Thursday, February 05, 2009

י"א שבט

Tatte, My Father

Tatte, Ich beink noch dir
(I miss you.)
Twenty-one years.
Do you hear?!
Twenty-One Years!

That may seem
like a long time.
That may seem
like a distant memory.

But not to me.

To me, it is crystal clear -
That memory of the phone call…
"I don't want to come [to the funeral]" I cried.
I wanted to live in denial.
I wanted to pretend it didn't happen.
To me it is clear as day -
That memory of begging G‑d to give me the strength,
The strength to continue living without my father.
The strength to continue living, period.

This week will mark twenty-one years since my father, may he rest in peace, has passed on to a better place.
And I continued living.
continued living on my father's strength.

My father was young.
I was very young.
Way too young to be left without a father.
(Is there an age when one is not too young?)
My father was special.
He was pious, wise, humble, noble, and more.
Many fathers may have these qualities.
But not many fathers are so special.
Special means extraordinary.
Unique.
Through his example—
his sincerity, his devotion to G‑d, incomparable wit,
and unassuming ways
Tatte has taught me many important lessons.
When kvetching I was hungry one night, Tatte said to me,
"Oh, Baruch Hashem, Thank G-d, you are hungry,
that is a sign that you are healthy.
People who are ill do not have a desire to eat."
Go argue with that.
When he asked my brother to do something
and my brother expressed his unwillingness, Father calmly commented,
"I fail to see the connection between what I said and your response".
Had he asked him if he wanted to do whatever he requested of him, then yes, that would have been an appropriate answer.
He made a point.
He taught me to respect my mother, shushed me when she slept.
He never demanded respect for himself- maybe that is why he had my fullest and utmost.
He taught me to count my blessings.
He wanted me to be joyful.
He taught me that is was okay not to have.
I didn't mind that I didn't get to buy from the school's canteen.
It made me feel good in a different way.
I was proud to be his child and I hoped my behavior showed it.
But mostly what my Tatte exemplified was selflessness.
Dictionary: "selflessness-having little or no concern for oneself,
especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc.; unselfish".
That epitomized my father.
It was never about him.
Growing up, I didn't even realize that this was an attribute.
I took it for granted that this is what a father is.
That this is the normal behavior of a man.

Rude awakening.
This is not how man behaves.
Man exhibits his wants, his likes, his dislikes, his preferences,
things he appreciates or doesn't.

Wanting to buy my father a birthday gift, one year,
sent me into a quandary.
"What does he really care for? What would make him happy?"
I didn't know, for he never displayed any material desires.
(I bought him a big watermelon. I decided he would enjoy that. I was very young, remember?)

A true man of G‑d.

Tatte, I miss you.

Tatte, ich beink noch dir.

But Tatte,
I realize I actually do have you.
Your legacy,
your gifts,
your light,
remain with me.
May G‑d help me preserve your "dynasty".

Your neshama, your soul, Tatte, should rise higher and higher to the chambers of G‑d.

"Yitgaddal v'yitkaddash shmay rabbah....Exhalted and hallowed be His great Name... Amen.
May he establish His kingship, bring forth His redemption and hasten the coming of His Mashiach. Amen."

And the flame flickers on.

Tatte was one of a group of eight young boys who risked their lives to study Judaism in the Soviet Union during Stalin's reign of terror.