Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Sister's Good Bye -- Guest Post

My Sister in law gave a eulogy between Mincha and Maariv the night before getting up from Shiva in Toronto.  I was very touched by her insights and perspective.  She asked that it be shared with others.


On Sunday Night, my brother, Meyer, was home. We were being foolish, playing around with a cardboard box, and making jokes about the movies we were seeing now that we had finished our year of avelut for my dad. My mom finally kicked him out around 12:15, and we had gone upstairs to get ready for bed. Around the same time I got into bed, we got a knock on the door from my Aunty Brenda and Uncle Brian telling us that Rachel did not wake up that morning.

For the last 6 days, I have watched people open their mouths to say something. Something that could bring meaning to such a tragic loss. Something to bring what little comfort might be available, closer to my family and myself. Something, or really, anything at all. Inevitably, for the last 6 days, I have watched people trying to say something, but for the most part, they are unable to find the words. There are no words. Our world has suffered an extreme loss, in many ways.

I too, have been agonizing about what to say to all of you since the moment I was asked to speak in Toronto. I listened to my Brother in law, Jason, speak about his life with Rachel, and Meyer speak about her courage, and her determination, and her big heart, and her rabbi speak about the loss that they are all feeling. I have heard people use many many words to describe who she was, what she has done for them, and how the loss is tearing them to pieces, and still nothing inspired me. For the last 6 days, I, like many of you, had no words.

It wasn't until I took a nap yesterday, sharing my pillow with my chumash (I was hoping that maybe inspiration would sink in by osmosis) that miraculously enough, I woke up, minutes before we had to leave for shul, and  I knew exactly what I was going to say. 
It goes without saying, that My sister was an incredible woman. She was kind, and always available to her community, her friends and family, and even strangers without hesitation. If anyone ever needed anything, even if it was the most ridiculous request in the world, she not only was the first one to offer, but she did so without judgement or questions. Her funeral was beautiful. A very different experience than what Torontonians are used to, and in some ways, much more difficult, but the room was full, and the thoughts people were sharing with us were beautiful. I was humbled just to be in a room with such thoughts about my sweet sister.

When we arrived in Israel last week, there was no space to move. People had filled their apartment, and were doing anything and everything that they could to help. I met a woman, in my sister's bedroom, who took my hands and said "I never knew your sister, and I don't know you, but she changed my life", I met many families who had said things like "I only met your sister once, but she left such an impression, I just needed to be here". People talked to me about her talent, her family, her love of music, or fun outings, and much more, but most of all, people talked about her heart of gold. People have stepped in to make sure that Jason has everything he needs to have a functional household, and that Channah has a female role model she can turn to, if she ever needs anything at all.  I found myself thanking some of Rachel's best friends, for stepping in, and doing everything they could, and each had the same answer "why are you thanking me? there is no other option". Her friends and community in Israel, have mimicked the roles that My aunt's and uncles and cousins have played, right here in our home. These are the kinds of relationships that Rachel formed in her life, the kind where when a friend gets burned, you feel pain, .

Rachel Jason, and Channah, have always supported the idea that a persons name is their identity, and using their name, gives life to who they are. This idea was first introduced to me by Jason, when Channah was born 2.5 months early and he asked everyone to start using her name to give life to her, and get her healthy. It is also an idea that carries over into the title of this week's parsha, Shemot, or Names. Rachel's hebrew name was Rachel Marmel. This is what I want to talk about, My sister's name and identity.

Although it is not this week's parsha, When Rachel Imaneu is introduced, in Parshat Vayetzeh, she is introduced as many things within the one parsha, we first see her as a daughter, and then as a beautiful woman, and then as a sister, and then as a wife, and then as a mother. Right from the beginning of her timeline in our history, Rachel is selfless and always sacrificing, even through her own suffering. This is seen the first time, when she sacrifices her marriage to Yaakov, by giving her sister Leah, the secret signal, and it is later seen where she sacrifices to have a child, and sacrifices to help her sister have children. Even the word Rachel, means Lamb, and Lambs are a giving animal. They give milk and wool, and meat. Right from the start, Rachel's main role in the Torah, is to be there for others, and while it isn't always the most glamorous place to be, someone has to do it. I see a lot of similarities to my sister in that.
I want to talk a little bit about My sister's identity. Just like Rachel Imaneu, was many things, so was my sister, and she used each identity to help build herself into what was waiting for her next. She was "everybody's child" as my bubbie Cynthia said last night. She grew up in a house with her aunts and uncles always around, and each one loved her as if she were their own. She was my mom's baby, the oldest of all three of us, which meant that while my mom was changing diapers and watching Meyer and I run around screaming and crying and making messes, Rachel was her more mature form of relief, and while I am too young to remember much of those times, I can imagine based on the times I spend with my mom as an adult now, that Rachel and my mom had a special relationship that was formed over many special memories and moments. Rachel not only had the honor of being the oldest in our family, but she is the oldest grandchild. She was the first of all of our cousins to get married, and have a child, which added wife and Ema to her identity, and she did wonderfully at both of those bringing her special talents and middot to everything she did,  I remember when Jason came into her life, she was happy and when they got married, he instantly became another brother, and then again, her world lit up when channah was born. Channah became her pride and joy, and she was the most loved little girl I'd ever seen.

Throughout sitting shiva, we have all witnessed many people coming in to pay their respects. This leads to one more thing that Rachel was, She was a friend. She was a friend to many different people during many stages of life, and it is remarkable to see how many of her old childhood friends, are so up to date on her current life, and how connected they feel to her. Her most recent identity was within her community in Ramat Beit Shemesh, she was a community member, maybe even a community leader. Her creativity, and unique way of seeing the world, lead her to be compassionate and loving, to many, in ways that have rarely been explored before. As an example of this, her own rabbi, Rabbi Myers, talked about a care package she put together for a friend in the hospital. He was amazed that she included hand cream in the package and even said something similar to "While everyone is worrying about everything else, Rachel is worrying about his hands not getting chapped!" It was things like that, that make her neshama so special.
I mentioned before, that Rachel Imaneu's story begins as the story of sisters, and so I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about the part of my sister's identity that I am most familiar with. Rachel and I are far apart in age, and while 10 years seems like nothing now, when I was 3, and she was 13, believe me, it made a difference! When I was little, I, like most little girls, Idolized my big sister. She had boyfriends, and friends, a fancy set of markers, and a really cool stereo, I even remember being very young, and not knowing what homework was, but because Rachel was doing it, I wanted it too. I remember many times, where she would be getting ready to go out, and it was a special privilege to get to watch her put her makeup on. She would call me into her room every single time she did it, so that I could sit at the other end of her bed and watch. Sometimes, if she knew she was going out late, she would put her makeup on early, just so that I could watch. I would stare transfixed as she covered her face, and she was so confident about doing it, that I couldn't tell the difference between her, and a hollywood makeup artist.  To me, Rachel knew everything. She was creative and artistic, and would often make barretts for me and do my hair with them, and she would take me shopping and pick my clothes. I was sort of like her really annoying little doll.
 Somewhere along the line, I grew into my own style, and I began to wear makeup on my own, and do my own hair, and it all turned around. At some point, my sister began asking me to do her makeup, and what she should wear. I remember just two years ago, for our cousin Orly's wedding, I picked her dress, and I did her makeup, I remember watching her look in the mirror, when I'd finished with her, and you could tell by the look on her face, that she felt beautiful, and she was beautiful.

Here is a confession: Being Rachel's sister makes me feel special. it always has. Growing up, I used to wait anxiously for the moments when I could brag to my friends about something my big sister was doing, because I knew they would all be envious, and even recently, I would love moments when people would see my bare feet, so I could show off the beautiful toe ring that my sister made for me.
As I have grown up, my relationship with Rachel had changed, and while I am still so proud to be her sister, and I take pride in every accomplishment she acheives, and I love her daughter Channah, as much as I love her, I no longer idolize her. Now, as two adults, we would discuss things. I would often find myself dialing her number for even the most silly questions. She was like my personal filter. I would run things past her, and get her opinion, before I would even decide if they were worth thinking about on my own. People say that there is nothing like a sister, and I couldn't agree more. Just a few weeks ago, she was telling me how she had a new friend that she talks to almost every day, because the friend reminded her of me. I met this friend, standing over my sisters grave, thinking about how much I would miss her, and it was almost like rachel had set it up that way.
Even far away, Rachel and I have always had a special relationship. We are like a tree split into two branches, the tree will not collapse with a missing branch, but it is somewhat lopsided. I would tell her everything, and she would tell me everything, and most of the time, I mean literally everything, because when all of the "note worthy" stuff was talked about, we just continued with the boring stuff. She could make some of my worst moments melt away, because, that's what sisters do. In Israel, On Tuesday afternoon, one of her friends, who I had never met, pulled me aside, and said, "You know, Rachel's favorite story to tell was the story of how you and her helped cheer each other up during your fathers shiva"
I remember listening to her sing to music in the car, or wherever music was playing. She had a beautiful voice, and knew all the words to most songs. She was so confident in herself when she was singing, it was an amazing sight.

I could keep going on about how lucky I am to be born into the family I was born into, and how blessed I am, that I was given Rachel as my guide to life, but we would be here forever.
The most amazing thing my sister has done for me, was after her passing. She is so beloved by all of her friends and community, that before I left Israel, several of her friends took me aside and told me that if I ever need a big sister, or anyone to talk to, that they would be more than happy to be there for me, to help me grow and live. I am touched that Rachel's actions have gone so far that her friends not only want to care for Jason and Channah, but also me. A big sister is something that cannot be replaced, but the love that guided their comments to me, is so special, that it is a comforting plan B.

One final similarity, and perhaps the most significant similarity between My sister Rachel, and Rachel Imaneu, is in their death. They both died young. Rachel Imaneu is buried in Kever rachel, away from the rest of the avot and imahot. She is buried in Beit Lechem. When Bnai Israel was exiled by god, as a punishment, from Israel, they went to the south, passed rachel, and as the saying goes "Rachel Imaneu cried for her children". The location of her resting place became important, as she cried for, and watched over her children in their time of need. My sister Rachel, is buried in a beautiful cemetery in beit shemesh. She is near the end, and therefore has a stunning view watching over her community and her friends. I know that she is up with hashem crying for her friends, wishing that the pain of her sudden absence in our lives will be soothed, and that we can all be happy.


Anonymous said...

beautiful beautiful words, deb. a special tribute to rachel. she was lucky to have you as a sister. may her memory be comfort to you and your family. all my love, jesica.

Anonymous said...

This is so special, from sister to sister. So beautifully written.
I cannot fathom your pain. I did not know Rachel personally, only through email and blogs. I enjoyed Rachels humor and frankness and her ability to express her emotions so poignantly. This article gave me a glimpse into the bigger picture of who Rachel really was and how enormous your loss is. I pray that Hashem gives you the strength to get through this most difficult, heartbreaking time and that He makes the sun shine for you both again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your words which, in some way, is also helping to console me especially for the fact that I only found out last night. (I'm in Florida). I wish I could have been there for Myra and all the Aunts, Uncles, siblings, cousins, and Bubie. Rachel came from a beautiful family and it is no surprise that your eloquent words will help give strength to those who feels the tragic loss of Rachel. She obviously was special.