The 21st of Kislev: The Yarzheit of my Mother-in-law




Tonight begins the 21st of Kislev.  This year, the days of December line up with the days of Kislev.  It is a sad day in our family as it is the Yahrzeit (commemoration of the anniversary of death) of my mother-in-law, Devorah bas Yitzchok Ahron.  We light a yahrtzeit candle, also called a נר נשמה‎‎ (candle of the soul) during the yahrzeit to reflect on the neshoma (soul) of the departed.

My mother-in-law had an effervescence that was contagious.  She loved being around people and she loved life.  She loved parties of all kinds.  She remembered everyone’s birthdays and she especially loved Chanukah.  When she would travel to Florida for the winter, she would always remember to send presents for the grandchildren before she left.  She loved dressing up on Purim and bringing costumes and masks for everyone else.  Mom was the life of the party.

Mom had been ill with pancreatic cancer for over two years. The fact that she lived with this terrible illness for that long was testimony to the excellent care that she received from her children.  Every medical decision was contemplated and carefully evaluated.  She was warmly cared for by her children and grandchildren who worked hard to allow her effervescence to shine through until her very last moments.

That Chanukah during shiva (seven day mourning period) eight years ago was so poignant and yet so beautiful.   Lighting the Chanukah candles together and sitting all together on Chanukah was so reminiscent of Mom’s energy and spirit. Her neshoma was so entwined with the albeit sad Chanukah celebration that year and in the future.

Mom loved to share all that she had and all that she enjoyed with others.  Mom’s Hebrew name was דְּבוֹרָה, Devorah, and it is so significant that her name began with the letter Daled, ד. The Hebrew letter, Daled, ד,  is shaped like a door with a horizontal line on top for protection and a vertical line for stability. Mom’s life was truly like a door, as her home and heart were open to everyone. She invited so many friends and neighbors to enjoy Shabbos and Yomim Tovim (Jewish holidays) with her.   She invited her mother to live in her home after her father passed away.  There was a steady stream of visitors and crafts every Sunday as her many siblings and family members came to visit Bubby, the matriarch of the Kramer family.   Even when Mom was most ill, she was always concerned with those around her.

Tonight, Don and his brother have traveled to Israel, where Mom is buried.  They have commemorated the yahrzeit with a siyum (completion of a tractate of Torah) and seuda (festive meal) in Jerusalem.    The family will visit Mom’s grave tomorrow and then return in time for Chanukah.  Mom would be so content and happy to have her yarzheit commemorated with Torah and with a festive gathering of family and friends.  That was the true spirit of her life.  It is the ongoing legacy that she has left us.

May the neshoma of Devorah bas Yitzchok Ahron a’H be elevated.

Simplicity is not Simple

Baruch Dayan He’Emes (Blessed are You, G‑d, the Judge of the Truth).

This morning, I lost a dear friend and great role model.

Her name was Chaya Mindel bas Aryeh Leib.  She was my husband’s first cousin and one of the greatest women I know.  She had a very challenging life, but met every experience with simplicity, sensibility, perspective and great devotion to Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d).

She was on a higher spiritual level than almost anyone I know.  I always felt that I could not even hope to emulate her, yet every moment that I spent with her taught me so much. Chaya a’h remains for me the paradigm of an Isha Tzidchanis (righteous woman).  These are some of the many lessons that she taught me.

Keep Life Simple

Chaya a’h filled her time with helping others and connecting to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.  She simplified the other parts of her life so that she could maximize the time and energy spent on those very important things.  That is the type of simplicity that is not simple.

Hold Yourself to a Higher Standard Than Everyone Else.  Great People Make Others Feel Big.

In Chaya’s presence, I often felt humble and rather foolish, because I am on a much lower spiritual level than  her.  Yet, she always saw the meaning in the things that I tried to do and acknowledged them.  She made everyone around her feel big, but never lowered her own standard.  Even when she was in terrible pain, she was polite and appreciative to those around her.

Advocate.  Advocate. Advocate. 

Chaya advocated for those around her who needed advocating.  She called, wrote letters and did whatever it took to advocate and help.  She left no stone unturned if someone needed something.  I was often surprised to find that Chaya had found and enlisted the support and admiration of the experts in whatever field she needed.  Chaya made it look simple, but it wasn’t.

Teach and Share What You Know

Whatever Chaya learned, she shared with those who could benefit from this knowledge. She helped others with similar challenges to her own.  She gave shiurim (Torah lectures), to her friends and neighbors even when she was quite ill, to share the words of Torah that resonated so deeply within her.

When the Going Gets Tough, Stay Devoted and True

I watched Chaya daven (pray) through great pain and I was envious of the connection that she had with G-d, even when she was suffering.  She made sacrifices for Torah learning, even to her last breath. Her emuna peshuta (simple faith) shown through, even when the going was so tough.  Emuna peshuta at that level is not simple.  It is profound.

T’hay nafsha tzrurah b’tzror hachaim (May her soul be bound in the bond of life)




When It’s Hard Not to Judge

I have always been taught not to judge others.   Leave the judging to God.  We just have to give others the benefit of the doubt.  I internalized these ideas and I tried to transmit them to my children.  I thought that I had succeeded and then something happened that taught us all an important lesson.  An experience has the power to teach and transform in a way that preachy words just cannot.

We were on vacation and the kids wanted to swim.  We found an olympic sized indoor pool and we arrived one evening an hour before closing.  We noticed that the pool had lap lanes for the serious swimmers  and a wider area for the families that just wanted to swim leisurely and play in the pool.  We noticed that the pool had handicap access and that there was a wheelchair at the side of the pool.

We entered the pool area and the kids got down to pool business.  They tried to play Marco Polo.  They tried to make handstands and cartwheels underwater.  They tried to swim leisurely.

They were unable to enjoy any of the fun things they were used to doing in the pool. 

There was a man in one of the lap lanes swimming with such vigor that he was creating waves in the pool.  The intensity of his swimming precluded anyone else from leisurely enjoying the pool.  

The kids asked me to intervene.

I felt badly.  The man seemed to be enjoying his swim and was so focused. Anyways, it didn’t seem that he could sustain the vigorous swimming for much longer.  I looked at the clock.  There were forty-five minutes left until pool closing   

I negotiated with the kids. Should we give him twenty minutes more before we complained?  They wanted to swim right away.  We compromised and all agreed to wait ten minutes before complaining to him or to the lifeguard on duty. 

Five minutes later, we were delighted to see that he was winding down and heading to his last lap.  We collectively breathed a sigh of relief and watched him exit the pool.  He hoisted himself up to the side using only his arms and plunked himself in the wheelchair.  

And then we understood everything.  The man had no legs.

We never used words to crowd the experiential “aha” that we experienced that evening.  It was just one of those moments that taught us about giving others the benefit of the doubt.  


You have the World at Hello

Growing up, we were taught to greet people in a friendly manner.  A friendly greeting can really transform a person’s day.  I remember vividly how special I felt as a child when I came to visit my mother’s best friend, my Tante Bashi. As I came through her door, she would exclaim.  “Wow!  What an important guest is here.”  She would always make me feel ten feet tall.  

In the local supermarket parking lot, there was an older man with a thick accent who had been  hired to round up and return the shopping carts to their assigned place.  He worked very hard through good and bad weather.  He was there when I shopped early and he was there when I shopped late.  He was always right there to take my shopping cart from me right after I unloaded the groceries into my car.   He was reliable and hardworking.

And, he wore a white shirt and suit to work.

I was always intrigued by his choice of dress. Why would he choose to wear the clothing of an executive to perform such a menial job?  Was it to show respect and appreciation for a job he cherished?  Did his family think that he was the CEO of a company and he played the part?  Was he auditioning for Undercover Boss?

I never had the nerve to ask him, but I always noticed him and admired his professionalism, both in dress and in action.

Whenever I would leave my car to enter the supermarket, I would greet him warmly.   Whenever he would return my cart for me, I would thank him and wish him a good day.  I wondered if anyone else acknowledged, greeted and thanked him.

One day, I was having a bad day.  I parked my car at the supermarket and was lost in my thoughts.  Without thinking, I reached for a  shopping cart, when someone said, “Good morning.  How are you? Is everything okay?”  I snapped out of my thoughts and looked up. It was the shopping cart executive.

His greeting brightened my day.

The gift of a warm hello and bright smile really can transform someone’s world.

Saying Please and Thank You the Adult Way

Our parents and teachers taught us the “magic words”.  Now that we are adults, have we lost the magic?

In today’s fast paced world, we cannot tolerate someone else having a bad day.  And, it is so easy to complain.  We phone our kids’ school complaining.  We leave negative reviews.   We rate our doctors, our professors and our dry cleaners with just a touch of the keyboard.

Do we find the time, the words and the keystrokes to say “Thank You”, too?  Are we even-handed, making sure that we offer compliments as easily as we offer criticism?

A while back, our township’s postmaster changed the mail routes on our side of town.  For several weeks, our mail was coming at odd times, after dark and some times not at all.  My city block had been removed from the route of the wonderful mail carrier who had delivered our mail for over a decade.   My mail was being delivered by whomever was available at the end of the day, and clearly there were days that no one was available.  I was livid and it was time to set the record straight.  I was determined to make sure that our mail would be reassigned to our original mail carrier.

I picked up the phone and called the postmaster.  She patiently explained to me that she  was unable to give our address back to the original mail carrier. She also explained to me that there was no guarantee that our mail would be delivered consistently at the same time of day.  Furthermore, she explained that occasionally I may have to contend with mail arriving after dark and that she was still working on finding a new mail carrier for us.  I was disappointed, but decided to wait and see how the new mail carrier worked out  before calling again.

To my great delight, the postmaster placed our address with a mail carrier who was friendlier, more efficient and even more consistent than his predecessor.  I thanked our new mailman when he brought mail all the way to to my door and when he took the outgoing mail from my roadside mailbox.  I thanked him when he delivered the mail in the rain, in the the sleet and in the hail.  I thanked him when he brought an entire crate of mail after a vacation hold.  I was an adult using the magic word and I was pleased with myself.

After months of exemplary mail delivery service, I mentioned to my kids how pleased I was with our new mail carrier and I shared the story about calling the postmaster.

They were unimpressed.

They asked, “Did you call the postmaster to thank her for making the adjustment?”

Right.  I took the time to call her with a complaint, but I couldn’t find the time to call her with a compliment.

I picked up the phone.  I called the postmaster.

I could tell she was holding her breath when I rattled off my address and the fact that I had called her six months ago. She was clearly waiting for the next complaint.

And then, I used the magic my kids had suggested.

“I just wanted to thank you for addressing my issue and sending me the most wonderful mail carrier.”

The postmaster was astounded and shared the following with me: “In all my years as postmaster, no one has ever called to thank me. You made my day.”

Clearly, the magic words still have the power to impress.