’m ancient’.


But reading a Kindle is so much like reading a book, that there’s really nothing much to learn. And it’s very pleasant, because you can adjust the size of the letters, and have many books in a very light package. I feel like I’ve lived to see the future. Of course, that feeling that I’m living in the future started quite some time ago, with the whole digital revolution. But nothing so characterizes my life as books. I have bookcases along all the walls of my house, and I ran out of space quite some time ago. So every time I buy books, it’s a problem where to put them.


Aside from that, there’s a great freedom, in being able to buy just about any western book, and have it arrive in a minute. I smile to think of it. Though Jerusalem is filled with book stores, many a time I’ve read about some book in the west… read a review, or heard it mentioned, and when I checked out the bookstores, it had to be ordered. And that would always take between two weeks and a month.


Well, I wanted to share my happiness with you, my readers. It’s a beautiful day, and I’m really enjoying it. My daughter Rivka will be joining me in a short while. She’s coming to Jerusalem today from the north. I’m not sure how we’ll celebrate, but we’ll think of something. She’s a reader too, by the way.


Hurricane of the heart

My mother, my teacher, fell ill on Saturday night, almost two weeks ago. She was ill for a day and a half before she died. My two sisters, both of them nurses, were by her side till the end. She had asked that her life should not be prolonged by any artificial method. She was 101 years old, and she thought that she had lived long enough. I did not expect to be upset by her death, or very unhappy. She had had a good life. I know that life is temporary, and she lived longer than most. We buried her a few hours after she died. It was raining that day. Listening to the eulogies, I thought of how difficult it is, to depict a life in a few words. So many people knew her, and admired her… yet few really knew her intimately. And now she and her generation are gone… and the world continues.


In our tradition, when one loses a parent, a very specific mourning period is prescribed. There are rules for the first week, and rules for the first 30 days. And then more relaxed rules for the first year after the death. During the first week, the mourner disconnects from the world, sits on a low chair in his home, wears the same clothes he wore at the funeral, refrains from bathing, refrains from study, doesn’t cut his hair, doesn’t listen to music, doesn’t look in a mirror. We are not supposed to distract ourselves. We look inward, and try to fully accept the loss. Friends and relatives come to give support. All your needs are taken care of. And all you have to do, is to listen to your heart, and relate to what has happened. I was definitely ready for that.

looking at pictures, my mother and father

And as I thought of my mother, many memories came back. Memories of a lifetime,
of good times and bad; of choices, of mistakes, of disappointments… and the way she handled all those things. Many of my personal intimate memories were mixed together with memories of her struggles and accomplishments. I remembered showing her my senior citizen card… and her amazement. What? Are your already old, she asked. And I said yes, I’m getting old. ‘If you’re old, then what am I’, she asked again. You’re ancient, I said… and we both laughed. As I thought of her, and told my children stories of the past, I realized that even if it was time for her to die, and that had to be accepted, there was pain and sorrow at the parting. And I had to accept that too.

enjoying life in the old age home

I have experienced the week of mourning before, both personally, and accompanying friends. It works very well. It allows the mourner to work things out in his own mind and heart. People who don’t have the advantage of this process, sometimes suffer pain and sadness for years… having pushed those feelings under the rug. It is a very good thing to work it out right away. But this time, there was an unexpected event that changed everything for me.

together with my mother

On the second day of my mourning, war broke out with our neighbors in Gaza. Rockets struck many of the villages and cities in the south of Israel. A few even came as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In places like Sdeirot, Netivoth, and Be’er Tuvia, people had only 15 seconds to get to the bomb shelter. In Ashkelon and Ashdod you have a half a minute. In Tel Aviv you have a minute and a half. You could see children running for their lives. This is nothing new for us. Seven years ago, we moved all of the Jews out of the Gaza strip, even though Jews have lived there for generations… and even though Arabs live all over Israel and enjoy many advantages of life among the Israelis, they didn’t want one Jew living in their territory. The government saw fit to move the Jews out, hoping that this would bring peace. But it didn’t. Gazans get electricity and food from Israel. They have a common border with Egypt, but send their sick to be treated in Israeli hospitals. Still, they continue to attack us in every way they can. They shot an anti-tank mortar at a yellow school bus, hitting little children, and passed out candies to celebrate the event. They shoot at us from civilian places, using their own children as human shields. And sometimes in the exchange of fire we hit civilians… and this fills us with sorrow. We see it as a failure. But on the contrary, they aim their rockets and terror attacks at civilians on purpose.


So instead of enjoying the peace of introspection, and dealing with my own sorrow, I became distracted, listening to reports from the radio. Even when hours went by, without listening to the news, I would be thinking about it… worrying that some terrible disaster had happened. And torn between mourning for my old mother, and worrying about my fellow citizens who were facing difficult trials, I became tense and troubled. It was a difficult time. Meantime, the week of morning has passed, and the latest military action has come to a close. There is a cease fire now, and we do hope it’ll bring peace. Last night, I visited my mother’s home for one last time. Looking at her possessions, I was reminded of her life long love for my father, and the many years they enjoyed together. Their love played a very central role in her life. I hope to write that story one of these days. May she rest in peace.

buried in the past

mother looking at old pictures

Very real, I suppose, like dreams can be real…
a dear old friend appeared to me last night
unraveled from my back pages by an experience yesterday
that pushed all the rules and proportions aside
for how long… I have no idea…
talking to my hundred and one year old mother
and this was real life; no dream …
realizing, as we spoke
that she was absolutely certain,
that I was her husband, my father…
dead these past years
don’t think it matters
that I look like him now, that I’ve grown old
in my youth I looked very much like her
there are these surprises along the way
that we never could have guessed
not that it makes much difference, it seems to me,
just how I look… though it could have helped convince her
the way in which we talked…
it was probably a lot like she talked to him…
and of course, she wanted to believe…
it was easiest on that hot afternoon
with her memory gone, and life very tenuous…
but then… in the night
talking to Zelig… he’s dead too… gone
there’s no bringing him back
but in the dream, he was smiling as he talked…
we were comparing the sensual experience
and the rational expectation of the experience itself
and when he smiled, I touched his hand for a minute…
just to assure myself that he was really there
because I think that even in the dream,
I feared that he was dead
he looked me in the eye… thinking that my touch
was an illustration of the sensual experience
and went on to say
that for the true experience of faith
one had to relinquish all support from the rational

many years ago, Zelig


looking at orchids

My mother celebrated her 100th birthday recently. I had planned to let it go by as quietly as possible. After all, she had told me on more than one occasion, that she felt she’d lived long enough, and was ready to die. If she’s sick or feeling badly, she is more emphatic about this. When she’s still in bed at 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and has absolutely no desire to get out of bed, she can be quite expressive about old age. But even when she’s feeling good, and has taken a walk in the morning, she still feels she’s had enough. And so, when one of my sisters wanted to make a party in honor of her birthday, I felt obligated to ask her what she thought about it.

my mother on her 100th birthday

She thought it was a terrible idea. She told me that there was nothing to celebrate, and that she finds it confusing when she has to relate to a number of people at the same time. And moreover, it’s embarrassing for her to meet with a grandchild, or a great grandchild, and not to remember his or her name; not to remember the exact connection to the person. I told her I could understand her point of view, but that there were a lot of family members who wanted to congratulate her on reaching this ripe old age. She made a face, and then said, that she would be pleased to meet with any of her descendents, but she would rather it was one or two at a time, and not a party. But my sister wasn’t about to make concessions when it came to something so important. And she insisted on a party. Not everyone came to the party. Some folks made private visits to her, and for a while there, she was dead tired by the end of each day after thanking one person after another for their good wishes. When I would get together with her, it was difficult to find room for all the flowers she received in her small apartment. But if I would suggest getting rid of some of them, she strenuously objected. It would be an insult to the person who gave her those flowers, to treat them lightly, she explained. She couldn’t remember who had given what, but she told me she valued their intentions, and she would keep the flowers as long as they lasted.


So there we were, surrounded by flowers, and some of them were exotic. I didn’t know the names of more than a third of them. One type of flower particularly entranced me, because the leaves of the flower looked something like a rose, only more ornate, but the cup looked like that of a carnation. Neither of us knew what it was called. And then, my mother told me that of all the flowers, she thought the orchids were the most beautiful. They weren’t cut. She had gotten a plant in a small pot. We both looked at the orchids, and I asked her to tell me a bit about them. She had always known more about flowers than I did. But she has forgotten a lot. Her memory gets worse all the time, and she claimed that she had never really known much about them.


So I started looking up information on orchids. I had always thought they were very delicate. I’ve known a few people who grew them, and I’d read a bit about growing them in the past. I thought of them as ‘hot house’ flowers, and believed they had only survived to the present day because of people who were crazy about them, and willing to invest time and trouble in taking care of them. But I quickly learned that the Orchidaceae, the proper name for the Orchid family, is a widespread family. It’s considered the largest family of flowering plants with more than 22,000 currently accepted species. The number of orchid species equals more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species.


What surprised me most, was that the vanilla plant, which I especially love, is also part of the family. Charles Darwin discussed the ways in which orchids evolve in order to achieve cross-pollination, in his book, ‘Fertilization of Orchids’, which was published in 1862. It was also amazing to learn that they grow all over the world, and in almost every habitat. The majority are found in tropical regions, but they can also be found in the arctic circle and close to Antarctica! Since the introduction of tropical species in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids. Reading about them, I was actually tempted to try growing some. But then, I remembered that I already have too much on my plate. There is so much more that I would like to do, than I have time for, in this world. So I suppose I’ll have to be satisfied, just contemplating their beauty from time to time.