A double entendre. Missing as in they are gone, and also missing as in missing them, feeling their absence in our hearts. There is something about the holiday season that deepens both meanings. Maybe because it is a family oriented time, a time we shared with them. Maybe it is because of the memories of holidays gone by, of sitting with a loved one at the table, or in shul. Maybe it is because so many of the holiday’s themes are tied to loss, mortality, the fragility of life. But that sense of absence is keenly experienced when the nights become cool and the leaves begin to fall.
I have a private ritual I enact every year a week or two before the holidays. I make sure to get to our synagogue’s cemetery to visit the graves of the clergy who served Beth El over the years. I visit the grave of Rabbi Jacob Agus, whom I never met, but whose presence is felt in the halls of the synagogue every day as a source of guidance and wisdom. I linger at the tombstone of Cantor Saul Hammerman, a golden voiced Hazzan with an old world sense of humor and a deep love of the Jewish people, with whom I was lucky to share many a conversation. And always last I visit the grave of Rabbi Mark Loeb, my senior rabbi for more than a decade, and a true mentor and friend to me and to many others.
It is at the last grave where I crouch down, where I brush my hands over the metal letters, where I again read the words that I’ve read hundreds of times. What I wish I could share! What I wish I could ask! The void can be sensed, almost palpably, but it cannot be breached. And yet. There is meaning in the visit. A sacred sense, an honoring of presence, an affirmation that the connection still exists in some mysterious and inexplicable way. And in that there is comfort and strength. And purpose. What I do I do not do alone. Where I go, others go with me. And in that sense of permanent presence I find blessing and grace, courage and hope, laughter and longing, sadness and celebration. I find life. And a new year begins.