Category Archives: Dad

Availing myself during aveilus

Rav Hirsch brings down the idea that the root of aveilus is the Hebrew word aval, which means “but”.  This is because while one is mourning someone, there’s always this feeling of “…but, I should have spent more time with the departed” or “…I’m doing ok, but, I still miss the person”.  There’s always a “but”.

My father a”h has been niftar for just over two months and I’m hoping that this post will be somewhat cathartic for me.  It’s been hard to actually sit down and write lately.  This is mostly due to the fact that my father, while in the hospital, mentioned to me that he has always enjoyed reading my blog (I had only become aware that he even knew about it at the end of the summer).  While I’m glad that he was able to let me know this, thinking about a post or even writing something reminds me of the fact that he’s not around.  It’s the same way with Sugar-Free Grape Kool Aid.  My dad, it seems loved the stuff.  It was about the only thing I drank, besides coffee, when I was in Wichita.  I’ve thought about buying it for home, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  Hazelnut coffee is also one of those things my dad loved.  He would mix Columbian ground coffee with hazelnut flavored coffee and that was his brew.  At work we have hazelnut flavored creamer.  I try not to even look at it.

Making sure that I don’t miss a Kaddish is constantly on my mind.  There’s a very strong sense of being alone, since I’m the only one (in Chicago) saying Kaddish for my father, but there’s also sort of an unspoken connection that I have to others who are also saying Kaddish in any given minyan.

The “no music” thing has begun to drive me batty.  I constantly have tons of music-mixes going through my head.  Mixes that, in a way, reflect different aspects of who I am.  I’ve got Carlebach songs that flow into a Husker Du/Bob Mould track that will then ease into Diaspora Yeshiva Band song which will blend into early REM tracks that slide into a Rabbis Sons song and finally ending (most recently) with something from the soundtrack to Blade Runner.  It’s the ultimate mega-mix in an odd way.  I catch myself humming niggunim around my office and in the car.  I was never into sports, so I’m stuck listening to news radio (which I don’t mind) in the car.  But (there’s that but again), there’s really only so many time I can hear “traffic and weather together on the 8s”.  

I’ve felt pretty detached from things at home.  Even though my wife is great about it, it bothers me.  On the flip side, though, I’m trying to become much more “communal” in terms of my thinking about what I can offer my own community, as well as getting more involved in things.

My drive home from work is tough.  I’m lucky that I have a commute that is under 20 minutes, but I use to call my dad (almost daily) on the way home from work.  I’m fortunate that I can call my brother and shmooze with him, but it’s not the same.

Two friends (and bloggers) sent me a copy of Out of the Whirlwind by Rav Soloveitchik zt”ll.  I’ve found the sefer to be very insightful.  I’ll end with a quote from the last chapter, titled “A Theory of Emotions”:

Avelut denotes the critical stage of mourning, the grief awareness, and at this level, we will notice at once that avelut contains its own proper negation-solace and hope.  Avelut in Halakhah is interwoven with nehamah, consolation.  They are inseparable.  The latter is not a frame of mind which displaces grief; there is rather an inter-penetration of grief and solace, of forelornness and hope, of mourning and faith.  Immediately upon closing the grave, the line is formed and comfort is offerend to the mourners.  What is the Kaddish pronounced at the grave if not an ostentatious negation of despair?

I’m thankful that I live in a community with so many friends who helped me during shiva and continue to do so.  I attempt to remember that I’m loved by my creator and that this current situation is a really springboard for growth on many different levels.  But…

Home on the Range

Sometimes I kid myself and think of this is a “mussar blog”.  It’s really just a personal blog with a bit of mussar that I give to myself thrown in from time to time.   Like now, for example.

Just over two weeks ago was the first time I had been back in my hometown of Wichita, KS in exactly twelve years (to the Parsha). My dad a”h had been hospitalized and based on what I had heard from family members and at the suggestion of my wife I flew out to be with him.

Waiting to board the plane in Chicago, people were dressed up in costume (as it was October 31). I was even asked if I was “dressed as an Orthodox Jew”? That in and of itself made the trip worth it, as a mussar lesson. After an hour and twenty mintues I landed.

As I got off the plane and walked past the TSA check-point, I could only smile, remember the dozen water guns that I had packed for family vacations in the 70s and 80s and how all of those water guns had been confiscated. At the time, it seemed like a big deal. In retrospect, most airlines would probably welcome a water gun these days. Not much had physically changed in the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport since I had been there last. They still had coat hook right inside the restrooms (which implied that crime was still low in the city) and the chairs throughout the airport were still the same. The phrase that came to mind was, “if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it”.

A majority of my time was spent at the hospital with my family. Driving back and forth to the hospital I looked at the streets and buildings. Some had been torn down, many businesses had closed, with others opening up in their place. Certain professions seemed to have stayed afloat over the years. Most accounting, real estate, and dentisty businesses seemed to have stayed the same. Several indepenant “fast food” places closed only to have similar businesses open in their place. Aside from having several Starbucks locations not much had really changed. I drove past my old house, the flood prevention program (really it was a creek in my neighborhood that provided my bother and I with hours of adventure), and my old schools.

I also connected with a few close family friends from when I was growing up. One of them actually gave a beautiful hesped for my father a’h. I was reminded about the importance of community, specifically a Jewish community. The community in Wichita is pretty much made up of about 1000 Jews split almost down the middle as either reform or traditional. It’s a close knit community where people connect as Jews. Not so much in terms of observance or rituals, but because they are serious about their Judaism.

All of my aunts, uncles, and cousins came in for the funeral, as well. Most of them I hadn’t seen since my own wedding almost 13 yrs ago. It was comforting to see them, even under the above mentioned situation. Family comes together when it’s important, but you have to make it important (a lesson I’m learning now).

The morning after my father a”h was niftar I stopped off to buy a copy of the local paper at Starbucks (to have a copy of the obiturary and an article that was written about him) and the young man behind the counter introduced himself to me and said that he was sorry to hear about my dad. The manager at the Starbucks was also working and introduced herself as the wife of the Reform Rabbi in town. She also expressed her deepest condolences. That’s the community were I grew up.

My family lived in Wichita for 35 years. My father a”h went to the same shul with many of the same people for 35 years. To me that was impressive. Talk about lifelong friends. Wow. I hung out with two old friends that I had lost touch with years ago. We all had good memories growing up of our families doing things together. I’m fortunate that my kids have similar memories with close friends of ours here in Chicago.

I ended up spending a just under a week in Wichita. Had it been under better circumstances, I probably would have gotten together with a few old friends from high school. Instead I simply came back to where I was from and now I’m trying to move forward.

My hesped for my father a"h

Delivered last Wednesday (Nov 4th) in Wichita, Kansas

I want to thank everyone for being here today. It’s a true testament to the type of person that my father was.
It is written in the Ethics of our Fathers, Pirkei Avos that:
Rabbi Shimon used to say: There are three crowns–the crown of the Torah, the crown of the priesthood, and the crown of kingship, but the crown of a good name surpasses them all. (Pirkei Avos 4:17)”

I cannot stress how many of you have spoken with me about the high level of respect and love they had for my father. Growing up he was just my dad, who shlepped us to the Gypsum Hills and other exotic sites on Sundays, Shocker games, family gatherings, and always took us to great places to eat that were well “off the beaten path”. I was blessed to have not only know him as a father, but also as a grandfather. Grandpa, as we called him, loved his grandkids. He would always talk about sports with my son, and loved to watch my daughters dance, sing, and play. He was very proud of their Jewish education. My Dad and step-mother always made the most of their visits , even their last one in July when we spent an early morning at a flea market and then the rest of the day and evening at Six Flags. But there was another side of him that was fairly public, despite his attempts to keep it private.

He was a person who truly lived up to his Hebrew name, Avraham.
Avraham, Abraham, is known in the Torah and throughout Rabbinic writings as embodying the essence of Chessed, the Hebrew word for Kindness. My Dad never was one to seek out fame and pats-on-the-back for his deeds. He quietly, and many times behind the scenes, did many acts of kindness for everyone he came in contact with. No matter if it was a smile, a greeting when you came to into the Synagogue, offering advice, maintaining the cemetary erev Yom Tov, before a Holiday, making sure food was prepared just right, or simply thinking about how he could help someone else, he was constantly doing chessed. Even when it came to shipping out artwork sold on eBay, he would take time to make sure that each piece was packed in a way that it would arrive intact to the buyer. The truth is, most us of will never know of the chessed, the kindnesses, that my father did for others, as he was not one to ever broadcast what he did. That was the type of person my father was, thus, earning the “crown of a good name” as a brother, husband, father, uncle, friend, and especially as a grandfather.

There is a book in my dad’s basement titled “The Bar Mitzvah Treasury”, printed in 1954, that was given to my dad as a Bar Mitzvah present. In it there is a story is the following story about Rabbi Israel Salanter, a Rabbi who lived in the 1800s and started an Ethical movement within Judaism. It seems that one day, even though there was a full pail of water in the house, he used very little of it to wash his hands prior to eating bread. His pupils were quite astonished that their revered Rabbi, know for his pious acts, did not perform properly the commandment to wash thoroughly before eating bread.
Hesitantly they turned to him and said: “Please forgive us for asking you this. But we cannot understand why you used so little water to wash your hands.”

Rabbi Salanter replied: “I saw that their maidservant delivers this water to the house from a far-off well. She, poor creature, bends low under the heavy load when carries the yoke on her shoulders. I do not think it is right to perform a Mitzvah at the expense of some else’s shoulders!”
This story totally encapsulates my father. Always thinking of others and not wanting to burden anyone.

As my step-mother said to me last night, and I quote, “Random acts of kindness don’t only change the world but they elevate people.”

The true greatness of a “Ba’al Chessed”, the Hebrew term we give to a “master of Kind Acts” is that even after he leaves this world, his acts of kindness continue. I am truly blessed, that even at this difficult time, he has allowed me to reconnect with family and friends whom I was very close with when I was growing up. The crown of his good name, Avharam ben Zorach, Albert Lyon Harris, can live on in each of us, if we simply think about what we can do to help someone else.

Please daven for Avraham ben Tzipporah

I had sent out messages via email and facebook, so the only medium left (with the exception of Twitter) is this little piece of lint in the pocket of the jBloggosphere.

If you have time, please try to daven, say tehillim, or have a little extra kavana when doing a Mitzvah, as a zechus for a Refuah Shelayma for my father, Avraham ben Tzipporah.

Thank you.

A father’s love

Just last week I was able to view some old home movies from my childhood.  These were old 8mm movies that were transfered to DVD.  Although my children didn’t really understand why there was no sound, my father and I got a kick out of watching them.  For me it was really something very unique.

When you look at old pictures you get a feeling for that frozen moment in time, but viewing movies is a totally different experience, even without the sound.  I watched footage of my parents playing with me when I was a newborn, my fiirst birthday party, family trips and visits with relatives.  While these were all great to view, there was one thing that really got to me.  Seeing my father play with me.  These images were priceless.  It showed a side of him that I hadn’t seen in many years.

My relationship with my dad is a very formal one.  We talk a few times a week, but mostly it is about things that are really not that important (this is something that is being worked on).  To see him playing with little old me in these old home movies really got to me.  It reminded me how parents have such a strong love for their children, even before their children are old enough to do things on their own.  It reminded me of how much I love my own kids and how fun it is just to play with them.  The joy and love that a parent has for a child is, in fact, almost childlike itself.  We act silly with our kids, do things to make them laugh, and shower our kids with affection.  Eventually the child grows up, life has more demands, and, at times, the parent/child relationship becomes more serious than fun, more formal than comfortable.  This is just my observation.

The fact that it is Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av only makes this post more meaningful, for if it wasn’t for our Father’s love, Avinu Shebashamayim, we would not be here.  The love never stops.

My favorite/least favorite Chofetz Chaim moshel

The Chofetz Chaim said over the following moshel:
A successful business owner once ran into a friend who had, also, been succcessful, but recently his business had gone under. The fellow who’s business had suffered asked his friend, “Would you be able to lend me a thousand rubles?”
The wealthy man said, “That is an extremely large amount of money to lend out.”
The now poor man said, “I know, I know. It’s just that I heard about an amazing business investment and I know that if I can get in at the bottom floor I can regain my lost fortune.”
Well, after some more discussion the one thousand rubles were loaned out. They agreed that after one year the money would be repaid. The former business tycoon took the money home and put it away in a drawer and left it alone.
One year later, a knock on the door brings these two men together again. Our wealthy business owner comes by to collect is thousand rubles. His friend opens up the drawer and gives back the money.
The wealthy examines the money he is given and is strartled. He notices that it’s the exact same money, down to the order it was given in. He exclaims, “What kind of joke is this? You begged me to help you invest in a business that would yeld a great fortune. You just took the money and put it away. You blew an unbelievable opportunity.”
We are all given an opporutnity to make an investment for a given amount of time in this world. We have countless investments that we can make with our neshamos. Imagine how Hashem feels when we do not use the gives he has given us…so says the Chofetz Chaim.
I love this moshel and, yet, it is my least favorite moshel to read or think about. In truth, I’ve been thinking about it all month. It speaks to my neshama and, yet, I can’t stand it. It hits way to close to home, and that’s the problem. It’s like that friend you really don’t want to see because he sees through your schtick and excuses for not tapping into your potential.
As I look back I see certain ways that I have grown. I also, more clearly, see opportunities missed, chances not taken. My wife and I spoke last night about the idea of regrets and choices we’ve made. There are always “what ifs” about certain decisions we make. What’s more difficult to face is when you are in a situation and the question is “what now”?
I know that I am truly blessed to be exactly were I am in life, right now. Yet, I wonder if I have used the ‘rubles’ given to me wisely? This kind of thinking can get one down, I know. Then I look at this this Norman Rockwell print (my father actually gave me a lithograph of this print back in 1988) titled “BLANK CANVAS”.
For me, it’s great mussar. All the tools are there: the paint and the paper. There’s even a stack of sketches for possible illustrations. The choice is up to the artist. The choice is up to me. What do I want to create this year for the King of Kings? What is my mindset or my attitude?
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.Thomas Jefferson
I thank you for reading and I wish you and your family a K’siva V’Chasima Tova. May we all have a year of inspiration, simcha, and Geulah!

What sits on my bookshelf

I never met my paternal grandfather. I do share his name, Solomon (which is my middle name in English, Zorach in Hebrew). Then about 8 years ago my father brought me a collection of ‘Jewish books’ that were owned by my grandfather.

The collection includes:
A machzorim set printed in Austria in 1889
A linear Chumash printed in 1905A set of Mikros Gedolos from 1889
A siddur (Hebrew-English) printed in Austria in 1857
And a set of Graetz’s History of the Jews printed in 1895 (which if you know anything about Rav Hirsch, he had colorful history with the author)

I usually use the machzorim for at least on davening during any given Yom Tov.
Once in a while I’ll open the siddur and daven from it. When I do use the siddur or the machzorim I admit, I feel some kind of connecting to something. Maybe it’s just because they have been in my family for a long period of time. Maybe it’s because I am looking for some connection on any level.

It does blow my mind that because these seforim haven’t been opened or used in the longest time. I’m the first Torah observant person on either side of my family in at least three generations.

On April 15 of this year my son came home with his first Chumash and the homework that came along with it. After I listened to him say and translate the first pasuk in Breishis I opened up to the same pasuk in my grandfather’s Mikros Gedolos and let my son read from it. It was an incredible feeling to listen to him read in a sefer that was 118 years old.

I am proud and thankful to have these seforim in my collection and it is a constant reminder that Limud HaTorah spans the generations.

My thanks to A Simple Jew who suggested I write about this topic.

The photo in this post is of several of the seforim mentioned above