Thursday, February 28, 2008

I'm an MCP!

I've accomplished another of my New Year's resolutions! Woohoo!

For the past two months, I've given up doing the New York Times crossword/reading fiction daily on my way home from and heading to work. Instead I spent the 1.5 hours studying for this test:

The "sacrifice" was worth it. It was my first test in 8 years (the last was my A+ test, dor yeshorim doesn't count) and man I was nervous, blood rushing in my ears. I was a bit panicky (maybe it was the candy bars I was chomping for energy and alertness), but when I exhaled I was able to think with clarity.

I've got the cred, baby! Now I get back to my crossword and Elmore Leonard for a couple of days, and I'll take another break to study for this test:

Wish me luck!

Monday, February 25, 2008

For David

Today is the first yahrzeit of a friend. Some thoughts from the past year coalesced into something that reads like a eulogy. I don't have a proper forum to publish or speak the words I've put down on paper, so this forum should serve. May David Yifrach ben Tuvia have an aliyas neshama:

In English, there is a somewhat popular phrase that doesn’t quite have the same impact as when spoken in Yiddish. In English, the expression is “Man proposes and G-d disposes.” People understand what this expression means, but it hits home when the Yiddish expression “A mentsch tracht in G-t lacht” is used. In English it’s a cute play on words. In Yiddish, it’s serious business.

My wife and I had several plans as far as our relationship with the Yamniks was concerned, but a higher power had other plans.

We had plans to have the Yamniks over for a Shabbos lunch, but God’s plan was for that not to happen. We had plans to become better friends with David, Rachel and Mimi, but G-d’s plan was that we should eventually only be able to befriend two of them. I had plans to do a siyum in his honor, but G-d’s plan was for me to do a siyum in his memory. We all had plans to be somewhere that beautiful Sunday morning, but G-d’s plan was for us to be in a funeral home on Allwood Avenue.

The only plan that came to fruition was the way in which I received the news of David’s passing. I had envisioned who would place the call to me, what he would say and how I would feel. All of it was pretty much the way it actually happened.

Besides for a very Jobian lesson on who exactly the boss is, what else of value can we take from this event?

I think it’s the importance of simply remembering David and keeping him in our hearts, as they say. The simple reason for this is that when we reflect on those that passed away at a young age, it reminds us that man is but a passing shadow, to quote tehillim, and our time here is extremely valuable. Now this sentiment is very cliché, and you’ll hear this from others ad nauseum. I want to give you something more personal, I want to tell you how remembering David has become very important for me.

As we all can recall, the Shmiras Haloshon campaign was reinvigorated in David’s honor, and in honor of others who succumbed to similar circumstances at around the same time as did David.

I remember distinctly when the campaign actually began. It was the summer of 1989. I was in camp Torah Vodaath. Flyers with the Chofetz Chaim’s face on them were put up on every tree and pole in camp. I had a friend named Simcha who took it very seriously. Whenever I tried to speak loshon horah, he’d raise his hand up and point to the nearest available shmiras haloshon sign. His raised hand was so pervasive that it began to have an effect on me, and when I left camp, I would see him in my mind’s eye raising his hand up and silencing my attempts at loshon horah.

But we lost touch and the image of him raising his hand up to me faded to black. Loshon horah became a little easier for me to engage in without that effective geder in place. Oh sure, I’d see the Chofetz Chaim’s face up on posters every summer in Brooklyn every once in a while, but it wasn’t the same thing - until David.

The last time I spoke with David was about two weeks before he passed away. For those of you that visited him around that timeframe, you know what I mean when I say that the sight of him, to put it delicately, was something that would make an impression upon you. We didn’t talk about much. We talked about sports and our daughters and how nicely they could get along. But as I was speaking with him, the shmiras halashon campaign hummed in the background of my mind, which re-energized my old commitment. Beginning almost immediately after our last conversation - and to this very day - when an opportunity for loshon horah comes up, I see David as he was the last time I spoke with him, and I envision him raising his hand to me to silence me. David keeps me from sin.

That is why it is important for me to remember David, and if my experience with him can have the same impact on anyone else, then that is why it is also important for all of us to keep him in our memories.

But there’s another reason to remember David. There is a less personal reason and a more communal reason. That reason is Mimi.

Any psychologist will tell you that the children of those that die young very often seek answers to their parents deaths - and seek out their parents - at the bottom of a bottle or a plate of food. This can be offset by providing comfort, solace and most importantly, memory.

We need to remember David, because it might very well happen that 15, 20, maybe 25 years from now, Mimi Yamnik will approach us in shul, or give us a call, or show up at our doorstep and she we will say to us, “can you tell me about my father?” We should have answers for her. If we don’t, we have failed her.

I bear the name of my grandfather who passed away exactly 50 years ago when my father was five years old. I’ve recently become very curious about him, and it’s not too late for me to uncover some detail. Boruch Hashem, Yochie Katz’s father was actually one of his chavrusahs and was able to give me a few tidbits, but I’m thirsty for more.

Considering this, it might also happen that 30, 40 maybe 50 years from now a familiar person or a stranger will approach us in shul, or give us a call, or show up at our doorstep and he or she we will say to us, “I’m David Yamnik’s grandchild, can you tell me about my grandfather?” We should have answers. If we don’t, we have failed that person.

May Moshiach come speedily in our days. When he does and we are making our way up Yaffo Road to greet him, may we find David in the crowd, singing as he always enjoyed, and may we dance with him and rejoice with him in the streets of Jerusalem.

As for me, I’ve got plans. I just want to see my friend and shake his hand.