In the last article, my readers witnessed the 17-year journey where my twin sister, Adele, and brother-in-law Dov transcended the greatest nisayon of their lives. In doing so they learned how individuals and a couple can fight with all their emunah, strength, and resilience in defying dire predictions of medical personnel and other naysayers. As a result of their efforts and bitachon they were gifted with the time they needed to say goodbye in the most loving and spiritual way. At the levaya in Eretz Yisrael and shivah houses, our family members, as well as long-time and current friends, spoke to the impression Adele and I made as fun-loving friends who delighted in baffling our teachers with our twin pranks. Yet, once in college, and in life, we grew academically, professionally and spiritually, accomplishing important goals in these areas. I was always so proud of Adele’s accomplishments as a speech pathologist and later as a mentor for college students and the speech supervisor in all the boroughs of NYC. All through her life she sustained the highest standards for herself, her patients and for those she supervised or mentored. She advocated for that which was right and just, even if meant “swimming against the tide” when the situation called for doing so. She was beloved by so many as she pushed for excellence and helped so many of “our girls” obtain jobs in the field because they were the best.
Even though our paths in the academic world diverged, we shared a strong love of Torah and enjoyed spreading the word through shiurim and other medium. I was so proud of Adele, who continued her efforts in this area until she could no longer do so. There are many in Century Village Boca who recall her inspirational shiurim. Adele and I also shared the belief that the purpose of learning is to inform our lives and connect us to the mission Hakadosh Baruch Hu had in mind for us. Adele also had a special love for Tehillim. At this stage in our lives we sublimated our competitive nature by seeking out the best insight from the parsha of the week. So I hope she is looking down and helping me with this one.
On the Shabbos prior to my sister’s petirah, we read Parshat Pinchas, and Sunday was Shiva Asar B’Tamuz. In reading a past shiur by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, he began by reviewing all of the calamities in our history that occurred on this day, most importantly the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Among the greatest impact of this tragedy was the end of korbanot. Since the offering of animal sacrifices was so vital to atonement of our sins and connecting us with God, this was a critical loss for Bnei Yisrael. Delving further on the impact of this loss, Rabbi Goldberg referenced the Ein Yaakov on the midrash that speaks to the debate among our rabbis on the most important pasuk or mitzvah in the Torah. The midrash teaches that Ben Zoma believed it was Shema Yisrael, because of its charge for monotheism and carrying “Ol Shamayim.”
Rabbi Akiva, after losing 24,000 of his students because of sinat chinam, believed it was “V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha.” Yet the pasuk that won the contest, and continues to be of great import until today, was the mandate of the sacrificial offering of the two sheep. As it states, “Take forth for Hashem two one-year-old sheep, keves echad baboker v’et ha’keves hasheini…b’arbayim—one sheep in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon.” This korban was meant to symbolize the value our Jewish ideology places on “consistency” in our actions and “constancy” in our presence, when performing mitzvot of interacting with one another. Rabbi Goldberg explains that this is because it is these values that have the greatest potential for transforming our lives by keeping us on the path of spiritual growth.
Before Adele’s illness ravaged her body and mind, Adele and Dov were authentic role models in the “constancy” of love and devotion and “the consistency” in their actions toward others. Yet, I always worried over how Adele’s 17-year journey with Parkinson’s would impact her emunah and her commitment to the continued growth of her strong spiritual side. Yet, if anything, they grew stronger in faith with each challenge. It was in working through this dilemma that I remembered the essential question of “Why?” we contended with during a recent trip to Poland with Rabbi Goldberg, when we grappled with the question of “lama, why?” as we visited camp after camp. “Why did the world stand by while millions of innocent Jews were brutally murdered?” Or, “Why do horrific things happen to tzadikim while tyrants lead charmed lives?”
Rabbi Goldberg responded to the question of “lama?” by reminding us of the truth that there are no answers to this question at this time in our history when the ways of Hashem have not yet been revealed. Yet, there is an answer to the question of “l’ma,” “For what reason?” “Now that I am in this situation, what does Hashem want of me?” In my case, why was I selected as an observer of Adele and Dov’s strength in transcending this terrible disease for the past 17 years? Yet, as I watched the interactions between the two, as she suffered through the last leg of her journey with end-stage Parkinson’s, it didn’t take long before the answer rang loud and clear. It was in the manner with which they responded to each stage of this terrible disease, independently and as a couple, that I realized that no matter what was going on in their lives, neither Dov nor Adele complained or projected their anger onto Hashem or others. In fact, as I indicated in the first article, in many ways they were selfless, putting others before themselves.
Most important, the love and admiration they had for each other never altered. They simply went on with what they had to do, and even spared others the challenges they faced. During this last phase, Dov not only sat at Adele’s bedside for a good part of the day, he also continued to fulfill his commitments to leining and davening and doing his part in entertaining the seniors in his community who enjoyed his talent in drama and music. Still, what was most outstanding were his interactions with those who knocked on his door for donations. Despite the load he carried, he handled the needy with such respect and compassion that it appeared as if a meeting of peers was taking place rather than a charitable transaction.
As if this was not enough, the most notable show of consistency and constancy to anyone who visited was in Dov’s love for Adele. He never experienced her as diminished in any way, and always saw the young, beautiful girl he married. Indeed, their communication was via the “sounds of silence.” This was evidenced as he recognized the essence of her soul that shined upon her and kept her as beautiful as the day he met her. He took every opportunity to speak with pride of his beautiful and brilliant wife and the compassion and love with which he looked at her all the years of her illness, even as she took her last breath; it reflected the truth that this love did not change. In his heartfelt hesped at the levaya he wondered out loud about how it came to be that he won the “lottery” of Adele as his bride. Indeed, they set an example of how to become the “best version” of the individuals and couple Hashem meant them to be. And herein was my answer to the question of “l’mah.” It was so clear that Hashem placed me at Adele’s bedside for so many years to witness their exemplary show of love and devotion for one another. On the Shabbos of Adele’s petirah, when Jack met a friend of Dov’s in shul, he expressed his admiration for Dov with the remark: “He certainly raised the bar for all of us.”
As I assured Jack and my children, I’m OK. Of course, my life has changed, and I will never physically feel that I am part of a twin. I also know that for the rest of my life I will continue to grieve for her. Yet, I am certain that focusing on what I don’t have will never allow me to enjoy the beautiful world Hashem placed me in and the wonderful people in my surround. I can’t even count the amount of times that the inspirational speakers I am drawn to focus on the many ways Hakadosh Baruch Hu created the world for us to enjoy, and He wants us to continue to enjoy the world in color, rather than black and white, taking advantage of all the gifts He bestowed us with. I am so fortunate to have a loving husband, wonderful family and amazing sisters, whom I know I can always count on, and who were my saviors through this ordeal even though they suffered as well. I am also certain that, b’ezrat Hashem, the rabbinic families and friends in both the Fair Lawn and Boca communities, where I continue to learn all I need to know about avodat Hashem and ahavat Yisrael, will continue to be there for me as I mourn the sister I lost. I would be remiss if I didn’t end this tribute with the words with which Shaindy and Chavi comforted all of us at the levaya.
The Voice of Shaindy: In the parting words of her hesped, Shaindy comforted us by crystalizing the truth that Adele’s essence remains with us:
Adele, I loved and admired you because you were a powerhouse. You were a perfectionist, constantly pushing yourself and sometimes everyone else around you to set goals and achieve them to the absolute best of their abilities. You were an outstanding speech pathologist and supervisor of so many students. You dealt with every aspect of your life, whether professionally or communally, with complete and unmistaken integrity. Despite how hard you worked in the Board of Ed and in your thriving practice, you and Dov were integral members of every community you belonged to. You gave your heart and soul and were honored by all of them. You also loved to have fun, take part in Purim plays and sing-alongs with the love of your life. You roared like a lioness when you witnessed an injustice, fighting for the underdog. Always fighting for your kids. Always, always protecting the ones you loved. I love how much you loved me and I knew you would always have my back. I loved your poetry. It was in between those beautifully formed verses that you let your armor down and we could see your vulnerability.
We heard the voice of the little girl who had to carry the burden of her parents’ who suffered the trauma of the Holocaust. The little girl who always had to protect but so desperately wanted protection herself. Renee and Chavi, we were once four strands, and we were able to take such good care of our family; now we are only three, but Shlomo HaMelech still reassures us our thread of strength, unity and undying love will not be undone because Adele will be fighting for us and protecting us in heaven.
The voice of Chavi: My sister Chavi offered us these words of comfort to us via her hesped, in that it opened up the possibility that our sister left this world after she completed her God-given mission in the world of “silence.”
My Dear Adele,
Parkinson’s took away your speech, the ability to communicate. It left me wondering why Hashem would choose this for someone whose life featured speech/language so prominently. It seemed to be a bitter irony. Yet, Hashem is “malei rachamim, filled with mercy.” It was a puzzle. Recently the idea that there was perhaps another part of our daily existence that I could not see… Could there be more to your life…participating actively in a dimension I could not access, and that while living in silence without words, we were meaningfully engaged in very hard work? This explained Dov and Chani’s insistence that we should not talk about her as if she was not in the room. When we forgot, they repeatedly reminded us with the words “Adele understands everything… Indeed, circumstances taught me that silence could very well be a medium to communicate and work with Hashem. This idea was also expressed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, quoting the Mechilta on Bamidbar in making a connection between the Torah and the midbar, the desert. “The desert is a place of silence. The Torah was given in the desert, where there is nothing to distract one, no noise or sound. This idea shows up again in Tanach when Eliyahu encountered Hashem in the desert,“B’kol d’mamah dakah, with the still, silent voice.” Rabbi Sacks defines this as “the sound you can only hear if you are listening.” Indeed, in the silence of the desert you can hear the “medaber, the one who is speaking, as well as the “medubar,” that which is spoken.” But this can only be accomplished if you are really listening. Simply put, this play on words teaches us that “to hear you need a listening soul.” And that was the only medium left to Adele with which she could listen to the voices of those around her and Hakadosh Baruch Hu, with Whom she now communicates in the dimension within which she resides.
I feel so lucky that my sisters Shaindy and Chavi share the comfort that even though we can no longer communicate with Adele, who is lost to us in this world, there is a possibility that we can feel her essence in times of silence by connecting with her holy soul. For my sisters and me, the insights and lessons in the Torah offer us a unique and uplifting perspective on how we can continue to connect with Adele in the same way we did when she seemed to lie silently in her bed. We are open to the possibility that she may very well have been working hard in another realm, communicating along a different dimension, and perhaps engaged in a silent communion with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, just as did Aharon and the Kohanim, who served Hakadosh Baruch Hu in perfect silence. My heart goes out to her dedicated family, her husband Dov, who rarely left her side; her three children, Chani, Avi and Sruli, who pushed the buttons at work to be there for Adele and Dov as much as possible; to their spouses, David, Nitza and Rayah, who took care of the home front in their absence; to her grandchildren, who never really got to know her enough; and her first great grandchild, who never got to know her at all; my dear sisters Shaindy and Chavi; and last but not least to my husband, Jack, for his chizuk when he joined me in Boca, and for taking care of the practical things on the homefront. We couldn’t have accomplished the mission of being fully there for Dov and Adele without each other. May we all gain chizuk from the knowledge that Adele will be a be a Malitza Tova, a wonderful and experienced advocate for her family and klal Yisrael, allowing us to take a giant step in actuating the promise of our geulah speedily and in our times.
By Renee Nussbaum, PhD, PsyA
Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with training in Imago and EFT. She also facilitates a chavruta in cyberspace on the weekly parsha, edited by Debbie Friedman. She can be reached at: [email protected]