Sitting Shiva

“Sitting Shiva”




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

my dad.

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,”

Saul said.

David continued, “Well it was near the end of the war. We

were all imprisoned in a concentration camp… inches away

from death.

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.