Thursday, December 21, 2006

Experiential Semantics

You may have seen it several posts ago in my poem "From Your Room" in which I made mention of the fact that I purchased my marital residence back from my ex-wife, Ben's mom, when it became known to me she was moving out of town.

I am in the process of converting Ben's bedroom into an office where I'll do my writing. That is, dear readers, the subject of this brief essay. More precisely, the issue is better defined as one over the better name to be given the room.

Actually kudos to my kallah for suggesting that I address this question at all when just last night I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn't posted anything new in more than three weeks and that I was suffering from a dearth of ideas.

kallah: "Why not write about how you call it 'Ben's room' and I call it 'the office?' "

chossen: "Hey! Know what? That is a great idea! I'll have it ready for tomorrow!"

Oh, by the way here is some background information in case you were wondering ...

Okay, you know that I purchased my former marital residence from my ex-wife, Ben's mom. Yes, it is the very house in which Ben grew up, and I am writing this post from his bedroom wherein he and I battled diabetes and epilepsy for many years.

Now it is my tendency to dub this particular place "Ben's room" because that's what it is and was for me ... whereas my kallah who, mind you, is quite sympathetic to my use of that name, refers to it differently as "the office" which it is also and will be eventually for both of us to do our work.

Last night, she commented incisively that unlike me who has a long history in this house, she does not. In fact, my kallah never knew Ben so, try as she might ... "Ben's room" has little tangible meaning for her whereas for me though I may at times refer to this room as "the office" primarily in deference to her, it will always remain "Ben's room" for me if you know what I mean.

Any thoughts anyone?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Post Thanksgiving Thanks ...

In these days following Thanksgiving, a time when our better angels have begun to make an appearance ... and just before the schtuss of the "holiday season" overtakes us, everybody else and everything, may there always be a moment or two when a thoughtfully crafted reading opens us up just enough to actualize thoughts which need expression lest their great potential for inspiring good deeds, chesed and gemilus chasadim loses itself in the saddest category of them all ... That Which Might Have Been!

Thank You for the cemetary administrator who let us through the gates though it was past dusk and the cemetary closed!

Thank You for a younger son, Zachary, whose goodness and sweetness, become more manifest each day-and for finding those two stones: one for you, one for me but both for Ben!

Thank You for the gift of speech, especially the capacity to "verbalize" through the keyboard, when the spoken word becomes less intelligible.

Thank You to all those concerned and patient enough to look at my mouth speaking when their ears can't quite make out what I am saying.

Thank You for the insight that lost speech is found prose.

Thank You for a daughter who is never too old to tell me: " I love you!"

Thank You for the insight that those certain people who make cameo appearances in our lives are like God's tzitsis ... they remind us to do good, walk humbly and share acts of kindness.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Every Day is Thanksgiving

Dear Readers ...

I have revisited this earlier post from a year ago and have made a few changes ...

The day before Thanksgiving, the Wednesday just prior .... is the day on which my son Benjamin Mathew passed into the Olam Haba ...

Please take a moment to read about him ... these words however inadequate from a grieving father for whom Thanksgiving is now bittersweet at best ...

As Americans we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. As a Jew, upon my awakening each morning, I remember to observe the Jewish “Thanksgiving” by saying:

“Modei ani lefanecha …” [1]

What makes Jewish Thanksgiving different from the fourth Thursday of November?

We give thanks …

“yom yom”

by praising His name in good times as well as bad even when and if tragedy befalls us.

However, our intent does not lie in welcoming bad tidings, but in acknowledging that the “bad” so often turns out for the “best” although the result may not be immediately apparent.

“Hodu la Adoshem ki tov, ki le’olam chasdo”[3]

I received an email from a dear friend who wrote:

Dear are in my thoughts and prayers today. I know what you are thinking about, and that you are missing Ben. I remembered that it was five years eternity, but as if only yesterday, for you. He was a beautiful boy, who wanted so much to be his own man...and he was. How else could he have endured so much, and yet still, was willing to give so much of himself? The true measure of a man is to be able to love unconditionally...and he did...and you did, even though you may feel, in retrospect, that it took awhile for you to finally reach that stage. I said "may feel", and "finally", Alan, because I know that you ALWAYS loved Ben unconditionally. The times that you were embarrassed by some of the ways that Ben chose to express himself, were only embarrassment...not a failure on Ben's part, or yours. You only wanted what as best for Ben...what you thought was best. That kind of love is the greatest gift that anyone can ever give or receive...and you and Ben gave that gift to each other.


Now … I admit to having been befuddled by the timing of the note, but as I was busy at work I let it go for later. Well, “later” arrived. While having coffee tonight my fiance asked me:

“So, how was your day?”

And then it hit me, the timing of the email. Today marked in fact the fifth year secular anniversary of my son’s passing on November 22, 2000 which fell out that year on the day before Thanksgiving.

That is how I remember that day … not by its date as much as by the tragic irony of a Thanksgiving marked by Ben’s death.

In keeping with my theme that there is balance in our lives and order in our world although they may quite often seem to be hidden and at the mercy of random collisions of chance, you may wonder about my proof.

Unlike a scientist’s proof whose reliability is dependent upon laboratory duplication, I can only offer up as “proof” what news I learned from my daughter Kimmy who called me today, the 22nd day of November, with an excitement and glee in her voice that struck a much sought after chord to complete this day, to round it out as it were, to make the circle whole.

“Daddy, I got a job as a lawyer in a downtown firm! I’ll have an office with a view from the 39th floor overlooking downtown. It’s just what I wanted!”

That I feel pretty much sums up what happened today-a day when divine balance and even-handedness manifested themselves very dramatically-when a bad day five years ago became a better day today.

[1] I give thanks to you …
[2] every day
[3] Give thanks to God because His kindness is eternal.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On the somber occasion of the sixth Hebrew Yahrzeit of Ben Z'L, the 24th day of Heshvan, 5767 ...

"From Your Room"

From your room ...


I write these words ...

on this sixth year’s eve lonely without you ...

yes, from your room never to let go

where we wrestled in wee morning’s darkness

the implacable diabetic foe.

Where by your bedside

I sat many the night

afraid to leave you ...

lest it return.

Perhaps you wonder...

how ... how Dad is it so …

since eight years you moved out ... ago?

I bought the house back from mom

for my beloved kallah and me ...

Be sure Ben, please remember…

neither in doubt nor need,

our love for you was always agreed.

So accept these sparse words

your blue eyes to see ...

o’er these six years so tearful ... without thee.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Free Jonathon Pollard!

Free Jonathon Pollard!

Free Jonathon Pollard!

Free Jonathon Pollard!

Free Jonathon Pollard!


1.) a broad, deep swell or rolling of the sea, due to a distant storm or gale.

2.) any surge of support, approval, or enthusiasm, esp. among the general public

Dear Readers,

I think we are long overdue in our country for a GROUNDSWELL!

I think we can create such a groundswell that Mr. Bush
would sign a
Presidential Pardon before the end of his term!

Starting here and now please respond to this appeal by writing back to this blog.

Let me know that together we can effect this change!

The Groundswell begins here and now!

I am ...

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dear Readers ...

I am pleased to announce that I have finished my book

In Memory of Ben

and all the editing that I am going to do!

Now it's time for the real editor!

Ben's sixth yahrzeit is approaching:

secular: November 22

Hebrew: 23 Heshvan

May my son's neshuma have an aliyah!_

I am ...

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

p.s. I will burn a CD free of charge if you post a comment on the blog The Book of Ben. If after reading you are so inclined, please include a request and I'll be pleased to comply.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Comforting ...

Should it happen to befall us to see our children in pain, the frightening dilemma of how best to cope with that horrendous reality challenges and exhausts our parental reserves of common faith and shared strength all too quickly.

Notwithstanding the wellness of their marriages, parents can manage such a burden effectively by remaining exclusively focused on the well-being of their child while permitting the intrusion of no other issues.

Words oftentimes do not convey the depth of our feelings in every instance.

Nothing quite as empathic as a tender hug is as capable of transforming pain and suffering into a shared experience-and thereby making even the most painful of moments a bit more bearable.

The Accident …

Several weeks after nearly suffering a fatal traffic accident, Ben began to suffer severe shortness of breath, walking difficulty and chest pain.

The surgeon diagnosed Ben with pneumonia and advised us that she had no other choice but to recommend immediate lung surgery.

Her recommendation coincided with the time in my marriage to Ben’s mom after we had sunk to our lowest depth ever-having virtually no contact with each other for several months. Though we continued to live together under the same roof, the surgeon’s diagnosis and recommendation served to exascerbate an already dire situation.

Ben's mom used to say she no longer recognized me as the same man whom she had known. Had you seen my appearance at the time, you might have concurred with the reasons for which she felt the way she did.

Thinking it would be possible and appropriate to accelerate the pace of my religious growth by a mere change in my appearance, I dressed myself in the “uniform” of some, but not all, observant men, which included: a dark suit, white shirt, tie, kippah
[1] and black fedora.

All this while I was struggling simultaneously to adopt the stringencies of a kosher lifestyle.

I failed in the end.

Mr. Parker, Z’L.

Choosing to ignore an admonition given to me by a dear friend that I was spending too much time in the synagogue rather than at home with my family, I refused to heed his advice-no matter that it had come from an older and wiser man.

In recalling my special friend
[2] who among many acts of friendship took the time to teach me the fundamentals of “siddur, tallis and tefillin,”[3] I am most grateful to him for having shown me the path he thought best though I chose not to take it at the time

Mr. Irwin Parker, Issur ben Avrum, emigrated to America after the second world war in the early 1950s. Though he survived Mauthausen,
[4] his family did not, but a handful of souls among the incalculable “kedoshim”.[5]

Beginning his life over again once settled here in America, Mr. Parker soon remarried and raised a second family. A tougher yet kinder and gentler soul I don’t think I had ever met.
An Unbridgeable Distance

Standing by his bedside where he lay recovering after his surgery, Ben's mom and I bore witness to his wrenching pain. Although he fought back mightily, his cries were heart piercing.

"Ben ... be strong, son! Even stronger!" I implored.

How awkward it felt saying these words to Ben as if he were not already doing precisely that!

How awful it is to see one's child in pain!

Ben’s mom left the room. I found her in the family waiting lounge just steps away. Quietly weeping, she stood by the window just staring out. I wanted very much to comfort her, but I dare not! I did not think she would have wanted me to touch her, to hug her! As she often said back then, I was no longer the same man whom she had once known and loved.

So there we were, the two of us, Ben's mom and dad, not ten feet away from each other, but it might well have been hundreds of miles … tragically unable to offer each other even the slightest comfort for our son’s suffering, our suffering-common but not shared!

[1] skullcap worn by observant Jewish men.
[2] Mr. Parker bore an uncanny resemblance to my maternal grandfather, Harry Austin.
[3] Prayer book, prayer shawl and phylacteries
[4] Nazi concntration camp located in Austria.
[5] Holy martyrs

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Chapter 19


I have heard it said:

“Time heals all wounds.”

However, for parents who have lost a child, the great majority, if not all, would respond that the “wound” of losing a child is unhealable.

And that is the way it should be!

“But what if the reality of parental bereavement could simply be forgotten? If we could just put it behind us? You know … like the old expression: ‘Out of site, out of mind.’ "

Would it be better if the wound were healable?

The following story may answer that question …

Loved by those …

I dreamt of Ben one morning. I saw him wearing his knit cap in a style I had shown him.

It was part of the uniform worn by the guys at the car wash where Ben worked too for about a year. Frankly, I never understood why he liked it as much as he did, but of far greater importance than my personal disapproval of the carwash job was that Ben possessed a strong work ethic for which I was thankful.

A dimension of Ben that so defined him was the great enjoyment he took in being with his friends and reciprocally they with him. He was very well liked and, in many cases, loved by friends who had come to know him! Kind and unpretentious, Ben enriched the lives of whomever he met.

Our loss of Ben left an irreparable hole in many people’s hearts! Maybe it is this that is the answer.

Such a person was Stuart whom I had met in synagogue and who knew Ben from the carwash.

Following a long hiatus, Stuart, for the first time in a year, returned to morning prayer minyan.
As was his custom, he inquired innocently:

“So, how is Ben doing?”

Upon hearing Stuart’s uninformed but innocent words, David gasped so loudly that the resultant hush which blanketed us seemed to have lasted ten minutes rather than the ten seconds it did!

I glanced furtively at Rabbi Louis.

Appearing shaken and angry, he finally broke the silence:

“Ben passed away two weeks ago!”

Upon his hearing the pronouncement, Stuart, an emotionally passionate man, began weeping so sobbingly that I felt it incumbent upon myself to try to console him.

I had anticipated Stuart’s inquiry but regrettably failed to inform him about what had befallen us-an act of foresight that would have precluded this entire unfortunate incident.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Kindergarten Chairs

I recall how I used to marvel at the pole-vaulting pit on the athletic field behind my school in St. Louis awestruck by the height of the bar!

“Imagine someone my age possessing the focus, daring and strength to face such a formidable challenge.”

That memory has served me well throughout the years when I sought to inculcate its lesson in my parenting and teaching.

My first student was Ben to whom I often said:

"Raise up the bar, son! Never lower it!"

I was hopeful that that axiom would inspire him to overcome the obstacles life had placed before him. If by working hard and empowering himself to reach in, out and beyond, he would become his own master!

Though I imparted a sense of “derech eretz”
[1] by teaching Ben the principles of Jewish ethical behavior, I failed in my efforts to improve his academic performance.

He was an average student and even fell below average in high school where I believe kids like Ben who-for reasons at times inexplicable-just do not fit into the prefabricated mold of a “good” student and, all too commonly, fall between the cracks.

Reaching in ...

His physical strength was awesome. I discovered just how much so one Sunday afternoon.

Standing next to the entranceway to the ice rink, I stood watching as Ben skated toward me at full speed. Increasingly ominous in appearance with every passing moment, he feigned trying to avoid crashing into me by employing his ice-sheering hockey stop that brought him so much joy-being able to stop on a frozen dime, as it were, while shaving the surface of the ice into a snowy burst of frozen flakes.

Even though I was very much aware that he was teasing me, I left soon with a better sense of how it must feel to stand in front of an oncoming train!

A powerful and skilled ice-skater, Ben’s primary rolw as an “ice guard” was to enforce safety rules during hours of open skating. His favorite part consisted mostly of helping tiny skaters who had fallen while on the ice and setting them aright. I remember how much he enjoyed the job.

Ben had always worked so well with children.

HisStrength, His Strength, My Indecision …

Of a much different and greater importance than his impressive physical prowess was the inner-almost spiritual dimension of Ben’s strength, his strength of character.

He demonstrated the degree of its depth when-having to undergo a corrective surgery to repair an infected appendectomy-the surgeon left the second incision deliberately unsutchered as a means by which to insure its complete healing.

And Ben’s role in this …

He was required to reach inside the wound twice daily, packing it fully with gauze and tape it shut. Imagine the reaction of most teenagers if they were to be asked to assume such a grave responsibility for several weeks!

On one occasion while the two of us were talking together in his room, I watched as he performed this self-procedure. Awestruck by the calm of his courage and dumbstruck by the care with which he approached this matter, I did not need much time before becoming so overwhelmed I did not knew if I should laugh or cry. In the end, I compromised by crying tears of joy!

In addition to strength and technique, the pole-vaulter, as Ben, must possess an inner strength, a driving force that will enable him to overcome the most challenging of obstacles with ease and grace.

[1] respect; literally, way of the land

Friday, October 13, 2006

Chapter 6: A Glimpse Forward in Time

Dear Readers ...

This chapter as with the whole of my book about Ben, Z'L I lovingly dedicate to his memory. It is nearly the completion of the sixth year of his absence. Though it may strike you as excessively"schmaltzdik" hug your children each day as if it were the last, God Forbid!

The things we do for our children: some right, others wrong, often ineffectual and misguided, but always done with good intentions, reaffirm the truism that we parents do the “darndest” things at times.

Such "primeval behavior" or, as some call it, "nesting instinct" keeps our children far from harm when still very young and even too after having done some growing up.

So it was when I tried to interest Ben in playing hockey with a group of Jewish men, one of whom I knew from my synagogue. More a social club than a team, it was comprised of a group of young men who just so happened to enjoy the rough and tumble of ice hockey.

“Perfect! Skating at which he had always excelled, hard checking against the boards, slap shots ... what could be better?"

The problem with this group was that it practiced twice a week at 10:00 p.m., but for a short while, we went. Ben played and I watched- occasionally falling asleep in the stands. Unhappily, his interest waned after about two months.

“How was this an example of my nesting instinct?"

Ben had been very athletically oriented ever since the time of his early boyhood. What I was trying to do was to show him ways by which to maximize his strengths and, as a bonus, be able to benefit from a regular exercise regimen necessary for diabetics. Secondly, I was trying to guide him toward a “better” choice of friends whom I thought more wholesome than his!

You may ask:

“What was the outcome of all of this ‘'parental engineering?"

Stated simply, it failed.

Whenever I tried to make choices for Ben or lead him toward my own-no matter how pure my parental motive-he would revert invariably to his choices. Ben's mom had always characterized our son as a very cautious child whose nature it was to survey any new situation, looking it over carefully, scrutinizing it to determine if all seemed right.

All well and good, one might think! Deliberate, cautious in his moves, like ...

"playing chess with life itself."

However much we encourage and applaud self-reliance, it is heartrending when our children make poor choices and we are powerless to prevent them from doing so. Despite the fact
we do know better, life having taught us, our children remain determined to make their choices even those we know to be wrong.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Chapter 13: Rachomim [1]

When the poor come to you and tell you that they do not have food for Shabbos, and you deign yourself in faith and tell them to trust in G-d-that is true heresy.

(Rebbe Dov of Liaba)

Although The One Above commanded that B’nai Yisrael,[2] dwell in sukkot[3], the very weather conditions He creates at this time of the year occasionally force us to return to the sukkat shlomenu[4] of our homes.

Whereas its roof affords a view of the stars,[5] the sukkah does not measure up very well as an umbrella nor do its flimsy walls insulate us very well against the chilling effects of the autumn breezes.

We dwell in these temporal tabernacles the eight days of Sukkot[6] to approximate the experience of our ancestors’ travail during the forty years of their desert sojourn and to remind ourselves of the on-going miracle of Jewish survival despite the fact a new pharoah rises to power to destroy us in every generation.

The Coat

A homeless man would spend his nights under a heap of blankets tucked away in the corner of a local business entranceway but had left by the time of dawn each day..

It occurred to me while Ben and I were fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah[7] that there was no better time than the present to teach him the invaluable lessons of both tzedaka and chesed[8] in a way I hoped he would never forget. To do so, however, would require that we return home for a few minutes.

Taking a coat from my closet I had never worn nor liked, we hurriedly returned to my car, coat in hand and drove a short distance. Along the way, I explained that in the past several weeks I had noticed the plight of a certain homeless man who was living at night, as it were, tucked away in the corner of a local storefront.

“Ben, I know of someone who can use this coat!”

We pulled up in front of the store and placed the coat atop his “dwelling”. Hearing his snoring, we turned and left.

With that we were done!

That day, we learned two vitally important lessons:

Sukkot is indeed a z’man simchasenu.[9] How gratifying it felt to be able to teach my son by example! I know I had always learned better that way too.

Secondly, my mostly unspoken emphasis was that the essence of tzedaka[10] lies in acts of anonymous charity so as to spare its recipient any shame.


[1] mercy
[2] children of Israel
[3] the fragile shelters, booths, tabernacles erected just prior to Sukkot
[4] the shelter of our peace
[5] to remind us of The One Above
[6] Jewish holiday recalling the 40-year desert sojourn
[7] for which we recite the blessing “l’shev b’ sukkah.”
[8] tzedaka: righteousness though commonly translated as ‘chaity’; chesd: kindness
[9] season of our joy
[10] righteousness, often understood to mean ‘charity’

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dear Readers, Friends and Fellow Travelers ...

On behalf of my kallah Hadar, my late son Ben Z'L, my daughter Kimmy and my younger son Zac, I wish for you a year of much shalom, brocho, simcha and oneg (
peace,blessing, happiness and joy) ... oh! and May He Who dwells on high grant you and yours the best of health!

I've been busy of late editing my book
In Memory of Ben in the hopes of publishing it soon! It has reached about 190 book length pages and requires more than a "smidgen" of polish here and there.

I hope that you will spend a few minutes reading my latest revision of the first of sixty chapters, and for those of us who relish the arcane, I write these words from my son Ben's room in whose house I now reside again after a seven year hiatus following my divorce from Ben's mom.

As always, I dedicate these remembrances lovingly to my son Benjamin a.k.a Avrum ben Avrum v' Yehudit ...

Chapter 1: The Last Time

The day was Wednesday, November 22, 2000 when, I believe, an act of “Divine Kindness” made it possible for me to have had the unique opportunity to spend several minutes in the morning together with my son Benjamin for the last time.

Forgetting the night before to have set his alarm, he woke up late for work, hurriedly got dressed and ran to catch the bus. As fortune would have it, he spotted my car parked at the dry cleaners and caught up with me just in time. Had I not dropped my laundry off that morning, I might not have seen him again.

As I turned to leave, there he was waiting behind me with a broad smile of anticipation.

“Dad, can you give me a lift to the train?”

Always regretful whenever I had not seen Ben for several days, any opportunity to be together with him delighted me. After I moved out of my home in July of 1999, there were times when I did not see him as often as I would have liked.

So off we drove together to the train station. As I recall, our last conversation went something like this:
"How are you, Ben?"
"Fine, Dad. You?"
"Okay. How are you?"
"You feeling good?"

I turned into a parking lot across the street from the station. Checking to see that the latch on his messenger bag was securely fastened, he opened the passenger door. As always, I asked him:

"Do you have money on you?"
"Yes, Dad. ‘Seeya’ later!"
"Be safe!"

The day would be, I thought, like any other.

If only it had been!

The phones had been ringing all morning. It was a few minutes before noon when I answered this call. A stranger’s voice-belonging to a man who identified himself as an emergency room surgeon at Cook County Hospital in Chicago-told me Ben had sustained life-threatening injuries following a nearly fatal accident necessitating immediate surgical intervention.

He “suggested” that I come down to the hospital as soon as possible.

“Suggested? Well, I knew what he meant! Suffice to say I knew how this day would end.”

A frightful myriad of thoughts filled my head as I sped away toward the hospital in a state of quiet desperation. The grave tone of the doctor’s voice convinced me the dreaded day I had foreseen for many years had indeed arrived.

After parking about two blocks away, I ran to the emergency department whereupon I stopped and identified myself to the first nurse I encountered. Escorting me hurriedly to the surgeon to whom I granted authorization, when asked, to employ all measures to save Ben, I indicated my wish to be present while the trauma team did everything it could to save him.

My father stood with me behind a glass partition as we witnessed a desperate but ultimately futile effort almost within arm’s reach.

During those several minutes, I discovered a previously unknown facet of my father. Next to me stood a desperate man praying for the life of my son. His hands overhead, flattened against the glass partition while holding back a torrent of tears, he petitioned The Almighty for His intervention. In Ben’s declining seconds when still … flickered a spark of life, my father, a sensitive yet determined man, called out his desperate plea once, twice, thrice and again …

“Hang on Ben! Fight back! Please fight back!”

Open heart massage ... failed! Oxygen mask … failed! Electric shock ... failed!
A pall of deafening silence smothered the frenzy of just seconds before when every flicker of hope animated us but then died with Ben. Movements slowed down and the machines switched off. His face wearied, the surgeon turned toward me and shook his head.

Ben was gone!

Only a brief while before had he entered this world! I was there then as I was here now.

A nurse asked me if I wished time alone with my son. I told her I did. Indicating to my dad that I was the only person allowed to remain with Ben, she took a gentle hold of his arm, motioned him aside and drew the curtain closed to insure our privacy.

Standing at his side, I placed a kippah
[1] upon his head and kissed his handsome nose.

“Thank you for being such a good son Ben.”

With but precious few minutes left to be together before the attendants arrived, Ben “slept” while I … I hovered over him and whisperingly sang the 23rd Psalm.

“ … lo ira ra ki Ata imudi …”

Rabbi Louis arrived. Taking immediate charge of the situation, his timely arrival assured me that Ben would be interred in strict accordance with Jewish tradition.

A noteworthy interlude took place before I had to inform his mom.

Several of Ben’s closest friends
[3] meanwhile had arrived at the hospital front desk. Informed by a nurse my younger son was with them, and that he would not be allowed to enter unless I vouch for the group, I went to the front desk to receive them together with Rabbi Louis.

We arrived only to be informed Ben’s brother Zac could enter whereas hospital policy forbad entry to Ben’s well-meaning buddies.

We were on our way back to the emergency room when a hospital security guard stopped us and asked for our passes. As it happened, we did not have any and would have to return to the front desk. Angered by the guard’s insensitivity, Rabbi Louis appealed to the better angels of his nature, albeit unsuccessfully:

“My friend’s son has just died!”

Despite his vociferous objection, Rabbi Louis’ protestations had fallen upon deaf ears. The guard refused to budge. So back we trod to fetch the passes.

When came time to confront Ben’s mom with the awful news, Rabbi generously offered to stand in for me, but I felt this was my duty. Accompanied by my dad and Rabbi Louis together with our arms linked, we crossed the hall reluctantly into a small lounge where Ben’s mom sat awaiting news. I approached her haltingly:

"Ben is gone!" …

I cried out placing my forehead atop her head. Within the shadow of a moment there followed from Ben’s mom an utterance of primal pain so terrifying only a bereaved mother is capable of making it. I shall never forget its sound!

I left the room. There was something I had to tell the surgeon.

I found him standing just outside the lounge in the hallway. Appearing as if he had been waiting for me, I thanked him for all he had done to try to save Ben’s life. He was genuinely sympathetic and seemed to understand me when I forbad the hospital from performing an autopsy.

In the wrongful death suit brought by my family, the surgeon testified in a deposition how he had worried about my dad’s well being when we bore witness to futility.

There soon remained nothing more that could be done. Although the walk back to the truck was cold, windy and desolate, I felt comforted by the warmth of Rabbi Louis’ friendship at this time of unparalleled extremity.

How thankful and relieved I felt in knowing that I would not have to go home alone!

While we sat waiting for the truck to warm up, Rabbi Louis called Rabbi Moshe
[5] to facilitate the speedy transfer of Ben’s remains to the funeral home. After several minutes, I drove Rabbi Louis home.

That Wednesday, the darkest I had ever known, hours before Thanksgiving 2000, came to an end as well as the world as I had known it just hours before but which would never be the same again.

I think I fell asleep that night in my apartment.
[1] skullcap signifying God overhead
[2]I shall not fear because You are with me .”
[3] Ben’s younger brother Zac was among them.
[4] Jewish tradition forbids this practice.
[5] A police department chaplain
[6] I have a partial memory of sleeping on the couch in the front room of Ben’s mom’s house but I am not certain.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dear Readers ...

If indeed you wonder why Isreal strikes back, here's my answer!

Dedicated to the Jews of the Israel Defense Forces who defend "artzeinu Kadosha"!

Remember this tale about which you hear ... of those struggling Jews who fell without fear ... who chose to die as men-not cattle ... for fate had determined ... they first do battle ... with the Hun at whom ... they did courageously fling ... all of the might of young David's sling.

Their foe ... a Goliath ...of thousands' times size ... from whom they refused to submit to the lies ... that they were weak and unworthy, unable to rise ... though blinded by hate, they aimed straight for his eyes.

Never before had there been seen such daring ... from young women and men all of whom caring ... for the dignity of those for whom they fought .... such were the lessons history had taught .... that the Jew stood alone, friendless, against foe ... counting his days ... tormented by woe ... His task ... to prove though troubled by pain ... the odds at Masada had not been in vain.

For three splendid months ... the struggle did not cease ... neither side desiring peace. For that meant 'surrender', an unthinkable word .... from the sewers of Warsaw there could still be heard: the cries, the anguish, the torture within ... ferreting out their captives the Nazis whose grin ... was evidence that they had acted with glee ... when stifling the attempt of people to be free.

Cords of log-bodies stacked just the same ... secular and religious none to blame. For there was NO difference before the Hun ... the Jews for him were decidedly ONE! ... whether armed or with prayer, they met their end ... though futile struggle 'twas not ... Kiddush HaShem.

Our duty to those whose fate we survived ... is in working to keep their memory alive. I ask ...
Why a people ... whose destiny has been ... to enlighten a world through darkness and din ... whose lives are as many as they have been few ... remain despised the children of Avrum Avinu? ... For what 'good' reason is he chosen to die? ... why gone unnoticed the tear in his eye? ... has he not suffered ... while the world stands by .... why have we not ever heeded his cry? ... Is there really a difference ... that makes him seem strange ... as if the same blood did not course through his veins?... Does he not laugh, cry and feel just as you? ...How such a threat when he numbers so few?

Threatened with death ... should he adhere to his ways ... terrorized by chimneys above which rose haze ... searchingly hopeful ... in whose starry gaze ... reflect the faggots whose fires roar ablaze ... Why did none stop it once it was known? ... Enough indifference haven't we sown? ... Praying to the heavens they did every day ... "Ana HaShem" ... may there be planes flying our way ... please god, bombardment should take us ... ere the chambers would ... but, the Allies, one and all, denied they could ... destroy the rails leading straight into Hell ... from which precious few reemerged to tell ... of the horrors awaiting them .. ... so hard to believe ... that neither kindness nor life ... did the arrivals receive.

The children, too, thrust into the pit ...enraged blood lust ...into its infernal fit ... that even the babes whose potential so great ...should have felt the steel of this magnificent hate ... whose cries were heard ... but listened to none... whose heads fell limp with the snap of a gun ... whose parents ... God forbid! ... they Saw as naked as they ... for it was like this ... that they suffered that day.

There are those who challenge ... what we have to say ..."does such a retelling remains relevent today?" ... That somehow, it's past, gone. just let it be! ... why do you make us suffer to see ... the killings, the children, the mountains of bone ... the chambers transformed so many to stone! ... who dropped like logs when the doors were thrown wide, there simply had been ... no place to hide ... mothers whose skirts offered refuge at least ... little ones uncovered .. fed the insatiably fiery feast .... "Of what use" it was queried, ... "could they possibly be" a stench wherein no one was happy or free?"

Ne'er a glimmer of hope ... would the murderers give ... to those whose sole wish ... was only to live ...Mothers from children .... families asunder .... might others have withstood this fury and thunder? ... Slave labor was needed to further the 'cause' build V-2 rockets ... to sharpen the claws .... For such, 'noble' men, doctors by fame ... were employed to brutalize ... murder ... and maim .... so that 'Science' could learn .... when life was so cheap ... discarded mankind onto the heap.

'Great' governments had met ... in order to be ... as pious as possible... but deaf to the plea ... of the wandering Jew whose torment to see ... how unwelcome he was in the 'Land of the Free' ...The ship onto which ... so many had stormed ... could not find refuge for opinion had formed ...that the Jew was expendable, a nuisance, a thorn... upon whom fate had abandoned ... its contemptuous scorn.

They made it to America these "tired and poor" ... to discover Liberty's spark shone little more ... that, for them, there was not room enough to remain... what hopes they had cherished ... alas! ... were all now in vain!

Dejectedly they limped ... back to the place ... which had expelled them at first ... for the same lack of space ...Stripped naked and paraded ... for the world to see ...what sickness had afflicted modern Germany?

Once active and vigorous this citizenry ... now wandering about quite aimlessly ... It didn't take long for the nazis to see ... the world cared less for these Jews to be free ... A 'final solution' ... would quicken the pace ... guarenteeing mastery to the 'Aryan' race ... No longer at issue either sufferance or claim ..., onto Jewry was placed the burden and blame ...

To repair the world .... there first must needs be ... a point at which we accept responsability ... for right against wrong .... fiction from fact ... a basis upon which ... we can responsibly act.

but why even bother ... so distant from then ... what more do we gain ... what message we send?
For the sake of' the children ... if not for our own ...and for them whose lives ... we
known ...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Chapter 7: Mazel Run Out

I kept hold of a deep secret for many years!

Something so dark, so terrifyingly foreboding that, had one been told, the only adequate response would have been:

“God Forbid!”

I tried consciously to suppress it whenever it occurred to me, but its probability seemed less remote with every one of our visits to the emergency room! It seemed as if it were a certainty, a foreshadowing of an eventuality.

Somehow I knew Ben's mazel, our mazel would run out someday!

Does it seem horrible a parent should have such thoughts about his own child? Maybe so, but I freely admit it did often occur to me. Problem was I just did not know when it would happen! After all, one whose child lives with two chronic diseases and survives innumerable close calls might begin to anticipate the imminence of the last day.

As it happened, Ben did not die either from complications of diabetes or epilepsy, but was fatally struck by a truck while riding his motor scooter for a messenger service. So when his mazel, our mazel did run out-as odd as it may sound-I had already prepared myself emotionally for its inevitability.

Not so strangely, I felt certain Ben had lived a fuller life in fewer years than many would have done in more.


Chapter 7a: Postscript to “Mazel Run Out”

Witnesses claim having seen the truck in the center lane when the driver, without signaling, executed an abrupt right turn into an alley crushing Ben in the process with his rear tires.

One witness testified having seen the driver exit his vehicle to see what had happened and then quickly returned to his cab, drove the truck further into the alley whereupon he turned his right turn signal on.

There is nothing in the reports to indicate he offered any aid or comfort to Ben.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chapter 19: Shomer

Certain acts are best characterized as “selfless” and, as such, are performed without thought of payment or recognition, as if to say:

‘I am doing this because it is the only decent and helpful thing I know to do.’

It is a Kiddush Ha Shem, an act performed to sanctify God's name, signifying:

‘In doing this for you, I expect nothing and will accept nothing in return.’

It is the ultimate act of friendship.

I have such a friend! ...

It happened on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2000 when Ben's mom and I, together with a few family friends, met with the funeral director to make the awful but necessary arrangements to lay our son to his final resting place.

In a way I think the worst part was the purchase of the casket. Our choice was simple. Made from pine, then lacquered and adorned with a Magen David, Star or Shield of David, the sighting of one exactly like it at a friend’s recent funeral brought back memories of that day when the funeral home staff delicately walked us through the casket show room. There was another choice, a simpler design without a lacquered finish, a flat rectangular construction. It reminded me of the caskets shown in the old cowboy movies that always had an undertaker in town.

Ben’s mom looked at me and I at her. Not quite enough we agreed for our beloved Benjamin.

That Thanksgiving was indeed a dreadful one: a quiet, somber but exhausting confusion. With so many suddenly necessary things to do and little time left to accomplish everything before Friday, it became an opportunity in abbreviated time when the angelic reflections of our souls shone brilliantly!

So many of our friends joined in to lend us a helping hand in our time of greatest need. A lady from my synagogue prepared me enough food for several days. A dear friend flew in from Canada. We were all so frenzied, and I recall feelings of surreal suspension which lasted until I heard the first spade of earth hitting the casket.

Our community experienced an ingathering that day, Thursday November 23, 2000 and for many days thereafter-a time when acts of chesed, kindness and gemilus chasadim, acts of loving kindness awakened our finest natures that really did manifest themselves in a common effort to mend that which cannot be fixed and heal that for which there is no cure. Each one comforted the next, quietly dreading the coming morning when would arrive the very last chance to say our ‘goodbyes’, but before which no one was left alone. No one!

A shomer sat next to the casket reading from the Sefer Tehilim, The Book of Psalms, throughout the night.

The soul rising higher...

This particular shomer knew Ben: who he was, where he lived, having conversed with him, seen him seated next to me in shul, discerned a fierce loyalty to family and friends; in sum simply this: the kind of person for whom one prays that his soul have an
aliyah, an ascent to a higher heavenly level.

Earlier that same day, this shomer sat near me while we finalized Ben’s funeral arrangements, whose selflessness later that night comforted me and whose tefilos, prayers, uttered on behalf of my son, I am quite sure, reached the “divine ear!”

I have such a friend!

Thank you Harv!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dear Readers ...

As you might well guess, thoughts on Father's Day lead me back to remembrances of Ben Z'L who was the very first person in all the world to call me "daddy"! I should also like to point out that my son Zac and his sister Kimberly joined me for dinner tonight at my home and presented me with a special Three Stooges DVD 8 pack and two fine cigars.

By now faithful readers of Ben's story should have a truer sense of the inner strength of Ben. He was most assuredly a "gibor"-a person characterized not solely by physical strength as much as an enduring inner constitutional fiber that enables one such as Ben to overcome adversity not merely once, twice, thrice but repeatedly throughout the length of his days.

Please if you will take a few minutes to read these two related chapters, they will, I hope, at the very least remind you to hug your first born and call your dad before it's too late.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~
For Ben ... as always

My mind’s eye can still see the pole-vaulting pit on the athletic field of West Ladue Junior High where I attended the seventh-grade thirty-nine years ago. As a boy I'd look up at the height of the bar and I remember feeling awestruck that someone of my age could possess the requisite qualities of focus, daring and strength to overcome such a formidable height.

That memory has proven itself invaluable to me throughout the years whenever I incorporated its lesson into both my teaching and parenting-not only with Ben but my two other children, Kimberly and Zac, as well. My teaching, however, began with Ben-my first student as it were-to whom I would often say:

"Raise up the bar, son! Never lower it!"

It was always my hope that that reminder would inspire and enable him to overcome his many personal challenges: to reach in, out and beyond.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Reaching in ...

Ben's physical strength was awesome, but it is not that to which I refer here but rather to his “inner strength”, his strength of character.

However, as an aside, if ever he skated toward you at full speed as he once did for me as I stood watching just outside the entranceway onto the ice, I gleaned a fairly good appreciation for what it must feel like to stand in front of an oncoming train! A fabulous ice skater, Ben worked as an "ice guard" for a winter's season at the park district’s ice rink-and whose responsibility was to monitor the safety of the kids on the ice during open skating, picking up the little ones who had fallen and setting them aright.

My indecision …

Ben's personal strength of character remarkably manifested itself following the surgical repair of his infected appendectomy. Soon released from the hospital with a surgical wound deliberately un-sutured, Ben, in order to insure that the wound would heal properly, had to fully pack it twice daily with cotton gauze, tape it shut and maintain the sanitary hygiene of the entire site. He continued having to do this on a daily basis for several weeks.

There was one occasion when I sat across from him in his bedroom and watched him do this self-procedure, but within moments I became so overwhelmed that the choice whether to laugh or cry left me indecisive. I compromised with myself by laughing through my tears of joy!

As crucial for the pole-vaulter as both strength and technical skill are, he, much like Ben, must possess, an inner strength that fills him with a passionate desire to vault formidable heights with ease and grace.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dear Readers ...

I hope that you will take a minute or so to read the revised Chapter 14 of In Memory of Ben. I do always appreciate your time and interest. Please post your comments on the blog should you have any comments or questions.

It frequently happens that ‘children challenges’ exhaust parental reservoirs of common faith and shared strength, when something as simple as a hug might enable them to survive and overcome their common extremity by a painful moment becoming even the tiniest bit more bearable.

The Accident …

Within several weeks after surviving a near fatal traffic accident, Ben began feeling shortness of breath and chest pain. His posture was slouched over and his walk became labored. Diagnosed as a very severe pneumonia, there was no other treatment option than to undergo lung surgery. Coincident at a time in our marriage when Ben's mom and I had not had any contact with each other for months, had you seen me then, you would have understood why!

At that time, Ben's mom used to say that she could no longer recognize me nor frankly did I myself! Wanting to be perceived as an orthodox Jew, I began dressing in what I thought was the “standard uniform”: dark suit, white shirt, tie, a kippah
[1] and topped off by black fedora.

In actuality, had one probed beyond the garb, he would have discovered I was no one other than a pretender and ‘am haaretz’[2].

While laboring under the false presumption that if by changing my external appearance I could quicken my internal religious growth, I struggled to learn and live by the fundamentals of Jewish orthodoxy. I failed in the end.

A Unbridgeable Distance

Standing by his bedside where he lay recovering after his surgery, Ben's mom and I bore witness to his wrenching pain. Although he fought back mightily, his cries were heart piercing.

"Ben ... be strong, son! Even stronger!" I implored.

How awkward I felt saying these words to Ben as if he were not already doing that! How awful it is to see one's child in pain!Ben’s mom left the room. I found her in the family waiting lounge just steps away. Quietly weeping, she stood by the window just staring out. I wanted very much to comfort her, but I could not! I did not think she would have wanted me to touch her, to hug her! As she often said back then, I was no longer the same man whom she had once known and loved.
So there we were, the two of us, Ben's mom and dad, not ten feet away from each other, but it might well have been hundreds of miles … tragically unable to offer each other even the slightest comfort for our son’s suffering, our suffering: common but not shared!

[1] skullcap worn by observant Jewish men.
[2] An ignorant person, a ‘know-nothing!’

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dear Readers,

As always, I thank you for your time and interest in my telling the story of my late son Ben Z'L. Should you have any comments, be they of whatever sort, please take a moment to post them on the blog. You needn't worry, I shan't be offended if you have a criticism to make and naturally I won't turn away any positive reactions. I am currently editing In Memory of Ben in the hopes of sending it off to an editor. Though the chapter names have remained unchanged, editing has changed the economy of the text as I have tried to say things more succinctly in my on-going struggle against verbosity. :)

Chapter 34: Revision of " ... In a Better Place ... "

What words to a bereaved parent can a consoler say about the “unspeakable” without stumbling into the realm of the trite and banal?

Sadly, many say:

“They are in a better place … ”

If only we hugged more and spoke less!

Imagine the greater nechama
[1] we could provide if we knew what not to say to a parent suffering life’s most painful loss!

Bereaved parents will eventually come to accept death’s irreversibility, however reluctantly, over time-no matter how long it may take. Time may not heal all wounds, but it will take its toll on those parents who persist in fighting a futile war against an implacable enemy. That truism said should not keep bereft parents from “ascending the top of the highest mountain” and crying out that the death of a child is eternally intolerable.

I have wondered at times: “Could I have loved Ben more?”

Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther chronicles the story of his son’s heroic but ultimately futile struggle with brain cancer.

In a provocative postscript, Frances, the author’s estranged wife, ponders whether she could have loved her son, Johnny, more and if so, how? Naturally, reading this led me to wonder if I too could have done more, done better for Ben.

While maintaining her trust in God and refusing to lay the blame for her son’s death at anyone’s doorstep, Frances looks at how two issues might have produced better results had she and her husband addressed them differently:

1. Johnny should not have been sent to boarding school but kept home where he would have been more comfortable.

2. Their son’s death might not have occurred had they saved their marriage.

Especially in the latter of the two cases, is there a “cause and effect” relationship that connects the tragic reality of Johnny’s grave illness to his parents’ “mistaken” approach to their problems?

It is unlikely because the incomprehensibility of human ‘tragedy’ belongs exclusively to the Ribon shel Olam
[2] whose ways are not only immutable but beyond rational human understanding.

Ben’s struggle with chronic illness was no different in this respect! His diabetes, epilepsy, and all of their ill effects cannot be attributed to God as if it were His way to wreak havoc upon the lives of children!

Whether our affliction is sickness, misfortune in business or the premature death of a loved one, we can choose to avoid the abyss of apostasy by trusting that God does not work in that way. There is only so much we can do in life and-while often it does seem that all is for naught-in spite of all of our worriment and innumerable precautions, tragedy does happen and may well befall us.

Would it not be easier to succumb to the cynical belief that God “chose” Ben? However, were that the case, how could I ever place my faith, trust and hope in a mean-spirited and capricious god? Sure it's reasonable to look back and say:

"I should have done this differently. If only I had been less concerned with 'a' as opposed to ‘b’, things might have turned out differently.”

However true such a supposition is, it is clearly false to equate "differently" with "better". In like manner, I acknowledge Ben might have suffered fatal injury that day had he never suffered any previous history of chronic illness!

The heart of this matter is the truism that life will always be precious, exceedingly delicate and precarious by its very nature! That when we proclaim:


we are not merely toasting “cheers” as many people think. Rather are we obligated to remain mindful of the sanctity of our lives and to live them b'simcha.

[1] comfort
[2] Master of the Universe, God.
[3] To Life!
[4] with joy

Monday, May 29, 2006

Dear Readers ...

This morning, Memorial Day, 2006, I finished what I hope to be the last proof/editing of The Book of Ben before sending a copy to an editor. Featured here is a revision of Chapter 54 entitled ... Ben's Leaf on the Etz Chaim. As always, I wish to thank any and all readers who spend even the tiniest bit of their time reading this on-going story of my late son Ben Z' L and appreciate comments should you have them.

“In Memory Of
Benjamin Busch
Whose Good Deeds, Kind
Nature & Gentle Manner
Will Forever Be An
Inspiration To Us”

This leaf appears on the “Etz Chaim”
[1] in my synagogue. Have you ever wondered why we affix a memorial leaf to a ‘Tree of Life’? For the same reason, I suppose, that the “Mourner’s Kaddish” makes no mention of death whatsoever and for the same reason that we say:

“L’Chaim” [2]

when raising a glass in celebration together.

Though the leaf serves as a painful reminder of both the realization and recollection of the end of Ben’s life, its primary purpose is to obligate us to celebrate the time of his life-no matter that it ended prematurely, abruptly, agonizingly!

Speaking the Unspeakable

Still the very worst part remains … having read the attending paramedic’s deposition that Ben was both conscious and able to speak for a brief while before finally and permanently losing consciousness, and that he understood what had happened, while he suffered horrendous pain and bespoke his fear that he was dying. As Ben’s dad, the certain knowledge that my son’s last waking moments were consumed by such trauma and fear leaves me cold and quiet, my thoughts inchoate …

As a Jew, I am thankful our faith is one of eternal optimism and teaches us that life is inherently miraculous and therefore holy.

We serve as guardians of its sanctity.

Loose Ends

Often over these last five years, I have had to revert back to this sustaining belief in those moments when the unalterable fact of the death of my child has become nearly overwhelming, when the solitude of a Sunday morning is replaced by the uneasy quiet of a mourner’s lonely room … when all that tangibly remain are a few personal belongings: a shirt, suit, some old boots, a bicycle in need of repair, a child’s signature surprisingly appearing when I turned the page of a scrapbook.

The absolute enormity of a child’s death leaves one feeling so insignificant, so powerlessly tiny. To have to navigate these treacherous waters daily is no simple task as we are invariably reminded of how vast God’s ocean is while we remain adrift in such a small boat!

Life’s only antidote to the pain of our loss is the tenacity with which we remember our children … that we simply refuse to allow their memories to die. Though their bodies are gone, their physicality ended, our linkage to them instead becomes one of remembrance, of dedication and rededication, all of which serve to remind us of how fortunate we are indeed to have enjoyed our time with them for as long as we did.

[1] The Tree of Life

[2] To Life

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dear Readers ...

My poem entitled
Mourning's Reflections appears on p. 28 of this book Passing
which has just been recently released.

It is an anthology of poetry that explores the many and varied responses of people who have experienced the loss of a loved one: a parent, a spouse, a friend ... a child.

Mourning's Reflections describes the scene at the graveside service of my son Ben Z'L.

It is also chapter 26 of my book in progress
In Memory of Ben that I hope to one day publish.

I do appreciate your time and interest in my son's story as I tell it piece by piece.
As always, I welcome any and all written responses. :)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lessons Learned Late ...

It hurts me terribly much that I will not see Ben become a fully mature adult and father. He was still so young when catastrophe suddenly turned our world upside down, and our lives-as we had once lived them, would never again be the same.

I often wonder:

Do parents ever stop worrying about their children? Does there ever come a time when we let go of the worriment? I've done my best. Now's time for them to leave the nest and fly on their own!'

Our Jewish commitment to our children’s future and to that of our children’s children has ever remained a cornerstone of our home that houses our fundamental beliefs and traditions.

What should one do when the premature death of a child deprives us of the chance to forge that one critical link in the chain? What happens to the love that a parent saved exclusively for that child? It is not as if it dries up with the passage of time!

After Ben's death, I intensified my demonstrable love for my other children because I feared the realization of even the remotest possibility that-with so much of my time and energy focused on the tragedy of Ben’s death-even my unconditional love for them would not be
sufficient enough to keep them close. I was not only grieving the loss of Ben but the dreaded
distance that I feared might come between me and my other two children due, in part, to my divorce from their mother and my stubborn adherence to an orthodoxy that honestly was not working for me.

Kimberly’s Wisdom and Memories of
Pesach Past …

I recall a story from my family’s Passover history I shall never forget. Looking back with the clarity of vision only the hindsight of maturation offers, I can see now what I could not have then.

My daughter Kimberly angrily rebuked me citing my zealous pursuit of ritual correctness which, in fact, had not only not enhanced Passover, but succeeded only in spoiling it for her.

By way of background, an almost “kafkaesque” disputation had arisen between her mom and me over a can of “treif”[1] chicken broth! Merely a manifestation of my futile efforts to “kasher”[2] our kitchen to which Kimberly’s mother was totally opposed, I succeeded but only in isolating myself to an even greater extent from within my own family. None of my three children or their mother showed any interest whatever in leading an observant Jewish lifestyle.

Several years later while we were staying at my mother’s house together in St. Louis to celebrate Thanksgiving, Kimberly tearfully explained to me how it was that my manner of dress and overall appearance embarrassed her.

“Why wasn’t I the same dad who used to sing silly songs as she pranced up and down our driveway dressed in her ballet tutu?”

As my loving and caring daughter whose love I would never sacrifice, Kimberly’s impact on me has been without equal. In having helped me to better appreciate the role that moderation plays in matters of religious observance in a family like mine, Kimberly showed me that I was free to choose a path of religious observance, but one that would both include and accommodate my family in general and my children in particular. In effect, it would serve as a blueprint for an approach to Jewish observance moderate in tone and geared to the occasional need for situational compromise.

My mother best summed it all up in a note she wrote that I have kept of all places in my daily prayer book:

"Dear Alan ... remember ... family first!"

[1] non-kosher
[2] to make kosher

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dear Readers,

I invite you to read this newly revised chapter 4a from my book in progress entitled In Memory of Ben. As always I would very much appreciate your written response if any that you may post in the comments feature of this blog.

Chapter 4a: A Glimpse Forward in Time

Have you ever wondered about the things we do for our children? Right or wrong, well intended though misguided and however utterly ineffectual, they often reaffirm the truism that as parents we too do the "darndest” things.

It is probably best explained by and attributed to our "nesting" instinct-that our first obligation is to protect our children-to enable them not only to defend and protect themselves but also to keep them out of harm's way-both when they are still very young but even after they have done some growing up.

So it was that I tried to interest Ben in playing hockey with a group of Jewish men-one of whom I knew from my synagogue. They were not so much a team as simply a group of guys who enjoyed the "rough and tumble" of ice hockey. "Perfect!" I thought for Ben: skating at which he had always excelled, hard checking against the boards, slap shots ... what could be better? Problem was that this group practiced twice a week at 10:00 p.m., but for several weeks, Ben and I went-he played, I watched and on occasion fell asleep in the stands. Unhappily it did not last beyond two months or so, but back to my motive for a bit.

How was this an example of my "nesting" instinct?

Ben had always been very athletically oriented. My intent was to try to show him ways by which he might maximize his strengths with the added benefit that more regular physical exertion would serve him well as a diabetic. Secondly, I was also trying to demonstrate that there were other "friends choices" out there which, I thought, were more wholesome than Ben's "friends choices"!

You may ask:

‘What was the outcome of all of this “parental engineering’?

Simply put … whenever I tried to make a choice for Ben, it failed-no matter how parentally pure my motive. He invariably reverted to his choices. Interestingly, Ben's mom used to say of him that he had always been a very cautious child-even from his earliest years. The kind of person who carefully surveys a new situation, looking it over, scrutinizing it in an attempt to determine if it seems right for him. All well and good, one might say! Deliberate, cautious in his moves, like playing chess with life itself.

However, as parents-no matter how much we may both encourage and applaud self-reliance in our children, a "stand-up" approach-it is often a heartbreaker to see-that despite the fact that we do know better ... life having taught us. Our children, eager and determined to exercise their autonomy, often end up making poor choices, their own choices indeed but poor ones nevertheless.

So, what does one do if a child is tending in the wrong direction?

Love him then more demonstrably than ever before! Let your actions define both the intent and meaning of "unconditional love" though tempered by discipline, structure and appropriate consequences should he require them.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Pesachdik Meanderings: The Tenth Plague

It is something we say twice every year when we retell the story in the Haggadah Shel Pesach[1] of our redemption from Egyptian bondage. I refer here to the "ma kas b'choros".[2] It was the last in a series of ten, as if God were saving the 'best' (read: the very WORST!) for last. By the time of the tenth plague, there should have been no doubters as to the identity of the Master of the Universe!

Though uncertain about the reason(s) for which God chose the firstborn of Egypt, it is clear that He did so with purpose- for what does He do without ... ? Perhaps the demonstration that He could take certain lives with "surgical precision" rather than indiscriminately slaying everyone ... would be the final proof to Pharoah that he was like anyone else, merely 'basar v' dam', flesh and blood! Was his son not smitten too?

Our first-born possesses a unique quality that distinguishes him from his siblings. While there must have been some Egyptian families with one child only, the inference that there were typically others seems clear by the use of the adjective "first", an ordinal number denoting rank of birth. The second child, the third ... were not slain!

Our first-born child arrives at a time in our lives when we are still young (er) ourselves, nearer the point in time when we were once the "children" of parents. Our “bechor”[3] is often born to us in our youth. Should that child die before we do, it is as if a part of ourselves dies too ... the remnant of our youth, our own childhood.

[1] Story of the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt

[2] the slaying of the first born

[3] first-born child