To Avi…

I met my husband when I was 17 years old…our first date was on my 18th birthday. I was a freshman in college; he was a senior. Each weekend, he would go home to his family; I usually stayed at college. When he was home, he would go out with his best friend, Avi. I was so nervous about meeting Avi that first time – he was such an important part of my new boyfriend’s life. We met near my parents’ house.

Lazer (my husband…yes, six years and I’ve never named him here on the blog, have I?) came from an Orthodox family which would not have approved of the amount of time we were able to see each other, as we both lived away from home while at university. On the day he graduated, he told his family about me. Before that day, the only one who knew about us…was Avi.

Actually, if you believe in mysticism and wonder, if you believe that there really isn’t such a thing as coincidence but rather all events come as part of God’s plan, then you’ll understand when I say that Avi was the first to announce our future marriage – even before Lazer and I had even met. In fact, it was the very day before. It was a Saturday…Shabbat… and Avi insisted that Lazer go with him to a small synagogue. There, the rabbi turned to my husband and asked him to say the final blessing for the Torah reading that week.

Knowing that the final blessing was said by the person who would then stand before the congregation and read a portion of the Bible (the Haftorah, in Hebrew, according to specific tunes, etc.), my future husband explained that he had not known he would be asked and had therefore not prepared. The rabbi responded that he himself would recite the Haftorah but that my husband should say the blessing.

Lazer recited the blessing and the rabbi recited the Haftorah. When he returned to his seat, Avi turned to him and asked if he realized what the rabbi had done, “He gave you Chatan Bereshit – that means you are going to meet your beshert (future spouse, intended).”

And we met the next day.

I remember Lazer telling me about a conversation he had with Avi. Avi told Lazer that someone (I think it was an uncle) had set him up on a date though the timing was crazy…he was about to leave to Mexico to begin medical studies…and when Avi returned from the date, he told Lazer, “I just met the girl I’m going to marry.”

I don’t remember exactly – but I think they were married three months later.

Over the years we dated and even in the early years of our marriage, Lazer would tell me some of the things that he and Avi did, where they drove, the cars, the visits and jobs they did up in the country during the summer months. Lazer took me to Avi’s house to meet Avi’s parents and I was hugged and welcomed. Lazer was a loved son of the house.

Something like a year after meeting them, a new rabbi moved into the city where I lived. He became the rabbi of my synagogue and bought a house right across the street from my parents’ house. When I met them, I was amazed to find out that the rabbi’s wife was Avi’s sister – another bond. I loved being with her and her children, loved listening to her husband, his wisdom and stories. He was my rabbi, one of the two who performed the ceremony that joined Lazer’s life with mine forever.

Lazer and I dated throughout college; Avi lived with his wife in Mexico. We had our children; Avi and Mindy had three of their own. They lived in the midwest after returning from Mexico and there they raised their children; we lived on the east coast and raised ours.

We saw Avi and his wife very rarely and yet Avi remained a part of Lazer…not just his past, but something, someone he carried with him in the present. Avi loved Israel – I always knew he would end up here. And while it was Lazer who came to live here; Avi and his wife instilled so much love of Israel in their children that each one in turn has come here (one serves as a soldier in the Israeli army now).

Many months ago, we all connected on Facebook and got to watch Avi’s growing family from the distance – and see his smiling face with his children. The wonders of Facebook let us all catch up; see his children; see him and his smiling face. He was so proud of his kids; you can see it in every picture.

Lazer and Avi spoke a few times in the more recent past. Each time we heard that Avi came to visit Israel, where his daughter had settled, Lazer hoped to meet him – he thought he’d have time and it was no big deal, and all of us were so busy. Three weddings on our side in the last few years, and we became grandparents less than two years ago; and Avi’s daughter got married and he became a grandfather a few months ago. He came to visit his daughter and her baby…we didn’t even know he was here because like other visits – time was short and things just got in the way, but there was time…there’s always time.

Just a few weeks ago, Avi left a comment on something I’d written. I smiled when I saw his name. He wrote, “Paula, I hope these words spread far and wide. Very well said.”

Avi died this past Saturday, here in Israel and was buried on Sunday in Jerusalem. I always knew he would end up in Israel…I just didn’t think it would be like this. He’ll never know how much his approval and blessing meant to me as I married his best friend; how he made me feel welcomed into the inner circle of Lazer’s life. I knew that Lazer came from a world of Orthodox Jews and I was only on the fringe because I wasn’t born into a religious family myself. I chose to become religious which, for too many wasn’t really the same as being born into it. But Avi and his smile conquered all, never seemed to judge, always seemed to encourage.

What Avi gave me in each of our meetings was acceptance; what he gave his family was love; what he gave so many patients of his was his knowledge and dedication. He was, in every sense of the word, a true and best friend to Lazer. I can’t imagine what his family is feeling now. I can only hope that through the pain, they can look at the pictures of him and see that he seems to always be smiling.

May his memory be blessed and may his children, granddaughter, and future grandchildren always be blessed for having come from such goodness.

Avi, I know that the memory of you, the smiles and goodness that you brought into this world will be spread far and wide. You will be missed…you already are.

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