Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Barry, we hardly knew ye.

Yom revi'i, 21 Iyar 5771.
Barry's final resting place looks out over these beautiful hills.
As a friend of mine said today at the levaya:  "It's a bad day when you wake up in the Gush and have to decide which funeral to go to."

Yesterday was a tough day in Israel, and specifically heavy for Gush Etzion.  There were a number of vehicle accidents that resulted in deaths, three of whom were from our communities; and a friend here in Neve Daniel lost his battle with cancer.

Forty-three is just too young.  Especially when there are three little kids left behind with their mother to try to figure out what is going on.  There are so many sad ironies here:  Barry seemed to have won his battle, more-or-less, and was on a pilot trip with his family to determine where they would live when they made aliyah.  He was suddenly stricken ill; and during his long stay in the hospital, much around him changed, as a result of his circumstances.

His dear friend and brother-in-law had summed it up with his usual off-beat humor (that he says he learned from Barry):  "When he wakes up, he's going to have to deal with some pretty big changes.  He and his family are olim [new immigrants to Israel].  He's got a new country, a new language to learn; his kids are all enrolled in Israeli schools...  I think the first thing I'll tell him is that Bin Laden is dead.  He'll be able to handle that."

He never got to put a smile on Barry's face by sharing that news.

This difficult couple of days strangely reminds me again about the good of being a Jew, and the good of living in Israel.

In my personal olden days, I was spared the pain of knowing too deeply the pain of others, or the great joy of being constantly apprised of their moments of joy.  I was unaccustomed to being intertwined at the Jewish level in the lives of others.

But as we got involved with the Jewish experience, we were joyfully and painfully aware of the life cycle events, from birth to death, of our adopted extended family.  And since we moved to Israel, this collective sensation has only deepened.  Clearly, this is bad and good.

In the famous words of fellow blogger, RivkA, a"h, "I choose to focus on the good."

  • When you hear about the traffic accidents in Israel, you know that most of the country will be pasted to computers, trying to find out who were the victims, and if they were, in fact, accidents.  (At this writing, that last detail is still being investigated.)
  • When you hear the names at last, you know that you know them, or at least something about them, or at least someone who knows them, because we are such a small and intimate country.
  • When you need a ride to the levaya, you know that five to ten people will come through with offers.
  • Some people at the levaya will be from places across the country, even though they are not related to the family, because the whole country is the size of New Jersey.
  •  Because it's Israel, we can all cry together and say Tehillim anywhere, and no one will look at us funny.
  • Because we are family, we will visit the mourners for seven days, and listen to whatever they have to share -- even silence, or stories, or tears, or laughter.
  • Because we are family, I know those little children and their mother will eat and have shelter, even as they try to figure out what they are going to do with their lives.

As we were leaving the cemetery, one of his daughters said, with the sweetness of a young becoming-aware child:  "Most of these people only met my daddy once or twice.  They don't even know him."

I said to her, "You will tell stories, and then they will know him.  And if you tell them a lot, then you will remember them.  I'm coming to see you later.  Think of a really great story, okay?"

She gave me that shy smile/shrug that she's already picked up from the Israeli kids she goes to school with.

Eliezer Baruch Chaim ben Gedalia, I have to take you off my refua shelaima davening list.  But you will stay in my heart, even though I am one of those people who will have to rely on stories to get to know you.  Like many other people, in our community and beyond, I took on a small mitzvah in your merit.  Each week when I learn that little extra on your behalf, you will be there.

Thank you for making me a better Jew.

May Amy and her children Miri, Eliana, and Binyamin, along with the rest of Barry's family, be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

To learn more about Barry, and to help in any way you can with the care of widow and his orphans, please visit The Barry Shuter Family Trust.

Glossary:
Barry, we hardly knew ye: a play on the title a famous Irish anti-war song.  We are at war with cancer; so it seemed fitting.
Levaya: funeral
Gush Etzion: a "settlement bloc" in the southern foothills of Jerusalem, in the hills of Judea
Refua shelaima davening list: too many names of sick people who need a speedy and total recovery, for whom we pray
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