|Avrahum Shefer with some of his precious legacy|
We have lost too many holy Jews this week: Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his young sons Gabriel and Arieh, and little Miriam Monsonego, murdered in Toulouse, France by a hate-filled adherent of Al-Qaeda; and Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, one of the great Torah luminaries of at least two generations.
May it be that reading this memorial to a true gever* of the Jewish people in some way be a tribute to all of those precious souls.
Yesterday was the funeral of my wife's grandfather Avrahum Shefer. He was 84 years old when he finally succombed to the pain and suffering, he had been dealing with for the better part of the last year. I don’t know how many of you have been to a funeral here in Israel but suffice it to say, like so much that happens here in Israel, it is an extremely intense experience. First you gather together outside the parking lot of the cemetery and wait for your party to be called, kind of like a bizarre crowded dining situation. Once your party is called everyone gathers together in this makeshift covered area where there are seats and a lectern for speeches and prayers. There you are greated by the covered body lying there on a simple gurney. It’s an amazing concept to me how we can talk about and grieve for someone, who was just alive and is now simply lying there, almost waiting for you and everyone else to just get on with it so he can get on to where he is going. I was thinking that if he had somehow been able to he would have yelled at all us cryers to do just that.
Throughout this time as everyone was talking and crying I found myself staring at his body and my mind began to wander. I found myself taking stock of this man and I began to reflect on what I knew about him. He like many others of his generation had an incredible life story filled with pain, struggle, victory, more adversity and pain, then finally what I and many others around me perceived as final victory.
When he was just 16 years old he and countless others were brought into the ghetto, which for many was just a stop to their final destination known as Auschwitz. Somehow he managed to survive the ghetto and Auschwitz and from what I understand was even able to save some members of his family. (I never got the details of how he did this). Once he was able to escape Europe he made his way to Israel. It wasn’t long after that he was given a gun and thrown into war. He was subsequently captured by the Syrians while defending the Jordan valley and spent a year and change in a cell in Damascus as a prisoner of war.
Like the consummate survivor that he was he got out (somehow mentally intact) and built an amazingly loving and dedicated family. He never wavered, his faith was always strong, and every time I saw him, it wasn’t long before he was off to shul with a kippa on his head. He was many things throughout his life. He was a cop, a motorcycle enthusiast, an ice cream store owner and more recently a currency trader. Most of all though he was the patriarch and the guiding force of this huge family, now with a growing number of great grandkids.
Avrahum had finally won. He had outlasted Hitler, he had survived the Jordanians, he had built this huge family and now finally he was done fighting. He was done surviving. As this was all running through my mind the tears arrived as well. I started to feel the loss as well as the immense thanks that all of us owe to Avrahum and his generation. How many of us today can even begin to imagine what life was like for so many back then, as we grapple with expensive cottage cheese? How many of us will have what it takes to fight and survive what G-d forbid might be in store for us just around the corner?
As the speeches ended we accompanied the body to the grave. One of the men who worked at the cemetery actually got into the grave and started to prepare the area, as Avrahum was eased into the ground. In the final moments I noticed pinned to his shroud was a pink slip with the words “Gever” (man) written on it. I knew that this was just a simple way that the staff there kept track of the bodies but it stuck with me nonetheless. I thought to myself what a true Gever he really was. Only a true Gever would have been able to achieve what he did. I had the passing thought of how I wished that someone might think the same about me one day (I have a long way to go to earn it).
Finally, we all took turns shoveling dirt on top of him. Everyone was eager to be a part of this and I patiently waited for my turn at the back of the line. As I took the shovel I thought to myself how many times should I shovel before passing it on to the next man? I decided on three. One for the painful horrific world he started in, two for the amazing world he built, and three for the final world he earned and was off to.
Baruch Dayan Emet, Gever Avrahum.
May we merit your strength, your heart, and the country you left us (the one we are still fighting for). ~ Amen
Gever means "man" in the most generic sense. But it also means "a real man, a hero."