When I was eight years old, my father passed away from cancer. From ages 4-8, I was constantly visiting my dad in hospitals. Once I turned seven, my dad’s regular bed turned into a hospital bed, and then, as I turned eight, my dad moved into hospice. As a young child, I had no clue what was going on. I did not know what cancer was, nor did I understand how serious and complex it was. But as I matured and aged after the loss of my dad, I began to understand more and more and continue to learn more about my feelings and experiences to this day. Although there was a lot that I did not understand when my dad died, some things bothered me. The common question that everyone asks and never seems to find an answer that satisfies them is; why do bad things happen to good people? My dad was a great man, an amazing father, son, brother, husband, uncle, coworker and friend. Why did he have to get his life taken away from him when he was 43 years old? It did not seem fair to him, but there is an added layer. What about his family, my twin brother and I, who had just been deprived of a father for the rest of our lives at eight years old? We were little, why was this fair? And, what about my mom, a loving, amazing wife and mother deprived of her husband? We were all good people, but yet we had a horrible tragedy happen to us. From this tragedy, I learned how to see a blessing even in what people might think is the most painful experience one could go through.
Losing a loved one made me question everything. It made me question myself and my actions, it made me ask what I was worthy of, and made me question God as a whole. My dad’s relationship with God was interesting because my dad could be angry at God. This is something that I still do not fully understand. I feel that when something happens to a person and they are upset, they may lose faith entirely, but this was not the case. This began when my dad was diagnosed with cancer the first time; he was mad and did not understand why. Then, when he was cancer-free for ten years, his relationship with God was more loving and thankful. However, when cancer came back, he once again felt anger towards God. But the anger did not override his gratitude for what he did have. My dad died Erev the second days of Pesach in 2012, so we were all at the hospice for the Seders. My dad was very ill and could not have any conversations because he was not very aware. However, when it came time to say Hallel during the Seder, his lips were saying the words. So he was able to be thankful and angry at the same time; he was able to see the good in his life even when he was dying.
I grew up going to shul every Shabbat with my dad, Friday night and Shabbat day, and then when my dad was too sick to walk to shul, we brought the shul to us. We had a Friday night minyan at my house every week. The values of the importance of a Jewish community were instilled in me at a very young age, but I do not think I thoroughly learned how special my community was until the loss of my dad. The way that my shul and school came together to be there for my family was transformative. It made me realize that I am not alone in this, and I am constantly surrounded by people who love and care for my family and me. Shiva made me appreciate the uniqueness and specialty of Judaism. The week was a painful one, but being with my family and friends and not having any other obligations, just being able to talk about my dad and be comforted by the people we love, changed my life. It made me realize how special I was to be a Jew and started to make me into the person I am today. Of course, as an eight year old, my mind was not this complex, but as I grew up, I realized all these aspects and am so thankful for everything I have and the light that I made out of a dark and tragic time of my life.
As I continued to grow up, I fell in love with Judaism—not only the community, but with davening, especially Kabbalat Shabbat. I took it upon myself to attend optional shiurim in camp and school and fell in love with learning. I am constantly looking for a good Jewish book to pick up, because each aspect of Judaism is so interesting and special. My dad was a passionate Zionist, and I believe that we would be living in Israel if he was alive today. I feel honored to be getting such amazing experiences in my life and think that with my optimism, sense of humor and honesty, I will grow even more and help others grow too.
Anina Jasper-Brody is a senior at SAR High School.