As Jews, we celebrate many events which mark a passage from one phase of our lives to another. We call these life cycle events. At birth there would be a Bris and a celebration for a boy, or a baby naming and celebration for a girl. At age 13, a boy would become a Bar Mitzvah and (today) a girl might become a Bat Mitzvah. There would be school graduations and then weddings. All of these we celebrate because they can be considered ending one phase and beginning another.
Funerals are also life cycle events. They mark the end of one's life. When my mother, Bea Goldstein, died in April of 2000, because she spent her last five years at the JCA with Rabbi Gertzulin, an Orthodox rabbi, we marked that event with an Orthodox service and then sat "Shiva" in the Orthodox manner. We had services morning and evening at my home and we said the Kaddish prayer. It felt good each time I said that prayer, because, I thought about my mother.
When the first week of mourning was over, I was not ready to leave that feeling so the next week, I went to Shaare Zedek each morning and each evening, to say Kaddish. I had also gone back to my normal morning routine of swimming, walking, (and hopping, jumping, skipping, according to my wonderful husband, Alan) and getting to school. I thought, "I can find time to do anything I want to do and it feels so good, I think I will observe the entire month of mourning by going to services." I could not read the Hebrew at all.
Somewhere around the end of the third week of that month, I made the commitment to myself to say Kaddish for the entire eleven months because it seemed that I did not have to say goodbye as long as I was saying that prayer. I also made a commitment to learn to read the prayer in Hebrew. If I was going to sit in services twice a day, I was going to come out at the end knowing how to decode the words.
When our sons and especially our daughters went through their Bar/Bat Mitzvah events, twenty something years ago, my sister-in-law Nancy and I decided that we wanted to become Bat Mitzvah. (When we were young, not only were girls not Bat Mitzvah, we were not sent to Hebrew school..) We would do it together. But somehow, we never could find the time.
Well during the eighth month of the mourning period, I approached Nancy and said something like, "If not now, when? I want to become Bat Mitzvah while I still have a voice, my hearing (sort of), and my mind." (That last possession is debatable.) She agreed that now was the time. Barbara Bianco came along, timidly at first, saying that she just wanted to get better at the prayers and we approached Rabbi Fasman. He was more than glad, he was excited to take on pupils and we began a journey which started out (for me anyway) as the challenge of learning new skills and has ended with the beginning of a whole new way of looking at my Judaism.
At each meeting, Rabbi Fasman gave me something else to think about. He showed me how the things in my life which I hold dear have their roots in the traditions, the prayers, and the psalms. His love of Judaism and his excitement when he found something new in a prayer was contagious. Nancy, Barbara, and I could not wait for our Tuesday afternoons and willingly stayed way past our alotted time. The joy I felt when I read from the Torah for the first time was indescribable. I had no idea how powerful the experience would be. I was capable and had done something that men have been doing for thousands of years.
When I told Rabbi about my decision to learn to read Hebrew during the eleven month mourning period, he said "Look what a great gift your mother has given you".
Yes, funerals are usually thought of as endings. For me, my mother's was a beginning. My Mom is still giving me gifts, and I still don't have to say goodbye.
by Nancy Goldstein
As a young girl, I attended Shaare Emeth Sunday School and it was not until ninth grade that I began my journey with Shaare Zedek. It was 1953, and Shaare Zedek was just being built. My grandparents, Bessie and William Leve, were instrumental in Shaare Zedek's early history in University City, and because of that, my parents enrolled me for my last year of Sunday School here. All that I remember about that year is: Rabbi Epstein's jokes, eight other students sitting in his office, 3D movies, and a confirmation in The Tent. I do not remember feeling at "home".
Even though I was not at "home", I was asked to be a kindergarten teacher when I was fifteen, and I happily held classes in the Chapel until I left for college. My grandfather died in my sophomore year, and on the way from the funeral house to the cemetery, the funeral procession stopped in front of Shaare Zedek where the back doors of the hearse were opened so that my grandfather and his beloved Shaare Zedek could say goodbye to each other. While I was deeply moved by this experience I still did not feel at "home" with Shaare Zedek.
Many more of my important life's experiences were shared with Shaare Zedek. My marriage to Stanley was consecrated by Rabbi Epstein. My children, William, Jonathan, and Elizabeth became Bar/Bat Mitzvah on this very bimah where I will become Bat Mitzvah today. Yet, through all of these events, I remained somewhat separated spiritually from Shaare Zedek. My quest to become a Bat Mitzavh was mainly an intellectual exercise which began with my decoding Hebrew eighteen months ago with the help of Rabbi Herber. After three months, Rabbi Fasman became my teacher and has continued through today. Shorty after I began my educational pursuit, 9/11 happened and the first and only place I wanted to be that day was here at Shaare Zedek. For the first time in my life, I understood the term alma mater (soul Mother). At long last, I knew I was spiritually "home" at Shaare Zedek