byVan Wallach (Westport, CT)
Recently I heard about the death of a woman I once knew named Adina. She had been one of the very first women I dated after moving to New York in 1980. I found a paid death notice in a newspaper from several years back, saying she succumbed to diabetes and breast cancer. She was fifty-one—younger than I am now.
Adina and I had a tumultuous relationship, thanks to our wildly different social backgrounds and degrees of sophistication: suburban Long Island versus small-town Texas, intense Jewish education versus no Jewish education. Still, we had a connection: we were writers and Jewish and on the prowl. Adina played an influential role in my life at the time.
Our shared practice of Judaism provided many of my favorite memories of our times together. We joined her friends to hear Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sing during Purim at B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side, a favored hunting ground for singles. I attended a seder with her family on Long Island on the snowy Passover of April 1982. With Adina’s encouragement, I visited Israel in May 1982 and wrote about the experience for the Forward newspaper.
The little markers of memory accumulated over the months. I have photos of Adina at B’nai Jeshurun and with her friends Rena, Rochel and Marilyn. She sent me postcards from her trips to Israel and Peru. We called each other “Y.D.,” short for “Yiddish dumpling.”
For what turned out to be our last date, I stunned Adina with tickets to what I called “Bereshit,” the Hebrew name for the book of Genesis—we saw her favorite music group, Phil Collins and Genesis, perform at Forest Hills Stadium in August 1982. That was the end. She called it quits after that.
Other relationships would follow, but as time passed I thought fondly of Adina. We parted in frustration, not anger. Four years later, on a rainy evening on the Upper West Side, we ran into each other again. We immediately had a long catch-up coffee klatch in a diner. Adina had left journalism to study social work, while I was several years into a stint as a globe-trotting freelance writer. Freed from the anxieties of stillborn romance, we shared a warmth and were happy to see each other.
“Don’t be a stranger,” she said in her distinctive, cigarette-raspy voice.
We never saw each other again. The next year I met the woman I would marry. The new flame burned bright and I fed it all the oxygen I had. Old flames flickered and went out.
Long after my divorce in the new millennium, I became curious about Adina and uncovered the death notice. I mentally overlaid my life on top of her last years and wondered what type of friendship, if any, would have resulted from contact. Maybe nothing, but I like to think we would have stayed connected this time as friends with common interests in Judaism, journalism, travels to Latin America and, well, life. I had changed since we dated—becoming more at ease with myself, more Jewishly literate, comfortable in groups. In any case, I found myself aching and sorry that we had had no contact for those last twenty years. I never had a chance to say goodbye to Adina.
That’s one missed farewell in a digital world that logs birth and death regularly. I would never have known about Adina’s passing without the Internet. Online, the once-hidden and unfindable becomes common, jolting knowledge. Through Facebook, I read daily about the illnesses of friends’ families, with prayer requests and mentions of deaths of parents, siblings and, most grievously, children. On Facebook, I learned that the son of one friend from Mission, Texas, for example, was killed in Afghanistan, bringing the war to me in a terribly personal way. We’re in our fifties and older; passings happen and the pace quickens with age.
I learned about Adina’s passing at the exact same time I was experiencing something entirely new in my Jewish life—a shiva call to a house of mourning. I had attended Jewish weddings and funerals, but had never visited a family sitting shiva, or mourning of a death.
“Not even your grandparents?” somebody asked after I mentioned this anomaly.
“No, not even my grandparents,” I said.
But a death occurred in a family close to me, an uncle of my girlfriend, and I wanted to pay my respects. I had no idea what to expect, although I knew of the traditional rituals of covering mirrors and tearing clothes.
So I visited some people I knew, the relatives of the elderly man who had died. I gave them my condolences. Some wore small black ribbons. I recognized the rabbi who conducted the service, which consisted of prayers I had heard many times before and could read and mostly say in Hebrew. This included the Mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. This prayer does not mention death but rather magnifies and sanctifies the Name of God. It begins,
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
As I looked around the room, I thought about how ancient tradition and ritual created such emotional support at a time of ultimate loss. People are not left to flail on their own in the darkness; they—we—have a way to mourn that links them to generations past and future.
The moment seemed right and as we prayed I said the Kaddish for my late friend. I had finally found a way to say goodbye to Adina, Y.D.
Van “Ze’ev” Wallach, native of Mission, Texas, writes frequently on religion, politics and other matters. His interests include travel, digital photography, world music and blogging, which he does at http://wallach.coffeetown.press. This essay is reprinted from A Kosher Dating Odyssey: One Former Texas Baptist’s Quest for a Naughty & Nice Jewish Girl by Van Wallach (Coffeetown Press), with the kind permission of the publisher and the author. For more information about the book, visit: http://coffeetownpress.com/