Life is precious. You never know what’s around the corner, nor can you plan for it. It throws you much happiness and many challenges. The month leading up to my planned 3 months in Israel brought both. In this month of November I was to fly to Israel having left my grandmother with loss of her functions in hospital. Sickness can grip a person so quickly and so intensely that you realise no one is all-powerful except for Hashem Himself. Not the bravest and strongest of women, as my grandmother is, can escape from the infinite. My grandmother was most opposed to my leaving my job and going to learn in Israel. She warned me that modernity and life as we know it now is the optimum happiness. She warned me that religion is old and irrelevant. To go back to living as they had in the 12th century would be the worst mistake and it would not bring me happiness, just misery. If I knew she would be in hospital with cancer in her brain only a few weeks later I would have asked her to stop. I would have asked her to consider that G-d is everywhere – G-d is listening. I know that Judaism does not believe in a vengeful G-d, but every time I think back to our conversation, I wonder if she said too much.
That day will stay in my memory forever. It was the day I would hear so much from my grandparents that I never knew and that explained a lot. I was the only grandchild that would marry Jewish and now I knew why. You can’t pass on values in a vacuum. My grandparents have all the right values and an enormous vacuum, sucked out by one of the most destructive suctions of all – the Soviet regime. Now I not only saw their wisdom and the piety, I also saw the vacuum. It was this contradiction that I heard and felt in my grandparents hearts that compelled me to go against their word and leave as planned for Israel. I could not bring children into this world in a vacuum. I would fill it with knowledge and understanding to be able to pass on my grandparents’ Jewish ideas and values. I would pass on their legacy in a way that was robbed from them. It was they who taught me the most important Torah principles, it was they who showed me how quickly these values disappear without the Torah, and it was they who propelled me to find the Torah once more.
The day before taking the flight to Israel it was Shabbos. My grandmother had been admitted only a day or two earlier with no diagnosis and no idea of the future. I had planned to spend all of Shabbos with my grandparents at their house and now this was not possible. It was the first time I was faced with the real challenge of keeping Shabbos. Only now had it become contentious. Was I to leave my beloved grandmother in hospital unable to see her and unable to pick up my phone in case there was news? I decided to do just that. Something inside me told me that this was the right thing to do, even though my heart wanted nothing more than to sleep by my grandma’s side in the hospital, to stroke her hair and comfort her. I said my goodbyes the following day having no idea what I would be returning to. At the back of my mind thoughts of regret, sadness and fear crept in asking whether she would be there when I returned. Right before I left she called me from hospital and said her final goodbyes. She said, “Laura, I just want you to be happy”.