Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, August 3, 2018 / 22 Av 5778
On Wednesday, I acquired the Chanukah menorah featured in the attached photograph. As everyone in my family lights a chanukiyah, we have quite the collection—especially since we always like to have some extra ones lying around for any guests. Yet this one already is one of my favorites. There are two main reasons for this. First, I like its simple organic tree-like shape. It possesses both a sense of whimsy and of elegance.
The second reason gets at the heart of why I am even talking about Chanukah when our entire professional team is completely focused on the looming High Holidays. This menorah, you see, belonged to my friend and our congregant, Jo McIntyre. Jo died after a valiant battle with cancer that she hid even from many friends. It was a multiple year war, and one that she had beaten into submission several times previously. Until this last round.
That was a month ago, and her funeral was attended solely by a couple of gravediggers and me out in a ramshackle cemetery in Yamhill. Jo chose Judaism as an adult, and her family includes Mormons, Catholics, a scientologist and at least one “none.” That meant that rushing to assemble such a diverse group to attend a traditional Jewish funeral wasn’t going to work. But since that is what Jo requested, I travelled out there alone to fulfill the dying wish of a friend.
The cemetery itself stretches above the countryside she loved, and she picked her own plot precisely for that view. I chanted the words of the El Malei memorial prayer, first composed to commemorate those who were killed by the Crusaders a thousand years ago. I suspect it will be long years before those hills are regaled again by Hebrew prayers, but you never know how life unfolds.
The family decided to hold a memorial service in the lobby of First Baptist Church in McMinnville. Jo had worked in the bookstore there. By the way, as we prepare to celebrate our 150th year at Neveh Shalom, it was fascinating to learn that First Baptist is 151 years old. It was also moving to note that we had a minyan of ten CNS congregants who had made the trek to honor our friend. In most respects, it was a straightforward funeral, especially for a family of so many faith backgrounds.
In one regard, though, it was different, and that brings us back to the menorah.
As you entered the church that day, tables and chairs were filled with Jo’s material possessions. Scarves, ceramics, hundreds of music cds. Boxes of candles. Chotchkes. And, of course, the menorah that called out to me. Her children had already decided which mementos they wanted to keep. As for the rest of her stuff—well, they thought, wouldn’t it be better if her friends took home something to remember her by rather than giving the objects to Good Will?
And that is the real message here. Our lives are filled with so much stuff that we spend a lifetime acquiring, often by the sweat of our labor. Although objects may enrich our lives and mean a great deal to us personally, in the end our children won’t want most of these things that were so precious to us. I love the idea of offering these tokens to our friends who will treasure them for the memories they bring.
Logistically, organizing this can be a bit more challenging for a Jewish family. We tend to hold our funerals within a few days after death, and children or spouses therefore often aren’t in the proper mental state to make those decisions. Still, we have some possibilities within our spiritual tool chest. We could place items out during shivah. Alternatively, we could use sheloshim, the 30th day after a loved one has passed, to hold our own memorial gathering. While not that many non-Orthodox Jews observe sheloshim, wouldn’t this be a wonderful way to reclaim this worthy way of marking time?
In addition to Jo’s menorah, I also took a few of her musical cds. One features 600 years of women in music. Another is a collection of some of the Israel Philharmonic’s best recordings. There is a Ladino recording from Rhodes. The one I played on my way back from McMinnville? An unusual album of ancient Greek music, played by Oregonian artists on instruments that Homer would have been familiar with. It was another window into the interests of the eclectic soul of Jo McIntyre.
The liner notes explain how and what we know of the ancient Greek’s music theory and notation. As I listened, it was possible to discern the origins of Arabic quarter tones as well the foundations of Western music. Hints of renaissance instrumentation and native American flute music. I was amazed. How miraculous that long before recording devices, 50 pieces of authentic music have been preserved, recovered and decoded. Some are just fragments. But they exist—they exist. How strange and how familiar! Echoes from another time.
Isn’t that what a treasured gift from a friend does for us? It lets us travel through time and, for a short time, recover that which is lost.
Rest well, dear friend. Your memory is a blessing.
Shabbat Table Talk
- What is your most precious object? What do you value about it? How long have you had it and how did it come into your possession?
- If you are a parent, do you have certain beloved possessions that you hope your children will treat as an heirloom? Have you told them why it matters—the story that gives it value?
- If you are a child, what is the most beloved object that you inherited from a parent or grandparent?
- Marie Kondo, the Japanese guru of order and simplicity, says we should only have objects that bring us delight. What do you make of this statement?
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