I Did Not Cry When My Mother Died

Think of me what you will, but I did not cry at my mother’s funeral.  Perhaps it was because I had time to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, or perhaps that’s just the way I am.  It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me well, but from the very beginning to the very end, when it came to escorting my mother to her final resting place, I was forever the Rabbi.

But I did cry.  The day after the funeral when I began to sit shiva at my sister’s house in Chicago, I read a note that the flight attendant had handed me.  We were late leaving DFW and I feared missing my connection in Minneapolis to the G-d forsaken city, Winnipeg (which ultimately did happen.)  Because I was seated in practically the last row of the aircraft, I explained my plight to the flight attendant.  Not only did she move me to the front of the plane, but as I bolted from the aircraft, she handed me a handwritten note on a napkin.  It read:  “Dear Mr. Zell, I’m very sorry to hear about your recent loss, and I’m sorry that our unexpected delay has added more stress to your already difficult situation.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.  I wish I could do more.  She’lo teida od tza’ar (may you know of no more sorrow.)”

I cried the day of the funeral, when I greeted two cousins of mine.  It’s been thirty years since I’ve seen one of them. One flew in from Edmonton and the other turned his car around 120 miles west of Winnipeg as he was heading home to Banff.  There was no doubt in his mind that he would be present to bury his Aunt Ida.  Together, with four others, these two cousins from different sides of the family met to escort my mother’s casket to the hearse, as we made our way to the cemetery for the service.  Upon arriving at the cemetery, I was nearly brought to tears as I looked out and saw thirty-five people, who had come to pay their respects. Some of them family, some of them friends – going all the way back to grade school.  And there I was, having been of little faith, doubting very much that a minyan would be present so that my sisters and I could recite kaddish.

I cried when I met Harlene and Jay Pine, neighbors of my sister, who two weeks earlier, were on an odyssey to visit a grave of a great grandfather buried in the G-d forsaken city.  While there, they made it a point to visit with my mother and spend over an hour with her looking at photographs.  I cried at the daily phone calls that my mother would receive from her friend, Miriam Diamond, checking in to see if everything was okay.  I cried at the visits my cousins would make from time to time coming over to the house to spend precious moments with their Aunt Ida.

I cried at the outpouring of concern and support, the trays of food, the text messages, emails, and phone calls from Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey, Israel, and of course, Dallas.  They mean more to me than anyone can possibly imagine.  They will be remembered and cherished for many years to come.

In all likelihood, I will continue to cry from time to time, not because my mother died but because my mother lived, imbuing me with priceless, as well as timeless, lessons of life that no institution of education could ever offer, and precious memories that will be cherished increasingly with the passage of time.

It is the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that Hashem will wipe away the tears from all faces.  My tears of blessing and gratitude however will remain in my heart for as long as I live.

ODIOUS COMPARISONS

As a rabbi, I have maintained that neither the pulpit nor written communication is the place for political commentary or viewpoint. Consequently, I take great issue with clergy – rabbis, priests, ministers – who use their position to espouse political views. With separating children from parents at the border having been resolved last week, I continue to remain resolved to withhold political comment. I do take strong exception however to odious comparisons, particularly when journalists have the chutzpah to invoke the Holocaust or  exercise poor judgment in quoting those who do.

The Holocaust is suis generis. It defies comparison. I’m not aware of any American authorities who broke into the living quarters of these families only to forcibly remove children from parents. Children, unless they were identical twins to be subjected to Mengele’s medical experiments were of no value whatsoever to the Nazis. For the Nazis, it would have been far more expedient to shoot (Jewish) children on the spot rather than waste the time, effort and resources of transporting them to death camps and marching them into gas chambers. I would therefore urge those who compare American authorities to Nazis to think twice before doing so.

The Dallas Morning News did itself a great disservice last week when it reprinted an article that appeared a day or two earlier in the New York Times. The journalist had the temerity (I’m being kind) to make reference to illegals in this country as “unauthorized” immigrants. Excuse me? Unauthorized immigrants? Would the same journalist refer to someone who stole merchandise from a Convenience Store as an “unauthorized customer”? Is the word “illegal” so politically offensive these days that it must be sanitized? The only illegal activity that could be pinned on Jews in Germany, Poland, Romania and all other countries overrun by Adolph and his acolytes was the fact that they existed; the only unauthorized behavior that could be attributed to the above mentioned Jews is that they polluted the atmosphere by their very being, thereby denying the Aryans pure air for their pure lungs. As one who can point to illegal immigrants in my own family, I do not sanitize the word. If only six million Jews could have managed to illegally leave all countries overrun by Nazis and illegally enter countries that refused to lift a finger to help them when they faced extermination! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am not aware of either the children or the parents detained by U.S. authorities at our borders facing extermination by any government. So why the comparison?

I’m not aware of journalists living in Nazi Germany and other countries having made odious comparisons. Come to think of it, I’m not aware of journalists in this country during the years 1939-1945 or any other country in the free world making odious comparisons either. When it came to the Holocaust, most journalists were indistinguishable from ostriches. Thankfully, this country provides us with a free press. But freedom and objectivity, freedom and responsibility are not, nor have they ever been synonymous. Equally as troubling, journalists, regardless of their integrity, are at the mercy of their editors. If an editor wants to milk an event, the journalist is best advised to keep the stories coming and to be “creative” if necessary. Conversely, if the journalist wishes to cover an event from an angle not in sync with that the editor, such as the governments in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala failing to protect its citizens, that article will not garner the same exposure as our border with Mexico, if that article is printed at all.

As a rabbi, I find the removal of children totally unconscionable, however well cared for the children will be. Voices ought to be raised in protest. Our government officials ought to be contacted en masse by concerned citizens. No different when a disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane occurs, journalists ought to bring the plight to light in a responsible fashion and offer suggestions how the public might assist. As a rabbi I also find odious comparisons totally unacceptable. When one reads these odious comparisons, one loses perspective. Odious comparisons besmirch the memories of those who not only suffered at the hands of the Nazis but were murdered by the Nazis; odious comparisons distort the real picture of those who truly need to seek asylum.