Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oh Father in Heaven...Can You Hear Me Now?

David was just 5 years old when his mother, Sarah, died at 32 of rheumatic fever. She knew she was going to die and tried to prepare little David by pretending playfully that she was dead. He would say, “Wake up mommy, wake up.” She’d open her eyes and tell him “Dudaleh, one morning soon I won’t wake anymore. Be a good boy and be strong.” He was only a child but always remembered the softness of her voice and her twinkling eyes. The day of her funeral he ran after his mother’s coffin as they pulled her away upon a wooden bier in the small town of Sighet in Transylvania. “Mommy, mommy, don’t leave me mommy,” he cried. This time it was for real. His tiny pace could not keep up with the speed of the bier and the space between them grew as endless and wide as the grief and fear in his little heart. The adults around him extended no warmth, no hand, no love, no compassion. He was a little boy alone in a cold and ever-darkening world. It was 1939, Hitler’s war had already begun and people’s minds were occupied with other matters. This little, shy, sweet inconvenience named David was sent from aunt to uncle and passed along as a big burdensome platter at a long table at which no one could find the room to rest it down. He was finally shipped off to an orphanage in Israel (then called Palestine) in 1943 and eventually ran away, lied about his age and joined the Israeli army. It became his family, and his heart opened up again. David was my father and it is in his story as a decorated veteran that my Zionism was born; it was in his longings for the beaches of Haifa and vivid tales about Ariel Sharon that Israel became my legacy too. It was in his patriotism that I came to romanticize about heroic Israeli men, and it was in his story that I learned that without the existence of the Jewish homeland every Jew is an orphan. My heart aches that he never got to see me interview the Israeli prime ministers and officials he so admired and how I, too, with my pen, have become a soldier for Israel and the Jewish people. It was in how my father lived his life that I learned about honor and decency. He made business deals on a handshake. His word was his bond. He never spoke for the sake of speaking, but when he opened his mouth it was with words of wisdom and always with a kind word. He defended whoever wasn't in a room and able to defend themselves. He had the spine of a soldier, the dimples of Kirk Douglas, a boisterous contagious laughter that would get his whole body shaking. He bought my mother flowers every Shabbat for over 35 years. He loved to snap his fingers and dance the Paso Doble with me and eat an extra bagel when he thought none of us was looking. Oh, my dear father, how I miss you so terribly today and every day. The light in our lives has become ever so dim and cold without you. You were a king among men and a mensch of the highest order. HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!