Archive by category "Miracles are What you Make of Them"

The Boy: A Miracle Embraced

The Boy: A Miracle Embraced [1]

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

The miracle was that it took place at all. The miracle was that the Bar Mitzvah happened. That a thirteen-year-old boy who could not speak and could not hear was leading a congregation with glowing hands that spelled out the words of God from an open Torah.

The boy was born of a Jewish mother. His father was gentile and black. His mother did not want him; his father had disappeared. He was unadoptable. Probably it would have been difficult to place him, even if he had not been deaf and mute.

After a series of foster homes, he found a friend – a teacher at the school for the deaf and mute who became very fond of him. The teacher was to become his adoptive father. He was not married; he was not Jewish.

The teacher believed that the boy was entitled to his Jewish birthright. He had a right to learn about and be proud of his heritage. The miracle began. The new father contacted the rabbi of a Reform Temple, and instruction was arranged for the boy. He was to have a Bar Mitzvah, the sacred act which confers new Jewish manhood. He would pray with his hands before the Ark of the Covenant.

In order to accomplish what is an ordeal for any thirteen-year-old, let alone one who can neither speak nor hear, his adoptive father would study along with him. As finally the boy recited with his hands before the congregation, the father would speak the words. And because the language of the Torah is both poetic and archaic, special instruction in liturgical sign language would be needed.

The day finally arrived.

The congregation had responded three hundred strong to the rabbi’s request for them to come as Bar Mitzvah guests. They were to be the boy’s family. He had been outfitted in new clothes. His light skin, framed by a halo of black curly hair, glowed milkily. The ritual candles shone brightly. The light of the open Ark was reflected in the breastplates of the Torah. The adoptive father – round-faced, bearded, and jolly – translated the language of the boy’s hands into sound, into Hebrew.

For those sitting and watching as the boy’s hands moved, it seemed as if there were words, as if we could almost hear the sound of his hands without his father’s vocal translation. It was as if the boy’s hands had set in motion a sound of joy so high that the vibration could be heard. It was as if, rocking back and forth to the newfound rhythm of truth in the Torah, the hands danced and then burst into exultant song: “Once I heard nothing, now I have the sound of God in my head. Once I had no one of my own. I was so lonely. Now I’ll never be alone again.”

I have been to so many Bar Mitzvahs; but on this night the character of what took place strengthened my belief in the enduring vitality of sacred rituals. They are our umbilical cord to  an appreciation o the wonder of creation.

On this night that I will never forget, I believe that I witnessed a miracle. Here, standing before God, was a creature so challenged in life, yet brought to this beautiful moment through the loving kindness of an adoptive single man. It happened. The gentile father gave birth to the Jewish son.

The father did not speak his thoughts before the congregation, but they were, I thought, clearly written on his face. “We finished what God started, my son. I wanted you to believe so that, even when I am gone, you will have someone to trust. You were born with every strike against you, but tonight you have taken your rightful place in this world. For me, you are a miracle.”

On that night the miracle was also that the witnesses to this birth, paying homage in sacred ritual, were themselves brought to life. In a kind of self-purification through the pain and joy of a young man-to-be, their own human spirit was ignited and reborn.

 

[1] ©️Corinne Copnick, Toronto, 1994, Los Angeles, 2017. This story first appeared as part of “Altar Pieces,” a videotaped narration of Rabbi Copnick’s stories and poems that was screened nationally many times on Canada’s Vision TV over a period of five years. “The Boy” is a fictionalized account inspired by a true Bar Mitzvah ritual at which the author was present.

THE MESSAGE OF THE WAVES [1]

THE MESSAGE OF THE WAVES [1]

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Photo credit: https://sandiego.surfrider.org/wp-content/uploads/blogger/_lmPSLjiqKPY/S7338KoNXYI/AAAAAAAAA5Y/GBBfyB0FA7A/s1600/WavesOfSilence-2.jpg

Continually, I try to make space on my bookshelves for new books. That means packing away others because rabbis tend to acquire a lot of books, two large bookcases full, in my case, overflowing on to piles on the floor and in little nooks and crannies around the house. Even my Kindle has grown heavy. I have considered putting the new books in the pantry, but my family dissuaded me. What could I relinquish then? Not books about Jewish history… or thought … or liturgy … or Jewish values. Not Talmudic logic or narrative or Hasidic tales. Certainly not the Torah, the Tenakh, and all the valuable commentaries I have acquired (and continue to acquire) over the years. They have become part of me. So I keep taking books off the shelf and putting them back.

One of the books I leafed through was Rabbi Ed Feinstein’s “Tough Questions Jews Ask,” a slim little volume intended for young adults. It flew open by itself at a page that addressed the question, “What is God Anyway?” What is the One in the Shema? That’s what the young adults he teaches want to know.  They have been taught to say the Shema – six little words, we Jews say them all the time, we cover our eyes to increase concentration. But what does it mean? What does “One” mean?

In reply, the rabbi presented an analogy to the waves in the ocean. Imagine that you are at the ocean, he said, looking at that large body of water. If each wave had awareness, it would understand that it is part of something bigger. Each wave rises and comes to an individual crest –  there are small waves and middle-size waves and huge waves (how big will this wave be?) – but their life span is short. They recede and become part of the ocean again. Once more each wave merges to become One.  

It is so fascinating, I reflected, that in this century, scientists, great minds like Stephen Hawkings, have been trying to create a Theory of Everything. There is speculation that if Albert Einstein had lived in the age of Information Technology, he might have developed a formula for Everything. Now there is an Internet of Everything. Yet for thousands of years the Theory of Everything has been encoded in six little words in the Torah that end with three words: God is One.

What Rabbi Feinstein’s little book was really teaching these young people about was the ocean of humanity. We are all individual waves that eventually merge with the One, with the Everything. I put the little book back on my shelf. A keeper.

However, the analogy to the ocean didn’t mention the destructive power the same waves could unleash if nature ran wild. Or if, as portrayed in the Torah, God decided to destroy mankind by flood for immoral conduct beyond reprieve, a destruction God regretted and promised never to do again. “My love shall never depart from you,/And my covenant of peace shall not be removed — says the One who loves you, the Eternal” (Isaiah 54: 9-10).This is something to remember as once again our present day world stands on the brink of nuclear devastation. How do we best use our scientifically awesome individual and collective power? How do we prevent the flood?

I shook off these heavy thoughts and returned to the book shelf. Since one can readily find health care information on the Internet, I removed a large book — a tome, really — dealing with diagnoses and remedies for common medical problems. Then I gasped to see my late mother’s handwriting on the book’s flyleaf. It looked so much like my own, a little fancier, the letters more open. It was dated 1995 when my mother was 90 and intended as a birthday gift for my daughter. The inscription explained the etymology of the word shalom, one little word this time, one little word that guides our journey on earth from life to death. It is a salutation that greets us when we arrive. “Hello, we are glad you are here.” It means not only peace but wholeness, completion. For my mother, shalom also meant healing and health, all of which she wished her grand-daughter on her birthday, in effect, the day of my daughter’s continued rise to the crest of her individual wave. That is why my mother placed this inscription in a medical book.

Later, my mother explained, not only did shalom become salaam in Muslim usage, but the Malaysian Muslims adapted it to salang. Many years later British soldiers serving in Southeast Asia during World War II appropriated it when they returned to Britain, and that is how shalom, which also means goodbye became the salutation, “So Long.” I remember the words of this song of my Canadian youth, sung in hale and hearty celebration:

“So long, it’s been good to know you … 

it’s a long time since I’ve been home.”

 

This is the message of the waves, I thought. A few little words. Enjoy your brief time as you rise to your towering strength. It’s been good to experience the air and the sun and to see far into the land, but don’t overpower it. Don’t use your strength to destroy. Be the best wave that you can be until it is time to recede into the company of the other waves in the Oneness of your eternal home. It’s good to be home. That’s what my mother did when she was ninety-three. She went home. To the One, to the Theory of Everything. Yet her generous spirit still lives in the company of those who knew her, loved her, in the inscribed message of the flyleaf. When we say shalom and mean it, we prevent the Flood.

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2015. This story first appeared in my thesis, “The Staying Power of Hope in the Aggadic Narratives of the Talmud,” 2015.

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THE GUARANTORS

 

THE GUARANTORS

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

 

Over the years, many imaginative stories have grown up to fill in the gaps in what the Torah tells us.  As a favorite midrash from the Song of Songs Rabbah (1:4:1) narrates:

“When Israel stood ready to receive the Torah at Sinai, God said to the people: ‘I am giving you my Torah. Bring me good guarantors that you will guard it, and I shall give it to you.’ The Israelites asked God to accept the patriarchs as their guarantors. But God refused. They then suggest that the prophets should become their guarantors. And again God refuses. Finally, they say, “Behold, our children are our guarantors.” And God responds, ‘They are certainly good guarantors. For their sake, I give the Torah to you.’’’

Photo credit: https://az616578.vo.msecnd.net/files/2017/03/12/636248816192228080-588797399_snowstorm.jpg

Personally, I have always had the utmost respect for the prophets who spoke out against the dictums of the Torah being broken. Great prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah all suffered consequences for their honesty, their outspokenness, and their dramatic actions, which, in some instances, rivaled the street theatre of activist Alan Ginsberg and his ilk in the 1960s. These ancient prophets had no television, no 21st century Internet, texting, tweets, or Instagrams to communicate their unpopular messages to the people. They had to use more primitive methods: wearing an ox yoke to symbolize commitment to the Torah, posting messages on the Temple door, or staging what we would call a hunger strike today beside the Chabar Canal. The prophets were indeed guarantors of the Torah. Keep the commandments, they preached in their various ways, and fearlessly they rebuked the Jewish people in no uncertain terms, predicting dire consequences for straying from the covenant. But they also offered hope and consolation to those who returned to the Torah.

Today each of us who identify as Jews are guarantors of the Torah, and hopefully we will have children who will want to be Jewish and to be guarantors of the Torah too. Even more hopefully, we will have sufficient children to guarantee the continuity of the Jewish people. In the final analysis, we — each of us — are what our grandchildren are.

In my most optimistic moments, I like to recall the legend of the Lamed Vavs – that if there are only thirty-six righteous people in the four corners of the world, the world will be upheld, and we will always be alright. As individuals, we can’t always affect the course of history, or uphold the world by ourselves, but we can do little things that add up to a lot. In the spirit of the Torah, we can do little acts of kindness.  

My father believed in the chain of goodness, that if you do a kind thing for someone, that person will do a kind thing for someone else, and thus the chain of goodness continues, unbroken. You are standing at Sinai. In contemporary terms, they call it “paying it forward.”

You are what your grandchildren are.

When I think of little acts of kindness, I often think of the young Hasid who drove me home in a blizzard when I lived in Toronto.  I had bought a home in a mainly modern Orthodox area because I didn’t know if I would like the more straight-laced Toronto after the elegant, exuberant, francophone culture of Montreal, but I did know that I would always be able to sell a home that was within walking distance of so many synagogues. The garden of my house backed onto a lovely park that was very quiet during the week, but on Saturday afternoons, I loved watching the Orthodox families walking together in the park.

One night I drove home from a social gathering around midnight, and, by the time I reached my area, the thickly falling snow had turned into a blizzard. And sure enough, about fifteen or twenty blocks from my street, my car conked out. No way to start it, no how! It was absolutely dead. Cell phones had not yet been invented, so I couldn’t call for help. I couldn’t walk home; it was too far to go in the blinding blizzard, and I couldn’t stay in the car. Without heat, I would freeze.  My windows were already frosted over and my car blanketed with snow.

I was loathe to knock on a stranger’s door after midnight. What to do? I decided to stand outside — in the blizzard — beside the car in the hope that someone would soon drive by on the deserted street. Smart people were inside.

Finally, as I was beginning to shiver and shake with the cold, despite my warm clothing, a black station wagon came to a halt beside me. Driving it was a young Hasid. “Do you need help?” he asked. He tried valiantly to start my car, but it was no use.

“I’ll have to leave the car here,” I said. “I just live a few blocks from here. Do you think you could drive me home?”

He looked uncomfortable, and I realized that he did not like the idea of being alone in a car with a strange woman. He scratched his ear behind his black hat. But, as the blizzard whirled around us, he swallowed his misgivings and said, “Sure. Hop in.”

Very carefully, looking straight ahead through the window and not at me, and not saying a word, he drove me home. As I got out of the car, I thanked him profusely. It was pitch dark outside, but I think he blushed. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do a mitzvah,” he replied.

As we looked at one another, two Jews whose backgrounds were so different, our eyes locked in a moment of understanding. A mitzvah.  An act of loving kindness. Of course. We knew immediately that we were witnesses. We had seen one another at Sinai. In the midst of a blizzard, a generation apart, we would be guarantors.

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2015. This story first appeared in my thesis, “The Staying Power of Hope in the Aggadic Narratives of the Talmud,” 2015. I have also narrated it at various gatherings.

 

 

 

The “Herem” of Anonymous: A Contemporary Fable

Loving Disputes

 

The rabbis of the Talmud believed that in order to understand a situation fully, and to make a resolving decision (where possible), it was best to take all aspects of a situation into consideration. This entailed different points of view, and they were able to hold multiple points of view in their minds as true, each from their own perspective. The Talmudic method was one that fostered a delight in argumentation, but they were intended as loving disputes. Of course, eventually they had to come to a decision, and then the majority decision ruled. But the minority decision was also recorded (because times change, and different decisions may be needed). Interestingly, the U.S. justice system has many similarities to Jewish law, especially in terms of the way appeals and the Supreme Court works.

The Talmudic tale of “Akhnai’s Oven” (a circuitous story that begins with loving disputes about repairing and purifying a broken oven and takes a long route to its resolution) is one of these disputes. Inspired by this Talmudic tale, my own narrative, “The Herem (Banishment) of Anony-Mous, is a round-about story about wrong, shame, recovery, and a heavenly voice called the bat kol. In Akhnai’s Oven, the reader or listener does not know where the story is going until it gets there. In the same round-about manner, The Herem of Anony-Mous makes the point of the narrative. My story is a contemporary illustration of how people with group-think can inflict pain – ona’ah — on a talented person with original ideas beyond the capacity of the group to understand.  The story makes much use of an oft-used literary device characteristic of rabbinic narratives: the divine voice from heaven (the bat kol), and the banishment of Anony-Mous from his community – and his music — parallels the herem imposed on the Talmud’s Rabbi Eliezer.

The “Herem” of Anonymous: A Contemporary Fable

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Anony-Mous was not Jewish; he lived in remote area of North China where it was unlikely that he would ever encounter a Jew. But Anony-Mous did have a religion of his own, although he didn’t know it was a religion. He called it Music. He did not have to seek Music. It came to him, as if he had a Divine Voice, a bat kol in his head. The bat kol was with him always, when he rose up and when he lay down to sleep. It was always there.

Photo credit: http://wallpaperspics.com/thumbs/26/2/notation-musical-sheet-swirl-music-spiral-268578.jpg

The poor, uneducated people who lived in the rural, impoverished town in North China where he was born didn’t have musical training, but Anony-Mous’ bat kol could transport them to internal places they understood from Nature, from the sparse trees in the area, and the waterfall’s flow. They understood the sounds of the birds and the animals, and they heard the breath of the wind, the ru-ach. But never before had anyone in their town made the beautiful “Music” that came from Anony-Mous’ bat kol. On their home-made instruments the villagers tried to reproduce the sounds that Anony-Mous played on his improvised instruments as if truly a Divine Voice were directing him. This was the first miracle, that a little boy could hear that Voice and create its sound for all to hear.

The people whispered about this miracle to the nearby villagers, who whispered to other villagers, and soon the news of Anony-Mous’ bat kol traveled all the way to Beijing, the capital of China, and the home of its musical culture. The Beijing Opera, for example, was there, along with some of the finest musicians and music teachers in all of China.

Anony-Mous was eight years old when Chinese officials from the capital visited the little town to hear his music and promptly whisked him off to Beijing, where he was housed and fed in a style he had never experienced and given the rigorous training accorded to those whose musical genius came to the attention of the State.  This was the second miracle. Anony-Mous’ bat kol was very happy there and sang in his head all day long and sometimes all night too, as Anony-Mous learned from expert teachers to write down the notes of the Divine Voice in his head.  By the time he was twenty, he was composing music – operas, symphonies, concertos — not only in the Chinese style, but in the Western method he was learning too. He was greatly attracted by what he learned about the West, where there was a political system called “democracy,” as if all the instruments in the orchestra had a chance to play so that their voices could be heard.

By now Anony-Mous was not only conducting an orchestra, he was also a university student at Beijing’s finest facility, where ideas he had never encountered before floated around surreptitiously. Unwisely, he took a leadership role in a student protest: The students wanted the government to ameliorate impoverished conditions throughout China — poverty very unlike the elegant living to which Anony-Mous had been introduced in Beijing. He wanted to make life better for simple people, like those who had valued the soulful beauty of his bat kol when he was a little boy.

The Chinese government’s reaction was harsh: It was dangerous to allow a charismatic leader like Anony-Mous to disrupt society with his Western ideas. Even if the rural people of China were indeed suffering dire poverty while Beijing officials lived in luxury. Even if Anony-Mous was right, and they were wrong. Even if his bat kol sang out in magnificent music that celebrated and supported these ideas. The people were listening, and they might begin to understand where the bat kol was leading. An individual must bend to the majority decisions.

The majority decision of the Chinese court was dire: herem, banishment. The learned judges had the power to execute him if they so decided. Instead, they tried to kill his bat kol, his special power that came from a place they could not understand. They realized that it was not Anony-Mous but the magnetism of his bat kol that could lead the people astray. So not only did they banish him from the capital and sentence him to hard labor in a remote agricultural commune in North China, but the judges further decreed that he could not write music nor play an instrument. Not for twenty years. Their intention was to break his spirit into defamed pieces, like the sections of Akhnai’s oven that were no longer ritually pure. Anony-Mous was made tamei (impure).

That night, with uncontrolled anger, the bat kol wreaked vengeance on the capitol. The wind howled, uprooting the trees, the waters reversed their direction, and the earth shook, causing the very walls of the courthouse that had witnessed Anony-Mous’ sentencing to bend perpetually in penance. The animals screamed in terror. But the people were silent. They understood that their beloved bat kol was leaving them.

Miraculously, the bat kol did not leave Anony-Mous. That was the third miracle. Like the Shechina, it accompanied him to the remote rural community where his muscles would ache from the hard labor and the harsh climate until he got used to it and became very, very strong. Inside and out. Although he was not permitted to sing, play an instrument, or write a note of music, the bat kol sang in his head day and night – as he was awakening to the dawn, while he was working throughout the day, and as he was going to sleep. It created beautiful operas and symphonies, and concertos that only Anony-Mous could hear. For nineteen years. In the twentieth year of his harsh sentence, he was permitted to conduct a rural orchestra in the village where the labor camp was located, and where he improvised rough instruments. As the stirring notes of the bat kol took heart and emerged in the compositions he created for the orchestra, the people were awed. The notes were not yet written down. They were all in his head.

At the end of the twentieth year, the authorities whisked him back to Beijing as if the herem had never happened. He was considered “re-educated” and reinstated to all his former musical glory. Then he was formally introduced to the current female director of the Beijing Opera, whom he married, and they had a son  — who perhaps one day, if Anony-Mous is lucky, will defeat him. It was like the restoration of Job after all his hardships. Or the restoration of Akhnai’s oven that had been dismembered but put together with sand between the three sections so that it could remain pure.

Yes, there are some pure individuals who must adhere to their own absolute truth, despite the consequences. No matter what happened to Anony-Mous, he had kept faith with the bat kol. Finally, his tears at the ona’ah, the pain inflicted on an individual by a group, by a majority that was wrong, had penetrated God’s gates, even though they remained locked to others. Now, aided by the bat kol, the notes emerged from his head and flooded onto pages and pages of musical compositions. As one of the foremost modern composers in China, Anony-Mous would become well known in the West for compositions that reconciled the sounds of Eastern and Western music into a unified whole. And the bat kol rejoiced. When Anony-Mous’music is played all over the world, some say they can hear the bat kol – or is it God? — laughing.

* * * *

Is this a true story?

 

Who was my Anony-Mous (not his real name)? Like Rabbi Eliezer, Anony-Mous was cruelly treated by his community. He, too, had suffered the debilitating effects of ona’ah, and eventually — twenty years later — his tears penetrated the locked gates too. I encountered him at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, Canada, where we were both guest artists in different disciplines and became friends. In his early fifties then, tall for a Chinese man, slim, and fit, with black hair, flashing black eyes, and hands that gesticulated like a Rabbi Heschel captured on film, he was in the process of writing a symphony for presentation at the Lincoln Centre. Although his studio at the Banff Centre was furnished with a grand piano, he rarely used it. The notes of his composition simply poured out of his head to his pen and transferred themselves to paper in astounding fluidity. Cemented together like Akhnai’s oven, he was purified.  He had emerged from his broken state, from a herem that would have broken lesser souls to become the musical pride of China.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2015

 

Yizkor: Remembering

Yizkor: Remembering [1]

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

We have to accept that our flesh and blood, earthly lives – all life, our lives, the lives of our parents — eventually come to an end. But that understanding does little to reduce the pain of watching an ailing parent, a beloved parent, decline and deteriorate when there is nothing more we can do to reverse the effects of nature. In many instances — if we are lucky — this is our first personal encounter with death, and it brings into question our own mortality.  It is painful to lose our beloved protector, not the protector of theology or the supernatural one of fiction, but our own personal protector who participated in giving us life.

Death is a homecoming, according to Abraham Joshua Heschel. In the final analysis, in the same way one prepares for life, one must prepare for death and depart with a sense of peace. “The Jewish mystical tradition sees old age in a positive light,” writes Rabbi A. J. Seltzer. “Aging is not seen as a defect to be eliminated by medical science. Old age presents the opportunity for the divine soul to assert primacy over the animal soul….The more the powers of the body subside and the fires of passion ebb, the stronger the spirit becomes…and the greater its joy over what it knows.” _

* * * *

Dr. Irving (Israel) Copnick

As I helped feed my father in the dining room of the hospital for the aged where he was confined, I slowly became aware of an incessant refrain. It came from a nearby elderly female body, twisted and deformed. Professionally, a uniformed attendant continued spooning soup into the old lady’s mouth. The soup dribbled down her chin while she chanted over and over again in Yiddish, “Ich vil nor leben, ich vil nor leben!” (“I want to go on living. I still want to live.”)

The confused floor for the totally helpless. Despite all assurances, I was not prepared for my father’s placement in surroundings where his companions were those who had lost their way in the world. My father had been a member of a healing profession. Now the healer could not be healed. I was not ready for this reality.

Nor was I prepared for the fact that my mother would be spending part of every day at the home-hospital and feeling guilty if she missed a morning. She had already tended him, confused and incontinent, for nine years by herself at home. She had been coming to the hospital every day for four years. She had exhausted her self and her financial resources. And so we moved the man that we both loved from this friendly, sectarian hospital to a larger government hospital – bright and airy – twenty miles away. My father had been an officer in the army, and this was a hospital for veterans.

When I walked through these halls lined with men occasionally saluting one another, reliving their days as heroes, remembering when they were healthy and went to war for their country, I could remember myself as a little girl, standing proudly beside my father, so handsome in his new Captain’s uniform. Together we peered through the venetian blinds at the parade of soldiers smartly marching in unison several stories below.

 

My father….

I have come to accept that even when the loved one does not know you anymore, even when a gleam in the eye can no longer be evoked, there is still a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunshine, a taste of cool ice cream. These were the things my father could enjoy. Or the touch of my hand even if he didn’t know it was mine. And when, just once, he tapped his foot in sudden response to a familiar song, I knew my father was, for those few seconds, alive in spirit for me.

In this more distant setting, we do not visit as often now. We feel the need to detach ourselves from the accumulation of what is now more than twenty years’ witness to suffering, to remove ourselves from continually reliving the pain. But although he know longer knows us, he is still ours. Still a part of us. Neither can we abandon him.

“You understand, darling,” my father had written to me during the war when I was just a little girl, “your father is a doctor and a soldier. I dream of you every night, and I pray to God to protect  you while I am gone. I miss you terribly, but soon, very soon, I shall come home again.”

I knew that I had brought my father to his last home. For that is the dread of placement – that it is final – a stepping stone to death. Only death will secure one’s release, once admitted, from these walls. And you can’t get out of death alive. That is what is so hard to face. That in placing someone you love, you must come to terms with your own mortality too.

What placing my father, with all its attendant sorrows, has given me that is positive, is a deeper understanding of the sanctity of life. That while the heart beats, there must be dignity, and that while the heart beats, there must be joy.

There is always compensation. When we placed my father here – his death in life – my mother began to live again. Who can know the mind of God?

* * * *

There is so much that we do not know about life and death in this world and the next. My father had not been able to utter a word for eleven years, nor to give any evidence that he heard the tender words with which my mother and I caressed him when we visited. Then, on a day that was earth-shaking for me, I told him that I was going to teach a course at McGill University (something I knew that he would prize), and for the next thirty seconds or so, my father burst into speech. He spoke to me in Yiddish (his first language as a young boy, but one with which he never addressed me), and the cascade of words told me how much he loved me, that I was the finest, the best. These words were the last my father, my earthly protector, ever spoke to me – or to anyone. They were his last words.

I will always remember.

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Toronto, 1992, Los Angeles 2015, 2017. All rights reserved.

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[1] “Yizkor” originally titled“ The Loss of the Protector,” is reprinted from an editorialized version in my 2015 thesis, “The Staying Power of Hope in the Aggadic Narratives of the Talmud.” It was first told in “Altar Pieces” (1992), a narrated collage of my original stories and poems that was videotaped and screened nationally many times on Canada’s “Vision TV” over a period of five years.