Dad, You’ll Be Missed
“I was hoping that the hospital had the wrong patient.
“Nurse, I just want to verify – you’re talking about my father, Paul Singer?” I asked.
“Yes, yes. Paul Singer. I’m very sorry. He passed last night.”
Born on Pesach, died on Pesach.
Not coincidentally, his Hebrew name was Pesach.
My father was buried in New Jersey this past Tuesday, April 14th (Chol Hamoed) on what would have been his 73rd birthday. There were approximately five people present at the funeral: the rabbi, his sister (my aunt), his two nieces (my cousins), and his youngest daughter (my sister).
Due to the Covid pandemic, neither I nor my brother, who both live in Israel, were able to be there. Of all things, I am crushed that I couldn’t be at his levaya. Ever since I moved to Israel close to 16 years ago, I’ve always made a silent promise to myself to be there for him, even till the end. I had made sure to have enough savings for a flight back to the US that I could use at any time. But now in my third trimester of pregnancy, with a toddler at home, and with uncertainty about if/when I would be allowed back into Israel, I simply could not fly.
I just always wanted to be able to have closure and healthy grieving for what was a rocky but loving relationship.”
“I didn’t get to speak at his funeral, so please allow me to tell you a bit about my dad.
As the eldest of three children whose parents divorced (my siblings and I were 16, 13 and 4), I have positive memories of my father. He loved the water, so living on the north shore of Long Island was perfect for him. Life there meant frequent trips to the beach, walks on the boardwalk, and watching the boats at the Northport docks.
Dad was born in ‘Bensonhoist’ (AKA Bensonhurst), Brooklyn in 1947. He was the younger of two children and was born when my grandmother was about 40 years old. He graduated from Brooklyn College, met my mother, and moved out to Long Island, where he dabbled in business but never really found his true calling. He always loved the open road and eventually joined a trucking company which gave him the opportunity to traverse every state in the continental US, enjoy his autonomy, blast his music on the radio, and meet random people for brief conversations. He had crazy, adventurous stories of driving along the gorgeous mountainsides of Colorado, through the Arizona desert, and knew every major state highway like the back of his hand.
Dad claimed to have “traveled the world,” which meant scouring his monthly subscription to National Geographic. In fact, when he visited Israel for his first and only trip- in honor of my brother’s wedding- he made sure to make an itinerary of both common and obscure places. One of the most intriguing places, of all the fascinating sites, was Sderot because he had read about it in the news almost every day. He was fixated on going there, and as the free spirit and defiant personality that he was, he hopped on an Egged bus and schlepped down to the Negev town. He wanted to see “what the big deal” was about the town. He returned to Jerusalem both fascinated and disillusioned by the reality there.
Dad loved history, languages, music, fresh air, a good New York bagel, and to dance. He encouraged me to excel in my studies, embrace my Jewish identity, and took particular pride in my award-winning flute playing. He never missed a flute recital. I never appreciated just how special it was to have your parents attend every single symphony concert you performed in.
But our relationship became more complicated as time went on.”
“Dad was a complicated person, and it became difficult for me to maintain a relationship with him. After my parents divorced, our relationship with him slowly fizzled. I think it was just too taxing on him emotionally. I give my mother particular credit for never badmouthing him and for always listening supportively. She knew it wasn’t easy on any of us. Then again, it certainly was not easy on her either.
Over the years, especially after I moved to Israel, I tried to keep in touch with him, and despite the infrequency of our contact I never gave up. I knew that even those brief, sporadic phone calls and occasional letters gave him unparalleled joy. When I first moved here, he sent me postcards and cards from his travels but eventually, those stopped too.
A few years ago, I called him while I was on a business trip in the US. We had a cordial conversation during which I updated him on my life. He thanked me for calling. I was pleased at how nicely the conversation went. I then looked at my phone and saw that the entire conversation lasted a record-breaking 3:38 seconds. It was one of the longest calls I’d had with him in years. Maybe ever.
It’s not that he didn’t care.
Oh, he cared.
He loved us.
But it was just so painful for him.
I last saw my father this past Sukkot, just a few months ago. My husband and I borrowed a relative’s car and drove more than three hours to see him in the pouring rain. It was important to me that he meet my husband and my two-year-old daughter. It was not an easy visit, but I know it brought him more joy than he had experienced in many years.
When we heard he was in the hospital this past Motzei Shabbat, it was late afternoon in New Jersey and we called right away. He had a heart attack and was already on a ventilator. It is not clear if it was a symptom of Covid-19. The prognosis, the nurse said, was not good. By the time I called to follow up the next morning, he was gone.
He had always assured me that he was healthy in the most wry of ways: “I have bad news, Jess…. The doctor says I’m perfectly healthy.” And his infamous line (which he probably read on a bumper sticker somewhere), “I’m too bad to get into heaven, and the devil don’t want me. I guess that means I’ll be around for a while.”
Well, Dad, you’ll be missed. And we’ll try our best to remember the wacky, zany episodes from having you in our lives.
Shiva began after Yom Tov. Even with this new phenomenon of socially-distanced Shiva calls, I feel tremendous love and support from friends and family. If you have memories of my Dad, I’d love you to share them with me and my siblings.”
*** L’aliyat neshmato shel Pesach Yonah ben Yehuda Leib v’Miriam (April 14, 1947 – April 12, 2020) ***
Yehudit Jessica Singer made Aliyah in 2004 after escaping the land of shopping malls and manicures otherwise known as Long Island. Now based in Jerusalem, Yehudit works in book marketing, loves to write, and has a slight obsession with People magazine. Contrary to the contents of this essay, her childhood as a zaftig flute player in band camp are some of her happiest memories. She is the proud mama to a little girl.