Three days after my dad’s death, I sat Shiva in my mother’s
Boca Raton home. In her villa, a group of ten adults—our
minyan—stood, talked and waited for the Rabbi to make his
Alone, I stared out the kitchen’s glass doors at the lake and the
golf course. I flashed back at how happy my father was when
Jason, his grandson, caught a large bass in that lake. I smiled
realizing that picture had become one of my inerasable Kodak
Each day of Shiva, I sipped flavorless coffee as my reddened
eyes noticed that the lake appeared a paler shade of blue and the
golf course a browner shade of green. I recalled the sweet taste
and rich aroma of my dad’s freshly-brewed coffee, how it ran
over my tongue and ignited my taste buds, how in this kitchen
I sat looking at him and at this lake.
Walking into the living room, I found myself surrounded
by acquaintances, family and unknown friends of my parents.
My father had touched all their lives. They shook my hand,
expressed their condolences and said how much they respected
Lining the living room walls were impressionist paintings.
I scanned them and realized they represented my blurred life.
In this living room, on these couches, next to these paintings,
my dad and I had talked for hours. He was a master storyteller—
a male Scheherazade. We discussed wars, history, and how life
was treating us. He told off-color jokes and I laughed. I loved
his sense of humor and he knew it. Those days and those laughs
were now gone forever.
The rabbi’s appearance broke my daydreaming. He instructed
the minyan to stand and face east. He led us in prayer. He helped
my mom, my sister and I recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. As the
three of us searched for meaning and comfort in this spiritual
ritual, I silently prayed, G-d walk through our house and take away
our sorrow and please watch over us and heal my family.
After the Rabbi left the villa, two elderly men cornered me in
the vestibule. “Hi, I’m Saul and this is David. It is our pleasure
to meet you.”
They appeared to be in their late sixties or early seventies…
short, balding men with protruding stomachs. They both
wore white cotton short-sleeve shirts and like my father, bore
tattooed numbers on their forearms. I shook their hands and
glanced into their eyes. I sensed they were messengers, sent to
tell me a story, sent to hand me another piece to the puzzle that
made up my father’s life.
In a thick Polish accent, Saul said, “You know you look an
awful lot like your father.”
“Thanks.” I replied. “Many folks considered him a handsome
David piped in, “Many women loved the way he looked and
dressed. He told us many stories about the time he spent in
Rome before the war, when he was in medical school, about
those beautiful Italian women he knew. Boy could he tell a
story—so descriptive, down to the minutest detail.”
Saul interrupted, “Your father befriended us during the last
days of the war… in the death camp, just days before we were all
liberated by the Soviet Army.”
“We wanted to tell you that he saved our lives.” David continued
as he rubbed his tattoo.
I remembered hearing those words before. Usually from my
father’s patients or their family members who told me how he
pulled them away from death and back to the living.
“Thanks for telling me. How did he do it?” I inquired as
I pulled on the small piece of black cloth pinned to my jacket.
“He gave us the most important gift of all… the will to live,”
David continued, “Well it was near the end of the war. We
were all imprisoned in a concentration camp… inches away
We were ill and starving. We were skin on bones.
We heard the bombs exploding in the distance, but we didn’t
know how many days it would be before the Russian Army
liberated us. Every minute, prisoners died all around us. Both of
us were sixteen years old, and your father knew we were virgins.
He kept telling us to keep struggling, not to give up on life, your
father said we should stay alive, because making love to women
was something we had to experience. He told us one story after
another about his sexual escapades.”
As David talked, my mind wandered. “Did my dad know that
by telling these stories to these young men he was also saving
his own life? Was storytelling his salvation, his medicine of
hope and love? Would I exist if not for those stories?”
I observed tears forming in David’s eyes as he whispered, “He
kept our minds off of food and death. He gave us hope in our
darkest moment. Your father, without medicines, used the only
tool left in his medical bag…his brain.”
Saul jumped in, “A brilliant strategy. It worked! We fought
death and we won. I doubt that without those stories we would
be talking to you today.”
Hugging both of them, I replied, “Thanks so much for telling
me your moving story. My dad never did.”
Alone, I stared out the kitchen window, feeling proud of my
father. I now noticed the brilliance of the lake’s blue waters and
the sharpness of the green radiating off the golf course.