Shalom Abba – Goodbye Father

In September 1959 I was the youngest child, 8 years old, in an modern-orthodox Jewish family and I recently had started going to the 4th grade class of Miss Scaffatti, who I loved and was to become my favorite teacher (ever!), at the Katherine D. Malone elementary school on Green Pond Road.

It was a year after my family including myself had spent a summer in Israel, my much older siblings remained in Israel and my parents returned with me to the US, and I was getting accustomed to really getting to know my parents, especially my father George Racenstein, (In Hebrew Azriel Gershon).

Before that year I really did not know my father very well, he was always working, but during that year that we spent together I learned to love him more than to fear him, we went ice skating on the frozen lake, fishing (never caught anything except an old boot) father and son breakfasts in the White Meadow temple or the club house where we would wear identical bowties and jackets, and in general simply be proud and happy to be together.

We were living in the small community White Meadow Lake, part of Rockaway County in rural New Jersey.

My father had been feeling ill for several months, and all the doctors and specialists in New York
diagnosed him with a “nervous stomach” and ordered him to take off from work and spend more time with the family – me – and I thrived!

A few days after the beginning of the school year – he woke up in the morning all yellow, and as I was waiting in front of the house for the number 103 school bus, driven by Shirley, Daddy ran up to me, and
started to hug me and I saw that he was crying.

I was embarrassed that the children on the school bus would witness this and shied away from him. I said weakly “Shalom Abba” (he loved my attempts to speak Hebrew) received yet another hug and was showered by his tears, I got unto the bright yellow bus, he into his car-pool – and he was out of my life forever.

At the hospital in NY he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer – and he passed away on 27 Elul, September 29th, without ever really saying good bye to me.

It was less than three days before Rosh Hashanah.

I was under the childish, naive, belief that on Rosh Hashanah god, whom I imagined as to be a long-bearded old man resembling my own grandfather, opened a book in which he inscribes all the fates of mankind in the coming year – and ten days later, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, that book is sealed until the next New Year.

I was mad as hell – I never really cried after my dad died – I was much too angry: with him, with God who has obviously written the wrong parent in that forsaken book, with my mother that she did not die instead
of dad (you can tell that I really did not like my mother very much) – and at the world in general.

But – out of that childish anger a resolve was born – that I will live my life to the fullest, even though that in my position at the time I was little more than a scapegoat and whipping boy in a family that became totally dysfunctional and more so after my father, who when alive, was the central pillar in the family, passed on.

I would live – and live my dreams and his dreams to the best of my ability – and I did:

Daddy dreamed to live in Israel – I do, and I am a settler in Samaria, the Jewish heart land. (I am secular but the commandment to live in Israel is equal to all the other commandments combined)

Daddy dreamed to raise a family in Israel – All my 5 children are in Israel, with my 5 grandchildren (and I hope many more to come)

Daddy spent his entire life caring for others – Today I am a social worker and social work is much more than a profession for me.

Daddy’s name was Gershon – and my name, and the names of my children and grand children is Ben-Gershon (Son of Gershon).

In spite of that damm book – He lives!

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