L’ilui nishmat Adina Bat Gershon and Miriam, on her shloshim, 7 Iyar.
There is a tradition in our family that dictates that we – my husband Teddy and I – prepare and deliver cheesecakes to our children before and during Passover. (We also held a Seder once in our sukkah, but that’s a different story.)
The cheesecake recipe is a bit time-consuming, but the results are fabulous. On average, we bake about 10 cheesecakes per holiday season; this year, we bought the ingredients for 11.
The 11th cheesecake was going to be for my sister Adina, who was scheduled to be in the hospital during Hol Hamoed, undergoing her second round of chemo for pancreatic cancer. The plan was for me to stay with her for a few days (as I had during the first round) and for us to bypass the hospital food and opt for cheesecake instead. Her appetite wasn’t stellar, but I’ve never met anyone who could resist this delicacy. The ingredients were purchased, and my kitchen was kosher for Passover; eggs were about to be separated and 8 kg. of soft, white cheese was ready to be transformed into manna.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
On the Sunday before Passover, only a month after she received the cancer diagnosis, Adina was admitted to the hospital with septic shock, and she died 24 hours later. She had been ready to fight the fight and go the distance; and although it was never expected to be a very long haul, I was fully prepared to be there, at her side while she battled. The cheesecake and I were ready.
Adina Mishkoff Kischel was my older sister. She was 72 years old when she died, married to Marc Kischel for the last 14 years. She made aliyah a year after I did – in 1985 – along with my mother z”l, and lived in Jerusalem until she married Marc and moved to Ma’aleh Adumim.
At her funeral, one friend called her a “doer,” and I called her a “dreamer and a fulfiller.” She was all of the above, with a huge portion of determination on the side. She had one goal in mind when she came on aliyah – to be a caterer. She accomplished that goal quickly, founding Taste of Talbieh and becoming one of the few kosher caterers in the Jerusalem area in the 1980s and ’90s. Passover was her busiest season.
Alongside her catering ambitions, she persistently nurtured another dream – to be married. Although she spent her first 25 years in Israel as a “single,” she never let that stand in the way of living a full and very active life of traveling, movies, theater and entertaining. But her eye was always on the goal – to meet the right person and get married. Matchmaking is more challenging than the parting of the Red Sea, so the saying goes, but God clearly had a hand in this match. Marc was a caterer too, and the click was instant. They were married in February 2009, merged their businesses, and continued to whip up their specialties – together.
But in addition to cooking up a storm, Adina had another expertise – she was amazing at making connections. I’m not sure how she did it before email and social media – in 1985, aerograms were pretty much the only game in town – but she held onto friends from elementary school through college and from her time in Manhattan and Jerusalem, and her connecting skills only became stronger when communication methods improved. I used to tease her about her many Facebook friends, never missing an opportunity to use air quotes around “friends” (even when we were speaking on the phone). (Non-Facebook users can be very condescending – mea culpa.)
But on the last day of Adina’s life, as she lay in the hospital, asleep and unresponsive, a steady stream of local friends came to say goodbye; and when Marc and Teddy posted a message on Adina’s Facebook page informing her friends of her condition, the response was viral. And my air quotes and I could only sit back, shame-faced and repentant, with no one to apologize to because it was too late. So many of Adina’s friends contacted me in the days following her death, and each one brought a modicum of comfort to me, which, together, created a formidable mass of solace and consolation. I’m grateful now that so many people knew her and loved her; grateful that she had a full life, which she lived to the hilt.
I was the sandwich child in our family – between Adina z”l and my younger brother Meir a”h, who died six years ago. After my mother passed away, I believed that the hardest burden to carry was that of having no parents; but being the last remaining sibling, it turns out, is a far more challenging situation to face. Each death we experience, every time a loved one passes, we are left somewhat diminished, with the daunting task of recovery blocking our way forward. And while we do recover, with time and support, I’ve discovered that we don’t return to the starting point, remaining, instead, a little more depleted with each loss, a little less whole. Passover was a nice buffer between me and reality, but now that it’s over, I am feeling untethered and unattached to my past. I’m coming up against a unique and singular loneliness that I wasn’t prepared for.
As we get older, we are also forced to face our own mortality. In my family, where Adina, at 72, lived longer than my parents and my brother, that’s like staring down the mouth of an abyss. At the shiva, a beloved but somewhat tactless friend asked me if I’m scared now. I mumbled something about being, thank God, in good health, but yes, it’s scary. Faith is a big help; it’s a comfort, a relief of sorts, to know that we are not in control and that we don’t get to write the ultimate chapter. I wish I could have done more for Adina, particularly in her last weeks, but the final call is never ours, and we have no choice but to accept that.
I keep reminding myself that Adina had a successful and happy life, notwithstanding the health challenges she faced at the end. She had many loving nieces and nephews – including Marc’s family, who embraced her as Aunt Adina, just as my kids did. She met the right man and lived the last 14 years as part of a neighborhood that welcomed her and appreciated her. So many people loved her, admired her, connected with her and are already missing her – I hope she knows that.
Yehi zichra baruch (may her memory be a blessing).❖