CROSS THE BRIDGE SOFTLY – A moving saga of one man’s passing.

Rabbi Shlomo Cohen

On Hoshana Rabba, Wednesday, October 22, 1997, we finally got word that the reason that Big Ab had been feeling weak and tired all summer was that his cancer had reoccurred and was terminal. D’vorah had been in Syracuse during Chol HaMoed and was with Savta when this news was received. From this point, we made a decision to keep someone with Savta and Big Ab at all times. Big Ab was brought home from the hospital for the last days of Yom Tov but was taken back after Yom Tov on Monday through the following Tuesday, for radiation therapy. D’vorah remained in Syracuse for the following week through Shabbos. Rozy went up that Wednesday, October 29, with Avrohom Moshe for the day and then returned on Sunday so D’vorah could come home. Rozy remained in Syracuse through the following Tuesday and was relieved by Josh. Josh stayed through to Sunday, and then Tzvi came. While Tzvi was in Syracuse, the other six had a meeting on Sunday, November 16, in Shlomo’s house in Monsey to discuss strategy. Basically, the meeting touched upon several key points 1- The feasibility of renting an apartment in Monsey to ease the need to have one person only available to help Savta. 2- What alternative treatments were open to us. Both D’vorah and Josh had done a lot of research. Plans were made to visit a clinic in Massachusetts where an evaluation could be made and dietary adjustments suggested. 3- Other concerns about Savta’s welfare were discussed. In the event, none of what we discussed ever came about as the time frame was severely foreshortened. Tzvi remained through Thursday evening and was replaced by Shlomo. Just Prior to Tzvi’s departure, Big Ab’s mood took a depressing turn. His statement to Tzvi was that he wanted him to find someone to just end it for him. Up to that point Big Ab had been walking with the aid of a walker and had been doing exercises. From the time Shlomo came on Thursday evening, Big Ab couldn’t walk at all. His several attempts ended immediately as he struggled for breath. He only attempted his exercises a few more times but was not up to the task. Although the doctors had led us to believe that Big AB had a reasonable amount of time left, from this point the whole process escalated culminating in his death a month later. Although Big Ab had been talking for years about updating his will and preparing a Halachic Shtar, nothing had been done. Once he found out that his condition was terminal, he set about to rectify that situation. Plans had been made to have Mr. Manheim, his lawyer, come over on Tuesday evening to sign the will. He was also to have two frum medical students over to witness the Shtar. As it turned out, due to a troublesome weakness in his right leg, the doctor wanted him to come back to the hospital on Monday for an MRI to determine if there was a tumor on his spine. To point out how together his preparations were, Shlomo, who was sleeping downstairs, found an unfamiliar Tallis in a Zekel on one of the bookshelves. Thinking it may have been one of Zaydi Cohen’s or Zaydi Scheier’s, Shlomo brought it upstairs to ask Big Ab. He thanked Shlomo to no end, saying that he had borrowed it from the Young Israel some time before when somebody had mistakenly taken his Tallis. He asked Shlomo to return it saying that it was the last thing he owed anyone in this world. Needless to say, it was returned! CRISIS When we got to the hospital on Monday morning October 24, the nurse took Big Ab’s vital signs. His blood pressure was ominously low. He was extremely dehydrated. They immediately put him on IV to stabilize him. The doctor told Savta and Shlomo that the situation was exceedingly desperate. They were told to keep their eyes on the blood pressure level. If it stayed low or went down, they were to immediately notify the family. If it started to rise, they were told to start praying. Against medical advice, praying started immediately. Calls went out to say Tehillim for Big Ab. The vigil continued throughout the morning and afternoon. The circumstances, dire as they were, created a concern that none of the documents had yet been signed. Calls went out to the lawyer, who agreed to send someone from his office to get the will signed, as well as two Jews from the city to act as witnesses for the Shtar. By early evening the lawyers got to the hospital and we asked two nurses to be witnesses. Big Ab was extremely weak. Shlomo explained the situation and held the papers in one hand and guiding Big Ab’s hand in making an ‘X’ on the proper line. Later that evening the two Jewish witnesses came in. Once again, Shlomo guided Big Ab’s hand in an ‘X’. It needs to be pointed out that Big Ab was totally lucid throughout. He was to remain lucid until just before the end. His difficulty was physical weakness. By 9:15 that evening the situation had not improved. Savta and Shlomo were agonizing over the decision to have everybody come to Syracuse. Shlomo told Big Ab that he would recite Viduy. Shlomo said the short version and Big Ab repeated it word for word. Than Shlomo recited the longer version. Big Ab did not have the strength to repeat this but listened and said it to himself. Meanwhile, a suggestion was made to add a name for a Refuah. Tzvi was unable to locate the Rav he needed in Toronto. Pinchas went to Ohr Sameyach in Monsey and told Rabbi Rokowsky the situation. Rabbi Rokowsky cut his 9:30 class short and went into the Bais Medrash to say Tehillim after which he added the name Refael. Just at that time, 9:40, Big Ab began talking, clearly much stronger than he had been all day. In fact, once he began he talked until he fell asleep at 11:30 P.M. He was quite taken by his added name and in the ensuing days would often ask what his name was. (Not that he didn’t know. He remained sharp as a tack right up to the very end. It was more in the nature of a quiz to see if we’d forget.) (PS. no one ever forgot. He was, however, very upset about those X’s. “I’ve come this far in my life and end up with an X. Get those guys back here.” He gave Savta and Shlomo no end of grief until they were able to get the documents resigned properly. With all this going on, when they came to take Big Ab down for his MRI, the reason he came to the hospital to begin with, Shlomo felt that he’d like to speak to the doctor before submitting Big Ab to the rigors of the test. The doctor was unreachable so the test was passed up. Little did anyone realize how difficult it would be to reschedule. Once the crisis had passed, Shlomo sent Savta home to get some sleep. Savta returned the following morning and spent the day. Shlomo returned at about 5 PM so that Savta could go home and eat supper. She came back for several hours so that Shlomo could eat supper and return for the night shift. It was during this night that Big Ab instructed Shlomo to take a pen and paper. He then proceeded to dictate to Shlomo the concepts for the remaining stained glass pictures. He finally fell asleep before telling about the final picture for Elisheva. It should be noted that during this entire period Big Ab was getting progressively weaker. The radiation therapy had left his upper torso rather bloated. With the addition of all the IV fluids, Big Ab’s face was quite swollen. He had a terrible problem trying to cough up phlegm. Shlomo finally asked the nurse if there wasn’t something we could do to ease this problem. She returned with a device that utilized a vacuum to suck the phlegm out. Big Ab insisted on holding that suction tube. It had to be instantly available. He had a terrible fear of choking to death and, if he had any difficulty catching his breath, would instantly panic. Interestingly enough, this device was of immense importance to him in the hospital. We arranged to have a portable one when he was brought home. However even though we arranged for one in Monsey, Big Ab had no need for it at all and did not express any concern about its presence. A NIGHT IN THE HOSPITAL At some rather ill defined point, Big Ab went off a regular day/night schedule. He would drift off at any point, sleep shallowly for a while and then wake up. This occurred during the night as well as giving whomever was on rotation some very special time with him. The specialness of the time was even felt by the grandchildren in Monsey. All of the older ones volunteered to get up in the middle of the night to take a shift. It was obvious that they sensed how precious this time was, even though, by that point, Big Ab was too weak to talk. During prior hospital stays, he would insist that the curtain around the bed be left in such a way that he was able to see the clock. This time he asked Savta and Shlomo to keep the curtain covering the clock. Time was passing much too slowly. In the ensuing days, it was apparent that he had a very specific agenda and time was his enemy. On the one hand, the clocks hands barely seemed to move, so that every hour was an excruciatingly long time. On the other hand, he needed to reach certain goals he imposed on himself. Some of these goals he articulated, others we only surmised. At night the tempo of the hospital slows down dramatically. The bustle of the day shift, patients, doctors and visitors coming and going, conversations up and down the halls all wind down. The lights are lowered. People speak in hushed tones. Only occasional noises break the quiet. Big Ab would drift in and out of sleep. The fact that he was unable to sleep bothered him a great deal. He insisted on receiving a sleeping pill. This actually worked well only one night. He would attempt to talk while sedated. His speech at those times was slurred and hazy at best. He had little patience for having to repeat himself, so Shlomo had to devise a system whereby Big Ab would say only one or two words. Then it was up to whoever was listening to guess what was needed. Needless to say, this was frustrating to everyone. Eventually we had to stop the sleeping pill even though Big Ab kept on insisting that he needed it. It was too dark to read so one spent the night simply watching and waiting for signs of discomfort. The night was basically punctuated by several things. T he nurses would stop in several times. The respiratory therapist would come if Big Ab was having any trouble breathing which was an ongoing problem. The IV pump would manage to get occluded any number of times as Big Ab tossed and turned. This would set off a beeping. The beep seems the hallmark of those nights. Shlomo remained in Syracuse until Wednesday, November 26, when D’vorah returned. Big Ab stayed in the hospital through Shabbos, first going home Thursday. “Home” here requires an explanation. We had been discussing the possibility of renting an apartment in Monsey. Rozy had looked at one good possibility. We were just about to decide when Big Ab asked how much the apartment would cost. He decided that it was too much and he felt that he could not be that free with Savta’s money! He asked Shlomo if he could rent a room in his house. Imagine!!! So plans were made to arrange the back bedroom in the house. Chaya and Perel would move downstairs for the interim and a hospital bed would be rented. Hospice workers would be hired, etc. From that point “Home” meant Monsey. He would continually ask when he was going home. That became a major goal and we were never sure right up until he got there that he would actually make it. The situation remained touch and go every single day as he became progressively weaker. D’vorah remained in Syracuse over Shabbos. On Wednesday, December 2, she called Shlomo. Things had taken a turn for the worse. Shlomo felt that it would be best if he went back up to Syracuse. The situation looked very serious, so Josh and Tzvi were also called to come. Thursday morning, Big Ab was brought back to the house in Syracuse. That Shabbos, Parshas Vayetze, it turned out that all four siblings were together with Big Ab and Savta. In retrospect we were unable to remember any Shabbos when it was just the siblings and no guests. We took Savta’s bed out of the bedroom and moved the kitchen table in with Big Ab. As Shabbos approached we Davened in the room. Josh led us in Kabbalas Shabbos and we sang Lecha Dodi. We Davened out loud and slowly. When we reached Shemona Esrei, Josh remained alone in the room with Big Ab and Davened each word of Shemona Esrei out loud so Big Ab could Daven along. We then sang Sholom Aleichem and Aishis Chayil. Tzvi made Kiddush, Josh made HaMotzey and the meal began. The five of us sat around the table with a place set for Big Ab. He lay in bed Kvelling. We sang Zmiros, reminisced, sang more Zmiros and reminisced. His tears flowed freely but to say that sadness permeated the atmosphere is to forget the laughter. The meal was interrupted time and again gathered around the bed to include Big Ab or to respond to his requests. Finally Shlomo led the Bentching. Shabbos morning, after sharing night shifts, we again Davened with Big Ab and again made our Seuda in the bedroom. It was during the morning Seuda that Big Ab motioned that we should gather round the bed whereupon he proceeded to tell us his concept for the final stained glass picture for Elisheva. Words cannot begin to describe the mood over the entire Shabbos. To say that it was the most incredible, unforgettable Shabbos any of us had ever experienced is to understate the case by a hundred-fold, and yet even this was to be overshadowed by the ensuing events. Mincha, Seuda Shlishis, Ma’ariv and Havdala rounded out the Shabbos. On Motzei Shabbos Savta packed for the trip. Particular care was taken to pack Big Ab’s Tallis, Teffilin and Kittle. Then, not without trepidation, we began on the next chapter of this extraordinary odyssey. THE BIG TRIP On Shabbos morning  Big Ab woke up and asked Savta why she let him sleep so long, he needed to get bundled up because the ambulance was already there to take him to Monsey. It was heartrending to have to tell him on several occasions that the time was still dragging and we still had a ways to go. Keep in mind that the situation remained precarious. Big Ab was very weak. He barely ate anything solid. We had to plead, beg and cajole to get him to drink even little amounts of water. However, Sunday morning did arrive. This was November 7. The ambulance drove up at about 9 AM . As it turned out the two ambulance people, a young man and young woman both grew up in Rockland and were familiar with the area. With some maneuvering, Big Ab was finally trundled into the ambulance. The last thing he said on the way out of the house was to tell Savta to take the newspaper so she could check her stock quotes. Savta went with him. Shlomo followed the ambulance. Tzvi waited in Syracuse for Nechama to drive down from Toronto with the kids. D’vorah and Josh stuck around for several hours to straighten up the house. The driver really took off. Shlomo had to stop for gas. He was off the road for six minutes and never caught up with the ambulance again. In fact, we had always thought of it as a four-hour trip. Both Shlomo and the Ambulance made it three and one-half hours. That included Shlomo’s gas stop, catching the red light on 17 and a deer-kill-checkpoint (where the police at least waved the ambulance straight through). The bumping and jarring was rough on Big Ab, to say the least. After a three and one-half hour race, Shlomo actually pulled into the driveway five minutes before the ambulance. Big Ab was brought into the house and transferred to the hospital bed that had been prepared for him. In the final analysis, the decision had been made to give Big Ab the master bedroom. It was the largest room, and being off to one side of the house, would cause the least disruption to the rest of the house. We had no idea how long these arrangements were to be needed. Ultimately, Big Ab was to spend twenty minutes shy of one week in the house. This point was another demarcation. For the past months Big Ab was concerned to the point of obsession with the need to clear up details and be sure that Savta was totally understood the provisions he had made for her. However, this concern was taken to an extreme as can be witnessed with those who spent time with him in Syracuse. Shlomo was the only one who did not experience this. By the time his turn came, Big Ab had become too weak. From the moment he reached “home” in Monsey, there was not to be another word of any such concern. Clearly he felt that he had done all he could on the front and now was the time to turn his attention to totally spiritual things. By that evening the entire family had gathered in the house (with the exception of Chezky and Sruli.  More on that).  From the beginning, it was tacitly agreed that the bedroom door was open and everyone had free access to come in and go out.  With only a few exceptions, and they didn’t stay away long, every grandchild was to the in an out of the room all week.  There were 22 grandchildren ranging from age 1 to 21, yet the house was never noisy and there were no fights.  Everyone recognized the unique and special experience for what it was. Had you come to the house that week, you would have thought you were coming to a Simcha.  There was simply no grieving.  Not to say there were no tears.  Shlomo quipped that the Chevra Kadisha didn’t have to wash the body afterwards since he had been washed in sufficient tears all week. Chezky and Sruli were both in Eretz Yisroel.  Pinchas and D’vorah made plans to bring them back.  Tickets were mailed to them.  In the first of a series of  ” what else could possibly go wrong?” the tickets were routed all over the place.  The boys got the day of the flight.  Then there was an airport strike in Eretz Yisroel.  Nobody could leave the country.  On top of all that, Chezky needed a special dispensation from the army to leave.  Again, we had no way of knowing if Big Ab would be with us by the time they would be able to get here.  B’H, all was resolved in time.  Sruli, whose plane was 6 hours late, landed late Monday morning.  Pinchas immediately rushed in straight to the house to see Big Ab. On Monday afternoon, Dec.8, the last two stained glass cartoons were finished.  Mrs. Shapiro, who drew them for Big Ab, made a special effort to finish these quickly.  Both of them were unrolled by the bed so Big Ab could see them and express his approval. That evening, the entire family (minus Chezky) gathered round Big Ab’s bed.  We all recited Shema together with Big Ab.  As soon as we were done, Josh began singing softly HaMalach Hagoel.  Very quickly everyone joined in.  One song led to another.  We sang dozens of the old songs that filled many an hour around the Shabbos table for years.  Serenity absolutely suffused Big Ab’s face.  The singing continued for several hours.  Shlomo then shooed out all the men and boys enabling the women and girls the chance to sing.  They continued for over an hour.  Each event became more moving than the last. Everyone was noting the tremendous opportunity for personal growth.  Big Ab was still teaching – we were still learning!  Little did we know how much more he had to teach.  Little did we realize how much we had to learn. All this time, of course, nights were broken into shifts.  Each adult was given shifts in pairs and any of the older grandchildren who wanted was encouraged to join in the shift.  With no pressure from adults, not one older grandchild turned down this beautiful privilege.  Furthermore, Big Ab’s legs were wasting.  They were very thin, almost emaciated.  However, the muscles did ache and cause him discomfort.  One might expect that it would be an unpleasant duty to massage those legs.  In that, no one shied away from this tremendous Mitzvah.  In fact, there were frequently several people around the bed massaging his legs, his back and his neck all at the same time. That day, through the intervention of a person in Toronto, the general in Eretz Yisroel granted Chezky his permit to leave the country.  His flight left on Monday night.  He was to land on Tuesday morning.  Tehillim was recited with increased fervor in the hopes that Big Ab would last the night to fulfill what we thought was his last unfulfilled desire – to have the whole family together. Pinchas was at the airport again on Tuesday morning and he fairly flew back to Monsey. Chezky ran into the house and straight to the bedroom where he leaned over the bed to kiss Big Ab.  There was barely a dry eye in the room.  The goal of having his entire family gathered together had been reached. Sometime before, it may have been Shabbos Vayetze, D’vorah asked Big Ab to give all the grandchildren a Bracha when we got them all together. Big Ab promised.  This promise was one of the goals that he apparently worked to achieve. Shlomo proposed that we spread Big Ab’s Tallis for this Bracha as is done in Shul on Simchas Torah or Kal Han’orim. Big Ab immediately grasped this idea and went one step further.  Some years before, Shlomo had asked Savta to design and make a Chuppa.  The idea would be for each of the grandchildren to marry under this Chuppa.  Everyone liked the idea but nothing was done about it. Big Ab told us he would like the Tallis that would be used for the Bracha to be incorporated into the Chuppa.  He had us locate each of his Taleisim, there were three, and instructed us as what was to happen to each of them. Immediately after Chezky came in everyone gather together in the bedroom around the bed.  Two of Big Ab’s Taleisim were spread over the whole clan.  One would be the Tallis he was to the buried in, the other would be incorporated into the Chuppa.  As soon as the Taleisim were spread Big Ab gathered his strength and, although he had been virtually whispering for days, in a loud, and clear voice he started – Y’Simcha Elokim… through the entire Yivarechicha.  Then each grandchild, in age order, went up to Big Ab’s side.  As is eyes were closed, each grandchild said their name and gave him a kiss whereupon he gave each one an individual Bracha.  These Brachose were said almost to himself although we could see his lips moving.  Given the incredible relationship he had with each of is grandchildren, one could imagine that the Bracha was most apropos.  SEVERAL GUESTS Shlomo had felt that Big Ab should have a few select people outside of family come to the Mevaker Choleh so that Big Ab would not feel that he was forgotten by all but family.  To that end he invited Rabbi Rokowsky to come over.  As soon as Big Ab heard that a Rosh Yeshiva was coming he immediately pulled the sheet up to cover himself.  His sense of Tznius, always strong, remained so right to the end and each of us were very sensitive to this.  Rabbi Rokowsky came in and sat for a while talking with Big Ab.  The scene was so poignant that Rabbi Rokowsky got teary eyed.  Big Ab just remained still and listened.  However, when Rabbi Rokowsky was getting ready to leave he mentioned how fortunate Big Ab was to have such a special family.  Big Ab, whose arm was laying across his chest with his hand near his chin, raised his thumb in a high sign acknowledging Rabbi Rokowsky’s remark. Rozy, through her job, was aware that Rav Sheinberg was in Monsey to attend the wedding of a great-grandchild.  Tzvi immediately went down to see the Rosh Yeshiva to get a Bracha for Big Ab.  The Rosh Yeshiva, hearing the situation decided to come to be Mivaker Choleh himself.  So, on Tuesday evening we were all treated to the Rosh Yeshiva’s presence. Rav Sheinberg came into the room and stood by the side of the bed.  He reached out and grasped Big Ab’s hand and held it the entire time he was there. The Rosh HaYeshiva stood over Big Ab, holding his hand and cried. After several minutes the Rosh Yeshiva gave Big Ab a Bracha, wished him a Refuah Shleima and walked out into the living room.  His grandson, who was driving, needed to use the telephone.  While the Rosh Yeshiva was waiting, the asked Tzvi if Big Ab was sedated.  Tzvi replied that there was no sedation, in fact, Big Ab was in no pain at all and was completely content.  At this, the Rosh Yeshiva was visibly stirred.  He quoted a Ramban on the Pasook by Avrohom – Zakain V’Saveya.  The Ramban says that a Tzaddik who is content with his lot is shown is portion in the world-to-come.  Upon seeing his portion the person simply goes to sleep (i.e. dies).  Other commentators say that this means he dies with no pain.  As the Rosh Yeshiva left we all accompanied him out to the door.  When we got outside the Rosh Yeshiva turned to Shlomo and told him to put a coat on, as it was cold outside.  In one of the lighter moments of the week, the women in the house suddenly saw about half a dozen guys come flying through the door, grab any coat they could and run back outside to see the Rosh Yeshiva off.  (Savta’s new line when Shlomo goes out without a coat is that she’s going to call the Rosh Yeshiva.) Rabbi and Mrs. Possick came over as well as Jay Kaplowitz.  During the week Uncle Julius and Aunt Celia, Uncle Jerry and Aunt Pearl, Uncle Irving and several of the cousins came to visit. Although we had been pleading with Big Ab to drink, he had barely been doing more than sucking on small slivers of ice.  We had tried water sweetened with a little juice, milk, solidified with some ice cream to make swallowing easier but nothing seemed to get past the fact that he didn’t want anything.  Right after all the Brachose had been given he asked for something to drink and, in fact, drank more at one time been he had in quite a while. D’vorah asked if there was something else he still wanted and he nodded his head yes.  Taking a guess, D’vorah asked if he wanted to get to Shabbos and he signaled yes again. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday settled into a strange sort of interlude.  Big Ab was extremely aware of everything going on around him although his eyes were closed 99% of the time.  Two things will serve to illustrate this.  He would frequently not bother to respond to the presence of Savta or one of his children.  However, it was very apparent that he never failed to respond somehow to any grandchild who came over to the bed.  Even if they did not speak and although his eyes were closed he seemed to have some extrasensory ability.  This was amazingly demonstrated in another incidents.  Tzvi had been learning in the room.  When he was called out for some reason, he left the Gemora on the chair.  It was clearly not at all visible from the bed.  Some time later, Big Ab needed to use the bedpan at which time everyone went out of the room and Savta alone helped him.  When she came near the bed, Big Ab motioned toward the chair.  As the Gemora was blocked from her view, she didn’t know what Big Ab was pointing to so she continued to make preparations.  Big Ab became visibly upset and refused to allow her to touch him.  She finally went to see what was bothering him and saw the Gemora and understood that he wouldn’t use the bedpan with a Sefer in the room.  The obvious question we all had was how he knew that it was there. For the most part these few days were a holding pattern.  We still had no idea how much time was left.  The consensus was that he could go at any time although it was becoming apparent that Big Ab was very much in control.  Days and nights blurred.  We spent much of our time massaging him and trying to make him as comfortable as possible.  The massage seemed to benefit him so much that Josh and Ellie decided to call in a professional masseuse who specialized in terminal patients.  He came and it was wondrous to watch him work.  Big Ab felt so much better that the masseuse was called back two more times.   Additionally, we were receiving Hospice services. The head hospice worker would normally come to the house on the first call and then send another worker to service the case. She was so taken by what was happening that she insisted on coming herself every day. She normally left the house every day in tears. However, she was able to help us in any number of ways. She in turn told us that she was learning from us as most of their patients in Big Ab’s stage were, either in a lot of pain and drugged, or were comatose. She had never seen anything to compare with Big Ab. (He always was one-of-a-kind.)With all the people in the house, feeding everyone became a full time group effort. There was a constant stream of cars coming from and going to the store just to keep up on the food supply. The crew must have scarfed down a couple of cases of pizza bagels. Ellie had taken her girls back to Highland Park during part of this week. On one trip she had an opportunity to speak with Batya about her impressions. Batya’s comments were very enlightening. She said that although she was sad, there was always a cousin nearby to hug or talk to or just put an arm around. That was pretty much the tenor of what was happening in the house. The same held true for all the adults. There was an incredible rapport that was established and continued on past. Shabbos finally arrived. As we had in Syracuse the week before, tables were set up in Big Ab’s room. There was simply no way for everyone to fit in so we set other tables in the kitchen and living room. Savta was given a seat in the room for each meal. The rest of us took turns so that each person ate one meal in the room. Once again we Davened with Big Ab. This Friday night we of course had our own Minyon. Shabbos morning and for Mincha the men went to Shul for Krias HaTorah. The women Davened with Big Ab. The meals were unbelievable. Zemiros just kept on going. At each meal the men went out of the room so the women and girls could have a chance to sing as well. Big Ab simply lay there soaking up Nachas. He had made it to his final goal -spending the most important Shabbos of his life with his entire family surrounding him with love and support. This Shabbos, too, was punctuated by tears and laughter, laughter and tears. Everybody was well aware that the end was near, yet there was no grieving. One would ask “How was laughter possible at a time like this?” The answer would need to be “You had to be there”. There was an elemental beauty permeating the entire house. With each passing day, the nature of what Big Ab was doing brought each and every one of us to a greater level of awe. In his own simple unassuming manner, he took each of us in his hands and carried us beyond our own limitations to heights we never dreamed we could reach. Though he was barely able to whisper we heard his voice loud and clear telling us Sing! It is Shabbos Kodesh and we cannot be sad. Help me rejoice in seeing my life’s work sitting around the table with me. All eight of my children have followed in my footsteps. All twenty-one of my grandchildren are learning Torah. There is nothing to be sad about -so SING for me. After Havdalla we set up the night watch roster. During the night there was a very noticeable change for the worse. Sunday morning Shlomo told Big Ab he would say Shema and Viduy again and Big Ab nodded to go ahead. This was about 9AM. That was probably the last time he responded. Soon after Julius and Celia came with Sylvia. She had been too ill to come any earlier. As it turned out she too had terminal cancer although the doctors wouldn’t diagnose that for several weeks. She attempted to get Big Ab to respond to her to no avail. Those in the room continued saying Tehillim non-stop. All week there had been a concern as to when Pinchas and his boys, being Cohanim would have to leave the house. Questions had been asked but there were no clear-cut guidelines. At about 11:30  Pinchas decided that they had to leave. At the time there didn’t seem to be any real indication to warrant the decision, however it was certainly prescient. At 1:10 PM Big Ab began agonal breathing. The hospice worker had told us to expect this. It is a very deep rattling breath followed by holding the breath for a long time. She had told us this could possibly continue for hours. He took one breath and held it (as did everyone in the room). Then came a second one. At the third one Shlomo, who has no idea what prompted him to begin, started saying Shema, everyone joined in. This was followed by Boruch Shem Kivod three times followed by Hashem Hu HaElokim seven times. That was Big Ab’s last breath and the last he heard in this world were the basic affirmations on which he predicated his life. Shlomo opened the windows, turned off the oxygen machine and lit a candle. The Chevra Kadisha was called. Before covering him with a sheet, the room was cleared and Savta was left alone to say good-bye. How many people are mangled terribly and die horrid deaths? Our father died in bed- DAYENU So many die in bed in horrendous pain and suffering; He really didn’t suffer- DAYENU Others do not suffer but aren’t even aware of their surroundings; Our father was clear-headed right to the end- DAYENU Some are clearheaded but die alone without even a nurse at their side. He died surrounded by his entire family- DAYENU Several may be surrounded by family that has not followed in their footsteps; Our father could take pride in every member of his family, all are Frum, and every grandchild is in Yeshiva- DAYENU Few may have all Frum families but were not fulfilled; Big Ab was clearly content and at peace with himself AL ACHAS KAMA… Shortly, the members of the Chevra Kadisha came to make their preparations. It was determined that it was far too late to make the Levaya that day. The Niftar was brought to Hellman’s Funeral Parlor. Shlomo followed them to the funeral parlor and remained with Big Ab while a schedule for the night was arranged. We had not left .Big Ab alone since Succos and we figured now was not the time to abandon him to strangers. So we watched through the night alternating between going down the stairs to stare at the refrigerator door behind which lay our father/grandfather while reciting Tehillim or sitting upstairs in the lounge to write out our Hespedim. The Chevra Kadisha had told us that they were going to do the Tahara at about 7:30 in the morning. Whatever our Shmeera hours had been Shlomo, Tzvi, D’vorah and Josh all decided that we wished to be present in the building at this time. Although we were not permitted in the room where the Tahara was performed, the Chevra Kadisha was kind enough to leave the lift door open so we could hear. In fact, they were so taken with the family’s dedication that they asked Shlomo, Tzvi and Josh into the room at the very end where they allowed us the honor of twisting the belt of the Tachrichin. As with every single individual we dealt with throughout this odyssey, the members of the Chevra Kadisha treated Big Ab and us with dignity and respect. To a person, they were taken by the incredible beauty of one man’s ability to rise above the plane of the ordinary and the intense devotion of a family to his wishes and his dreams. . The Levaya was called for 11:30. We arranged to bring Savta a little early so that she would have some time to herself. In the event,  although she did get there early, so did many others. Big Ab had expressed to Shlomo a fear that few people would attend his Levaya since he would be eulogized in a city not his own. In point of fact, Shlomo had asked the funeral director how many people could fit in the room and was told that it could seat about 125 people. Nobody even thought about the vague possibility of needing more than that. By the time the levaya started the seats were full and people were standing in the back, out the lobby and into the street. Keep in mind this was a weekday workday morning. Also in the street was our contingent of Cohanim who heard the Hespedim over the loudspeaker system. Later we realized that Big Ab would have packed the hall in five cities; Syracuse, Monsey, Toronto, Boston and Yerushalayim. As he would have said, “Not bad for a Brooklyn boy.” Even more astounding was the fact that virtually everyone called him Big Ab. He would walk into Yeshiva and grown men would walk over to give Shalom to ‘Big Ab’. We all tore Kriah and prepared to begin. One of the instructions that he had felt strongly about was that no Rabbi should be allowed to say a eulogy unless the Rabbi knew him well .He also told us that any grandchild who wished to should be allowed to speak. We decided that all of the Hespedim would be said by family only. The final roster began with Josh followed by Chaim. Chaim read two letters. One written by Chezky {we regretted afterwards not setting up a mike outside so he could have spoken himself as well as Pinchas) and the other a collective letter written by the grand-daughters. Chaim was followed by Avrohom Moshe, then Tzvi, who walked over to Savta before beginning, and lastly by Shlomo who also walked over and gave Savta a kiss first. We started at 11:30 and didn’t finish Hespedim until 12:30. The texts of the Hespedim are found at the end of this account. The Aron was carried out to the hearse. Once again the decision was to not leave Big Ab alone so Shlomo went to the Bais HaK’voros in the hearse. The driver used a thoroughly confusing route thus managing to lose most of the cars. Somehow, most people managed to get there. Rabbi Rokowsky was asked to direct the K’vura. Chezky had brought back soil from Eretz Yisroel so each of the grandchildren were asked to take some and throw it into the grave. Naturally, the people there all pitched in to totally fill the Kever. The Aveilim said Kaddish and we prepared to leave the cemetery thus leaving Big Ab alone for the first time in months. On the way out of the cemetery we paused to allow those who could not come back to the house a chance to comfort the mourners. Shlomo spread his coat on the curb for Savta and Aunt Sylvia. The rest of us simply sat on the curb while people filed past to say HaMakom…” Big Ab, having chosen Shlomo and Rozy’s home to die in, more or less led us to remain there for Shiva, the house being relatively large. Of course, everyone washed outside. The funeral home sent over some boxes to sit on. Later that day arrangements were made to have some cut down chairs brought as well as a Sefer Torah. The Chevra Kadisha, who made these provisions, was just superb in their wonderful and caring manner. As great as the outpouring of individuals who came to the Levaya, the numbers of people who came to pay a Shiva call was to amaze us. While it was true that five people were sitting Shiva, nonetheless we learned a fundamental lesson in giving. Friends came from all over. Two carloads of people drove all night from Toronto. Others drove from WashingtonD.C., Baltimore, as well as from allover the tri-state area. Friends we hadn’t seen in ten, twenty, even thirty years made a point of coming. Those who knew Big Ab came to the house crying and, after hearing the nature of the style in which he departed, left smiling. Those who didn’t know him walked in smiling and were moved to tears before they left. Many who could not come called. The phone did not stop ringing. Under normal circumstances, a Shiva call is a sad chore. The visitor must make small talk to commiserate with the mourners and attempt to draw them into conversation. Most people are uncomfortable at best. As Big Ab’s life was unique, so was his Shiva. Visitors barely had to say a word. Each of us spoke virtually non-stop for a week as we told and retold the most moving story. With all the children and visitors the house did not stop hopping all week. Naturally, with Savta and four multi-car families, the driveway resembled a Manhattan parking lot. Whoever needed a car simply took whichever was at the end of the driveway. On Wednesday, Sruli borrowed Shlomo’s Bimer to take the Bais Yaakove girls to school. Along Viola he stopped behind a car that was turning. Another car came up and plowed into the rear of the Bimer effectively pushing it into the car in front and resulting in the car being squashed. B”H no one was hurt. After trading information, the errands were completed and they returned to the house. Pinny walked in the door and announced that they had a minor fender bender. He then proceeded to tell us how they drove away from the accident and then the trunk popped open. They drove a little further and the hood flew up. Pinny’s recital was so hilarious that, Shiva notwithstanding, we were all in stitches. P.S. The Bimer was totaled. Shiva sped by. We spent Shabbos all together. Shiva ended Sunday morning and, as is the custom, we all took a walk around the block. From there we went to the Bais HaK’voros. Then everyone departed for home to resume lives that had been interrupted for three months and now had to proceed without Big Ab. Savta insisted on returning home immediately. D’vorah accompanied her back to Syracuse and remained several days to ease the shock of returning to an empty house. Even though everyone had stayed after the ambulance left in order to clean up, there were still reminders everywhere. Later on as Savta began going through various papers she told us that Big Ab had left notes and cards to her scattered in different places. We had made arrangements to complete the entire Shisha Sidrey Mishna for Sloshim. Savta came back down to Monsey. On the day of Shloshim we all went to the cemetery. Tifarah couldn’t make it and the Toronto contingent wasn’t able to come down. The rest of us said Tehilim. Afterwards we met in Josh and Ellie’s home where we made the Siyyum and Pinchas spoke. We included the Torontonians by calling so they could hear the proceedings over the phone. JOSH’S HESPED CHAIM’S HESPED AVROHOM MOSHE”S HESPED It is difficult to be Maspid. On the one hand the Onesh for one who is not Maspid accordingly is very great. U’May’idach, whatever is said B’Toras Hesped can only detract from the greatness of the Niftar, for it is not possible to be Ma’arich him K’fi Archo. The Pasook states “Umatzdikei HaRabim Kochavirn L’Olam Va-ed.” Chazal explain {Baba Basra 8) “Eileh M’Lamdei Tinokes”. When one looks into the sky the stars appear very small, very distant, and only when one gets closer can he realize their greatness. This is the reason stars are chosen to describe the M’Lamdei Tinokos whose greatness is hidden to those who are not Misbonen. Understandably, there is no S’char in Olam HaZeh which can reward them. Rav Shach Shlita said that he does  not think that there are greater Matzdikei HaRabim than M’chanchei Tashbar. How great is the reward which is Tzaphun for them. A few years ago my grandparents met someone who Big Ab used to teach. “Do you know what I liked about you?” he asked. “You always gave me as much time as I wanted and you would never take any money for learning with me.” He was Nehene Maygia Kapov, he never would take money for learning with someone. Hand in hand with this Midda was his Middas HaEmes. He would always carefully Cheshbon every cent and never took anything that he didn’t feel was rightfully his. In a Dor where this Midda is Kimat Aino Matui It is from the kindness of the Ribono Shel Olam that he gives Yissurim in Olam HaZeh in order that a person should be Zocheh to Olam HaBa. One may ask “Is this a fair exchange?” -The S’char of Olam HaBa is Nitzchi and Chazal say the reason why S’char Olam HaBa is not Mifurash in the Torah is because K’rutzay Chomer have no Mugash of the S’char there. And as for the Onshim, the Ramban writes in Shar HaGadol, the Aish of Olem HaZeh is 1/60 of the Aish in Gehenim. The answer to this is that only from the: Rachmanus of HaKadosh Boruch Hu is there a Chok U’Mishpat to lessen the Onesh of a person in Olam HaBa in exchange for the Yissurei Olam HaZeh. Without Yissurin it would not be possible to be Zocheh to Olam HaBa as Reb Yerucham writes, “Chazal say Gimel Matanose Tovos Nasan HaKadosh Boruch Hu L’Yisroel V’Kulan Lo Nasnan Ela AI Yedei Yissurin. And this is not possible without the Nisyonos, Kushi V’yissurin. As the Pasook says “Tashave Enosh Ad DakaH and Chazal explain Him Dikduka Shel Nefesh” this is Yisurrin B’Tachlis. The Gemora Brachose 5 states, Ha Kol She’HaKadosh Boruch Hu Chafetz Bo Matzanu B’Yissurin”Chazal are Migaleh to us that the Tachlis of Yissurin is to be Marbeh Schar. This is the Yesod of Midas HaDin with which the world was created. An Eved goes free with the loss of Shayn V’ Ayin. Who can imagine the freedom that one is Zocheh to from the Yissurin which affect Kol Gufo Shel Adam? It is said B’Shaim the Chofetz Chaim that parents who are Ba’alei Yissurin are considered a great Yichus for the children. The Chovose Ha’Lvovos calls Missa the Tikkun HaOlam as Chazal say “V’Hinei Tov M’ode… Tov Zeh Mavess”. The Marpeh L’Nefesh explains that without Missa the world would have no Takana. As for what purpose should one toil in this world forever without receiving Schar. All the Tovos Olam HaZeh are not B’Etzem good. Kal V’Chomer the bad. And B’ Ais T’chias HaMaissim the Guf will stand up Naki U’Muchan L’Kabel HaTahara like Adam HaRishon Kodem Ha”Chet. May we be Zocheh to that time Bimhaira B’Yameinu. U’Macha Hashern Dim’ah MeiAl Kol Panim. TZVI’S HESPED SHLOMO’S HESPED Among the many things which Tzvi, D’vorah, Josh and I have in common is that we each teethed on a gold necklace. A necklace Big Ab gave Savta before they were married. On it he inscribed a poem which he had written; Hours fly Flowers die New ways, new days pass by. Love stays. Nobody could really know Aba. We thought we did and just found out how wrong we were. He hid his complexity and depth behind an exterior of simplicity. It was through that combination that he achieved greatness. He was a totally unique individual and it was our Z’chus to have known him and learned from him. Rav Dessler said that loving means giving. Big Ab loved with his entire being. He lived for Ema, for us and for his grandchildren. Not one of us occupied a special place in his heart. It was big enough to encompass all, totally -all the time. Perhaps that’s why everyone called him Big Ab. It was certainly apropos. He was the quintessential teacher. You could not have any conversation with him and not learn something. He required those around him to THINK. He taught us how to live and even his death was a lesson in life. To choose one Midda, I would say he personified Zrizus. He jumped at opportunities. He was Zariz in Chesed as when he gave up his leave in the army to go get a Chalef so the Jewish community in France could have meat… He was Zariz in Mesiras Nefesh as when he gave up a good position in New Jersey to run to Syracuse because he was told a day school would close if he didn’t go. He was Zariz in Hachnasas Orchim being always the first to invite any guest home for Shabbos. Our last Shabbos in Syracuse may have been a first. None of us could remember a Shabbos when there was just family at the table. Big Ab was a Kiruv worker before the term was invented. He has scores if not hundreds of Bonim and B’nai Banim. Who could forget the Oneg Shabbos or junior congregation. He started the NCSY group in Syracuse that eventually sent over 50 Syracuse kids to Yeshiva. He could never pass up playing with a child -no child could resist his T’mimius. He was always Makpid Gamoor on Kavode. We saw Kibood Av V’aim in the manner he treated his parents. Kavode HaTorah is best illustrated in two short stories. We walked to Shul very quickly as we had a two mile walk. We passed another Shul on the way. A block from this other Shul lived an elderly Talmid Chacham, Rav Jacobson. Whenever we met him walking to Shul Big Ab would slow down to walk at a snail’s pace as we escorted the Rav to the door of the Shul before picking up the pace to make it on time to our Shul. In another illustration, there was another Talmid Chacham in town who had been a Rav in Syracuse for over 50 years. During the riots of the late sixties Big Ab took Tzvi and drove downtown to the Rav’s house to bring him out of danger until the riot was quelled. As Rav Yalow himself said, “Only the Cohens thought of him.” His Kavode HaBrios can be best explained in this story .There was a teenager who had been a student of Big Ab’s. Unfortunately, he got into a great deal of trouble and was quite violent. While in jail he asked for Big Ab. In the middle of the night Big Ab drove hours to go to this young kid. When he got to the jail the officers didn’t want to let him in the cell because the kid was so violent. Big Ab insisted, so the jailers offered him a chair. There was nothing in the cell at all. Big Ab requested a chair for the prisoner as well. Because of his temper they could not supply a chair for the boy too. Big Ab’s statement was that if the boy could not have chair he wouldn’t use one either. In the end he sat on the floor with this violent teenager who cried in his lap all night. Big Ab lived his whole life on the highest standards. He measured himself, and us, by a different yardstick. There were never any half measures. He met the world on his own terms and never once compromised his values. He gave out of love and left a legacy of love tangibly in his glass and intangibly in our very lives. The hours have flown The flowers have died New ways and new days have passed by. But, Big Ab, you were right, love does stay.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *