Gayle Redling­shafer Berman is co-author, with her hus­band Harold, of Dou­blelife: One Family,Two Faiths and a Jour­ney of Hope, the first true-life account of an inter­mar­riage gone Jew­ish.” She is also an inter­na­tion­al­ly acclaimed singer, and has per­formed and con­duct­ed through­out North Amer­i­ca, Europe and the Mid­dle East. Gayle and Harold will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Ima, Aunt Angela is try­ing to reach you. I know it’s grand­ma! I want to go to her funer­al!” My 13-year-old son was home man­ning the phone in Efrat while I was busy teach­ing piano to Amer­i­can girls at a school in Jerusalem. My moth­er had been ill for many years with demen­tia, that ter­ri­fy­ing dis­ease that steals the mem­o­ry and dig­ni­ty of its vic­tims. Long before we had made Israel our home 3 1/2 years ear­li­er, each day we had expect­ed the call from Illi­nois telling us that her body had giv­en up the fight. That moment had appar­ent­ly arrived. Not hav­ing my sis­ter’s U.S. num­ber in my Israeli cell phone, I sim­ply con­tin­ued teach­ing my piano student. 

Soon my cell phone rang. I was sure my sis­ter was indeed call­ing to tell me that what my son had sus­pect­ed was true. I told my stu­dent, I’ll be right back,” know­ing I could han­dle what I had been antic­i­pat­ing for years. Dad died this morn­ing!” I could­n’t believe my ears! No, she meant Mom,” my head screamed! Dad?” I yelled! Yes, Dad.”

As peo­ple at the school heard my scream­ing, they gath­ered around me, offer­ing tea, love and sup­port. The mem­o­ries flood­ed my mind – those late nights I fell asleep in the car and Dad car­ried me into the house; those years Dad let me keep hors­es on pre­cious farm­land which could have yield­ed thou­sands of dol­lars; the day I told Dad with trep­i­da­tion that we were mov­ing to Israel, to which he said sim­ply, You’re free to live wher­ev­er you want,” and then launched into a dia­tribe for the next 30 min­utes about how the world is so cru­el to Israel and does­n’t under­stand that she needs to defend her­self! He wept when he told me he just could­n’t leave Mom to attend my son’s, his grand­son’s, bar mitz­vah, just two months before my sis­ter’s phone call. Even though Mom had already been in a nurs­ing home for four years, he would not trav­el, feel­ing she need­ed him and I also think fear­ing the inevitable would hap­pen while he was gone.

How does a Jew mourn the loss of a par­ent when that par­ent was not Jew­ish? After I fin­ished the phone call with my sis­ter, I asked a rab­bi where I teach, and my hus­band (who was attend­ing an unveil­ing the moment I called him) asked a rab­bi where he works. Both felt that, even though I would not actu­al­ly sit shi­va, I still need­ed the cathar­sis that sit­ting shi­va pro­vides. Maybe, they each sug­gest­ed inde­pen­dent­ly, I could announce an oppor­tu­ni­ty for friends to vis­it me at my home, even if just for a few hours. 

We chose Fri­day morn­ing, two days lat­er. After that morn­ing, I under­stood ful­ly why Jews sit shi­va. The cleans­ing that immersed my soul that morn­ing was the begin­ning of my heal­ing process. Over 40 peo­ple, friends and neigh­bors in Israel who had nev­er met my father, came to show their sup­port. They sat and lis­tened intent­ly as I told sto­ries about my par­ents. They blessed me, that I should be com­fort­ed with all the mourn­ers of Zion and Jerusalem. Some invit­ed my fam­i­ly for Shab­bat meals while I trav­eled the fol­low­ing week for my dad’s funer­al. After they had all left, I was exhaust­ed, but I felt renewed. I felt clos­er to my dad. I felt 100% cer­tain that I had made the right deci­sion sev­er­al years ear­li­er when I decid­ed to become a part of the Jew­ish people.

Find out more about Gayle and Harold here