For the last thirty years save one when we were in Israel, I have traveled to New York to daven at the grave of my father a”h before Rosh Hashanah. It is a widespread minhag (custom) in the Jewish world and Jews of all types, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, observant and less observant visit the graves of their beloved and pray there before the onset of the High Holiday days. This year the logistics of my visit were necessarily complicated by my need for minyanim to say kaddish. After considering various options we decided to go to New York for Shabbos and visit with our son Nachum, his wife Jen and our two grandchildren Kate and Gabe. It was a wonderful and most enjoyable Shabbos. We davened in Rabbi Golden’s shul, Ahavat Torah, an extremely large shul with many minyanim and an absolutely enormous and exquisite building.
Sunday morning I began what would be a very long and stressful day at the 7am minyan in Ahavat Torah held in an absolutely beautiful beis medrash.
At about 9 am we drove to visit my in laws in Lawrence, where Marilyn remained while I left for the cemetery. First, I drove to the New Montefiore Cemetery on Long Island where my parents are buried. It was the first time I was there since my mother’s funeral in May. Suffice it to say it was draining. In one respect, however, it was “comforting” to see my mother and father resting side by side, reunited after thirty years of separation due to my father’s death in 1985. My parents had an incredible marriage and my mother never recovered from the loss of my father. Each visit to the cemetery with her was difficult, to say the least; so much so that after several years I began going to the cemetery alone.
After saying tehlim at my parents’ graves I recited tehilim at my grandmother, Reva Love’s a”h kever. My grandmother raised me. Her love was unconditional and every time I stand before her grave I feel her love all over again.
During shiva for my mother I learned for the very first time that my father’s parents are buried in the Montefiore Cemetery in Queens. On the web I was able to find the exact location of their graves. After concluding at my parents’ kevoros I drove to Queens to daven at the graves of my paternal grandparents. I never knew these grandparents. My grandmother Esther Chana Lifschitz died many years before I was born. My zaidi Reb Nochom Lifschitz zt”l died when I was two years old and I have no recollection of him. He learned in Slobodka and was a great talmid chochom (torah scholar). When I was a teenager my father was willing to take me with him to his parents’ kevoros before Rosh Hashanah but my mother would hear nothing of it. She did not think it appropriate for children to go to a cemetery while their parents were alive. So I never went – until yesterday.
I arrived at the cemetery thanks to Waze and began to search for the graves. After a half an hour of searching in the poorly marked old section of the cemetery, I found their graves. For the first time in my life I met my paternal grandparents.
I recited tehilim for a while and then it was time to leave and search for a mincha minyan. I needed to daven mincha in New York before we began the drive back and I needed to get back no later than 10pm so that I could get the last maariv minyan in Silver Spring. I was hopeful but stressed that the logisitics and traffic would cooperate. After a few phone calls to my father in law I learned that there was a 2 pm mincha in a kosher supermarket, Brachs. I drove straight there only to be told that there is no mincha minyan in the store on Sunday. Determined to find a minyan, I recalled my father in law mentioning that there was a minyan in one of the seforim (Jewish bookstores) on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst. I drove to Central Avenue and went “door to door” until I found a store, Judiaca Plus, that had a minyan at 3 pm. And that is where I ended up davening. At a little after 3pm they shut the music off, made an announcement that mincha would be held in the back of the store in between the book shelves, took out a box with sidurim and a few pushkas and asked if there was a chiyuv (mourner) present. Since I was the only chiyuv (mourner) I was given the amud (to lead the service). I assumed that they would make a “heicha kedusha” but was quickly told no – they repeat the shemonah esrei in this back of the store minyan. And so I davened for the amud together with 15 others and upon concluding sighed a sigh of relief that mincha was accomplished. Now all I needed to do was drive home and catch the last maariv minyan at 10pm.
For once there was no traffic on the Turnpike. We arrived home at about 9 pm with an hour to spare before maariv. We eat a quick dinner and while Mrilyn went off to bed I went to the yeshiva to daven maariv.
At 10:30 pm I returned home and concluded my long day of mourning and saying kaddish.