June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Life Is Funny…Death Not So Much

As I sit in front of my computer trying to write a column to entertain you, I have to be honest, I am crying. But, I am also smiling. I guess we are given those defense mechanisms to help us not go totally crazy. So this will be another serious, contemplative read, with injections of humor. It has just been a really emotional week and even though I wanted to write about the hypocrisy that is zoodles—zucchini noodles (I mean really? That isn’t pasta, it is zucchini in the shape of pasta—who are you trying to fool?) I felt it would disrespect the memory of those I will be anonymously referring to this week.

When I was a little girl, a family moved into our community. They were a really nice family with two little boys, one of whom was my age. I still remember sitting in class, I was in second grade, and the boy my age brought Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups into school to celebrate the birth of his new baby sister. I remember this for several reasons—the first being that food was involved, the second being that when I look back at this, I wonder how no one went into anaphylactic shock from the peanuts in the peanut butter cups. But mostly, because food was involved and food is love. This adorable, curly-haired little girl had joined the family that lived across the street from us.

We shared Shabbos meals and simchas. We ate together on Rosh Hashanah and when I found out I was pregnant with son #1, I couldn’t wait to tell them with the line, “We might not be able to join you this year.” Of course son #1 was two weeks late, but that is another story altogether. When the older boys went to camp, I got to babysit for their adorable sister (since I wasn’t allowed to go to camp—also another story). When our parents all started their new shul together, it would be in different people’s homes for a few weeks at a time. This is how it functioned until they were able to find a permanent home. It was then that the boy my age and I shared the greatest gift of all for little kids: chicken pox. This boy also tutored me in math and probably saved me from summer school on more than one occasion.

Yup, our families shared a lot. The father of this family was one of the funniest men I have and probably will ever meet. From the time he met me, he called me “Banjalina.” And now, as I write that, the tears start again, because I think of this wonderful, kind man, the man who was a dear friend to my family, to me, and I think that he is not here anymore and that I will never hear him call me that again. All of my kids loved him, all kids who met him loved him because he made them all feel special and always made them laugh.

But this is all part of the circle of life. We are born, we live and we die. What we choose to do in between is up to us. Do we choose to make people laugh? To make them feel at ease? Some of us do. Do we choose to be haughty and self-serving? Some of us do that as well. The space of time that is given to us is a gift and we must choose wisely.

After last week, I have a whole new set of respect for the job of a pulpit rabbi. They are able to go to a funeral in the morning…and give explanations for the unexplainable to a room full of people. How a good man can die suddenly while in the middle of prayer. How is a mere mortal able to convey to hundreds of people that it is God’s will? That is a job I do not envy. And then, after being present for the grieving family and a crowd full of mourners, six hours later they are on the other end of the spectrum, wishing a new bride and groom mazel tov or embracing a bar mitzvah boy on the amazing journey in front of him. The juxtaposition of emotions must be emotionally exhausting.

But as I finish up this week’s words of relative incoherence, I have just learned that the rabbi who wrote the book about death and mourning has also left this world. And I can only hope that maybe he will send us some sort of manuscript from the other side, letting us know that it will all be okay.

By Banji Latkin Ganchrow

Banji Ganchrow feels that, sometimes, being an adult is really no fun at all. Hopefully after spending some time with her friend in Chi Town, she will feel differently.

 

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