Saturday, January 22, 2022

Esther put down the receiver. This time she refused to let her mother make her feel guilty. Why couldn’t her parents understand how stressed out she was, how painful it was for her to send her oldest child away for an entire year! Whose crazy idea was this, she thought for the millionth time, who had decided that it was a good idea to send a child off, away from his family, to study for a whole long year in Israel? It didn’t make sense. He was too young. She did everything for him. And the furthest away that Ozi had ever been from his family was when he went away to summer camp. Now if she was lucky, she would maybe get to see her first born once over the next many months.

The last few weeks had been filled with the distraction of shopping. They had bought clothing and books and toiletries and food and she had spent countless hours poring over suggested lists and trying to cram every item into the allotted luggage. Now the day of his leaving had finally arrived, and Esther just did not have the strength for one more tearful goodbye scene with her parents. The looming airport departure with just the immediate family would be wrenching enough. Besides, she tried to convince herself, how could they possibly leave the packed car safely on the streets of the lower east side and visit her parents’ apartment. Ozi would just have to call his Bobbie and Zaydie and say his farewells on the phone. Really, it was the only smart thing to do.

August 27th. The much anticipated day was here. After weeks of Last Times, the last batch of laundry.... the last strains of his keyboard filtering through his bedroom walls…. the last Shabbos together as a family, it was finally time to get on their way. Esther, Len and the four kids (another last!) barely managed to squeeze into the family Oldsmobile. Everywhere around them there was luggage; in the trunk, on their laps, under their legs and crammed beneath their seats, wherever there was an inch of available space. As they headed to the airport Esther realized she hadn’t eaten a thing all day. She was starving. Why not make a brief stop in Brooklyn on the way to Kennedy Airport? Ozi’s flight was scheduled to leave at 1 a.m. so picking up some deli sandwiches to eat at the airport would help to pass those remaining anxious hours. Then he could relax and have a good night’s rest on the plane and arrive at his new yeshiva refreshed.

Luckily, Brooklyn seemed less crowded that Sunday and there was even a parking space just a few yards from the restaurant. Although they were only a family of six tumbling out of the car onto the sunny street, they made enough of a racket for ten people. Esther kept shushing her screaming family but there was no quieting their noisy shouting. They just had too much pent up emotion that needed releasing.

“Should I take my keyboard.”?

“Leave your leather jacket in the car; it will only take a few minutes.”

“Rina, Stop shlepping that heavy photo album. You’ll show us your pictures from Achva at the airport.”

Yes, you would have to have been deaf and blind not to notice the Glass family.

The restaurant was as empty as the street, so ordering dinner only took a few minutes. Soon the group was exiting through the revolving door, with Esther clutching the delicious smelling deli bags tightly. It was 12-year-old Michael who immediately noticed something was wrong.

“Someone left the car door open,” he yelled. No, they couldn’t have… Esther raced ahead, the others following fast behind. Together they peered in disbelief and mounting horror into the car’s now empty interior, vainly searching for what was no longer there. Gone. It was all gone. The tickets, the passport, the tefillin. Everything from underwear to sox, shirts and pants, medicine and sefarim, bedding and food, kipot lovingly crocheted by various eager teenagers. Rina’s prized photos. All, all gone in a few moments.

Three long days later when Ozi finally left for Israel, the many things he had lost had all been replaced. The airline had issued new tickets. Len had driven to Philadelphia and Ozi had been issued a new passport. At the same time, Esther and the girls had known just where to shop and what to buy. And what they didn’t really need. Yet, it was only when her mother died suddenly one Friday afternoon the following December that Esther acknowledged how simple it had actually been to replace all those lost objects. After all, stores are always stocked full with replacements for everything that we might lose or desire. Loved ones, she now realized; well, that was a different story.

Their absence was permanent, and they would be longed for and missed forever. How very sorry she was that they had not stopped on that August day, so Ozi could say a last goodbye to his beloved grandmother. Esther knew that she would regret that decision forever.

By Estelle Glass

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