My Dad and the Beit Din

Me and Dad
On October 26, what seems now like a lifetime ago, my father passed away. Two days before he left us I was sitting on the edge of his bed engaging in a monologue with the nearly empty shell, which his year long fight with brain cancer had left. The cancer was about to win and I knew it. In a sudden inspiration I asked him something from beneath the layers of muck and iron that I had coated myself with. I asked my father something from my heart; he had been unable to speak or communicate in any way for days, and I didn’t expect an answer from him … I just wanted to ask.

I asked my father, simply, if he would be there for me when I passed on to the next world. In hindsight, it seems, this may have been a final attempt to connect with him. Over the years we had been very distant with each other, but I knew that he loved me and that I was very important to him. We didn’t know how to communicate, and it appeared that I had waited and waited until I could be almost sure that he couldn’t answer this one particular question.

After I asked my father 'the question,' I paused as if I were really expecting an answer. In that moment a realization came to me that if I were to get an answer to such a question, I had unwittingly asked at exactly the right time. My father was between worlds and he must have really wanted to connect with me, because in that moment he stopped what he was doing in that other ... kind of between place, and listened to my question. As I looked at a semi-comatose face with eyes glazed over and rolled back, my father opened his jaw to quiver and form a word. Stirring slowly, he sat up in bed and his eyes gently began to brighten ... then his pupils descended from the invisible world he had been gazing into. He stared directly at me, piercingly, and said to me on a beautiful fall day, with eucalyptus trees shimmering outside his window, only a word. He said ... “Absolutely.”

October 26 was never a day that I paid much attention to, even after my father passed on. Occasionally I would think about that date in relation to my father's passing and remember little things like something he said to me when he was healthy, or the smell of his T-shirt during the rarity of a hug, but it wasn’t until this last October 26th that I really stopped to think about it. As you all know, I have been working very hard towards my conversion to Orthodox Judaism over the past year and I had received a call a couple of weeks earlier by the administrator at the Beit Din (Conversion Court) and been given a date to come to the oral exam: it was to be October 26.

So, on Sunday, October 26, I was ready to go. I woke up and didn’t think about my dad. I was totally preoccupied with the task at hand and ran off to morning minyan at my shul. As usual, just barely a minyan had arrived and I still wasn’t able to be counted. Everyone was excited for me though and I left shul to many "Ba’atzlacha’s." I sped home, gathered two of my hevrusote (study partners), my rabbi, and of course my beautiful wife, and we zoomed off to the Beit Din with angst and laughter filling the car. Our car is tiny and these three big guys sat in the back seat all the way to the Haifa Rabbinate and 'this time' we didn’t even get lost, despite the concerns from my rabbi crammed into the back seat. Eventually we pulled up to the same parking lot that I described about a year ago in another blogpost.

We all walked up to the offices and sat on benches that lined the corridor ... and we waited. It wasn’t really all that bad for a system built on Russian bureaucracy, and we had lots of entertainment as well. We watched loads of people and their briefcase toting lawyers going in next door to the divorce court and cringed a bit at the screaming coming from the other side of the locked door. We watched people that were in front of us in line go in to see the Beit Din judges and eventually come out again, not always so happy. I was getting more and more nervous as the time clicked on … until it was finally our turn. We entered the room and faced three smiling rabbi judges sitting on the far side of the tiny room. We all squeezed in and had to shuffle a bit to make sure we were all sitting in the proper positions, Adele and I facing the Judges, and my hevrusote and rabbi to one side on another little bench.

Years before, on October 26; the day that my father died, I experienced a major transition. My entire family life changed. My father had been the glue that held my family together and even though we all tried to stay tight, as if my father was still with us, we drifted ... not really apart, but in different directions. My boys were young then and my life changed, almost over night; I became a new person. My life was about to change again and, as I sat in front of those judges they began asking me questions. My mind immediately blanked the answers. I barely remember the questions that were asked, but I do remember that they were the nicest, funniest, wisest, and most compassionate men I had met … ever, at least in that kind of setting. I remember being asked to stand up and accept the mitzvote, and then reciting the Shema. Wow, I remember thinking, now I am a Jew!

Somehow I think that my dad had something to do with this. When I was a teen my dad gave me my first Khumash (Five Books of Moses). He said that he had read it when he was in college and that I might want to give it a try. I read it cover to cover ... and that was my first introduction to Judaism. 

It appears to me that there is really a bigger world out there, one that we can feel or maybe even smell a piece of. If we try it is possible to connect the dots in life and beyond, and I also believe that it is a lot easier than we think. I am really looking forward to my life as (Drew the New Jew) living in The Promised Land, and I am also looking forward to that time when I meet my father again. I think the next time we meet we will have figured a lot out about how to have a relationship, and I can’t wait to smell his soft white T-shirt when we give each other a cosmic hug in Olam Haba.

Love to everyone and keep up the search!

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