Marta Fuchs Winik
Two young Chassids brought my father home late that Monday night in March three years ago. The casket, a simple, pine box, was just what Dad had requested. A beautiful Star of David carved on top, which I hoped Dad wouldn’t mind, considering it too fancy, was draped with the tsitses of the cut corner of his tallis forever wrapped around him now. “You can keep it,” my mother softly offered. “Your brother already has his tfillin.” Years before, they had exchanged
theirs, as my father had done with his father when he buried him.
"Did you enclose a spoon?" I inquired of the older Chassid who had prepared my father. Having remembered my father fondly from his childhood despite his family moving away upon his high school graduation, he wanted to personally bring my father home to us. "No," he looked at me quizzically. "My father told us that when the Messiah comes and brings everyone back to life, they can dig their way out with it." I explained as I took a spoon used for milk, not meat, being the vegetarian in the family and smiling thinking that I used to joke with Dad that if the Messiah had the power to resurrect people, why would they need spoons?
"Could I take one last look at him?" I asked as he lifted the top to place the spoon next to Dad's hand. Silently he closed the lid, gently held my arm, took me to the side, and looked softly at me. "As you know we don't use any embalming, and your father was quickly deteriorating because of his condition. His face has already caved in. I want you to remember him as you do, not like he is now." Indeed, my father at nearly 89 had outlived his medical condition and the
experience of all his doctors. "He is living from sheer joy and will to live" they all had said.
As the Chassids left, walking backwards out of the room in symbolic gesture of reluctance in the face of death, I started the first shift at midnight of the informal Chevra Kadisha we had formed to honor my father who had always spoken about his sacred role in the Chevra Kadisha/Jewish burial society in Tokaj, Hungary, my home town whose Jewish community was destroyed by war and my childhoood left behind by revolution to start a new life in a new world.
Friends and family came continuously around the clock, sitting with Dad, reading from the Book of Psalms, until he was taken for Wednesday morning's funeral. Pure and simple love emanated from that room, my brother’s old room we had cleared, where my father lay alongside the tall shiva candle encased in a beautiful blue flickering on the photographs I placed near him showing all of us with Dad beaming in the company of those he loved so much.
The next night, my brother's family arrived from across the country, and my nephew came right in. Standing next to Dad he began chanting the introductory blessing to his Haftorah. He wanted Grandpa to hear how he’s been practicing already for his Bar Mitzvah scheduled for the following January.
Over 200 people filled the old mortuary chapel. Dozens were standing against the walls. My father, a simple, working class, salt of the earth tzadik, had become everyone’s father and grandfather, their link to the Old Country, their gabbai for over 30 years. My brother and I sat behind the privacy curtains, comforting our mother, waiting for our kids and
spouses to arrive. It was getting later and later. They must be caught in LA traffic. “Don’t worry, my dear,” I heard my father gently say to me in Hungarian. “I’m not going anywhere.” Calmly, I started singing Shalom Aleichem in my head as I heard my father’s melodious tenor voice along with mine an octave below, just like we had done all my life, welcoming the Shabbes, the separation of the hard work week from the restful and joyful Sabbath my father always looked forward to in his white shirt.
I followed my mother and brother up the aisle behind Dad, his casket carried by three pairs of fathers and sons, including my own, through the throngs of devoted friends and family, hurrying to be closer to him while holding back not wanting to let him go. As I watched others scatter dirt over him while I squeezed my son's hand with burning tears welling up in my eyes, I felt a sense of joy wash over me thinking how fitting this is. Dad is being planted into the rich and fertile earth, just like he loved to plant and care for his beloved fruit trees and flowers in his magnificent garden.
May his soul rise to the heavens as the blades of grass around us and may his memory be a blessing for us all.
__________________________________________________________________________________Marta Fuchs, MLS, MA, MFT is the Librarian at Drew School, an independent college preparatory high school in San Francisco, California. She is also a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in the multigenerational impact of the Holocaust. She may be contacted at email@example.com.
This tribute is published here with the permission of Marta Fuchs.
© Copyright Judy Cohen,