Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Story Behind the Picture

The shabbos before my brother Shalom a"h was niftar was shabbos nachamu. That year, my sister and her husband were planning to go with their little daughter to Los Angeles, California for shabbos. They tried to make arrangements but in the end, it did not work out. They still wanted to go away for shabbos, so instead, they went upstate.

That year, Visiting Day came out on Tisha B'av. Some camps scheduled their Visiting Day for the Sunday before Tisha B'av and other camps pushed it off to the Sunday after Tisha B'av. Shalom's camp, Camp Stolin, pushed it off a week. Since the boys were scheduled to come home a week and a few days later, my mother did not go visit him. Our family did not have a car and it was hard to find a ride to his camp; it was further out than most other camps. "I'll see him in another week," she thought to herself. 

That Sunday, my sister and her husband went along with their baby and visited Shalom. They met up with my other brother and went out for pizza. While they were there, my sister decided that she wanted to take pictures. However, she left the camera in her car and it was parked quite far away. After all, it was Visiting Day and even when only half the camps have Visiting Day, the small lot gets full quickly. At first, her husband didn't want to hike to the car just to get the camera. But after nudging him a bit, he took the trip.

He came back with the camera and they took some pictures. Pictures of Shalom holding their little gorgeous baby. 



You can see Shalom's gentle touch in the way my niece has her little fingers wrapped around his. You can see the serenity in Shalom's face. You just see it. 

They also took some pictures together. My sister, her husband, her baby and my two brothers.

The last picture was one of Shalom with a huge laughing smile on his face, his lips spread so wide from the joke he had just made. The person taking the pictures was a friend of Chaya Sara. When she said that Shalom looks like Chaya Sara, he chuckled and said, "Which part? The beard?" And everyone burst into a fresh round of laughter while she quickly took that shot. That's the last picture taken of him on that camera.

He passed away the following day.

We didn't know these would be the last pictures we'd have of him. We didn't even know about them until after he passed away. That's when my brother in law ran to develop those pictures. We had them during the shiva and were able to show them to people who came to be menachem avel.

Those pictures were so comforting for us. They still are. Those pictures showed us how happy he was on the day before his neshama was taken from us. There is a certain calm on his face. An inner calm. A happiness and contentment that you could see on his face. It is visible in his smile. It is there.

If my sister had gone to California for that shabbos, we would not have those pictures. We would not have that comfort. Additionally, she would have missed his levaya. We know this because another relative of ours who was in California was unable to make it to New York in time for the levaya. 

So we see that there was a plan. There is comfort in the pain. Even though it was time for my brother's neshama to leave this world, Hashem did it with gentleness to our family. He left us with these pictures and they give us some measure of comfort. Seeing his picture is like a soft cream upon a delicate wound. The wound hurts from time to time, but the cream makes it easier to bear.

We know he left this world happy and at peace with where he was in his life. We can see it on his face. In the last pictures we have of him.

You can read more about Shalom a"h and the story behind his sudden death. Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2 and here for Part 3.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Always

Why?

Why do I always think about you…write about you…and talk about you?

Not just when it’s your yartzeit or when we bench Rosh Chodesh Tammuz and I feel it in the air. That it’s coming closer again.

All the time.

Whenever I had to write an assignment, it went back to…Shalom. When I had to write a paper for college, it was on the topic of…Shalom. When I had to give a five minute presentation to my class-sociology of all topics, it also was about you, Shalom.

I talked about the color orange and how it is a unique blend of two colors. I explained that orange combines the passion of red with the warmth of yellow.

I spoke about the research done and that orange represents strength during difficult times. And then I said that it was your favorite color.

It’s mine too.

What did it mean for you?

It was THE color that spoke for the Jewish residents of Gaza who were expelled from their homes. The orange ribbons that adorned your bunkhouse that summer were symbolic; they showed that you cared about these unfortunate Jews. Your heart was with them in the summer of 2005. You hoped and prayed the expulsion of Gush Katif would not take place.

You cared about them-even though they didn’t look like you on the outside.

Shalom a”h, the yeshiva boy who always looked neat, in a clean white shirt, black hat and jacket, cared for the Jewish people in Gush Katif. Even though they dressed in shorts and colored shirts and wore sandals and those famous orange t-shirts.

You didn’t care about the outside. You cared about them because they were yidden-our brothers and sisters.

Did you know how much we cared about you? Did you know how much losing you would affect us? It still affects us…even twelve years later.

We will never forget you.

And maybe that’s why, no matter where I go or what place I’m in, it always goes back to…Shalom.

I write about you.

I talk about you.

I think about you.

I care about you.

I love you…and I miss you.

And I’ll never, ever forget you.

I make sure of that by always bringing you up. When I have an opportunity to inspire others by the special stories about you, I share them. And they are touched and moved.

This past Shabbos, I was away with my family and overheard another woman talking about her birthday. When we got together for a Pirkei Avos shiur, she seemed to be somewhat sad about her age and shared some of her feelings with the women gathered there. I couldn’t resist. I opened my mouth and I spoke.

I spoke about how lucky she is to be able to celebrate another birthday and that not everybody gets to reach her age. R’ Avigdor Miller zt”l says that every birthday is a reason to celebrate and we should thank Hashem for another year of life.

And then I told my story…how my brother only lived until the age of fifteen and was niftar two weeks before his sixteenth birthday.

I talked about how it happened and I talked about (some of) the things that made you special.
I said how you cleaned up on motzei Shabbos nachamu after the dancing was over so that everyone would come to a clean, orderly bais medrash the following morning-only a few hours after you went to sleep.

I talked about how you did chessed in a quiet way, asking me to send staples for a staple gun after you overheard another kid in camp saying he needed one.

I was reminded of the time you broke your hand when you fell off your bike so you wouldn’t hurt a bird that was in your way. And I shared that story too…with the lesson of how we should be careful with the feelings of others.

There were plenty of stories I didn’t share.

But talking about you left a mark on a group of women who never met you.

Your life continues to inspire other people, even though you are no longer here.

And that is what I hope to continue to do. To inspire. To motivate. To encourage others that they too can achieve greatness-through the little things they do.

It’s the twelfth yartzeit but somehow, it’s hard to believe twelve years have passed since you were here in this world.

A lot happened in these twelve years.

Yet, thinking about you makes me feel like I just saw you. I just waved goodbye to you on that last visiting day we spent together.

The memories are so vivid; they are so clear.

So, while I wish you were still here with all of us, I keep reminding myself that this is all part of Hashem’s plan. A plan we cannot understand.

But it’s for the best.

That, along with the fact that the ripples of your life continue to spread, is what gives me comfort.

L’ilui nishmas Shalom ben Chaim Nosson

Monday, July 31, 2017

Nine Days

The following touching article was written by Avigayil B. of Lakewood, NJ and posted with permission.

Nine Days Menu Ideas

Have your ever gone to be menachem Avel a woman who lost her young husband?
Have your ever been in a shiva home where a woman is mourning the loss of her vibrant father? Have you ever offered comfort to a girl who lost her mother?

Sadly, all of us have been in these situations. We come, carrying pans of food and we leave the offerings of our heart on the overflowing counters and tables.

But, take a look at the aveilim. The young woman , with the seven orphaned children. Is she talking about the Pistachio Sea Bass ? If she is, everyone understands that it's just to divert her mind from her burning pain.

All year, we divert our mind from our loss.

Sure, most of us fast on Tisha B'Av , and we all have a Zecher L'Churban in our foyer. But really, when is the last time we cried as we davened that Hashem should return us to Eretz Yisroel?

Once a year, we get a chance to seriously focus on our huge loss. The tragedy of being sent away from our land where we all lived together and Torah was the law of the land.

Our Chachomim knew that's as time would go by, It would be hard for us to cry and feel the pain of all that was taken away from us.

So they gave us laws that would help put us In a mourning mood.
No meat! No chicken! No wine! No grape juice!

There are so many other laws , but for now let's look at these.

A succulent standing rib roast, a glazed roasted turkey, lamb chops and grilled baby chicken; we don't prepare these foods unless it's for a Seudas mitzva or a Siyum.

So what should we eat in the Nine Days?

Well, how about Roasted Portabella with marinated Goat Cheese and Arugula over artisanal bread?

What about Authentic hand rolled Tortellini with homemade Tomato  and just snipped Basil sauce?

Is this really what Chazal had in mind?

Was it just a change in menu?

We used to be so close to Avinu Shebashamayim. We visited our father in His House!

We saw, heard, smelled and tasted His presence. We knew with every part of our body that He loves us.
We left His House with gifts. Gifts of awareness and clarity that held us until we came again. And when we missed our Father so much and we couldn't visit, we had a Neviah. She told us what our Father wants.She told us how to be a better wife, mother and daughter. And it was way different than therapy. When we listened to the Neviah, we had success in every relationship. Oh! How painful is this void!

Here we are searching for answers wishing we could have this type of guidance.

Every tragedy today has its roots in the Churban.

Have some sun dried tomato tilapia?

We are in pain! And if we aren't , we are to act like we are.

Eating gourmet foods? Dining in fine restaurants? Standing and assembling complicated dairy recipes?!

Not for us. Those recipes are for Shavuos.

These Nine Days I want to focus and think. I want to feel what I have lost.

We are mourning. We lost our husband, mother, and father.

And so my dear sisters, what do you eat when you're writhing in pain and sadness? What do you cook when you are so depressed that tears are falling into your pots?

What do you serve your family when grief is so strong it surrounds you?

A tuna wrap. Eggs. Macaroni and cheese. Pizza.

Anything that takes fifteen minutes to prepare.

No one will starve. And if the kids ask, "Why are we having scrambled eggs and toast for supper?"

Look at them in their eyes.

And say,"Cuz I'm sad. And I can't eat or cook fancy foods when I'm sad."

And maybe then we and our families will feel the sadness of the Churban and be zoche to see the words of our Neviim come true, and eat with happiness on the new Yom Tov on our calendar: Tisha B'Av.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Purim Poem-Costumes

Here is the poem I sent along with my mishloach manos this year. 
Enjoy!

Why do we dress up on פורים, is a question I was asked,
And so I set out to find a deeper answer, I was ready for this task,
After some research I found in R’ Binyomin Eisenberger’s name,
(בשם אומרו I quote him just as מרדכי did the same)
Going all the way back to יוסף הצדיק who was focused on how he did appear,
Fixing his hair, beautifying his eyes, the contrast is unclear.
How could he have been a צדיק if he was busy with the outside?
It’s because his inner holiness he did not show-his greatness he did hide.
His colorful coat, the כסונת פסים was clothing that concealed,
All he had inside of him, to the public this was not revealed.
Like his mother רחל who had the מידה of שתיקה-secrecy,
Who didn’t reveal to יעקב that lavan would switch לאה with trickery,
This מידה was passed down to רחל’s children, first Yosef and later אסתר too,
Who kept her identity hidden and didn’t reveal that she was a Jew.
She lived in a secular environment, yet she remained pure,
It may not have been obvious on the outside but of this we are sure.
She wasn’t fooled when she stood with fear before אחשורוש the king
She knew Who really had the power, it was the King of Kings.
She davened to Hashem, begging and pleading on behalf of her nation,
She knew He was the only One to rely on for their salvation.
This shows she stayed connected on the inside even in the palace far from home,
Just as her ancestor יוסף who educated his children in מצרים where they had grown.
They kept their קדושה  intact, no matter in which גלות they were found,
And our job as Jews is to follow them, to their legacy we are bound.
So on פורים we dress up, our costumes serve to hide,
Its’ purpose is to cover up whatever is going on inside.
So how does what is hidden become visible for all to see?
It’s another מצוה of the day that reveals with clarity,
נכנס יין יצא סוד it’s the wine that brings out our core
Our essence comes to light when we are not in full control anymore.
But there must be something of value inside for it to be brought out,
When we cultivate our נשמה, we can see without a doubt,
That what’s inside is beautiful, it’s holy and it’s real,
We hide ourselves in clothing and our inner selves reveal.
That’s the purpose of drinking on this day so great,
We want to expose what’s real and true, what we appreciate.
So as you enjoy your פורים with costumes, drinks and fun  
Remember it’s what’s inside that counts once the day is done.
May you be able to be like our ancestors who in גלות stayed so strong,
Until the day when all of us will sing the ultimate song.
May the day come when Hashem will finally hear our call,
And then His hidden essence will be revealed to one and all!

א פרייליכען פורים!

Please note, if you found this poem and would like to share it with others or use it for yourself, I would appreciate if you can email me or leave a comment to let me know.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hamantashen

On Purim, we eat hamantashen.

Why?

Look at the shape of this cookie. It is shaped like a triangle-the same shape as one of the nekudos, a סגל. We see this root word in one of the names given to the Jewish People. We are called the עם סגולה. 

What is the significance to all this?

If you look at the סגל, you will notice that any way you turn it, it will keep its shape. The same is true of the hamantash and triangle. It doesn’t change its shape when you twist it, twirl it or flip it.

The same is true of every Jewish person. No matter what a person does, no matter which way they turn, they will always remain a part of the עם סגולה.  There is nothing a person can do-no sin, no act, no thought and no belief that can change the fact that they are a part of the Chosen Nation, the עם סגולה. 

So no matter which way life takes you, remember this. Remember this on all the twists and turns of life. Remember this forever.

You will always be a part of our Chosen Nation.

That is the secret behind the hamantash.

And that is what bothered Haman so much about us to the point that he wanted to kill us. We are anעם מפוזר ומפורד בין העמים. We are scattered, far-flung and widespread and yet at the same time, ודתיהם שונות -we have different customs. We don’t do what the goyim do. We are different.

How?

Because we are an עם סגולה. And by always remembering that we are part of the Chosen Nation, we can keep our identity strong no matter which direction life takes us.

May you be able to stay strong and stay true to the Nation you belong to throughout all the twists and turns of life.

Happy Purim!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Just Precious

I’m sitting in a classroom when I hear the shrill of a siren. Instinctively, I say a perek of tehillim.

Shir hama’alos mima’amakim kir’asicha Hashem…” 

I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. I think it was my second grade teacher who told our class about this idea and since then, it stuck. When an ambulance passes, it’s an opportune time to ask Hashem for the patient to be safe and everyone to be okay.

As I grow older, the lessons I’ve learned as a child get passed on to my own children.

The first time my kids saw me stop when I heard a siren, they questioned me. I explained that the sound I heard meant that there was an emergency. And if someone needs help, if there’s a fire or an accident, I stop and say a tefillah to ask Hashem to keep everyone safe.

My kids understood and went back to whatever playtime activity they were busy with.

Now, every time we hear a siren, my little boy yells out, “Mommy, you have to say a tefillah!”

And he checks to make sure I am whispering something quietly to myself.

And then the precious moment came...

After hearing a siren wailing outside, I stopped, said a perek of tehillim and noticed my little girl whispering quietly to herself.

I took a step closer and was able to make out the words she was saying.

What tefillah did she choose to say at that very moment?

Her words were those of elokai neshama.

How precious is that?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Winter-A Poem

I wrote this a year ago and can appreciate the message even more as I continue to live and experience the truth of what I wrote. May you all be able to see growth and change as you go through the seasons of the year and the seasons of life.

Winter's here
Trees are bare
'cept for some snow
Who would know
What's going on beneath the ground
Under the snow covered mound
Of dirt
Of grass
Of concrete for some
So much
Going on
Beneath the surface
So much
Happening
Underground
But we can't see it.
Just because we can't see it
Doesn't mean it isn't happening
So much growth
So much change
Down there
Even though
Up here
The trees remain bare
The plants aren't there
No flowers to behold
Just emptiness.
But then...
Spring comes!
The sun begins to shine
The leaves begin to rustle
The plants
And fruit
And flowers
Begin to blossom
To grow
To add color
And light
Make bright
Our days
Our time
Outdoors
How?
How did that all happen?
So quickly
Seemingly
It's because
When we couldn't see
Beneath the surface
So much was happening
Underneath the surface
We just don't have
The vision
To see it.
Life brings with it
Many seasons
And during the winter
When things are hard
Dark
And cold
Harsh
Difficult
Sometimes seemingly
Unbearable
We must remember
We must internalize
We must believe
That there is something
Something very deep
Something very profound
Going on
Beneath the surface
It's so big
Yet so tiny
So...precious
Yet so hard to grasp
That we cannot even see it
We cannot even notice it
During the harsh winter
But then...
When Spring arrives
It's suddenly so clear!
It's so...there!
You can't even miss it if you tried
It stares you in the face
The growth
The change
The color
The depth
The newness
It's a whole different creation
WE become different
WE become new
WE change
WE grow
With a depth
With a maturity
With a resilience
With strength
With character
All because of
The winter
All because of
The darkness
All because of
The hard times
When we couldn't see
We were in so much pain
We couldn't even notice
The tiny changes
But once they happened
Little changes grew
Little steps became a staircase
Climbing up
Reaching up
Forever higher.
All during the cold, harsh winter
When Spring arrives
We can finally see
The beauty
The color
Of our blossoming character.
Stay strong.
Hold on through the cold.
Hold on when it's dark.
Hold on when it's so tough.
You will grow.
You will blossom.
You will change.
And when the Spring comes
You'll finally
Be able
To see it
Yourself.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Dreidel

Someone sent this to me and I want to share it with you. 

The dreidel has an important message. It spins and when it falls we can only see the one upper side of the dreidel. 

Life seems to be spinning and we are sometimes caught up in a whirlwind. We have to remember that just as when the dreidel falls, we can only see one side of it, so too in life we can never see the full view. With our very limited vision we can only see and perceive one angle, but we know there is far more than meets the eye and that Hashem always has a master plan. There is far more to the picture than we can see, so we put our faith in Hashem. We know and believe He is the One who turns the wheel of life and He Who creates and can see the whole picture can perform for us Nissim which to us with our limited vision may seem impossible.

So if things is life don't seem to be falling on Gimmel, DON'T GIVE UP - the One Who keeps the world spinning can also spin miracles - בימים ההם בזמן הזה.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Always A Plan

We all want to understand. We want answers. Yet, things are not always so clear.

Some days, things go the way we want them to. Little annoyances crop up, but we deal with them.

Other times, things don't go the way we'd like. We turn to Hashem and ask, "Why?" Sometimes it is easy to remember Hashem when He is making things difficult for us. Challenges remind us that He is in charge.

Yet, we don't understand.

What to do? 

How do we get through challenges, both big and small?

One thing that helps me through tough times is reminding myself that Hashem has a plan. There is a reason why I have to have this specific inconvenience. There's a reason why I have to deal with this frustration at this time. There is a reason for the big stuff too. Hashem knows why. I don't. 

There's something comforting in that thought. It helps to know that the One Who created me decided that at this moment, I should be in this place, going through this experience. There's a reason. This is exactly where I am meant to be.

Even if I don't understand. Even if it doesn't make sense. Even if I wish things were different. Hashem knows why. 

And...He put me here for my own good. There is some way that I can benefit from this specific situation. Maybe I can work on a certain character flaw, maybe I need to learn something deeper, maybe I need to be knocked down so I can climb up. Maybe I need to need so I can learn to give when my cup is full. Maybe I need to feel this feeling so I can become more caring towards others. Maybe this is an atonement for things I did that I don't remember but G-d above doesn't forget.

I don't know Hashem's reasons. But I know He has a reason for each and every thing He puts me through. 

The same God who watches over every insect and animal is watching over me. The same One who makes the rain fall and the trees grow, the same One who keeps my heart pumping and my body functioning, the One who gives me koach when I need it most, He is the God who plans my life. And if I believe that there is a purpose to the existence of every creature He put into this world, I believe that I have a purpose too. 

I may not discover it just yet. But I know that every step of my life is leading me towards that purpose. 

May we all be able to live our lives with meaning and strengthen our trust in Hashem so we can achieve true, inner happiness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hungry-a Poem

Recently, while looking through some old things I wrote, I found this poem. I hope you like this message as much as I do.

Hungry
Thirsty
Take a drink
Can of soda
Snap and pop
Open up
And pour it out
Take a sip
Let the taste
The fizz
Tickle my tongue
It fills me up
Easily
Makes me feel full
But
My thirst
Has not been quenched
I want more
But there is no more
Left.
The full feeling
Sits in my tummy
But slowly subsides
And I realize
I'm still hungry
Thirsty
Need something more
Something else.
In life
We feel hungry
Thirsty
Yearning
For something
To fill our souls
Our hearts
Our lives
Our days and nights
With fulfillment
Accomplishment
With meaning
But the fizz
The excitement
The bubbly feel
The colorful choices
Of drinks
Entice us
And we take a sip
Finish the can
Indulge
In physicality
In pleasures
In fleeting pleasures
That don't last
Out to eat
Out to shop
To the mall
To the shops
To the restaurants
To ice cream
We're never satiated
We want more
Vacations
Luxuries
We chase them all
But we don't feel full
Something's missing
That inner yearning
That inner thirst
Cannot be quenched
By physicality
By materialistic pleasures alone
There's more

There's more to life.