What I Understand Now

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Dear Abba,

This past Shabbat marked 4 years since you left this world. I remember that day so well.

Sometimes I force myself to think about the pain of that day because it is through the pain that I feel connected to you again. Two hours before you died, I was fortunate enough to speak to you on the phone. At the end of the call you said, “I have some things I need to tell you but the nurse is coming in. I will talk to you later. I love you.”

We didn’t speak later.

The next call I received was from Rivky to tell me you were gone. I remember the feeling, being nine months pregnant and just wishing I could fly to New York to be with the family. I remember begging my baby to stay inside me just a little longer because I didn’t want his birth to be mixed with such sadness.

In a strange way, I eagerly await this day every year. It’s the one day where I don’t have to pretend life went back to normal after the shiva. I don’t have to pretend that the world is unchanged and I am unchanged. Usually, I visit your grave and pray. I spend the day speaking to my siblings and remembering shared stories from our youth or funny jokes you always repeated.

But this year, with the whole world in isolation, I couldn’t go to the cemetery and, with it falling on Shabbat, I couldn’t speak to the family. Yet, the day still came and went like any other year. I decided to write this letter to mark the day with something tangible that can serve to remind myself of what I lost 4 years ago and the lessons I have learned since then.

Abba, you and I always had a complex relationship. We were so different in so many ways. You were a dreamer. A man gifted with so much creativity and talent who was always looking to leave an indelible mark on the world. I, well, I am an accountant. I crave stability and order. Even as a kid, that is what I wanted so badly. I called you impractical and short sighted. You called me rigid and inflexible. We loved each other so much but didn’t understand each other. We had trouble putting ourselves in the other’s shoes.

I get it now Abba. I really do understand so much more about you and about me. I wish I told you I was proud of you for working so hard to share secrets of history with the world. I know how much you wanted to hear it from me and I’m sorry I wasn’t more supportive of your dream before it was too late.

About a year before you died, before we even knew you were sick, we got into a fight. I don’t recall the specifics but I remember you saying “Rayla, sometimes I wonder if something happened to me if you would even miss me.” I thought about that line a lot. Unfortunately, we don’t have to wonder. I know now with 100% certainty that I miss you so much more than I ever thought I would. I’m sorry I spent so many years being angry for my childhood. I always thought we would have more time to fix our relationship.

I wish you were here Abba. I wish I could ask you for forgiveness and I hear one of your corny jokes. I wish you could see your grandchildren and how they are growing up into amazing little people. I wish I could tell you one last time that I love you, I am proud of you and I really do understand now.

Love,
Your babela, Rayla

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Rayla Rappaport was born and bred in Queens, NY where she lived with her husband, Yosef, and kids until they made Aliyah to Givat Shmuel in 2014.