Never and Always - September 17, 2021

I hope you had a very meaningful and reflective Yom Kippur. I will say I am not a spiritual person, but yesterday during the Yizkor (memorial) service I had a moment while I thought about my parents. My mother passed away 14 years ago and last week would have been her 79th birthday. And my father died eight years ago. I miss them. But to be honest, I do not think about them enough.
My parents were terrific people. Sure, they had their faults -- like any child would see in their parents. Although we were a lower income middle-class family we seemed to have what we needed. Nothing more and nothing less. I have shared in the past my father owned a deli and my mother was a bookkeeper (an aside – I believe it is the only word – and its variations -- in the dictionary with three “double letters” in a row) for a small company. They both left the house before we went to school and my mom would be home at 5:30 p.m. and then we would meet my father at a restaurant for dinner almost every night at 7:30 p.m. after the deli closed. In many ways, this forced my sister and me to be very independent. Despite their jobs, my mom and dad were interested, attentive, and very open-minded. They allowed us to make our own choices and to understand there are consequences to those decisions. Most of all, they instilled in us the values of hard work, honesty, and being good to others.
During Yizkor, I remembered as a child going to the Tangerine Bowl (now the Citrus Bowl) in Orlando in December of 1976 to watch Oklahoma State University play Brigham Young University (Oklahoma State won 49-21). The stadium held 55,000+ fans, but neither team had a local fan base and fans did not travel like they do today. Only 38,000 tickets were even sold. Our seats were in the upper deck of the stadium because the tickets were less expensive. It was night game and freezing cold, which reduced attendance even more. Thus, there were rows and rows of empty seats in front of us. I pleaded with my parents for us to move down, both to feel closer to the action and, even more so, to get away from the wind at the top of the stadium. My dad looked at me and said, "We are staying here. These are the seats we paid for."
At the same time, my mom loved chit-chatting with people. At the game, she said hello and was gracious to everyone in the stadium -- the ticket-takers, vendors walking the stands, and the people sitting near us. By the time we left, she seemed to be everyone's best friend.
Forty-five years later I remember that day (probably because I was a popsicle by the end of the game) and the impression it made. My father taught me the importance of being ethical and to play by the rules. And my mom showed me how easy it is to be nice to everyone.
Although we often tell ourselves we do not want to be like our parents, they do have their redeeming qualities. Plus, they impart many important life-lessons. At least I tell myself that since I am a parent and I hope to influence my children's identities and values.
So, right before and during Yizkor I thought long and hard about my mom and dad. Stories came flooding back, including the football game. You know what, the memories were pretty good. I was lucky. Unfortunately, for too many, there are far more hurts than pleasures.
I remember a rabbi who used to talk about two words not to say, especially when it comes to family relationships – “Never” and “Always.” I have heard people say, "My father never..." or "My mother always..." Never? Always? Really? It is a mistake when we generalize the totality of any relationship.
Yizkor, however, is perhaps the only time and perfect time to use those two words. When we say Yizkor, we are speaking to our deceased parents and other family members and have the opportunity to say, “I will never forget you…I will always love you.”
Since we commemorated the 20th anniversary of September 11 last Saturday, let me close with a story I just learned about (other may have heard it long ago). Yittah Halberstam, in her book, Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart, tells the story of a small synagogue near the Twin Towers where many Jews who worked in the Towers would gather every morning for services. She writes, "For some reason, on the morning of September 11, 2001 only nine men showed up for minyan. And so they waited and waited for a tenth. After a long wait, which meant they would be late for work, someone whom they had never seen before entered the room saying he came because he had to say Kaddish for a parent They invited him to lead the services and he proved to be a very slow davener (person praying) which made things even later. So late, that while they were davening the first plane crashed into the Twin Towers and all those present had the same feeling -- it could have been us if not for our having waited for the tenth man and for his having prayed so slowly. They turned to thank this mystery man who had saved their lives but, the story concludes by telling us, “When they turned around to embrace him, the man was gone, his identity forever a mystery.”
Small miracles.
Shabbat shalom and pray for no rain so I can enjoy my sukkah during Sukkot.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO 


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