Just two weeks ago, my close friend Sherryl lost her father. Her younger brother Brian wrote a very moving blog entry about dealing with their father's death, especially by going through his dad's book collection. He saw his father's interests and lifelong motivations, by sorting the books the man left behind.

I thought about this as far as my own father, who died five years ago as of yesterday. This year my father's yahrzeit coincided with his secular birthday, June 20th. And to top it off in the bittersweet department, this was the day after Fathers Day. My brother and I lit yahrzeit candles, said kaddish in his memory, and posted memories and photos of him on social media. That's our way of dealing with Dad's loss now.

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But when my father died five years, I was the sibling who spent the vast majority of time going through Dad's belongings, because I live just a few minutes walk from Dad's old apartment (which was not the house in which we grew up). And while I donated most of his clothing to charity, gave some of his furniture to our synagogue, and donated other items, there were many things I kept. Dad's wooden hand-carved creations such as names and Shalom pieces (many of them in Hebrew, some in English) as well as the stencils he cut for patterns. I held onto some of his most important financial records, but sold much of his uncle Harry's coin collection. We kept a few pieces of his clothing that were steeped in his personality (some hats and caps, a vest knit by our late Mom, etc.) and a lot of his tools, some of which we still put to use. And like Brian, I went through Dad's books.


These books revealed Dad's interests in history (American and Jewish), investing and finance, and sports. I also took possession of the Judaic books such as older siddurim, a few of which had Dad's handwritten data of family members past, particularly their yahrzeit dates and sometimes their birth dates.

One book that I seem to have misplaced, but which I would like to find, is a US Army-issued book of elementary Russian. Dad served 23 months in the US Army and attained the rank of PFC, Private First Class. While serving in the Army in the early 1950s in Germany (he worked in a munitions factory and saw no warfare, especially because he did not volunteer to serve in the Korean War), Dad took a class in basic Russian. He managed to remember a lot from the course, which helped him as our neighborhood (and others) in Brooklyn grew to house more and more emigrants from the former USSR.

In addition to Dad's prayer books and certain other Judaic books I have kept, I also have his address book and a few photo albums he kept. By occasionally thumbing through these, I can hear my dad's voice and conjure up his essence, his interests. Books are more than books, if they are our late family member's books.

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