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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


As I shared with you last week, Judaism sees every moment of life as precious. Even when the quality of that life is limited. This week, I want to share with you an article written by an extraordinary individual, Naomi Rivka Most. Naomi Rivka is someone that I know personally and have always seen as an inspiration when it comes to demonstrating what type of attitude G-d expects us to have as we go through life. Together with her amazing husband, Eric ob”m, they personify the quintessential Jewish approach to what it really means to live a Jewish life.    

Each year, we took my husband’s birthday seriously because we were never sure if there would be another one. It was an opportunity to appreciate the blessing of having spent another year together. Last month would have been Eric’s 47th birthday. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the fifth month of our marriage and for the most part remained sick throughout the 11 years we were married.

Eric yearned to live for another year, another day, another hour. It didn’t matter how challenging or painful the day was, he was always happy to be alive, to spend more time with his family and to strive to use his limited time to grow and do more good in the world.

Eric appreciated each and every day, each and every breath. He appreciated the light the sun brought through the windows and its warmth; he appreciated the gorgeous flowers growing in our yard changing slightly each day. He appreciated his family, his friends and his job. He appreciated music, food, colorful socks, a soft place to sit. He appreciated being able to walk, to eat, to get dressed on his own.

Towards the end he could no longer do any of these things on his own. He was also unable to really speak. We communicated mainly by text or hand and lip motions.

We take too much for granted. We take for granted seeing our loved ones every day, getting the chance to say I love you or giving your kids a hug. We take for granted playing a ball game with a son, teaching your kids how to ride a bike, or just sharing with your kids important life values. We take for granted holding our spouse close, just smiling at each other, saying how much you love each other and appreciating how much your spouse does for you.

Eric didn’t take any of these things for granted. He did his very best to fill each day with appreciation and purpose. He loved so much and so deeply. He cared for others passionately. He was honest and humble, thoughtful, inspiring, loyal, loving, kind, intelligent, worldly, patient, and always full of positivity. Despite his chronic pain he usually had a huge smile on his face, even during the last moment he was awake. He inspired so many people through his work, his teaching and just by being himself.

I’ve been a widow now for the last nine weeks, and even though that's not very long it sometimes feels like a lifetime. When I wake up in the morning and Eric isn’t there with me, the pain hits. I sit up in bed as I hear my kids waking up and starting to get ready for school and I remind myself that today I have to make a choice. How will I act with my children? Will I do my best to be a good mom? Will I try to make today enjoyable and fun? How can I do all this when a huge part of me is gone?

I then remember that although he is not with me physically, I carry my husband with me in all my memories. I get out of bed and I smile as I open the gate to my garden which the kids and I planted under Eric’s guidance. I see the grass growing and the beautiful lilies he planted especially for me. I see the paintings we chose together on my walls that. I see his likeness in each of my children's faces. No matter where I turn, I see what we built together, lessons I learned, inspiration and growth we gained together.

Not a second of my day goes by that I don’t miss him, but each day I try to focus on choosing happiness. Happiness because although I have lost the person I love most, I have him in other ways now. Happiness because I still have so much life to look forward to while I watch my children grow. Happiness because every day is special and meaningful. I watched Eric fight to live for another day, and I will fight to do the same in my own way.

Our children talk about their father all the time. They are young, (a 10-year-old son, and twin 7 year olds), and they sometimes cry because they miss him so much, but they understand that he is in heaven and he is healthy now. They are making a daily choice as well. How will school be today? Will I want to play or sit quietly by myself on the side? Will I listen in class or daydream about my father?

My kids know they can ask me anything that’s on their mind, and they do. How will my Bar Mitzvah be when my father is not there by my side? What will my wedding be like when Abba won’t walk me down the aisle? I remind them that they have their father with them always, even if they can't see him. We are constantly sharing memories about him, some that make us laugh, and some that make us cry.

Eric and I were only married for just over 11 years. It was short in retrospect but in some ways it seems so much longer because of the intensity and focus of our marriage. In 60 years of marriage some do not attain the kind of relationship we had.

I had the privilege to be by his side throughout his entire illness. I held his hand the day he was diagnosed and I held his hand the day he died. When he was diagnosed with cancer we were just starting our life together, with a new baby on the way. We made a decision then not to let the illness define us; it would just be a side note that we had to take care of. We would carry on building our lives to the best of our abilities, striving to help others and caring about the Jewish people.

We don’t get to choose most of life’s circumstances; they are given to us as our challenge to grow. We cannot control the outcome (that was not an easy lesson for me to learn). What truly matters are the choices we make about how to live with the challenges thrown our way. Happiness is a state of mind; it's a choice we can make every day.

I don’t know what lies ahead but I embrace each day. I appreciate the overflowing acts of kindness from my family and my friends. I appreciate going back to work and having a more normal routine. I appreciate hearing memories other people have of my husband or things they’ve learned from him. I appreciate the prayers and kind words that countless people have offered. I appreciate being able to still laugh and smile, I also appreciate a good cry.

I was the luckiest wife in the world. I had the most amazing husband. He believed in me and was always there to inspire me grow. He truly listened and cared. He was my best friend, the love of my life and the father to our gorgeous children.

I hope to spend my life enjoying the memories and embracing the tears as a means to express my pain and then get up again. 

And I hope that I will fulfill one of the greatest gifts my husband taught me: to live life to the fullest and fully enjoy and appreciate all its precious moments.