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Are We Disposable?

Are We Disposable?

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Not long ago, I was in a meeting with someone whose husband had passed away less than a year before. In the midst of the meeting someone cracked a joke and the woman of whom I'm speaking laughed. I was startled. "How can you laugh?" I thought. "Your spouse passed away less than a year ago!" And then an alarming thought occurred to me: "Are we all disposable and that easily replaceable? Can our loved ones laugh so quickly after we're gone?"

Right now and before writing another word, I want to clear up any misconceptions: Within seconds of thinking this I knew that that's not what I really think. My wife suggested that perhaps my own condition had something to do with my response. Being in remission from lymphoma does not mean that I believe 100% of the time that I'm out of the woods. Mainly, I'm very optimistic. But I'm not Mr. Bitachon every second of every day. And, whenever I hear of someone who passes away from some version of what I have (or, please G‑d , had), it re-opens unpleasant thoughts and fears. Unfortunately, hearing about such people is all too common these days.

"It was laughter with a broken heart that will never mend in full," my wife assured me.

Are we disposable? Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? And of course we are not. But death is not the only place I find evidence to my fear that our lives are too quickly forgotten and replaced not only by laughter, but by others.

Look at divorce. People marry. People divorce. Their spouse remarries. And there is someone else who comes to take his or her place. In some cases, he or she comes to parent the children. Now you see him, now you don't. There seems to be this space — husband, father, whatever — that can be filled by a variety of candidates. Perhaps not in the same way, but still... filled. What is the message to our children? He was your Daddy. But he can be your Daddy, too.

I'm taking a risk here. I know that what I'm writing is an exaggeration, and certainly not the most rational or wisest train of thought. I'm inviting you on a journey with my darker side. My fearful side. The side that emerges when my worst nightmares and thoughts overpower my higher and better self. Can I trust you to come along without too much judgment? Will you hang in there with me a little while longer as I flush this out?

If Daddies are replaceable, is the same true of the children? In a disposable, replaceable world, do we need ponder too long why kids sometimes wonder if their lives are worth anything? Why we sometimes wonder the same?

But, when we lose someone in our life there is a dilemma. On the one hand we are to mourn. On the other, we are to carry on with our lives. And, in today's modern world, it seems that the faster and fuller we do this, the healthier we are. Rarely, today, do we see a widow or widower whose loss is worn constantly on his sleeve. Whose grief becomes an indelible look in the eyes and tension on the face. And even though someone may have once been the "love of my life," in today's world it seems that after loss we are encouraged to pick ourselves up and begin a new life. But if one creates a new life can't one also then have a new "love of my life"? New life; new love. Disposable life; replaceable love.

I'm traveling further downward. Spinning really. Can you feel it? I've done this before, but it's different having you with me. And not even knowing who you are: faceless, unknown confidants!

Have I come to the point where I trust you all so much? Or is it just the chemo and past months of battle that have left me not even caring what you think?

Perhaps if I thought about my own parents more. Perhaps if they occupied more of my thoughts and speech? Perhaps if I didn't feel that my own life had continued on so easily after they both passed away? Were they disposable? Of course not. Were they replaceable? Impossible. And yet...

No, I don't want anyone to suffer after loss. Not anyone in my family. Not anyone in yours. I want for there to be laughter again. Full lives. Happiness. Joy. Song. A warm, lively Shabbos table filled with children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Even the ones I might never meet.

But, oh, how I don't want ever to be forgotten. For life to be as if I never was. Can you understand that? Do you ever feel that? Someone told me recently that they never think about one day not being here, yet for me, not one day passes without that thought.

They say "Jacob lived through the good deeds of his children." But that was Jacob. And look at who his children were. But what about me?

Have you never thought these thoughts? Never felt the fear? Never been caught in the spiral of your own darker self with no escape in view? Never wished you could ascend towards the point of light you know is there, somewhere... but where?

I'm lucky enough to have a person in my life who motivates me to reach a little higher, and helps me get there some of the time. His name is Rav (Rabbi) Gluckowsky. He's the guy in my community who is my teacher and guide. He's someone I learn from not just in a class, but from the way he lives his life.

(A lot of people call him by his first name, but I prefer to always call him "Rav Gluckowsky," even though we're pretty good friends and I'm older by a long shot. Perhaps it's because we're friends that I call him "Rav." I enjoy giving things to my friends. And, in this case, I enjoy giving respect to someone I like very much. The respect and honor I afford him in no way lessens the familiarity and comfort I feel when I'm with him. He is my Rav and we are friends.)

I never met Rav Gluckowsky's father. And yet he accompanies Rav Gluckowsky almost everywhere he goes and certainly in most every meeting I have with him. There is not a talk Rav Gluckowsky gives in which he doesn't quote his father. The other day we were speaking of our sons' singing in the choir and he mentioned what a great voice his father had. Last week I went to a birthday farbrengen and Rav Gluckowsky was asked to tell a story. "Let me tell you a story about the previous Rebbe that my father used to tell..." He not only told the story in his father's name, his father was imbedded throughout the story.

His father's picture hangs prominently in his living room. We are invited to his home several times a year to share in some event commemorating his father. And one has the feeling that Rav Gluckowsky's entire life is dedicated to his father, that he is busily and consciously being the son his father would have wanted him to be.

In shul, we all know that many of the tunes he sings during daavening come from his father. And in our community, we all know we are the beneficiaries of the wonderful man Rav Gluckowsky's father must have been. We, too, are better off because Rav Gluckowsky's father once blessed the earth.

Would Sukkot be Sukkot without the stories of the sukkahs that Rav Gluckowsky built together with his father and brothers? How many times have we heard the one about the last minute car ride with the police chasing behind just minutes before candle lighting time? Would our boys school be the same if it was not filled with the educational adages from Rav Gluckwsky's father, an educator who taught first through eighth grades in Toronto for forty years?

And would we not all love to say to our children as Rav Gluckowsky recently said to his: How proud I would be if you grew up to be a teacher like Zaidy, a man who, through his teaching, improved the lives of so many, many people.

Funny, but when I finally saw a video of Rav Gluckowsky's father, he looked like an ordinary guy. A school teacher. Someone a lot like you and I. But someone who had risen to near mythic stature through the love, respect and devotion of his son.

Listening to Rav Gluckowsky, I, this ordinary father, could imagine one day being lifted to such heights by my own children. And such fantasies fill me with warmth and courage. They ease my fears. They impel me forward to live a life full of actions that will give my children something to talk about one day to their children and to their communities.

If Rav Gluckowsky's father is not disposable, neither am I. Neither are you. We are as irreplaceable as the love we give. Our indelible mark is invisibly carved on the hearts of our children and loved ones. Our mark is contained not only in their laughter, but in the laughter they impart to others. Laughter, as my wife says, that comes from a broken heart. But a heart filled with love breaks and then grows stronger through mending. Its strength comes from its softness, a softness made softer by the love we left behind, perhaps softer, even, through the loss our children feel after we've left.

The woman who laughed came into my office the other day. She stopped by to tell me about the event held in her community the night before to commemorate the first anniversary of her husband's passing. She described the event for a long time and then went on to tell me about the highlight of the evening.

"My daughter read a letter she had written to her Abba," she began. "In the letter she described all the family events of the past year. She described them in detail so that my husband, her father, would be able to take nachas from her piano recital, from her brother's first bike ride, from the first day mommy was able to go back to work after months of feeling too sad to even leave the house..."

As the woman spoke her eyes welled with tears. They never spilled over. It was as if her heart had simply filled with so much love it had to relieve itself through her eyes.

She stood in my doorway for a long time reciting all the events that her daughter had recounted in her letter to her father. She even told me how her daughter had described to her father what she knew her father's reactions would be. "You would have laughed so hard, Abba..." "You would have told us your famous story about the time you..." "Oh, Abba, how you would have enjoyed the music..."

I never grew tired of listening to this woman tell about this evening of remembrance. Long past the time when I should have returned to my work, I listened attentively about her children and their love for their father and for his memory.

And when she finally finished and continued down the hall, I could have continued listening even longer.

But instead I sat down and wrote this article. Perhaps one day my children will read it. Or, better yet, perhaps they'll read to their children one day.

May I live to be 120.

Editor's note: Jay sent us this article two-and-a-half years ago, at a time when — as he writes in its opening paragraphs — he was very optimistic about his prognosis. But shortly thereafter, while we were still working on the article, a blood test result brought the news that his illness had turned once more aggressive. Indeed, such ups-and-downs often occurred during his valiant four-year battle with the disease.

Because of the unfortunate turn of events, Jay felt that the subject of this article was too "close to home" to publish. Now, after the worst has occurred, Jay's family decided that the time has come to share it with our readers. —YT

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
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A CHASSID BROOKLYN, NY October 18, 2006

NACHAS This is really a beautiful article Reply

Anonymous January 2, 2006

Thank you to the family of Mr. Litvin for sharing this most heartfelt article with us. It surely speaks to one's inner being, and begs the question, do I speak with reverence about my father? Although not regilious, a caring, fine, loyal, good dad. Have I shared my love for my father with my own child? One can always do more. Thank you for inspiring us. Reply

Howard Chudler Brea, Ca December 31, 2005

Jay Litvin Like the others that responded...Jay has touched my life. But it does not stop there.

I learned about Jay through a article I read posted called "A Hidden Angel" by Ora Cohen whose entire family was hit in the bus #1 bombing in Jerusalem a couple of years back. Now our families have become friends and we have done a bit to lift each other up.

So Jay not only has affected the lives he touched, but has created a bit of a chain...which is on-going, through his contacts while he lived and through his words now that he has elavated to a better world.

We can all learn from what Jay did. We too might leave the world a better place than when we arrived. Reply

The Krause Family Passaic, NJ/USA June 2, 2004

May you be comforted Dear Litvin Family,
We are among the many who have been forever transformed by Jay Litvin's unique perspective and unshakable emunah and bitachon in HKB"H. Be proud of who your husband and father was, and of the colossal difference he made in the world. One man, one voice - a universe. We laughed and cried with him, but mostly we learned how to regard each moment as the divine and precious gift that it is. May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim. Reply

Miriam Jaskierowicz Arman Plantation, Fla. May 3, 2004

Jay Litvin --- YOUR Life - YOUR Soul - YOUR Humanity - Hashem's undeniable gifts TO YOU... Love Sharing, Caring & Understanding... Hashem offers these to each of us...

Some heed and respond, others close the door... Some look for and identify the sign posts - others simply walk by, their eyes blind to the light staring them in the face.

Jay's articles deeply inspired-his honesty, his quest, his struggle carry with them a profound familiarity - he represents us all.

The measure of a persons life is counted in how many miss him, how many lives he touched, how much love he spread and how he shared himself... how positive he was in the face of hardship, how he placed himself only after everyone else...

We all try to live our lives in the best way we know how... We doubt, and search, find and lose - a kaleidoscope of happenings and events which easily blend one into the other - sometimes we forget to stop and think, sometimes we don't even care to address our thoughts -

And then there was YOU Jay... Disposable? NEVER! Reply

mary lee grisanti stamford, ct April 30, 2004

Jay Litvin, kindness and respect for children Dear Mrs. Litvin and family,

A few months ago I responded to an article your husband had written about respect for children. I wanted him to know that another brave and loving Jew, Janus Korczak, had dedicated his life to the same priniciples. Though Korczak's death at Treblinka with the hundreds of orphans in his care is well-known, his extraordinary life's work is much less known. His most important book was called "The Child's Right To Respect."

Your husband wrote back to me, twice, asking how he could learn more. Now I see that both his kindness and his dedication to children was, like his writing, complete and uncompromising. How, at that point in his life could he continue to seek new insight, and moreover, spend some of his precious time thanking a stranger for pointing it out? I can only think that his love for his own children was so passionate that, like Korczak, he spoke for all children. Through so many of us whom he inspired, his voice still comforts them. - MaryLee Reply

Anonymous torrance, ca April 29, 2004

last article i am putting the words that he wrote "Perhaps if I thought about my own parents more. Perhaps if they occupied more of my thoughts and speech? Perhaps if I didn't feel that my own life had continued on so easily after they both passed away? Were they disposable? Of course not. Were they replaceable? Impossible. And yet.." Wow those words really resonate, after losing my mother obm this teves. He writes the fearful stuff we don't express .Yehi zichro boruch Reply

rachel montreal, canada April 26, 2004

are we disposable??????? Hi,
I love reading all the articles you send me but this one i cried more than the others. My father was diagnosed with IT in december 1999 and thank G-d he is doing very good . But the reason i'm writting is to tell you how much this article made me think. When I got to the part of the girl writing the letter to her father it made me think, thank hashem your father is doing good and take the time to tell him everything that happens in your life. Spend time together, drink in what he tells you and register all the wise advise. It made me really be aware of the importance of always parting with a sweet word and telling him you love him. So if anyone out there will read this, please, please don't let yourself get to a point where it might G-d forbid be to late to do it in person. Help yourself before you G-d forbid you feel void and guilt for not telling him what was on your heart. He'll love you more for it.
Heep in mind he can still hear you from heaven, so talk and spill your heart, Reply

Dvora April 26, 2004

Jay taught me how important it is to put those who have been niftar into our daily life. He also inspired me with his words of truth.
Reply

Reuven Perelman Hewlett, N.Y., USA April 26, 2004

Jay's courage Some people go through life shining a light, others-casting a shadow.
Jay was definitely shining a light. I am grateful to Hashem for giving me an opportunity to see that light and to Jay for sharing it with me.
I will always remember and admire Jay's courage in getting down to the innermost recesses of his neshama to bring out the truth and to share his most profound feelings in his own unique way. His endless desire and ability to give, to share, to help others will always be an inspiration to all of us.
May Hashem comfort the family and friends amongst the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim. Reply

Anonymous Milwaukee, WI via lubavitchofwi.org April 23, 2004

Jay Litvin B"H
Dear Sharon and Family:
May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. I can't believe that Jay is gone. Just a few months ago, I saw him at Bagel County in Skokie with his sisters.
Milwaukee was sad to see all of you leave. But Hashem had bigger projects for Jay to do in this world. And Jay fulfilled them all and then some. His beautiful words were an inspiration to everyone who read his articles and poems. The children he saved will be a living legacy to his name. May you find strength in reading all of these wonderful tributes to your husband and father. Reply

Richard Day North Port, Florida April 22, 2004

understanding Hello My Friends,
I have lost many loves in my life. For one reason or another. And, it does seem that I am disposable yet, each up and down I have experienced changed my life in a small way. And, knowing this, I realize those loves that were lost has brought many people together so, I must not be disposable. Just like none of you are disposable. And, Jay, I will carry his teachings with me. As I am sure you all will, too. Reply

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