On November 27, 1928, a wedding took place in Warsaw, Poland. At the time, Warsaw had the largest Jewish population of any city in Europe. It was a magnificent wedding; there were some five thousand attendees. Missing among them, however, were two significant people, the groom’s mother, and father. The bridegroom’s parents were in Russia and were forbidden to leave. The father, a rabbi, had been banished to Yekaterinoslav by government authorities because of his outspoken activism on behalf of Russia’s Jews. Three hundred Jews of Yekaterinoslav, despite the danger of being associated with the exiled Rabbi, nevertheless celebrated the boy’s wedding with his father and mother.
The father sent a letter to his son, whom he would never see again, asking him not to be sad that he and the boy’s mother were not physically at the wedding. They were present, he told his son, in their hearts and souls, “in which there is no such thing as geographical distance.” He signed the letter, “Your father, whose soul is attached to yours.” [Likkutei Levi Yitzchak, Iggrot, p. 203, quoted in My Rebbe, by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz].
On January 17, 1951, the son, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, would become the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe.
In the times in which we live, many of us, though for different reasons than the Rebbe’s parents, have missed significant events in our loved ones’ lives. Events long-planned have been canceled, celebrated, or remembered in ways radically different from the initial plans.
In the late summer of 2015, my wife and I immigrated to Israel. It had long been a dream of ours. We settled in the southern city of Beersheba and purchased a home. We are happy here. But like many joys in life, the pleasure is not unalloyed.
We have six children between us. Five of them live in the United States; one lives in India. When we left America, we knew that none of our children had plans to live in Israel. Because of this, we set up a travel fund that would allow us to visit them when we could, and which they could use to come to see us. The fund, my wife’s idea, is well-used. Her middle daughter was married in 2017 in Pennsylvania, USA, and my daughter, in 2019 in New Brunswick, Canada. Drawing on the fund, we joyfully attended both weddings. We also used it to bring my sister here, her first visit, and only one so far, to the Land of Israel.
However, in July of last year, my wife’s daughter gave birth to a son; and in November, my daughter gave birth to twins. For both of us, these are our first grandchildren. We have not seen them yet, not due to a lack of planning. The problem is wrinkles in life’s plans caused by the novel coronavirus. We have been able to mitigate our inability to visit our children and grandchildren using modern technology. What a blessing it has been! Still, however, our arms long to hold our grandkids, to kiss them, to whisper in their ears.
We are not unique. Many families have had loved ones die alone, buried by people who did not know them. Others have been unable to attend to sick loved ones in their need. In time, this plague will end; then, we will all rejoice. May that time be soon. In the meantime, we must do what we can to stay healthy, physically and mentally. That’s not always easy, but it is necessary.
In the Bible, the patriarch Jacob believed that his favorite son Joseph had died a terrible death, mauled by a wild animal. For years, he mourned his son’s loss and became protective, perhaps overly so, of Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin. But circumstances outside Jacob’s control, one of them a terrible famine, came together to reunite Jacob with his beloved son. The Bible describes their reunion as follows:
“And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen; and he presented himself unto him, and fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.”Gen. 46:29, JPS (1917)
Hopefully, tears of joy at a reunion are in the future for all of us.
All the best,