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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Trifecta of sorrow

Today I pulled off a trifecta of sorrow: morning, afternoon and evening. I began the day with leading prayers during Shacharit, the morning service, as I am a "chiuv," that is, have priority in leading prayers over all others except those observing the yahrzeit of a parent. As I stand alone next to the bima, the prayer stand, and recite the words of the various prayers and say kaddish, I think of my father (sometime, not all the time) and how much I miss him, his voice, his insights, his humor, his presence.

Then I went shopping at Costco. I'd usually go with my father. He loved going to Costco. He'd pick out some item of clothing, or something else he needed and would feel immensely satisfied. I don't know why Costco shopping gave him such pleasure, but it did, and, inside the cavernous store, I felt his absence.

In the afternoon, I went to the funeral of the mother of a friend. There I was again, less than three weeks removed from my own father's funeral (tomorrow marks the third week of his death), inside a funeral home, listening to a eulogy, gazing at a coffin, witnessing it being hoisted into a hearse, and attending to the haunting words of El Maleh Rachamim, the prayer for the soul of the departed. "Oh God, full of compassion, Who dwells on high, grant true rest upon the wings of the divine presence, in the exalted spheres of the holy and pure, who shine as the resplendence of the firmament, to the soul of . . . who has gone to her supernal world, for charity has been donated in remembrance of her soul, may her rest be in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). Therefore may the All-Merfciful One shelter her with the cover of His wings forever, and bind her soul in the bond of life. The Lord is her heritage, may she rest in her resting place in peace, and let us say: Amen."

In the evening, I went to a movie at synagogue called "Who Will Write Our History," about the heroic--really beyond heroic--efforts of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, led by Emmanuel Ringlebloom, to document their oppression and ultimate destruction. (See I had had asked my rabbi if I could attend because one is not supposed to go out to movies during the year of avelut (mourning), though in this case the purpose was educational, not, by any stretch of the imagination, entertainment. He said I could.

It is impossible not to be moved by the story as well as the awful images of suffering, especially on the faces of young children, inside the ghetto. If these were not enough to bring one to tears, the moment when the archive is dug up underneath the Warsaw rubble, five years after the war, having been buried deep under the ground, miraculously surviving the utter destruction of the ghetto, is overwhelming.

So there you have it: kaddish, a funeral and the Holocaust, all rolled up into one 12 hours period. And just to top it off, I watched Ingmar Begmann's The Seventh Seal. Bergmann's stark movies are matching my mood these days, so I'm making a project of going through all of his major works. The movie ends with this famous scene, most of the main characters being led off to their end in a dance of death:

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