Baruch Dayan Emet
When Yael and Yoni were five and four, we went to Youngstown to visit Bobie and Ze’evi. I don’t know exactly how to describe Youngstown. Most people know it as an exit on the highway on the way to New York. The major landmark to reaching Ze’evi’s house is Big Joe’s carwash (make a left). But to reach their house is to reach a great piece of childhood. The backyard is huge with an oak tree out of some Victorian novel. Hanging from a branch 50 feet in the air is a swing. Ze’evi never tired of pushing our kids on that swing. It could be 100 degrees outside, it could be raining outside, it never mattered. Ze’evi would be standing there pushing our kids, making them giggle, giving them summer memories that they were excited to revisit year after year.
But this summer, when the kids are still young, Ze’evi has planned a night hike for them to meet Batman. So Yael and Yoni, in their pajamas, head out into the forest. And this is the part that gets me every time I think about this moment. Ze’evi has gone out earlier in the evening to set out a picnic for the kids on the special Batman table he has bought for them. “Look,” he says as they reach the middle of the forest, “Batman couldn’t be here. He’s off saving the world. But he left juice and cookies for you.” And so they sit, the three of them, in the middle of the forest eating cookies and drinking juice.
Ze’evi passed away early Sunday morning. He had fought cancer way longer than the doctors expected for two reasons. One, my mother-in-law’s fierce dedication to him. Part Florence Nightingale, part Energizer Bunny, she was all in. Completely committed to his care, my mother-in-law was tireless in her devotion to him. I think I deserve a medal when I manage to serve dinner at night that includes a protein and a vegetable. My mother-in-law was handling complex medical procedures just to ensure that Ze’evi could stay at home for as long as possible. The second thing that kept Ze’evi alive was his pure love for life. I have never met someone who just loved living as much as Ze’evi. He was curious about everything, interested in everything. There was no gadget that did not make its way into his house in Youngstown. I believe that when the iPhone first came out, Ze’evi was the second guy in Youngstown to get one (I’m genuinely surprised he wasn’t the first). Several days before his final turn for the worse, he was in Best Buy picking out the perfect TV for his room. He loved talking about Tanach, he loved traveling. He loved his friends. He super loved his kids, Rocky and Sivan. And the feelings were mutual. Their connection to him, their love for him, their respect for him always made me think: this is a father who has done something right.
Ze’evi came to Israel with my mother-in-law to celebrate Yael’s Bat Mitzvah. He was so ill at that time, but he came. And he was so happy to be there. And we were in awe of this man. And still all. And forever will be.
The Rav who spoke at Ze’evi funeral service in Youngstown said something wonderful. Why, he wondered, (in the story he posed the question to his cab driver in Israel) do we bless God in the kaddish prayer? Hashem has taken something from us, robbed us of something and there we are blessing Him morning, noon and night. The cab driver immediately dismissed the question (only is Israel) and said, “to mourn someone so deeply, is to acknowledge what a treasure he was. You thank God for giving you that gift, that treasure, in first place.”
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