Yesterday, I was given a few things that belonged to my father when he was alive: some artwork that he and my mother collected during the years of their marriage (he and my mother had been divorced for over 35 years by the time they both died six years ago), a tallit one of my brothers had worn for his bar mitzvah 36 years ago, old baby photos, his college diploma from Boston University, miscellaneous Judaica, some silver-plate items that belonged to my grandmother, my bat mitzvah invitation that I designed myself, three copies of a Hadassah cookbook my grandmother had spearheaded (many of the recipes inside belonged to her), tzchachtkes that my siblings and I gave him from our various trips around the world, laminated copies of his obituary, the pages of the memorial book from his funeral – with my mother’s signature (that was the last time we would see my mother alive, as she died 10 weeks following my father’s death).
None of the items are particularly valuable. But as I looked through them, they evoked memories: of my childhood, my parents, my grandmother and my siblings.
As I assessed these things, I realized that the items say a lot about what my father valued most in life: his family, his Jewish heritage, art, cooking, memory and having a sense of fun (there were some humorous items included).
I photographed everything so I could easily show them to my four brothers and my sister. I wanted them to be able to choose what they wanted to keep.
Later in the evening, we convened a Sobel-sibling conference call. The six of us each live in different parts of the country and don’t have an opportunity to see each other often. We stay in touch through email and individual phone calls. We get together when we are able (we had a fabulous family beach vacation this past summer!) but we don’t often speak all at the same time.
The items from my father were really only a pretext for connecting with each other. We briefly caught up on each other’s lives, we spoke about our nieces and nephews. We reminisced about our father, our mother and life in general.
The only thing that anyone really wanted out of everything I received yesterday, was my grandmother’s cookbook. We are a family of cooks. We all relish memories of my grandmother Florence’s gourmet cooking. She was a huge influence on all of us in so many different ways. She cooked for Shabbat and holidays. Her table was where we gathered as a family. The cookbook represents more than just food: it represents hospitality, family, heritage, love of Israel and so much more.
And it dawned on me – the timing of this gift of my father’s things is perfect: we are at the end of Passover and getting ready to observe Yizkor, our time of remembrance of our beloved dead.
My brothers, sister and I remembered and will always remember – nizkor. We laughed, we joked, we shared stories. We continue the legacy of our grandparents and our parents, who no longer walk this earth. And when we honor their memories with our actions and aspirations, by sharing of memories and deeds of love, we are creating for them an enduring legacy.
My parents would be kvelling (bursting with pride) to know that yesterday each of us feels we received a gift that can’t be put in a box, or hung on a wall: the gift of memory, the gift of family, the gift of love for our brothers and sisters – a bond unlike any other. We will continue our regular sibling conference calls. We’ll continue to stay in touch and keep the bond strong. And we will continue to remember in each of their names.
A Yizkor Poem
by Menachem Rosensaft
I used to be part of you
belong to you
the extension of your being
you live within me
are the spark of my consciousness
I say Kaddish for you
sing your melodies
speak your words
hearing your voice in mine
and my eyes
have somehow started to reflect
the blue of yours
I used to be part of you
protected by your presence
by your light
the time is mine
I must be more than myself:
has become your heir
has become you. Mishkan Tefilah: A Reform Siddur (CCAR Press 2007), p. 581