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A Letter to my Mom...

Sunday, 5 January, 2020 - 4:27 pm

Dear Mommy,

It’s that time of year AGAIN. The time of year that takes me off my Chanukah high and throws me, cold turkey, into painful moments that are truly gut stirring. I want to believe that your Yahrtzait, the anniversary of your passing, will be smooth sailing, but it isn’t; it breaks my heart each year anew. Furthermore, I simply can’t believe it’s been nine years!

On that awful Tuesday morning at Lenox Hill Hospital, we, your five children, stood together singing Shamil, a Chassidic song that reflects the journey of the soul. We sang our broken and aching hearts out as we escorted your soul to heaven, undoubtedly to its shopping mall…nine years ago. When you left us, your beloved baby Mushkie was still single, Chaya and Zeesy were babies, Bubbe and Zayde were still with us, Menny, Shoshana and Chana Laya weren’t part of our family and Montana only had one Chabad Center.

Nine freakin’ years!

Nine years is so long, I feel like Joseph whom we read about in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, who was separated from his loved ones for twenty two years, and through that painful process taught us how to deal with the void and yearning of physical separation. Yes, the ultimate reunion was super emotional, as neither Joseph or his broken father Jacob believed that the other was still alive, but the emotions weren’t a constant. During those twenty two years, Joseph thought about his father often, he yearned deeply for his brothers, especially Benjamin, his maternal baby brother, but he wasn’t paralyzed, he wasn’t shut down, he lived, he functioned, he ran the entire Egyptian empire, he married and had two sons. He “moved on” with his life and that inspires me because I feel like after these many years, I am there with Joseph.

Ma, I know you won’t be offended or hurt when I tell you that I don’t cry very much anymore. I think about you all the time, I even dreamt about you and your dear older sister Kraindy just the other night, but the emotions are far and few-between. I could be triggered with a song, a story, a book in which the author discusses losing a parent or sometimes it’s when life just gets a bit too rough for me. I love unloading with a good cry, it feels really good, I feel connected, I feel the love that we have between us, but nine years later mom, It’s not the same and you moved from being that helicoptering figure to my larger-than-life role model I could only dream of emulating.

Not all of your kids, my beloved brothers and sisters, see it the same way, but this is how I feel and sharing it in the open, is freeing for my fragile soul.  

Joseph and his brothers refused to drink wine during their separation, as they mourned the family break-up and wine is the life of the party. Yet, Joseph went one step further: he set aside a bottle because he believed in his heart of hearts, he’d reunite with them some day and would need L'Chaim on-hand to celebrate.  When they did finally reunite, he sent the now vintage bottle of wine to his dad in Israel, to express to him how much hope he had that this moment would come. He also shared with his dad, via his brothers, a reminder of the last thing they learned together before his brothers abducted him and allowed him to be sold. It was soothing for Jacob to know that his son hadn’t lost touch, emotionally or mentally, with his beloved father. 

Ma, I don’t have a bottle of wine set aside for my reunion with you, though I know how much you loved the bubbly Moscato “wine” and so do I, but I do have so much I want to share with you, especially my beloved Chana Laya, who carries your name with love and who reminds me each day that I was blessed with a mother of the century. There’s so much I’d love to share with you, all the info. I would’ve shared in our morning calls which I’ve missed for the past 2,800 days. So, emotionally I’m in a better place, and that has allowed me to think with clarity and truly contemplate how your incredible character and devotion to your five children shaped who we are.

Joseph reflected his dad Jacob and I try to reflect you. Jacob lived amongst the thugs in Laban’s world and thrived spiritually and Joseph lived amongst the depraved Egyptians and did the same. I hope Ma that I too reflect your integrity, your thoughtfulness, your straightforwardness and most importantly, your love for those in our world that are less fortunate. You didn’t sugarcoat the truth, but you did make it bearable. You didn’t hold back from sharing your opinions but you didn’t bite those with whom you disagreed and you didn’t always like what G-d had in store for you, for us, but that never stopped you from being His biggest advocate and confidant. For most of your life you weren’t blessed with lots of money, but that never stopped you from kicking-in for the orphans, children of divorced parents and those struggling with mental illness in your beloved Crown Heights community. You didn’t care “what it looked like”, you always stood with those who needed a shoulder to lean on.

Listen Mommy, for the first time in nine years, I will be in Bozeman for Yahrtzait, as Yochanan will be in Florida, Rochel in Montreal and Yanky and Mushkie in New York, each bringing you to life in our respective communities. We got together yesterday at your resting place in Queens; we prayed, we cried, we reminisced, and we laughed; always laughing because that is the best reflection of you. I hope to pull off three Minyans to say Kaddish in Bozeman over Shabbos and the wonderful members of our community are on board to make it happen. The seventh of Teves changed my life and there’s no going back; only Mashiach could bring about the change I need to heal and the reunion I await.

Ma, I will lift my glass tonight and say L’Chaim to my beloved mother, whose love, wisdom and authenticity is etched in my mind and heart. Sometime soon, like Joseph, I’d like to hear the news that you’re alive, that Mashiach came and that Beth Rivkah's 1st grade class has their best teacher back!

In the words of a couple of kids who loved their mom “You showed me when I was young just how to grow; You showed me everything that I should know; You showed me, just how to walk without your hands; 'Cause mom you always were the perfect fan”

Love you my dear mama!

Chaim Shaul

May You guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May You protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

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