Losing and Gaining: Never Easy

Nope – this isn’t a post about a woman’s constant struggle with weight gain….it’s quick  and not too “emo” so,  sit for a minute.


Yair Shapiro, zt”l

2 weeks ago, our cousin was on a day trip, hiking in the desert, when he fell from a 50 meter cliff to his tragic death. This was not some remote cousin who popped up once a year for a family get-together, this cousin called 3-4 times a week sometimes 3-4 times a day and stayed with us for holidays and weekends. This cousin was well-recognized around the neighborhood and everyone who met him from what I’ve heard only had the nicest, even if most-generic, comments about how pleasant he was.

He was single, though he tried throughout the years to pinpoint the kind of women he was looking for to make a lasting relationship and family with yet he was unsuccessful. He got lonely and depressed like most of us did, watching others move on with their lives and loved ones while we were single and in search of…Mr. or Miss Right. We encouraged and suggested new activities that might help him meet different women, we listened and understood the frustrations that come along with not knowing the future, and we set him up with good women from good families and he mostly had good experiences, just never seemed to click with anyone specific for a long-term relationship to blossom.

He was bright and knowledgeable with an outstanding memory of all things in history but struggled with learning disabilities though it never seemed to slow or deter him from his academic goals. Reaching for higher degrees and publishing an article in his field were no small feat but he was dedicated to his research even though he understood that meant he would need to find a partner who could appreciate his was a labor of love, not one that would bring great financial reward. He was not in it for the fame and fortune, he was proud of his accomplishments and yearned to be respected for his work and nothing more.

He was a grateful cousin, always thanking me for hosting him for the holidays, weekends, meals, and conversations. He brought gifts that were thoughtful and useful and always tried to bring something he knew that would put a smile on my face. He challenged my husband when discussing religion or politics and laughed with my children about sports, t.v. shows and movies. In every conversation he would inquire about the health of my parents and my in-laws, how the children were doing in school and if I had had a hard day.

The hardest thing to overcome was the finality. Not having one last opportunity to say what was truly in our hearts to one another. Sure, every conversation was honest and he knew how I felt about him because I would tell him just as often as he would tell me. However one never knows what they would say if they knew they had only one last time to say anything, until after, and then it’s too late.

2 weeks ago, we lost a cousin but gained perspective. To lose something so dear in such a shocking way?  We may never recover. Time will heal the pain and with every new, “life without Yair” moment we will look back and smile because he was so good to us. The biggest lesson I learned, even though I knew it all along, was to act like each day may be my last. Not in a morbid way, rather,  that each action towards others is something to be taken seriously. Be the very best version of yourself all the time so that when you leave this world, others will only have kind words to say and not feel regret or anger. Smile even when you feel sad. Put someone else’s needs before your own. Surround yourself with positive energy.  Measure your words. Think before you speak. Apologize when you are wrong. Hug with intensity. Love with a full heart.


I Know You, But We’ve Never Met


Saturday Night! Time to PARTY!! Or in my reality based lame high-school life watch Saturday Night Live whilst living in America and here in Israel really means time to fill the dishwasher. I know, I’m a wild card…

It is a strange thing to have been at a party for someone you’ve never met. I mean it’s one thing to tag along with a friend and even though you feel like a third wheel or act like a wall flower there is the possibility that you might meet someone new, or at least eavesdrop into a really cool conversation.

Because I was super popular in high school, as mentioned before, I think I went to a total of 2 parties, not including the sweet 16’s. I mean real parties; no parents, music, dancing, people pulling off into private corners for who knows what…well I really had no clue ‘what’ at the time. Now that I think about it, one was a fairly tame graduation party where the parents were present and it was still daylight. However, that ONE party that I did go to included going in a car, driven by my friends, to a really fancy house, with cool colored lights bordering the driveway. The front yard had real landscaping, not mother’s day sprouts in a 6th grade homemade earthenware pot by the front door, but real palm trees and in the backyard a patio with a pool and lights that wreaked of wealth or a really good architect. Even though I knew mostly everyone there I was truly out of my comfort zone. The hostess and I were not close friends and I don’t even think we spoke more than a few times all throughout high school but the whole class was invited and my friends dragged me along.

This was not my only experience participating in someone’s get together where I really did not know the main person the party was being held for. When I was 18, I along with my other 4 shana bet (2nd yr studying in Israel) classmates were invited to our rebbe’s son’s bris, at a yeshiva, FULL of guys, and I probably do not need to express how uncomfortable we were. We stuck out like a vegetarian at a steakhouse (not that there is anything wrong with that). We must have spent hours with our curling irons, hair dryers, diffusers, bottles of mousse, gel, de-frizzer, lip gloss, what have you…and WE DID NOT EVEN KNOW ANYONE! (Besides the new dad). What’s even more weird – or not so much because it did happen to me – was that I was at this same little boy’s bar mitzvah 13 yrs later, after I made aliyah with my husband, and 3 children. I listened at both of these smachot (happy occasions) to others praise the little boy and all he was about to accomplish, how he was destined for greatness and how the contributions he was about to make to the Jewish world were magnanimous! No pressure, kid, good luck with all that!

In the last year I have had the privilege yet again to be at 2 gatherings for someone I never even met, but walked away truly knowing. There was a new neighbor, someone who created small amounts of fame by sharing her story with others and while I had heard of this women a few times she was new to my block and I was eager to meet her. We had happened to have met randomly in the supermarket and talked about banal things and shared a quick laugh. I had heard a short while later that her husband had died from an illness, leaving her alone with 3 children. In my amazing community we all banded together as we always do, pitching in during the good times and the bad. I decided to participate in the funeral. I cried and cried which may seem strange for I did not know this woman, I did not know this man, I did not know these children. But I am a friend, I am a wife and I am a mother. I cried for all these reasons. Her pain was tangible and as I listened to the loved ones talk about this wonderful man it became personal. So an unspoken connection began. I went to visit her that week and was greeted by one of her daughters outside the house who looked up at me, a complete stranger, and asked me simply, “are you here to see my mom?”, I responded yes obviously, and her response just blew me away. “That’s good, because she is really sad, and you have a nice face, you’ll make her feel better.” I entered the house and just sat. I don’t even think I spoke more than a sentence. I just listened. Listened to more stories about what a great father he was. What a great brother-in-law/husband/friend he was. I was connected and wanted to get to know them better.

I had a chance to host the children and mother once for a shabbos meal and my life was made richer for it. Tonight, one year later there was an azkara (memorial ceremony) for this gentleman. I cried and cried. It was personal. I listened to his mother-in-law speak about him (and generally these relationships aint the greatest) but she felt she had gained a son when he married her daughter. I cried along with her. Since tissues were kept close to the immediate family, I was so thankful when someone finally passed around the napkins. Those napkins, taken from the beautiful table decked with all sorts of delicious food and https://i2.wp.com/www.honeysucklelife.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Picnic-Lighting-Inspiration.jpgcandles. The ambiance on the porch with a string of lights above and all our neighborhood friends seemed to be a gathering of festivities. The mother spoke to her children in their father’s words, praising them, encouraging them, sending love through their very wise and sensitive mother. With kindness she spoke and with humor. And I cried. Now, that’s no great surprise since I cry at almost EVERYTHING (even kleenex commercials). I connect easily. This was personal. I left as someone was playing a soulful song on a guitar wishing all those I passed a good week. I cried all the way home. It seemed like it took forever to make it up the hill. After a year there is supposed to be a sense of closure. I felt raw because though we had never met, I knew him, and it was painful.

I thought a while before putting my thoughts down. Why would I cry so much for someone I never actually met? This shabbos I heard a great rav speak about the power we have just by smiling at someone and greeting them. Even if you do not know the person, by taking but a few seconds to acknowledge another person’s existence, one has the ability to affect how that day will continue. I could have very easily never made a point to meet this new neighbor. No one would have chastised me if I had chosen not to attend the funeral. Our lives are busy and it would not have seemed unfriendly if I had never invited her family for a meal. But I took the time, and it was never a lot of actual time, a minute here, 30 there, 1-2 hours tops. Sometimes that smile or simple hello will help the other person, but I can guarantee it will always make you feel good. How many people will you have the ability to affect daily? How many will I? Challenge extended…