Memories of my dad

Rabbi Daniel Beller’s daughter reflects on ‘a truly outstanding human being’

Hadassa Beller Cohen with her father (photo credit: HADASSA BELLER COHEN)
Hadassa Beller Cohen with her father
(photo credit: HADASSA BELLER COHEN)
In the past few days, incredible stories have been shared with me and my family of hundreds of people my father, Rabbi Daniel Beller – who died on Passover eve at the age of 53 – had touched, helped, inspired and connected with. Somehow it seemed that he was everywhere at every moment for everyone.
In the 27 years of my life, from the moment I was born, my father has been there for me. During high school, he spent hours sitting in my bedroom helping me with homework, getting me through the stress and conflicts of teenage-hood and expressing his love and appreciation for who I was as a daughter. Though juggling a million things at once, he always gave me the feeling that I was the most important person in his life at that moment and that he had endless time for me. I always, always received his undivided attention.
How did he have the energy and time to be available and give to so many people while being 110 percent there for his six children? He was a truly outstanding human being.
Many people have been writing about his beautiful qualities of hessed (loving-kindness), warmth, kindness, honesty, charisma, humor and many more.
I can’t begin to touch on how amazing he was. My role model and source of wisdom for everything and at every stage in my life.
I want to share memories I have of him that express his essence.
As a teenager, I was difficult. Confused and searching for my identity, I rebelled against every form of authority including my parents. Throughout my high school years, I developed a sense of disconnect from G-d and the religious world my father represented and did everything in my power to express this through dress and behavior.
In 10th grade, I was at a point where I was barely communicating with my parents, hiding away in my room, listening to rap music and being angry at them and the world. I started going to parties in Tel Aviv and was hiding this from my parents. My father remained unfazed. One afternoon he came into my room, sat down on my bed and with that loving, kind look in his eyes said: “Hadassa, you know that when we keep secrets, it can make us ill.”
I broke down crying. In the dramatic mind of a 16-year-old, I thought that my secret of the Tel Aviv parties was so terrible that my dad wouldn’t look at me again.
How could I tell him? My father looked at me closely and said: “Hadassa, what is it? Are you taking drugs? Are you pregnant?” I broke down crying hysterically, sure that my life was over and blurted out: “I sneak off to party in clubs in Tel Aviv.” My father burst out laughing. “Hadassa,” he looked at me with such love. “That’s okay...
as long as you’re healthy.”
He then pulled me in for one of his strong, warm hugs, making me feel safe and unconditionally loved. That was the essence of his parenting. Loving, admiring and even being in awe of his children no matter what they did, he always saw through to our very souls.
He had his truth and stuck by it, doing everything in his power to try and pass on his derech (path) to us, truly believing that the path he had chosen to live was the path of truth. But his unwavering love for each of us came before any mitzva we did or didn’t keep. Even today, married and following in his footsteps religiously, I always felt that although it gave him pleasure and naches, it was who I was as a person that was his greatest source of pride.
My father was so, so modest. He was never scared to apologize to his children.
He had absolutely no ego as a parent. He didn’t need to always be in the right before us. As a ginger his temper would sometimes flare up in the home, but no more than a few hours would pass before he would come into my room, sit on my bed and say to me something along the lines of: “I’m so sorry, Hadassa, I really am working on myself and I really commit to trying harder next time.”
He was also modest in that he made us feel that he had so much to learn from us.
Even as a teenager I felt that he was truly interested in everything I had to say, and he would express awe and admiration for my thoughts, often even quoiting me when speaking at shul.
I’ve always been into fitness, and as my dad was nearing his 50s, I started nudging him that he needed to start exercising and eating better. Again with all his modesty, he listened to me and started bike riding and even running. He would call me after a run to share his workout with me with pride, really caring about my opinion and wanting to hear my praise for his efforts. In the Marathon Tel Aviv two years ago, we ran the 10k together.
He was like this not only with fitness. I would often speak to him on the phone at the end of a long day and he would share a program he had just finished running successfully with the schools in Ra’anana. He was always surprised at the positive feedback he would receive for the programs he ran and would call to share this with me as if to hear from me if he I was proud of him.
I was so, so proud of him.
Cancer ravaged my father’s body, stealing every ounce of strength. But with whatever strength he had he was still himself. When Gilad and I would come for Shabbat he would sit in a special chair, with his oxygen tank near the Shabbat table and try to sing Shabbat songs with whatever bit of breath he had. He would ask Gilad to read to him from whatever he was studying that day.
One Shabbat, he even tried to do his usual Shabbat Dvar Torah, interpreting a text, which he was famous for at our family Shabbat meals.
Although he needed every ounce of strength to fight the cancer, he somehow managed to still ask us about our lives, expressing his care and concern for whatever we were going through. Only in the last month did he not have enough strength to have conversations with us. But even then he would apologize: “I’m sorry I can’t speak with you.”
One time I was sitting with him and he sat there, so, so tired and in pain. I asked him: “Daddy, are you angry with Hashem for doing this to you?” He looked at me with a tired and sad look in his eyes, and replied: “No.” My father was sad. He so wanted to love and give more to the world. But he was never angry or bitter.