'Today everyone would come for Yizkor, the Memorial for the Departed'

Now her tears were flowing unchecked, for this was the first time she was saying Yizkor for Mama, and the loss was a continual ache in her heart.

By
October 5, 2019 15:26
'Today everyone would come for Yizkor, the Memorial for the Departed'

STRANGELY, IT was long-lost aunts and uncles she began remembering first, though she hadn’t consciously thought of them for years.. (photo credit: PIXABAY)

Esther arrived at shul out of breath and irritable. She was out of breath because she’d been running, afraid of being late for Yizkor. She was irritable because of the children. Ruth had dawdled over breakfast, and Danny had refused to wear the clothes she’d selected for him. Then one of the twins fell over and demanded a plaster on a non-existent sore and she had a temper tantrum because there were none left. All stupid trivialities, but they’d already spoiled the day for her. She was exhausted. It seemed years since she had felt fresh and relaxed. She longed for a segment of time that was wholly hers, not to have to share it with the family, much as she loved them, nor to have to fill it with endless chores.

For once the “Ezrat Nashim” was packed. In her neighborhood, it was a luxury for women to get to “shul”… always there were babies to be nursed, and toddlers too small to be quiet or left outside to play. But today everyone would come for Yizkor, the Memorial for the Departed. The word meant “He shall remember” and everyone had someone they had once loved and lost.
The subdued buzz of talking stopped with the thump on the bimah and the authoritative command, “Yizkor!” Children filed out and there was silence for one long second, before the low keening and crying that accompanied the tragic words of our mortality:
“Lord, what is man that thou regardest him? Or the son of man that Thou takest account of him? Man is like to vanity. His days are a shadow that passeth away. In the morning he bloometh and sprouteth afresh; in the evening he is cut down and withereth…”

Even before the images began to form, Esther felt her cheeks wet with tears. Strangely, it was long-lost aunts and uncles she began remembering first, though she hadn’t consciously thought of them for years. Yet they, too, had helped to form her, just as the books she’d read, the songs she’d sung, the friends she had played with had all contributed to the woman she had become.
Aunt Fanya, a big, stout woman with a voice like a trumpet. Everyone, including her timid little husband Isaac, had been afraid of her. She wore enormous hats trimmed with wax fruit or scarlet ostrich feathers, and the whole family seemed to cower. But once, when Esther was 10 and had the measles, she had come to visit her. “Go and lie down” she ordered Mama, who’d been up with her all night. She sat next to the bed and read her stories, and when she got bored, she showed her how to make birds out of colored paper. She wasn’t sure if she’d dreamt it, but she thought that when she closed her eyes, Aunt Fanya had kissed her gently and dabbed Eau de Cologne on her feverish face. Afterwards, she’d never been afraid of her again.

“Teach us to number our days that we may get us a heart of wisdom…”

Wise! That’s how she remembered Zeide, a pious, gentle man with a white beard. He was always learning, hunched over the table, books everywhere. He peered at you over the top of his glasses, and Esther thought it took him a while to recognize her, as if he was too preoccupied to adjust to a little girl and her needs. But sometimes she sat on his lap and he told her stories of Queen Esther, and her namesake Esther who had been his wife in the Old Country. His eyes would mist over. “A true Aishet Chayil,” he would assure the child. Then one day, his place at the table was empty, and the room was somehow diminished. She hadn’t needed the covered mirror to tell her that Zeide was gone and she must treasure his words because they were all she had left of him.

“Mark the innocent man and behold the upright; for the latter end of man is peace…”

Had her father found peace in the end? She often wondered. His life had been a never-ending battle to provide for his family, never earning quite enough. He worked long hours in the store, but the neighborhood was changing. His good Jewish customers moved out and “the others” moved in, throwing rocks through the window, taking things without paying. Esther tried not to add to his burdens, but sometimes on Sundays he would take her to the park and push her on the swings. Her brothers and sisters had lots of friends, but she was a loner and he sensed it, telling her jokes to make her laugh, and she would pretend for his sake. Poor Papa, at least now you’re not worried about unpaid bills.

“… May God remember the soul of my revered mother who has gone to her repose….”

Now her tears were flowing unchecked, for this was the first time she was saying Yizkor for Mama, and the loss was a continual ache in her heart. They had been so close, sharing everything. And Mama was so wise, not intellectual or sophisticated, but filled with compassion and understanding. She had never sought to hold Esther back, but now she was the one to have left. “One day,” she thought sadly, “my children will be saying Yizkor for me. What will they remember about their mother?”

She thought of the morning’s annoyances and her reproaches. Lately her patience had been shorter, her affectionate responses rarer. Her face burned with shame. “Forgive me,” she whispered. “Teach me to show love to my children, to remember they’re still small. Help me to be a mother that one day they will remember with love, the way I remember Mama.”

When shul was over, she went to find the children. Ruth’s hair was untidy and she’d lost her ribbon; Danny had mud on his new white shirt; the twins were both smeared with chocolate. They waited nervously for their mother’s comments. She gathered all four of them close to her.

“I love you,” she said softly, “always remember!”

The writer, who has lived in Jerusalem for 48 years, is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. dwaysman@gmail.com


Related Content

New housing units for couples in Jerusalem.
October 14, 2019
The day after - examining Israel's real estate woes

By AMIT DUBKIN

Cookie Settings