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In Memory of my Father: Joseph Oster זצ״ל

October 6, 2020
by Sondra Baras

My father passed away three weeks ago.  He was 94 years old and during his final months, he had sunk into the depths of dementia and no longer recognized me.  It had been many months since I had been able to have even the most rudimentary conversation with him.  In a way, we had been departing from my father for many months and his death completed a process that had been going on for some time.

Click here to watch a Facing the Divide episode about Jewish customs at the loss of a loved one.

For months, I had been intensely involved in my father’s care.  My mother was the one actually caring for him on a regular basis, but my siblings and I were constantly visiting, discussing care options, and involved in many ways in the decision-making process.  And for all those months, we hardly thought about my father as he had been in his younger, healthier years.  That became a dim memory as we became so intensely involved in his present situation.  And I asked myself repeatedly during that time what my lasting memory of my father would be.  Would it focus on his last years or would those hard years fade into the background and give way to happier times?

As I experienced the mourning process steeped in Jewish custom, I came to realize how brilliant the Jewish traditions of death and mourning really are.  And I found my answer to this question.  I want to share some of these experiences with you, to give you a sense of what we do and why we do it, but even more importantly, to share my own personal response to this difficult time.

Jewish tradition dictates an immediate burial, preferably the same day, but if that is not possible, then on the day following.  My father passed away on Shabbat, and the funeral took place on Sunday morning.  Because of Corona restrictions, only immediate family could be at the funeral which created an unusual intimacy.  Just my mother, my siblings and our spouses, and our children and their spouses were present.  But that was special in its own way, as everyone there loved my father and felt so close to him.  He was Daddy and Grandpa to everyone there.

There is no casket in a Jewish funeral.  My father was buried in a simple shroud so that his body would have direct contact with the earth from which he had come.  For you are dust and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).  There is no embalmment — a person is buried as he died, ready to meet his maker in his most honest state.  No makeup, no clothes.  No one views the body; his dignity in death, as in life, is honored.  He was carried by those who loved him on a simple stretcher.  And he was buried in the Land of Israel.  The immediate mourners, my mother, my sisters, my brother and I, stood at the gravesite as my sister-in-law tore our shirts as a sign of mourning.    Family members helped the grave-diggers cover the grave.  Those present then offered condolences to us, with the traditional blessing:  May G-d comfort you together with the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

When the simple ceremony was over we went to my home in Karnei Shomron where we all spent the week. This formal mourning period is called Shiva and the mourners sit together in a house, on low chairs, wearing our torn shirts and receiving visitors who come to pay condolence calls.  It is considered a huge blessing to visit a mourner. Generally, many come at once without appointments but because of Corona, we had to limit the visits and schedule them carefully.  Many phoned instead of visiting for fear of infection.

But it was the shiva experience that enabled me to return to the memory of my father as he had been for most of his life — the loving, strong, and deeply believing man we had all known.  As we sat together, we looked at photos and told stories of my father, including stories of his childhood that we had, in turn, heard over the years from older relatives who are no longer with us.

My father was a committed Jew and very active in the Jewish community of Cleveland before moving to Israel more than a decade ago.  When we were children, he supported the local Bnei Akiva religious Zionist youth group, ensuring that his children and all our friends had quality activities and meaningful Jewish experiences.  He was active in the synagogue, the Jewish school, the Jewish federation.  He loved Israel and was always there, ready to help, whenever Israel faced a crisis.

Cleveland was always a very Zionist Jewish community and most of my childhood friends made Aliyah (moved to Israel).  And my parents closest friends have all moved to Israel.  So many of those who visited us or called during the Shiva, then, were people who had known my father from Cleveland.  And they told stories that painted a picture of the active, committed and dedicated father we had all known so well.  One of the visitors recalled lovingly how the Bnei Akiva counselors would refer to my father as Uncle Joe because he was always available to them for whatever they needed.

The Kaddish is a prayer recited at every service and it consists of praises to G-d, acknowledging His power over the universe and over all of us.  There is a version of this prayer that is said by mourners during the shiva and for the 11 months following the death of a parent.  It must be said in a formal prayer quorum so saying it demands commitment — to participate in  regular prayer services each day.  Mourners see this commitment as a way of honoring their parent’s memory, but actually, it is a declaration on the part of the mourner that despite the grief and the sorrow, and sometimes the anger that accompanies a tragic death, we affirm that G-d is in charge.  That in His infinite wisdom, He has taken someone to Him at the right time.  It is also an understanding that when someone dies they leave an empty space amongst us and it is that space that we are filling with a heightened sense of G-d’s presence.

These simple traditions, so ancient and yet so timely, brought me enormous comfort as I mourned my father.

41 thoughts on “In Memory of my Father: Joseph Oster זצ״ל”

  1. I just read about your fathers death. In your time of loss I pray you continue to be filled with Gods presence.
    Thank you for sharing

  2. Shalom.may Hashem blessings be on you today and families and you grow stronger each day keep the faith/love you all

  3. My Prayers are with you Sondra Baras and the entire family for loosing a parent who has been described as active, committed and dedicated to whatever he would lay his hands on.. We bless the Lord for those who comforted you during the shiva and pray that uncle Joe’s soul continue to rest in peace.

  4. Dear Sondra, I’m sorry to hear of the death of your father.
    Thank you for sharing the beautfiul description of how your family honored him. May God comfort you all with the precious legacy and memories you have of such a special man. Fondly, LaJuan

  5. Dear Sondra, Thank you for sharing the love of your daddy and his passing. You and your family are added to my prayer list and it will be an honor to pray!!

  6. Thank you Sondra for sharing, I am discovering Judaism so it is all new to me but your words and explanations I found very moving. Thank you once again and I pray for Hashem to give your His peace that is beyond understanding

  7. Dear Sondra
    Thank you for sharing this loving story of your father as you celebrate the life he lived to the fullest. We are sorry for your loss.

  8. Sondra, I know how it feels to lose a parent to Alzheimer’s. In time, You WILL remember all the good memories. It is sooo hard, but the living memories will stay with you forever. May Hashem give you shalom!!

  9. Dear Sondra and all members of your precious family, Thank you for your grace in sharing the intimacy experienced by your family in your Father’s recent passing. Our hearts join with you in the beauty of the love you chose to share with us all. How good is HaShem. We were especially touched and enlightened to be given insight into all that surrounds the passing of a Jewish person including the burial and the shiva; it is so complete and to us seems to offer true completion of a life to both the beloved who has passed away and to those beloved of him, in this instance your precious Father, a shalom and completion that is not of this world but is truly a gift of HaShem. Beloved Sondra we mourn with you and at the same time rejoice with you in the beauty (sadness and joy) of shared family memories. Todah, todah, todah.

  10. Toda raba por compartir sus enseñanzas.
    Deseo de corazón que el Eterno los consuele y les guarde por toda la vida

  11. Dear Sondra and your family & friends there is Israel,
    Roger and I grieve with you for the loss of your wonderful father.
    We have both experienced the loss of our mothers over the last
    few years…to difficult circumstances.
    May the Blessings of His Love and comfort be over you and your family.

  12. Thank you for sharing the beautiful traditions carried out during mourning. May God’s blessings be with you and your family as you mourn the loss of your father.

  13. Dear Sondra
    Thank you very much for sharing these intimate moments. It’s been an education and yet, I hope you won’t mind me saying; a joyous and spiritual experience. I also reflect on the patriarchs; such as, Jacob, who gathered his family prior to his death and considered his death (which was not only inevitable, but he also knew and accepted its inevitability and imminence), to be to the glory of G-d. G-d takes us in his own time and at his good pleasure. His wisdom is unfailing. Shalom.

  14. Dear Sondra
    My condolences to your family and to you. May YWH comfort all of you with the understanding that you will see your again. Sincerely,
    Nancy Manzanares

  15. My sincerest condolences to you and your family, may your father RIP. Thankyou for sharing the jewish traditions.. kat

  16. Dear Sondra, and family, my condolences to you .
    May your father find light, rest and peace. Delphine

  17. Dear Sondra, May GOD bless your family and bring joy and peace as you celebrate your father. Thank you for sharing the traditions because I see every Jewish tradition in a spiritual perspective. Shalom Sondra and your family.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing your closest thoughts, and the love of your Daddy. How blessed you are, to have had such a fine and loving man. Respectfully yours,
    Ann Weigler

  19. Thank you Sondra for sharing your loss and the blessed experience of love, celebration and support given to you and your family through tradition and practice. I am so very glad that through this you found again your father before the ravages of dementia. I know that Almighty God is comforting each of you at this time and pray for many blessings for you and your whole family to come. (To life and Shalom)

  20. Dear Sondra Thank you for sharing with us at this time. You have been blessed by a loving father here on earth and one in heaven.

  21. I want to thank you so much for sharing the Jewish traditions with respect to your father. My precious wife is in a nursing home suffering from dementia and it is so hard because I have lost her – yet I haven’t. Your beautiful experiences with your beloved father are a source of comfort. Thank you for sharing

  22. Dear Sondra,as well as you I know what you are feeling my Dad get dementia too and to see Him get farther and lost in time and reality was painful but he plants on me and every person who can help in any way on the community no matter what difficult was He steps to helps, He was a person of great values, who with His good example teach me how to do the world better and take care of my family and any other person, I thanks YEHOVA for Him and the love for me and my family.

  23. My condolences. Thank you for sharing. Numbers 6:24-26, “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you shalom.”

  24. Sending you our condolences and love to you and your family. I was really moved to read about how precious your memories are of your G-d fearing and loving Father. Every blessing Sandra, Howard

  25. Dear Sondra, Thank you for sharing the way you process the losing of a loved one. As you said, you were losing him for some months. Blessings to you at this sad time from David, Newcastle Australia.

  26. Sondra, I’m so sorry for your loss but know your sweet memories of him will bring comfort and a smile. I will NEVER forget when you did a Shabbat dinner for us at CharismaLife you shared how EVERY Friday night your dad blessed you. I KNEW at that moment why you were so strong, so joyful, so loving and so secure. What a heritage. We Christians have missed that Revelation but are trying to make up for it by discovering our “Jewish roots” Love & Blessings. Cookie

  27. Dear Sondra,

    Thank you for sharing a time like this with us.

    We are looking forward to seeing you again in N. C. , USA. as the Lord so wills.

    Until then, we plan to join with you today in your succah with my mother, Loretta joining us here from our home.

    Charles and Joyce Bates Dixon and
    Loretta Bates


  29. Dear Sondra, I’m sorry for the loss of your father, you will always have sweet loving memories of him. May the Lord bless you and your family.

  30. Sondra, may your time of Shiva be replaced at the proper time, with sadness giving way to joy.
    To realize who Joseph was, what he accomplished for Adonai, is beautiful.
    Even more so, to elevate ourselves to be people of faith and deeds, as he was. May we honor his legacy by following his example.
    Shalom to you and yours.

  31. Dear Sondra, a loving and good earthly father is irreplaceable.May G-d our heavently father give comfort and peace to you and all family members who are mourning the loss of your dear father.G-d be with you dear Sondra.

  32. the best yerusha you have from your father are the vivid memories you shared of your life together.
    may they be a source of comfort to you and your family.

  33. Type your comment
    Dear Sondra,
    Hereby I offer you my condolences with the loss of your father. I thank you for your comments on your experience, which is very different from what Christians do. I am impressed and believe the Jewish way is good and respectful. It also means that all of your family has to take off a week from work. Which in Israel will be no problem, but among gentiles will hardly be accepted. It is one more illustration that Jews take the respect for life and family and our Creator so much more seriously. Because you are His people and thus are closer to Him.
    Especially when sitting shiva.
    I thank you for your letter and congratulate you with the father you have had the blessing to have experienced.
    Bart Nuboer.

  34. Dear Sondra. Sorry to hear about your loss. Your father died and was buried in Israel, in the land of your forefathers, which is a great blessing. G-d bless you and your family at this time.

  35. Dear Sondra,Sorry to here about your father.Thankyou for sharing your experiences it adds more meaning and helps to understand the Jewish way.Regards to you and your family.Ray Pankhurst

  36. Sondra thank you for sharing your experience. It brought tears to my eyes, because the Jewish way is so beautiful and meaningful. May you be blessed with great shalom from Ha-shem.

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