Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dear Readers,

Please click on Double Take › Look again, you might have missed something., a wonderful blog by an even more wonderful bas Yisroel.

To all, I wish a Chag Pesach Sameach v' Kasher.


Alan, Heather, Benjamin Z"L, Kimmy and Zac

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dear Readers,

Please click on this link.

New Jersey Faith Forum has been kind enough to post one of my articles.

Many thanks.

Chag Pesach Sameach v' Kasher/Happy Passover

Friday, March 23, 2007

“It Happened Again”

Reflections on Purim Past

I am torn.

We are to be joyful during the month of Adar.

After all, isn’t it the month when we celebrate Purim as an observance of national salvation, when good overcame evil and Haman and his sons died on the gallows he had built for Mordecai?

They hanged Haman and his sons al ha etz, on the gallows. Conversely, the Hebrew etz also means a tree, a symbol of the Jewish people itself, as is Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life.

And if you are wondering about God whose name does not appear in the Megilat Ester, the Scroll of Esther, He was there, just hidden but indisputably present, steering the helm of history through His masterfully skillful use of nissim, His vast, miraculous wonders.

The demise of Haman parallels that of Pharoah. The evildoers met their ends, each in a different manner of death, but which, in both cases, had been intended for the descendants of Jacob whom they despised.

It worked out nicely for us. We survived and the would-be slayers were themselves slain.

However, there remains behind a problem for people who grieve insofar as the injunction to be joyful poses an emotional conundrum for them. While each joyous holiday in Judaism forges a link in the mesorah, the heritage, of our collective past, we need to remain mindful of our obligation to share the simchas ha yom with our children.

Veshinantam levanecha v’dibarta bam… but,

What if a child dies? What if tragedy of that magnitude befalls us? What then? How can the presence of grief be reconciled with the joy we are supposed to feel at holiday time? Can happiness be mandated? Are we capable of switching grief on and off and setting it aside until the holiday is over or does it even matter any more after a child dies?

The Fortune of Friendship

I am rich.

We all have, I hope, a quintessentially invaluable friend without whom we would have to redefine our lives. And no, I’m not talking about a spouse or, for that matter, anyone in your family. Though I suppose it possible such a friend can be a family member, I have found the bond to be paradoxically stronger when, in the absence of blood ties, there is no familial obligation.

I have such a friend.

He and his family have been my lifeline and connection to my community.


It is an absolute prerequisite to be able to grieve healthily. To think we can grieve by ourselves is a mistaken and costly approach to grief management. Life and the pain of death are qualitatively better and more manageably experienced when we share them with caring people in a community. My shul is my community and its rabbi, my dearest friend.

Rabbi Boruch, whose remarkable family, caring attitude and irrepressible good humor have lifted me up on countless occasions, has been there for me through times thick and thin when, during these past ten years, I have faced a crumbling marriage and divorce, my son Benjamin’s struggle with diabetes and epilepsy, his death and the onset of my Parkinson’s Disease.

Certain moments become fixed in our memories, brief interactions yet leaving long trails behind.

It happened one morning after minyan years ago. We were chatting in the fleishig kitchen, just Rabbi Boruch and I, about our children, naturally. We did this sort of thing almost daily but especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays when we typically had a few extra minutes before each of us had to run of to work. On Mondays and Thursdays we did not have the extra time due to the morning's Torah reading.

I listened intently while he spoke beamingly of his older son, Moshe, who was studying in Israel when suddenly he stopped talking. It was not a mere pause.

“Rabbi, what? You were saying about Moshe?” hoping to encourage him on.
“No, I can’t,” he responded, determined to remain silent.
“Your son is not here anymore. I don’t want you to feel bad!”

This is the sort of person Rabbi Boruch is.

The Beginning

Two years before I met Rabbi Boruch, I used to daven in a small chapel where gathered the daily traditional minyan of the conservative shul to which I belonged.

Steamily hot one summer Shabbat morning, the heat of the morning’s sunshine pierced the brightly illumined stained glass. The chazzan droned on and on by Musaf. I was sitting in the front row. The stifling heat weighed heavily upon the silence of the room. I looked behind me. Comprised as it was almost entirely of elderly gentlemen, including several Holocaust survivors, every one of them had fallen asleep. The whole minyan except the chazzan and me though I think I was more awake than he. I looked around. There would be enough for a minyan if I left.

And so I did.

Happening by Rabbi Boruch’s Shul

I needed fifteen minutes to arrive at my destination even at a feverish pace, but I knew happily where I was going as much as where I wanted to be.

Having passed through a wooden archway just off to the right of his garage, there was nowhere else to go but down the steps leading to the basement where I hoped to find the shul.

“This has ‘gotta’ be it,” I muttered to myself.

As I soon discovered, I opened a door to a place oozing with haimishness. Peeking inside, I espied a bearded man with an infectious smile, his cape-like tallis afloat in the breeze of his eager gait, tzitsis flying, heading toward me invitingly.

“Come in. Come in. Bruchim Habaim!”

That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Before he undertook to build a synagogue, Rabbi Boruch had opened up his home to the congregation where it met in his converted basement.

Grieving in Shul

It seems invariable.

Melancholia overtakes me whenever I am there.

I don’t think it debilitating, short-lived as each instance is, but it remains a constant in the equation of my grief. Yet, I know this is where a grieving Jew should be because it is a makom kodesh, a holy place, wherein I feel the presence of my son Ben in its most intense manifestation. I’ll even venture a remark that may seem odd to some. As strong a pull as it is to stand before Ben’s grave, I struggle to sense his presence. Oh yes. I know his body is beneath my feet, but that’s just it. Ben’s body remains, but his neshuma is elsewhere.
I believe that it hovers in shul when I am there. Ben spends time with me that way, I suppose. It is his way of making up for the time when I sit alone.

I felt it recently on Purim. It is different than any feeling I experience anywhere else including Ben’s room from which I write these words. You see, no sooner than I take my seat in the row behind my dear friend, Rabbi Boruch. I look over the mechitza to the yahrzeit panels on the south wall and see Ben’s name, the eleventh one in the first column on the first panel. Though I fully expect this grief, I am thankful to take my seat each time We have a tradition in shul life that one's seat becomes his set place, a makom kavua. I should tell you Ben was not a regular shul-goer. His seat is next to mine.

Nobody else sits there.

Whether it be the mystery of Purim, the revelry of Simchas Torah or the trepidation of Yom Kippur, my son remains by my side. Other fathers have their sons sitting next to them. I miss that but I possess something they do not-the certainty my son lived a life abundant in loving-kindness.

Time moves forward inexorably. It pauses for no one. That Purim morning I lamented how much time has passed without Ben.

I am reminded daily his absence is forever. No matter though how many years have already gone by or however many are yet to come, Ben's death will always be for me in the present tense.

I will never say:

“Once upon a time I had a son named Ben.”

I won't tell you I'm not glad to be alive because I know I am a better person for having known and loved Ben.

He taught me so much.

Still ... know there are moments when I am filled with guilt that it was he and not I.

Alan D. Busch

Glossary of Italicized Terms

Adar: Hebrew month during which Purim is observed.

Al ha etz: on the gallows

Etz: tree

Etz Chaim: Tree of Life

Megilat Ester: Scroll of Esther

Nissim: miracles

Mesorah: heritage

Simchas ha yom: joy of the day

Veshinantam levanecha v’dibarta bam: Thou shalt teach them to thy children and speak of them

Shul: synagogue

Fleishig: having to do with meat

Daven: pray

Minyan: a prayer quorem of at least ten men

Chazzen: cantor

Musaf: additional service

Haimishness: social atmosphere characterized by warmth, togetherness and hospitality

Tallis: prayer shawl

Tzistis: wound and knotted ritual fringes looped through the four corners of the tallis

Bruchim Habaim: Welcome

Makom kodesh: holy place

Neshuma: soul

Mechitza: partition dividing men’s from women’s section in an orthodox synagogue.

Yahrzeit: anniversary of a death

Makom kavua: a set place

Monday, March 19, 2007

Dear Readers,

This coming May 31, 2007 will mark the 20th anniversary of the unveiling and subsequent desecration of the Skokie (IL) Holocaust Memorial. The memorial stands between the Skokie Public Library and the Village Hall of Skokie, Ilinois.

I was there that day almost twenty years ago when the veil was lifted, and I saw the despicable desecration of this monument the next day when, just hours before in the anonymity of the night, misanthropes spray painted it with anti-Jewish graffiti and swaztikas.

I returned home seething with anger and wrote the following poem that has been revised many times over the years, but I think I am happy with this revision.

What do you think?

"Dignity Restored"
by Alan D. Busch

Holy martyrs … kedoshim
For whom monument tall
Shouts defiantly: “NEVER AGAIN!”
at last and for all.
Thus hatred's reminder,
its insatiable, implacable aim,
weighing heavily as it should
upon humanity’s unforgivable shame.

Atop the bronze mount
does stand there remain
Remnants of countless savagely slain:
a mother whose babe has cried its last,
an eklerly Jew to whom a boy clings fast.
A partisan fighter whose gestures ignite …
one spark of the hope that flickered by night.

Amidst the rubble of days …
That which had been
through the ages a beacon for men ...
the Torah commanding “Thou Shalt Not Kill ...”
albeit in ruins though applicable still!
to our lives which came after,
relatively free,
of terror's ability to blind us who see.

Now tearful, silently stoic first gaze
while vigilance slept, its fires not ablaze ...
why desecrate this monument
a tribute to those
in whose memory we recall
so few of their woes?

Nary a night did pass ere an evil befell,
and reminded, were we all, of heaven and hell.
Now gone were the tears that had welcomed its sight,
but ready were the many to stand and fight
an ugly reminder whose obscenities told …
of times long since and graves since cold.
Aroused and awakened this community alert,
whose monument remained defiled as such,
to remember one and all
, incredulous and carefree,
that history was not over …
as they had hoped it might be.

A garden became this memorial soon,
And erased were the lies
that had blackened the truth.
Dignity restored its shiny gloss
to words read anew …
of six million lost.

Toward heaven it points
in neither doubt nor shame,
history reminding our memories lame.
That even those departed …
must struggle to hone
the spade that will dig out
this spot as their

Alan D. Busch copyright@2000

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dear Readers ...
I am pleased to announce that the News Magazine of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Chicago will publish the first chapter of In Memory of Ben in its May 2007 edition. Please read below the current revision of Chapter 1.
The Last Time
Alan D. Busch

An act of divine kindness made it possible for me to spend several minutes with my son Benjamin in what became our last time together.
Forgetting the night before to set his alarm, Ben 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 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 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.
Together we drove to the train. 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 at work would be, I thought, like any other. If only it had been!
The phones rang all morning. Business was brisk!
It was just before noon when I answered the next call.I heard the voice of a stranger. Identifying himself as a trauma surgeon in the emergency department of Cook County Hospital, he told me Ben had survived a nearly fatal traffic accident but with critical injuries which required immediate surgical intervention. He “suggested” I come to the hospital as soon as possible.
“Suggested? I knew what he meant! Suffice to say I knew how this day would end.”
A myriad of frightful thoughts filled my head in a state of controlled desperation as I sped away to the hospital. The grave tone of the doctor’s voice convinced me the dreaded day which I had anticipated for years arrived this day.
After being fortunate enough to find parking two blocks away, I ran to the emergency department whereupon I identified myself to the first nurse I encountered. She escorted me hurriedly to the surgeon to whom I gave parental authorization, when asked, to employ all measures to save Ben. I expressed my wish to witness the efforts of the trauma team while it did everything in its power to save him.

Standing alongside my father who arrived within minutes after I called, we stood witness to a desperate, ultimately futile effort almost within our grasp. During these agonizing moments, I discovered a previously unknown facet of my father.
Next to me stood a desperate man who was praying for the life of my son. Holding his hands overhead with palms flattened against the glass partition while holding back a torrent of tears, he pled with The Almighty for immediate intervention. In Ben’s declining seconds while yet flickered a spark of life, my father, sensitive, but doggedly determined man that he is, called out a desperate plea to his grandson once … twice … thrice …
“Hang on Ben! Fight back! Please fight back!”
Open heart massage … failed! Oxygen mask … failed! Electric shock … failed!
A dark cloud smothered the din.
The frenzied pace quieted.
The equipment was turned off.
The surgeon turned around to face me.
His wearied face bespoke what I already knew.
He shook his head.
The embers of life died within Ben.
It seemed as if Ben had come into this world only a short while before. I was there then as I was now.
A nurse asked me if I wished to be with my son. I told her I did. Only I could be with Ben.
Taking hold of him by his arm, she motioned my father away and drew the curtain that Ben and I not be disturbed.
Standing by Ben’s side, I placed a kippah 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 …” (I have no fear for Thou art with me.)
Rabbi Louis arrived by taxi.
Frankly relieved he took charge, his timely arrival assured me Ben would be interred in accordance with Jewish tradition.
A noteworthy interlude took place before I had to tell his mom whom, unknown to me at the time, hadn’t yet arrived. A nurse came to inform me that a group of Ben’s friends had arrived moments before and was waiting at the front desk. What I did not know then was that Ben’s friends had picked Zac up, Ben’s younger brother, and brought him along. Rabbi Louis and I went to receive them.
Cook County Hospital is frenetic. All manner of people: ambulatory patients attached to mobile drips, trauma patients being rushed to surgery strapped atop gurnies, doctors, nurses, visitors, paramedics, police officers and sheriff’s deputies jam its hallways.
Hospital policy forbad non-family members from visitation. We had to leave Ben’s buddies behind.
Trudging through the corridors with Rabbi Louis and Zac while returning back to the emergency department, it felt as if we were passing between classes in high school. Almost predictably, we were stopped-not by the assistant principal, but by a burly hospital security guard who asked us for our passes. Having none, he pointed us to the reception area where we had met Zachary minutes before. Rabbi Louis, frustrated at the hapless absurdity of the moment, appealed beseechingly in hope of touching the guard’s better angels.
“My friend’s son has just died!”
The guard refused to budge. Despite Rabbi Louis’s vociferous objections, it became apparent that his protestations had fallen on deaf ears. So back we trod to fetch the passes.
Meanwhile, Ben’s mom had arrived from a much longer distance than I.
Passes in hand, we did make it back minutes later when came time to confront her with the awful news. Rabbi Louis, in his goodness, generously offered to stand in for me, but I felt this was my duty. Accompanying me together with my dad, our arms linked, we reluctantly crossed the hall to a small lounge wherein sat Ben’s mom awaiting news.
I approached her haltingly:
“Ben is gone!” … I cried out, placing my forehead atop her head.
Within the shadow of a moment came forth an utterance of primal pain from Ben’s mom so horrifically terrifying that I suspect only a bereaved mother is capable of making it.
I shall never forget its sound!
What more can one do in a moment like this? Though Zac, my dad and Rabbi Louis were present in the room with me, I recall nothing of their reactions to my grave announcement to Ben’s mom. It was, as if, she and I were alone in this sanitized lounge the small sofa, chairs and lighting of which were unremarkably sterile.
I left the room.
Tending to an important matter for which I had to speak to the surgeon, I found him standing in the hallway close by. Appearing as though something was on his mind, I thanked him for all his efforts to save Ben’s life. While we spoke, I discerned a genuinely heartfelt sympathy for my family; furthermore, he seemed to intuitively understand me when I forbad an autopsy.
Weeks later, in a sworn deposition, part of a wrongful death suit brought by my family against the owner of the truck whose driver struck Ben, he testified to having been worried about my dad’s well-being when, during those several minutes, he bore witness to futility.
There remained nothing more we could do. Ben’s mom had left with Zac and my dad.
Accompanied by Rabbi Louis, I walked to my truck. His companionship warmed me against the icy winds. How thankful I was that I would not have to go home alone!
While the engine warmed, Rabbi Louis contacted a mutual friend, a Chicago police chaplain, to see if he could expedite Ben’s remains from the hospital morgue to the funeral home. After several minutes had passed, I drove Rabbi Louis home.
That Wednesday, the eve of Thanksgiving 2000, ended together with my “world” as I had known it.
I think I fell asleep that night in my apartment.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

It Happened Again ...

I am torn. I want to be there more often, but it happens whenever I am that I am overtaken by melancholy. Both this morning and afternoon, I felt it ... as always, unlike how I feel anywhere else-even his room from which I write these words tonight.

I am grateful each time I take my seat in shul-no matter the occasion: be it the somber yet joyous lessons of Purim, the simcha of Simchas Torah or the trepidation of Yom Kippur, my son is with me.

Now other fathers have their sons sitting next to them, and I do miss that! Woulds't that I had him back, but I've something they do not. My son is ... well, I was going to say "within me" but that somehow just does not ring true.

Seems more like a caricature than a true representation of how I feel. I look over to his yahrzeit plaque on the wall and what I realize every time is, as if it were for the first time, that here am I still-time inexorably moving forward pausing for no one. I remember thinking this afternoon so much time has already passed, and there is nothing I can do about it, but there is one thing of which I am certain. I'll never say that I once had a son named Ben.

I sit down in the same chair in which I've sat many years ... lamenting that another day has passed.
Yet I won't tell you I'm not glad to be alive.
Still ... know that there are moments when I am filled with guilt that it was he and not I.
Note to readers: Pictured is one of Ben's leaves on the Etz Chaim in my shul-not his yahrzeit plaque to which I made reference above.