I Didn't Get The Bagels Because My Dad is Dead
The phone rang, as it had been all that Sunday morning. I rushed to get it so that my aunts and uncles could stay by my mother’s side. The angry voice on the other end of the receiver was the adult counselor for my Bnai B’rith Girls chapter.
“Where are you? I should have known better to trust you to take care of this. The meeting is starting and there’s no bagels. What’s wrong with you? I reminded you on Friday.” At this point she was shouting. And at this point, I started sobbing.
“My father is dead. He just died,” I shouted through tears into the phone. She said, “I’m sorry” and hung up. I was just three days shy of my fifteenth birthday.
Within minutes, the phone rang again. I steeled myself and grabbed it and heard the voice of my friend Toby Tacker’s mother. “We are coming over. Toby and I will be there soon,” said Mrs. Tacker. Toby Tacker, now Kellerman, recently got in touch with me after having no contact since high school. It all flooded back. And again, I was thankful for her and her mother’s compassionate and unconditional comfort.
They came and found me sitting on the edge of my bed, confused and stunned. Other friends came by so that the adults could stay by my mother and help with arrangements for his funeral. My brother, on his way back from Chicago, had only been told by a cousin that my father was quite ill, but he knew from the call what had happened. If my father had only been ill, the phone call would have come from my mother. The immediate response of a friend and her mother smoothed away some of the pain of being screamed at as a failure while I dealt with the worst pain a young teen can face.
As I think back on this, it seems that even in those days of rotary dial phones and slower communication that impatience led to quick judgements and hurtful outbursts. We often bemoan the quick judgements and tense dialogues that occur frequently on social media and during personal interactions. We say that it is a sign of the times, that we are too rushed, too self-absorbed, too ready to argue on Facebook, and to impatient to listen to others. To that, I say mea culpa (in the bow to Latin, not Catholicism….Jew, after all). I have engaged in all of these things and sometimes need someone to head slap me for doing so.
As a teen and young adult, I leaned towards the wild. When this woman (whose name I do not remember) chewed me out in anger, she did not know that my father had just died. She just assumed that I screwed up. Somehow this stuck with me. In all the times that I have inappropriately lost it with someone, it was never because that person did not show up when expected. In those cases, the first question I ask is “Are you okay?”
Blaming social media or fast paced lives for making negative assumptions makes it seem more acceptable. If the blame can be placed on a shift in society, it takes the onus off us, the humans who are fraught, all of us, with natures that sometimes go astray.
When I look for teachings to make sense of all of this, I often look to Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, from whom we learn about religious Zionism and whose guidance has sustained power over decades. He died in 1935 but, if you read his works, the relevancy to 21st century life is evident. Human nature does not change because of technology, but the worst and best of it becomes more evident and more quickly wide spread.
Our quick judgements on others range from the personal to the religious. Recently, at Shabbat tables with non-Orthodox hosts, the conversation has leaned towards Orthodox bashing, as if all of Haredi bad behavior can be laid at the feet of all who are Orthodox. Quick judgements made on a whole group because of snippets of news about elements within a society are just as bad as a judgement made against an individual based on limited knowledge. We need to do better, as Jews and humans. It does not have to be that way. Whether forced or chosen, we often move to darkness when we need not. There is a way out.
“Many times one is forced to descend to deep, dark regions, in order to find there the greatest, noblest and freest light.”
― Abraham Isaac Kook, The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters and Poems
As I think back on that phone call and what it felt like to be on the receiving end of the anger, I need to check my own responses. For me, here in Jerusalem where we speak of redemption often, it means searching through those times I have wavered and descended to behavior that is less than noble. Those of us blessed to be Jews have Torah and many teachers to guide us to our own personal redemption.
The woman who made that phone call probably does not remember it, but it has stuck with me for more than five decades, which means that something I might have done that was hurtful might haunt someone else’s memory.
As the judgements and quick assumptions pile up, let’s all step back and take it slow. A moment’s reflection or hesitation on an action or words might be the analogy to the butterfly flutter that starts a chain of events, in this case to a more righteous life. And, if that woman who made that call somehow and amazingly reads this, you are surely forgiven.
Irene Rabinowitz is a native New Englander who made aliyah in 2014. After a long career in the non-profit sector, she now consults with NGOs both in Israel and the United States. She writes, walks Jerusalem streets, and drinks a lot of coffee.
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