This coming Tuesday marks thirty days, known as shloshim, since the passing of my grandmother, Claire Umansky, of blessed memory. The period of time reflects a mystical transition of her soul between two worlds, between Heaven and Earth. The shift shudders within me. When I drive up the Henry Hudson Parkway passing the exit for the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, where she lived for the past eight years, my heart skips a beat as we would often stop by for a visit. I mourn the fact that new members of our family will only know her through our memories of her. She was a life force who immigrated to America from Europe a century ago and planted the roots for future generations.
Yet, I take comfort in the narrative of this week's Torah portion. On his death bed, Yaakov gathers his children together to offer them a blessing. However, Jacob is unique among all of the patriarchs as he is known as the zaken, "the old one". RabbiJoseph Soloveitchik explains he merits this distinction because he was the first patriarch to establish direct communication with his grandchildren.He was the first to make a solemn declaration and a historic pronouncement. He conquered time and space when he said to his grandchildren, "Ephraim and Menashe shall be mine, no less than Reuben and Shimon". He forged a "generation - awareness" uniting his grandchildren to the ancestors of the past and future of our people. He affirmed an emotional intensity and intellectual closeness that in many ways supersedes the bond of a parent and child.
This is the first time when reading this narrative that I no longer have living grandparents. It hurts. Yet, I am eternally grateful for my grandparents' embrace, like Yaakov, of their transcendent mission. As an American, my grandmother shared her profound gratitude for the opportunities afforded our family in the "golden medinah." She gave each of her grandchildren a letter in 1976 expressing her intense feelings on the bicentennial celebration, quoting the words engraved on Lady Liberty by Emma Lazarus, "Give me Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." As a Jew, she implanted within me a love of Israel and a passion for the taste and traditions of Yiddishkeit.
It is my first year without living grandparents but I know my grandmother lives on in me, my family and, God willing, many future generations as her name, Chaya, meaning life, testifies. May we all embrace our roles as parents and grandparents. We are the links in the chain through thousands of years of Jewish history. I am forever blessed for my grandmother's direct communication across time and space, from a grandparent to a grandchild. May her memory be for a blessing and may we all share many joyous occasions in the weeks and year ahead.