In 1980 my father and mother were traveling around the world as part of Dad’s second sabbatical. I had previously mentioned in this blog my teenage experience of journal writing in London which occurred during his first sabbatical eight years earlier. This second time, he was exploring intentional inter-generational communities focused on wellness – a professional social work interest and a personal avocation.
They went to Japan, China and then India, where he took ill. Dad had a heart condition (mitral valve prolapse – yes the same condition that I had successful surgery to repair last year), that was not at the time curable per se). He spent time in an ashram and began to feel better. Then they went on to Israel to investigate a particular health-centered moshava (colony). While in Israel, they visited the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora – called Beit Hatfutsot – in Tel Aviv. It was there that Dad had complete heart failure and died on the museum floor.
Only the week before in Dad’s travel journal did he – a non-observant Jew – write “I feel the Shema closer to me than it has ever been.”
The Shema is the central prayer of Judaism which asserts the universal unity of G-d :
Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d the Lord is One. שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד
It is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words.
On Sunday I was with my cousin Sybil in Tel Aviv. But I walked alone to Beit Hatfutsot to pay homage to my father. The museum was under major renovation with new exhibits planned for completion later this year. As I got to the front desk I asked the clerk the cost of entry. He mentioned that most of the exhibits are not available and I said I knew that. He then asked if I was a senior, and I said I was but not an Israeli citizen. He said that didn’t matter and charged me the lower fee. I then said “I want to tell you that this museum is very important to me. 38 and a half years ago my father died in the museum.” As I said it, I felt my heart leap.
He looked at me and asked for clarification “in the museum?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Then there is no entry fee for you,” he said softly, and proceeded to give me back all the money.
We both spontaneously welled up… it felt like about at the same level. We just looked at each other for a few moments. I didn’t think it was the right thing to do to challenge his touching act, so accepted with a kind of reverent thanks his gift.
In the Jewish High Holy Days, we sing:
Return again, return again,
Return to the land of your soul
Return again, return again,
Return to the land of your soul.
Return to what you are,
Return to who you are,
Return to where you are born and reborn again.
Of course, we don’t need to wait for that once a year opportunity. We can return to who we are and how we came to be anytime we wish. And we can thank those – past and present – whose positive examples inspire us to be our better selves.