Today is my grandmother’s yahrzeit (anniversary of her death). It seems a lifetime ago and just yesterday. I can still hear her voice, feel her touch, sense her presence. I still miss her, still feel her absence keenly. I wonder what she would make of my trans-ness.
Joita, my grandmother’s namesake, has grown up visiting my work. She has met and lost countless elderly resident acquaintances in those years. But now she’s 12. She’s beginning to view the world differently. She’d been visiting Trudy for the close to 10 years Trudy was a resident, most of Joita’s life. This is the first loss she is really feeling. And since Trudy died in early July, Joita has been reluctant to come to work with me. It’s hard to open your heart to someone new when the tear in your heart is still so ragged and torn. I get that. Dead people take up very little space in the physical world. They do take up a lot of space in the heart, though. The message I want my child to get, is that the world of the heart is endless and so, can never be fully filled. I told Jo that Trudy will reside in a special place in her heart always. This week I introduced her to Yetta. Yetta is a new resident and she is gracious, gregarious and playful. She seemed right up Joita’s alley. And sure enough, within minutes of meeting they were wheeling down the hall smiling and laughing, sharing jokes, taking the risk of opening the heart again.
So Saturday I took an aliyah (the honor of being called up to the Torah scroll during services) in honor of my grandmother’s memory. I stood with Joita before the congregation, before the open Torah, surrounded by the memory of my grandmother, her namesake, her namesake’s new friend yetta – the name of my grandmother’s mother. I was called up for the aliyah, by my hebrew name – named for my zayde, my grandmother’s father, and so he was up there too in a way. So many of us there, crowded around in that sacred embrace.
The Torah portion ekev, bids us to take up the cause of the vulnerable in our society. God upholds and sustains the widow, the orphan, the underdog. We are also told that we should offer small kindnesses to the stranger, to those less fortunate. And we are told to do this for two reasons… 1) we should do it to emulate God and 2) we should have empathy because we know what it means to be oppressed, because we are the stranger to someone else, because we are less fortunate than someone else. Torah is taught to us in many different ways. Being kind was taught to me by my grandmother. She was nothing if not kind. Really, she was the embodiment of kindness. She was generous and gracious and considerate and caring. She was the template for, the consummate “guta neshama” (yiddish for good soul). And so here I am, learning that lesson from our ancestors in Torah, from her and those who came before her. Hopefully passing on those lessons of kindness to my child, who carries on my grandmother’s name. I am ever grateful.