The Miracle Season
With Hanukkah just concluding and Christmas around the corner, we are in the midst of miracle season. I realize that many are unfamiliar with the story of Hanukkah and Jewish traditions, so I’d like to share my Hanukkah miracle with you. But first, some background. Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights as it is commonly known, is not just about the liberation of Judean Jews from the oppression of Seleucid King Antiochus and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been defiled by the Syrian Greeks. As the letters on the dreidel symbolize (A Great Miracle Happened There), it is more about the miracle of having one days’ worth of oil to burn in the Temple menorah endure, instead, for eight days.
The last night of Hanukkah this year was December 9th and happened to coincide with the third anniversary of my mother’s death or “yahrzeit” as we call it in Yiddish -- a derivation from the German word “Jahrzeit” meaning anniversary or literally translated as “year time.”
A very “with it” 83-year-old, my mother passed away unexpectedly three years ago on December 13th probably from a tear in the muscle of her heart. I am certain her torn heart was as much physical as emotional, watching my father deteriorate from dementia -- waking up after 61 years of marriage to a man partly flummoxed and partly terrified at the strange woman in the bed next to him, struggling to understand that he was in his home, the father of four grown children.
Why the disparity in dates? Jews commemorate the death of a loved one on the anniversary of their passing, but the actual date is determined by the Jewish calendar which follows the moon, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar which follows the sun. The date of the deceased’s yahrzeit fluctuates from year-to-year depending on the Jewish calendar. Thus, her date of death was December 13th, but her yahrzeit this year was December 9th.
To observe the yahrzeit, we light a special candle that burns for 24 hours starting on sundown the night before, and we recite the Kaddish, which is a special prayer for mourners. The Kaddish is a fascinating prayer. It curiously doesn’t mention death but is more a reaffirmation of the presence and power of G-d. Here is one translation:
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights,
may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.
Life goes on. G-d is omnipresent. He is with us always. May He grant us peace.
The Kaddish is not just for funerals but figures prominently in the weekly Jewish liturgy. It is one of several important prayers every Jew who goes to Hebrew school learns. Over the Millenia it has moved people to tears, comforted them on their deathbeds, calmed countless mourners, and kept the Jewish People connected to their faith and each other in times of abject horror.
In the year of mourning following a loved one’s death, the mourner is supposed to recite the Kaddish every day. When I did it for my mother, I cried nearly every time the first few months. But the handful of minutes I set aside every day to recite the Kaddish, came to be sacrosanct -- even if I blasted through it or whispered it between bites of a sandwich. It forced me to dedicate a smidgen of time out of a busy day to her memory and my loss. Eventually, I started skipping days, then weeks. By the end of that first year of mourning, I didn’t feel the need to recite it. In a sense, the daily mantra of saying Kaddish became a normalized part of my routine until her death became part of my daily existence.
So on her yahrzeit this December 9th, my husband and I trekked to the cemetery to pay her a visit. In line with Jewish tradition, we left stones on the headstone to signify that we had been there and then, I dropped my husband off at home and headed towards the gym up the road. It so happens, I live in my hometown where my parents raised us and lived for 54+ years. I feel and see them in everything I do.
Up until recently, I didn’t believe one way or the other in an afterlife, per se. I just knew that if, as Judaism teaches, the soul joins with an infinite G-d and, if there was any way for my mother to contact me, she would because we were so close and her death was so sudden -- with so much left unsaid.
There have been several instances where I believe she was sending me a message and I know people who have been through this will nod their heads in concert with me; those who haven’t had such an experience will think I’m delusional. One such instance took place around my son’s high school graduation. He was the only grandchild whose high school graduation she would not be able to attend -- and she traveled, come Hell or high water, to California, Maine, and Upstate New York to attend any and all graduations. Shortly before his graduation, after I drove by the cemetery and was discussing my sorrow with my husband, a song I hadn’t heard in ages popped onto a radio station I normally don’t listen to. It was “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel which happened to be their wedding song and one she always used to sing to me.
As if that weren’t crazy enough, as I was tearing up at my son’s graduation and started paging through the graduation program to distract myself, I saw that the band would be playing…“You’ll Never Walk Alone.” To add to the irony, Carousel is about a man of questionable integrity who dies before ever seeing his daughter and gets a chance at redemption by traveling back to Earth where in the end, he attends… her high school graduation where the students sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Okay, I get it. Maybe I was looking to connect these dots. It’s not a popular song, but not totally obscure either. The radio station could be coincidence. Maybe it’s not unusual for this tune to be performed at a high school graduation. I was forced to chalk it all up to coincidence.
But this December 9th miracle seems ironclad to me.
As I was driving to the gym after visiting my mother’s grave on her yahrzeit, thinking about how much I missed her, what a lousy few years it had been for me personally, and how dark it all seems now for this country, it was hard to miss an airplane flying overhead trailing a banner. I’ve seen them at the Jersey shore, but never around the burbs. If I’ve missed them, they’re not a common occurrence. My first thought was it must be for a local tree lighting event, but then as it got closer, I was able to read in large capital letters “ROTHMAN’s” with “orthopedics” underneath in smaller type.
I damn near drove off the road. I pulled into a parking lot and took a picture with my iPhone, knowing that no one would believe me otherwise. I’d never heard of this “Rothman’s Orthopedics.” It is obviously a new business and someone thought an airplane banner would stand out.
It just so happens that Rothman is my mother’s maiden name.
If there was ever a sign that she was watching over me and my family, it came in an airplane about 1000 feet above my head in my home town, on the third anniversary of her death two months after my father joined her, on the last night of a holiday about miracles.
My mother and I were very close -- as much sisters as mother and daughter. As I said, if there was a way she could reach out to me from beyond the grave and say Here I am, she would. G-d said Hineni or Here I am to Abraham as he was about to plunge a knife into his son, Isaac. It was a test of Abraham’s faith. Putting together the pieces, I now know that she is here and I’ll never walk alone.
I could laugh it off as just coincidence -- and maybe it is -- but then I’d fail the test, the knife would slice me open and I’d see darkness instead of the light.
I can’t help but think there is a national component to this as well.
Without intending to turn my mother’s death political, it is the G-d’s honest truth that the last conversation we had on December 12, 2015 was about… Donald Trump. A Democrat who usually voted for Republicans, a reluctant member of the teacher’s union, and a Tea Partier, my mother supported him from the very get-go. “Do ya really think he can do it, Sal? Become President? It would be so good for America if he could.”
Yes, Mom. Donald Trump has been good for America, but what should be a time of jubilation, has been one of anguish and darkness. The Democrats are viciously attacking him, his family, and his supporters on all fronts with lies, exaggeration, and spin. They seem to control everything in our society and culture and we are all feeling beat down. It is as if there is a collective psychosis in this country that is making all the gains.
Trump wasn’t the mistake the establishmentarians and leftwing think he is. The old order was no longer working. It was leaving large swaths of America behind. He won against all odds fighting 16 experienced Republicans and a Clinton -- all of whom should have prevailed over him. Think about it: he came out of nowhere with no political experience at the right time to resurrect this country. Perhaps we need to open our minds to the possibility that Trump is a miracle, not a mistake; and, as long as he fights for us, we need to let him know that he’ll never walk alone.