Higher Ground At Disney World
Special To The Jewish Week
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The first half of the holiday morning service concludes. In accordance with tradition, many congregants exit the shul sanctuary and mingle outside for a few minutes. The Yizkor books containing the short memorial service are distributed. No one thinks to hand one to a teenage girl. A few understanding glances come my way, but those who don’t know me just stare. I feel out of place. I don’t belong here; I am too young for this. I feel alone.

My mother died of cancer when I was 7 years old. Since then, I have been the youngest member of my congregation to remain inside the sanctuary during Yizkor. I watch my friends exit blissfully while I remain trapped inside, with people I don’t know, saying words I don’t understand. I keep my eyes cast down, avoiding unwelcome gazes. They don’t understand. I belong inside among the mourners. I am a mourner.

The chazzan starts and I struggle to follow along. As he chants the Kel Ma’aleh Rachamim, I tuck my head into my siddur. I glance towards my father who is keeping his watchful eye on me from the other side of the mechitza. He gives me the courage to lift my head and voice the words that will reach my mother.

Despite the awkwardness I feel, I will myself to go back each time. Partly because of the encouragement of my father and the commandment that is bestowed upon me to recite Yizkor. But what really draws me back time and time again is the idea of my mother’s soul drifting alone, only being lifted by the sweet prayers of her children.

Saying Kaddish each year on her yahrtzeit generates the same emotions. This year will mark the 10th year since she passed away. Each year is more difficult than the last, as I grow older and learn more about who my mother was and what having my mother would have meant to me. But then again, I feel blessed. My family stayed strong, my dad remarried and we are happy.

My most vivid memory is walking around Disney World with my mom, one year after she was diagnosed with cancer. When I say walk around, I must clarify that this was not by choice. If it were up to me, I would have been riding on the back of her new motorized wheelchair. She got to drive around, and I felt lucky — we did not have to wait on the long lines for the rides. I still remember the pride and joy of being with my mom, just the two of us, while my father and older brothers went on the more challenging rides. And I felt magic. Wherever we went, we were smiling and laughing. I have a photo of the two of us posed with the cartoon character Buzz Lightyear. To this day, I’m the only one who can look at the photo and smile.

I especially treasure the memory of the two of us on the spaceship ride. I controlled the height lever and made our ship fly higher and higher, with my mother playfully shrieking that we should go lower and lower. I can no longer reminisce with her. We cannot laugh over the spaceship ride, or about how ridiculous it seemed to have dolls reminding us that “it’s a small world afterall.”

Still, there is something about my trip to Disney World, walking around the park just my mom and me, that left a profound impact. I refuse to let my subsequent knowledge of the trip — that a social worker who works with families of cancer patients helped plan the trip — diminish my wondrous memory.    

This story may be so significant to me because she died some months after we returned. Or maybe it’s because this story allowed her to never really die. I don’t have many memories of my mother, as I was so young. But somehow, I can describe to you in full and accurate detail the feeling of air whooshing through my hair as I flew higher and higher with my mother at my side. At Yizkor, I imagine my prayers rising, going higher and higher, until my mother hears them. n

Miriam Lichtenberg is a senior at SAR High School in Riverdale. She is the daughter of the late Rifka Rosenwein, who wrote the “Home Front” column on this page for seven years and died 10 years ago this month.

On Sunday Oct. 27, Drisha Institute will host a Day of Learning in Rifka Rosenwein’s memory. The event is free and open to the public. For reservations, contact jgolden@drisha.org.

Last Update:

10/29/2013 - 03:52

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What a beautiful and sincere tribute to your Mom. I lost my Mom 4 years ago to Cancer when she was 73 and I was 46. When Yizkor comes around I just try to get through it. I don't need Yizkor to remind me that my Mom is not here. But your words have inspired me to take something more from this experience. The image of my mother's soul floating and then being lifted by the prayers of her children is very comforting to me. Thank you!

Dear Miriam, my mom (Hilda) and your mom are cousins, so I suppose that makes us second cousins. I also was quite young when she passed away, but I also cherish a few clear beautiful memories of your mom and your family from when we visited. And I remember my mom always leaving out your mom's article clippings for us to read. You write beautifully. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to cope with the loss you and your family have experienced. I'm moved by your piece, admire your strength, and hope to see you all again soon for a happy occasion. If you all are ever in San Francisco please say hello.

Reading your article reminds me so much of your mother, your looks, your writing talent. We were friends in high school. Just this week, I was reflecting on the fact that your mom died so young, 10 years ago. My husband had a piece published in The Jerusalem Post where he wrote why we are staying in Israel ( we made aliyah) and he states that he was inspired by a piece your mom wrote, an article he has kept all these years. Your mother inspired so many people in so many ways. You should feel so proud to be her daughter. She would have been so proud of you.

Your piece moved me beyond words.
Your mom never tired of jokingly calling me her "mole rodel", which was her way of making fun of the adolescent need for role models. She was one of a kind; between her mind, her wit, her passion and her heart there was no one else like her.
The last time I visited your mom, she was so afraid you wouldn't have memories of her. "The boys I know will remember me", she said, "but what about my Miriam?" Your beautiful article answers her question.
At her funeral, Rav Adin Steinsalz said a comforting thing. He asked "What confers immortality"? Certainly not published books or articles." His answer: DNA. Children carry within them pieces of their parents, which are then passed on to their children and grandchildren. This is how parts of us and our ancestors continue to live on.
As Tammy said, you are so your mother's daughter! You look just like her, you write just like her.
I truly believe her heart brims with naches when she hears your words.

Hey Miriam,
I can clearly imagine your Mom smiling from ear to ear as she reads your piece, saying - "that's my girl." You clearly have her knack for capturing an experience and sharing it so vividly and personally with your readers. Kol hakavod, I'm sure she's very proud of you.

Hi Miriam,
I used to read all of your mother's columns and I remember standing on my driveway waiting for my son's bus when I read the one where she told of her diagnosis. I cried, as I had so many times from her eloquent, beautiful words. It was beyond moving for me to open up to the back of The Jewish Week and see that her daughter had written a piece as articulate and heartfelt as those of her mom. Your article made me cry, in the same positive, emotional way that I remember crying as I read your mom's reflections on life. I'm sure you know this already but your mother would be so incredibly proud of you for the accomplished, insightful woman you have become. There is so much of her inside of you and I am sure that you will take that with you throughout your life and let her guide you as she has all these years.

Hi Miriam, What a wonderful article you have written about your thoughts and feelings regarding the death of your dear mother and your journey through life.My daughter-in-law lost her mother at age 9 and it was not easy and she very much misses her now at age 45. I am now researching my father's part in World War II and am trying to retrace his steps and career in the Merchant Marine in those war years. I guess we are all looking for some pieces toe 'the puzzle', as it were.
Don't worry, you have a special part in this old world and who you are, and what you are, matters.
It always will.
I loved reading the article that you wrote. Very well done.
I subscribe to the Jewish Week, not because I am Jewish, but because my dear grandson had a Jewish girlfriend. I thought I had better study so I could carry on conversations with her!
I wish you the best, Miriam.
Love, Sandy

Beautiful piece! - about a terribly sorrowful loss. I send you sympathy still - even though it's been ten years. I remember well your mother's lovely, warm and thoughtful columns. Evidently you've got the writer's touch, too! May you write more and more. I think we all will look forward to hearing from you. And may you find continuing strength and comfort in all that you do. Yashir Koach, Miriam.

Beautifully written. I was also the only child saying Yizkor. I was 4 years old when my father died, and I don't remember ever not being inside while all my peers left. I remembering wondering what they did outside. Later I found out that they were also wondering what I was doing inside.

Miriam, you are your mother's daughter, and she would be so, so proud of you. When we were children, she was like a sister to me. She was one of the brightest, kindest people I've ever known. And by the way, I couldn't have even gotten her to go on the spaceship ride -- I had a good laugh through the tears at the thought of her shrieking to go lower.

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