Two untimely deaths
Today, my head has been full of the deaths of two young people who both died far too young.
Yesterday, Ezra Schwartz, 18 was murdered in Israel. I don’t know Ezra but he comes out of a world that I am deeply familiar with. This June he graduated the same Jewish day school that I attended. It’s a small school. It’s small enough that you know kids several years younger and older than you are.
I probably went to school with the parents of Ezra’s grieving classmates. Ezra, like my son chose to do a gap year in Israel. Those gap year programs are transformative. Usually your child comes home transformed, matured.
Ezra unfortunately was killed by someone who found his existence on the planet and more specifically in Israel, to be unbearable.
When I was in college I worked at the Lemberg Day Care center at Brandeis.At Lemberg we spent lots of time teaching our kids how to solve conflicts. We taught them how to explain how their feelings were hurt and how to work out solutions that were satisfying for both hurt parties.
In an ideal world, the lessons and techniques of Circle Time would be used to solve world conflict. Unfortunately the utopia that exists in my head is not how the world works.
The other death that is very much on my mind today is of my grand mother’s sister, my Great Aunt Feige. I had first heard of my grandmother’s sister during the 1970’s. My mother had watched Roots and decided to find out more about our family.
My mother was many years younger than her siblings. My Aunt Sheva would visit us every summer from Israel. Inspired by Roots, my mother began asking her sister Sheva to remember people and events from her childhood.
One of the stories that Sheva told was about how When she was a little girl she looked out of the window and saw her father walking home from the subway. Sheva them leaned out of the window and started waving and calling out to her father. Sheva expected Papa to smile and wave back.
Instead, Papa turned white, and yelled at Sheva to get out of the window. When he got upstairs to their apartment he (uncharacteristically for him) slapped Sheva and told her to never ever lean out of a window again. He then cried, hugged Sheva and told her that Mama had a sister who had fallen out of a window to her death. That was the only time Sheva had heard of mama’s sister. Papa never mentioned a name.
I wondered if my grandmother’s sister had committed suicide or if she was just a little girl who had fallen out a window to her death.
A few years ago I found my grandmother’s Ellis island record. I saw that she had come to New York with her mother, Brana, and her little sister Vechna, my mother’s beloved Aunt Becky. I also saw a name I had never seen before, Feige. This was the mystery sister who had fallen or jumped out the window.
My mother was named Feige Tzivia. We all assumed that she was named for my grandfather’s sister who had died in childbirth. I realized when I saw that Ellis Island record that my mother was also named for her mother’s sister.
I still didn’t know if Feige had fallen to her death or had committed suicide. A few weeks ago I decided to pug Feige’s name into a database supplied to me by my son’s kindergarten teacher who is an amateur genealogist.
I discovered that Feige was twelve when she died on November 26, 1904, less than two years after she had arrived in New York. We mark yarhzeits, the anniversary of a death, on the date on the Jewish calendar. Today was Feige’s yarhzeit. Today I recited El maleh Rachamim for Feige bat Chaim v’Brana.
Feige’s father, Chaim died in 1918 at the tail end of the flu epidemic. I would venture to guess that the El maleh Rachamim hasn’t been recited for Feige since 1918.
The scars of a loss of one who died too long have a long long half life.Those scars leave their marks on circles far beyond those immediately marked by that loss.
Today, my head is filled with the death of two children that I didn’t know.