Thursday, November 27, 2014

Techias Hamesim at a Levaya ( Resurrection at a Funeral)

Knowing how quickly funerals take place in Israel, I assumed my cousin's burial would happen the same day, that his body was found in the Jerusalem forest.
 He had been missing for a week and was the focus of a national man hunt.

 The war in Gaza had just ended.  Three of our boys had been abducted and murdered by Hamas a few weeks earlier.  I was asked by a cousin through marriage to help raise political awareness of the possibility of an abduction of our mutual cousin.  I wondered if our missing cousin could have been abducted by Hamas, and what that would mean for my family.

 I was in a mild state of shock when I saw my aunt, who I hadn't seen or spoken to in more than twenty years, pleading for her child's life on TV, and on the internet.  The media is an exposure to the outside world my family shies away from.  Seeing my aunt on my Facebook news feed was as bizarre as it was heartbreaking.

 I grew up with my mother's younger brothers and sisters.  My aunts and uncles had helped care for us when we were little, and when I was old enough I was sent to help them out when their children were born.

This particular aunt took care of me when I was a young child.   Not having a mother, (my grandmother died when my mother was only fifteen)  My aunts and uncles were close with my mother.  She was very involved in their marriages, and in the births of their oldest children.  I was at this aunt's wedding. 
But that was all a very long time ago.

 Would it would mean anything to my aunt to know that my husband had gone out to search for her son? To know how much we cared, to know that I begged Hashem (Godfor her son's life?  Our family has seen so much trauma, so much pain.
 "This time Hashem," I prayed, "teach us through joy, and not through pain.  Let this young man be found alive and well." 

 I wasn't planning to go to my cousin's funeral.  I had only met him once, at his bris.  I had no illusions of anyone in my family wanting me to be at the levaya.

Then, I heard that the funeral was to take place not ten minutes from my home.  That somehow changed things.  Was I actually supposed to be there? Would it add to my aunt and uncle's pain if they saw me?
They had been through so much. The last thing I wanted to do was add to their suffering.

I felt torn. Confused. I cried for my aunt who had suffered such a huge loss. I hadn't tried to contact her in the last twenty years.  The reason was self protective.  I had needed her support and validation, and I knew it wasn't there for me.  I had not been invited to any of her children's weddings.  Nor had I been invited to my own siblings' weddings.

A wedding is different than a funeral.

One does not need an invitation to a funeral.

  I decided I would go to the levaya and stay far away from my relatives.  I did not need them to know I was there. I would go and daven (prayfor healing for myself and my family, and then leave.  Given the number of people who had been involved in the search I assumed it would be easy to remain anonymous in the crowd.

Time had stopped for me when my family cut me off.  I married, had children, and  lived my life, yet when it came to my family, I was frozen in the past.  I had been shocked to hear of my youngest brother's engagement.  How could he be engaged?  Wasn't he just eight years old?
That was the age he was when I saw him last.

Now, at the funeral, I saw a familiar face in the distance.  One of my mother's brothers.  He looked at me for a moment.  I have no idea if he recognized me.

  My mind went back in time to a strange memory.  This uncle had once asked me to help him kidnap  cousins from another uncle believed to be abusive.  I was seventeen at the time, and in school in Bnei Brak . It all sounded very exciting but I didn't really want to be involved.  One of the reasons I left home was to get away from the chaos around my aunt and her five children who lived with us.  It was a disturbing, ongoing saga of accusations of child abuse, mental illness, and divorce.  I asked my great uncle who I was living with at the time, what the right thing to do was.  He told me I should go and help out my family.
 In retrospect, I should not have gone.

 I will never forget that strange day.  My uncle dressed me in a tichel (kerchiefand sunglasses and took me to spy on the house where he believed the children were hiding.  We watched the front door through binoculars, planning to snatch the children when they came out to go to school.  When they didn't emerge, we went to the children's schools to try to find them there. 
It turned out, that they did not go to school that day, and we didn't find them.
 I am relieved that these innocent children were saved from the trauma of a kidnapping.

But that was all over twenty years ago.

 Now I sat on a bench outside my cousin's funeral remembering and watching relatives pass by.  I knew they must be my relatives, because they looked so much like me.

Where were the crowds I expected?  I was told there had been crowds in Jerusalem but being that it was Friday afternoon, not many people were at the actual burial.  A woman approached me and asked me who I was. I told her I was a niece.  She went inside and came back out again a few minutes later."Your aunt said you should come in."

What had I gotten myself into?
I followed her through a side door, and was taken aback to suddenly be standing right in front of my aunt, in between her and my cousin's body.  My aunt looked at me and I reached out and hugged her.  Her eyes were glazed with pain, but she knew who I was,
 "Genendy, you came!  How did you know?"

Did she really ask me how I knew?
The whole world knew.

I hugged her.  "I'm so sorry.  "I'm so, so sorry!"  Was all I could manage to gasp through my tears.  My body shook.  I felt one step away from my mother who I hadn't seen in many, many years. 

It was hard to believe I was really alive and this was really my aunt, who I loved, at her child's funeral.   This man with the white beard was really my uncle.  The tall man with a red beard and receding hair line was my cousin, who I remembered as a four-year-old screaming so hard his lips would turn blue and he would pass out.
Now he is married with children of his own.

 I was in a time warp.  I was Rip Van Winkle, waking after twenty years to find that time had passed and the world had gone on without me.  It was an out of body sensation. It was surreal.  I was a fly on the wall, watching myself and my relatives from a distance.

I was the only female relative in attendance from my aunt's side of the family.  The other nine or so women there were from her husbands side.  The seat next to my aunt was empty.  Someone motioned for me to sit.  "Do you want me to sit next to you?" I asked.
"Yes. Sit here."
 I sat.
"No one came in from the States?"  I asked.
My aunt shook her head.  "No.  There was no time..."  I took her hand.
 Her voice shook with pain."...He was a very special boy...We don't ask questions."
"I was at his bris."  I told her.

I looked at the body of my young cousin lying a few feet in front of me wrapped in white.
I had been there for his bris, and now I was present again for his burial.

I sat next to my aunt, reminding myself to breathe, trying not to pass out,  listening to young cousins I had never met, eulogize their older brother long distance. I grasped the handle of an umbrella to steady myself.  This was a time of intense loss for my family.

 And I, who had lost so many of them myself, was incredulous to find myself there, alive and well.

A week after the levaya I spoke with another aunt, the only one who had stayed in touch with me over the years. 
"I went to the levaya."  I told her.
"I know. There was a live hookup.  We all saw you."
They had all seen me.
I was real.
I existed.
Baruch Atah... Mechayeh Hamesim. (Blessed are you... who restores life to the dead.)