The theme of Edie’s life seems to be abandonment. She was raised in a strict, sad home, headed by her Holocaust survivor parents who barely spoke about the past or bequeathed to their children any semblance of a Jewish heritage. She got married and supported her husband through the many years of medical school, but when he graduated, he served her with divorce papers. He became a wealthy man, but left her with nothing. Even worse, his subtle badmouthing made it seem as if the divorce was her idea and her fault, which turned her oldest daughter against her. To this day, they do not speak. One son moved to Japan, and the other married out of the faith. Now an older woman, even her body is failing her. Chronic back problems that left her unable to travel to visit her long-distance son were exacerbated after a recent bad accident left her practically homebound.
And the ultimate abandonment: After a short battle with lupus, her youngest daughter, Melissa, left this world.
In the devastating aftermath of her daughter’s death, Edie reached out to a rabbi. She wanted some guidance. She wanted to know why her beautiful 15-year-old daughter had to die. The rabbi’s response: “We don’t ask questions. We don’t have doubts. That’s not the Jewish way.”
“But of course, that’s exactly the Jewish way!” my mother, who is telling me all about Edie, explains indignantly, “We are supposed to ask questions! So I encourage her to ask questions all the time. I don’t always have the answers for her, and that’s okay, too. We look it up, or I ask someone who does know. Then I bring it back to her, and we discuss it in our weekly phone call.”
I can see why Aish HaTorah thought it was a good idea to set Edie up as a chavrusa with my mother through their Partners-in-Torah program. My mother’s faith was and remains her flagship that carried her through the high, turbulent waters of the many challenges she’s faced in her life.
“What is the purpose of hard times?” In the beginning, the questions Edie asked my mother were borne of pain. “What is the purpose of challenges?”
“To make you. Not to break you. To teach you about your strengths. To help you grow,” my mother would answer. My mother chose Rebbetzin Heller’s book, The Eight Essential Challenges of Life, to learn together, and when they finished it, they moved on to another sefer, and then another. They’ve never met in person—my mother lives in New York and Edie lives in Ontario—but for nine years, once a week, my mother and her partner-in-Torah read their chosen sefer, analyze the text, and discuss the nuances of what is written, sometimes forging ahead, sometimes staying on one passage the entire time.
Edie explained that she joined the program because she always knew there was more to life than what you can see on the surface; she just didn’t know what. Even before she was introduced to my mother, she kept Shabbos and kashrus—to the best of her abilities—but without any real hashkafah or understanding.
And she wanted to understand. So she and my mother, every week, learned together in pursuit of that understanding.
Everything that you hear about, my mother explained to her, everything that you experience, all of the people that surround you in your day-to-day life, or even the people you bump into once in the grocery store—they are all there for a reason.
They were all put here for you to learn from, to grow from. Challenges are not here to make you feel alone and overwhelmed, abandoned; but to help us grow and learn about who we can be, to realize our strengths, and above all—to recognize in everything the hand of Hashem.