May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Visiting the ‘Alte Heim’

Just a few hours ago I returned from the first extended visit I have made to Montreal since my beloved Mordechai passed away. In the few times that I was there in the past months, it was always for a day where we drove in, arriving at 3 in the afternoon to visit our daughter Naama, spent a few hours with her and then reluctantly said goodbye and left early the next morning. I felt strongly that I needed to spend more time with Naama and that I needed to treat myself to being “home” for more than a day. Thus this trip.

I know that the joke is on me when my children ask me when I will no longer be “New In The Neighborhood.” After the past few days I think that I realized that the answer to that question is probably never. After living the majority of your life in another place, raising all of your children there from the time they were very little, and some having been born there, planting every root of your existence there, how can I realistically believe that our new home in New Jersey could compare in any way to what we had before?

For the first time since my Mordechai passed, everywhere I walked I would meet someone who knew him so well and tried to console me. He influenced and helped so many that his loss was felt widely. I was able to spend time with many different groups of friends. One cannot compare the relationships between people you have known for practically your entire adult life and whose children you’ve watched grow, to those you meet in a new environment and had nothing to do with before. We could laugh, we could cry, we could share memories and feelings that mean so much to each of us.

One night I met with old neighbors and old friends, all from different backgrounds, whose common denominator was that they knew us. Within several minutes it was as if this group of strangers had known each other for a very long time. My Mordechai and I always prided ourselves on our eclectic group of friends. There we were on Monday night crying, laughing and listening to each one’s account of how we got to know them. All with so much admiration for the other. My immediate next-door neighbors related how nervous they were when they found out a young Orthodox rabbi was moving into the semi-detached house that was attached to theirs. They themselves were not shomer Shabbat. It did not take long for us to become like family.

One of my friends who lost her husband 16 years ago at a very young age shared with us her latest project. She now prepares at least 200 sandwiches a week to bring to the homeless population in downtown Montreal. She said that she now knows many of the people by their names. This same dear friend spends time each year volunteering for Sar-El, where she is now accomplished at cleaning and putting rifles back together for the soldiers on the Israeli army base where she volunteers. The last base that she was stationed at was near Gaza. Everyone could share my grief as they knew my Mordechai so well and related how he had impacted their lives.

Each day was spent with friends, who were our family in Montreal, and it reminded me that they will always be in my life. Being there magnified for me the great sense of loneliness I have felt living here, especially since I lost my beloved. These were the people that I needed to spend time with.

Of course, Naama was thrilled that I visited her each day and was able to take her out. As soon as she saw me she indicated to me by pointing to a symbol on her communication board that she wanted an “outing.” As is not unusual in Quebec the transport system for the wheelchair-bound was on strike. Fortunately for us, there is an organization called Refuah V’Chesed which does amazing work vis-à-vis medical appointments, clinics, transport and many other things. I called and arranged for them to pick Naama up and take her to a mall so that I could meet her and we could shop til we dropped. When the gentleman came to pick Naama up after our great day and I took out my wallet to pay him, I was told that there was no charge—Refuah V’Chesed. It reminded me of the specialness of being part of a wonderful Jewish community.

Yes I am back in Bergenfield, a wonderful community that does wonderful chesed as well, but as I have said in the past, when you spend the majority of your life somewhere else, you have to come to a realization that this will never be the same.

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