Longtime readers may remember that a few years ago, before we had a child (before we were even trying to conceive), I spent a summer in Jerusalem. I rented an apartment (sublet it, actually) with a friend from the ALEPH rabbinic program; I shared that flat with my friend Yafa, her husband, and their then-four-year-old little girl.
The experience was amazing, profound, powerful, difficult on all sorts of axes. (And I blogged about it extensively in June, July, and early August of 2008.) One of the greatest joys of that summer was the simple fact of spending two months living with one of my classmates. Because ALEPH's ordination programs are low-residency, students and faculty live all over the world. We gather twice a year for intensive residency periods, and between those gatherings, we learn via teleconference and webconference and we learn with teachers in our own communities.
It's an amazing way to study (and clearly one which suits me -- this is how I did my MFA, too) and I love the way it creates a web of community which covers the globe. But what it doesn't offer, generally speaking, is the chance to hang out and cook and drink and schmooze and daven with our fellow students every day. Spending that summer with Yafa, day in and day out, was an incredible gift. I felt, by summer's end, that I had become part of her family.
I also got to know some of her birth family a bit while we were students. Yafa's mom Betsy used to come to smicha students' week, to watch Yafa's little girl while we were in classes. Betsy was always lovely and gracious to me; we had many conversations about Judaism and about her granddaughter and about parenting over the years.
Later this morning I'll drive north into Vermont, through the beautiful Green Mountains now bare of leaves and speckled with snow, to attend Betsy's funeral. It's rare for me these days to attend a funeral rather than conducting it. I didn't know her well, and I won't know the rest of the community. But it feels important for me to be there for Yafa, with whom I was ordained in January -- another experience which makes me feel as though we are sisters! -- and for her husband and daughter who shared my life that summer, too.
I know that even when we are apart, my loved ones and I remain connected. But at moments of great joy and moments of great sorrow, there's a particular blessing in being able to be physically together, to offer a palpable embrace. I can only imagine what it is like to lose one's mother, but I know what it is like to grieve.