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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An Unexpected Transformation

       I have been in Jerusalem for four months and only now am I able to write my first blog entry of the year. Maybe I didn’t know exactly how to start this process, or maybe nothing felt important or interesting enough that I simply couldn’t forward from a classmates’ blog. Seven weeks ago I began a process that has changed my outlook on my rabbinical school journey and will impact the rest of my life. 

     Seven weeks ago my grandfather became very ill and, for the second time in my life, I found myself across the world while a loved one was sick. I made sure I was in constant contact with my family, aware of the possibility that Jen and I would need to travel home. We ultimately did, and after ten days of my grandfather being in a coma, he was peacefully transitioned into an eternal rest September 23rd. Just a few short days later, Jen and I returned to Israel where I was going to continue the observance of shloshim, the thirty days following the loss of a loved one observed by saying Kaddish (a prayer in honor of the passing of a loved one) and showing signs of morning (i.e. not shaving my face, etc.). This brings me to my journey of transformation, which, until such an event like losing a loved one happens, you would never otherwise see this pinnacle point of clarity. 
      Over the course of the month I discovered three crucial things, all at different moments. The first was the truly supportive nature of my classmates and professors. This program is a community, a safe place that, in my experience, has promoted raw honesty and expression of emotion. I am truly fortunate to have a group here in Israel who I can be vulnerable with and grow as a person. In this supportive environment I was able to redefine what I wanted shloshim to mean for me. The observance of shloshim allowed me to avoid the reality of my loss and instead, gave me the opportunity to reflect on the great times, the memories of my grandfather that have led me to this point in life. Simultaneously, I found my own interpretation of the idea of observing shloshim. Shloshim pushed me each day to examine the qualities of my grandfather, which were now somehow going to be lost to this world.  Rather than settle on this idea, I discovered ways in which I could improve my character, grow to embody these attributes and continue their function in this world without my grandfather. This was a huge struggle for me.

It brought me comfort knowing all that was Ed Sher would continue through those people that he had shaped and molded. I was consoled with the idea that sad moments in our lives have a potential to bring about necessary and promising change in ones character.

This leads me to my last stage of this experience. The shloshim ending really had an impact on me. To be honest, that Thursday morning’s events completely altered the direction I had intended this blog to go. During Shacharit that morning (morning prayer service) my pattern of not emotionally accepting his passing was shattered. Led by classmates Max Chaiken and Laura Stein, I found myself in an experience I had not prepared for when I realized it was the final day of shloshim for my grandfather. Their beautiful execution of the service, including their added reflections, helped cultivate a space that caught me off guard and forced me to deeply reflect of my last month and the result of the shloshim. 

Another classmate, Julie Schnur, gave a drash about how heirlooms are simply an object, and therefore nothing more than a material object. More importantly, she explained, the presence of the person the object is from gives the object it’s meaning (talk about good timing for my personal experience). Prior to the Mourner’s Kaddish, we first listened to Max and Laura lead us in a song about the loss of a loved one. I started to choke up, even more so once I began to recite the Kaddish for the last time in this shloshim. After services ended I thanked Max and Laura for leading the service and Julie for the wonderful drash, I went home. I knew that because of the overpowering rush of emotions, I could not sit in class and be productive at all. When I got home, I wept, deeply and with full emotion. 

Until this tefillah, I had yet to cry at all. Even after sitting in the hospital for two weeks at my grandfather’s bedside, staying at my grandmother’s house the night of my grandfather’s passing, attending the funeral, and the endless, emotional conversations with my family, I did not cry. I saw others during their time of mourning and felt my need to be strong. I had not wept or accepted the emotional idea that I was not going to see my grandfather again and that all of my future accomplishments were now in his honor as opposed to sharing these experiences with him. 

        I thank God that I observed the shloshim, despite my understanding that this was not mandated according to Jewish law. Without this experience I may have never cried otherwise. Life moves quickly and if not for the constant reminder of my unshaven face and my deterring from normal practice by standing for the Mourner’s Kaddish, life may have pushed me right along. However, that Thursday’s Shacharit gave me the opportunity I clearly needed to accept the notion that the world lost a great man last month and I lost a piece of who I was. I needed to cry and let emotion take control of me, even just for a few minutes. Accompanying the thought of losing a piece of me, I know I have gained insight and character of the man I strive to be, my grandfather Ed Sher.

(Jennifer and I with my grandpa at his 85th birthday)

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