Updated: Apr 4, 2021
My mother died two weeks ago. August 12th. In California. Just like that. In her sleep. Shock for all of us. And although she moved away from Israel almost 50 years ago, she had a deep love of the country and wanted to be buried here. So my Dad, my brother and sister and I immediately went into crisis mode: calls to Hevra Kadisha (Jewish organization which prepares the bodies of the deceased for a Jewish burial) who thank G-d knew exactly what had to be done, calls to cemetery guy in Israel, notifying family and friends, planning a funeral that she would have liked, buying airline tickets for my Dad, brother and sister to fly over from California, waiting for her body to arrive on El Al Airlines, and putting her in the ground to rest.
My mother looking over the Tel Aviv coastline, enjoying every moment of her visit to Israel
Then we sat shiva (7 day mourning period) at my home in Hannaton where we were fed and enveloped by the love and support of my amazing community.
Suddenly, way too quickly, it was all over, and they left. I felt so alone. But life has to go on.
Reeling from it all, I have been thinking of ways to memorialize, to remember, to honor my Mom, to make her proud. How do I do that… I’ve been gathering ideas, thoughts, little by little. It makes me feel better to think of ways to remember her.
At breakfast this morning, I came upon an article by Kelly Hartog in the Jewish Journal, Israel Helps Yazidi Women Heal from Trauma. Fascinating stuff, about the efforts of a group of Israeli doctors and psychologists to help heal the traumatized Kurdish Yazidi women who underwent several years of torture, imprisonment and rape by their ISIS captors. Here are some excerpts:
"Speaking with (Marylene) Cloitre in Northern California, she explained how she had never been to Israel. After completing her latest project with the WHO, she was trying to figure out what to do next. I thought, what I’d really like to do next is go to Israel. It’s a country that has experienced so much trauma and has persevered, it just felt like I should know more,” she said. A week later, she received an email from Hoffman asking her to come to teach the Yazidi women at Bar-Ilan. “It didn’t take me long to say ‘yes,’ ” Cloitre said.
“I work with women. I recalled the attacks on the Yazidi women and I was really shocked by how little the U.S. did and I felt very bad about it. Those things were on my mind when I got the email from Yaakov.”
I said to myself, “Yeah, people really need to come to Israel and check us out. We do some amazing work here” and then I thought of my Mom. She would have loved this connection of good things Israel is doing, with a woman doctor at Stanford University in Palo Alto (where she lived for so many years).
"One of the most intriguing decisions made by Zivotofsky was to take the women to Israel’s Holocaust memorial — Yad Vashem. Hoffman said he thought Zivotofsky was crazy. “I thought he’d fallen on his head,” he said, laughing. “I said to him, ‘What do they need to see Yad Vashem for?’ But then I realized it was the most amazing thing, because first of all, it validated them. They saw they’re not the only ones who have suffered. And the way Yad Vashem is documented and archived, they were in total awe of how you can rebuild and get hope and can resume life afterward.”
That, said Hoffman, became the program’s mantra: “Visiting Yad Vashem wasn’t just an extracurricular activity. It tied into the whole theme of empowerment, rebuilding; of post-traumatic growth, which is something we were trying to imbue.”
The visit, Zivotofsky added, helped the women look up to Israel and the Jewish people. “We are a people who have been where they have been, just 75 years ago. They wanted to understand how we have commemorated our Holocaust and they wanted to understand how we have built ourselves up.”
Oh yes, my mother would have loved this project. The trauma she and her immediate family suffered as they managed to survive the Holocaust in work camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan shaped her life story. This would have made her very proud!
So, in honor of my mother, Pola Harrel, may her memory be a blessing, I encourage you to read this article (long but totally worth it) and do good in this world. Oh, and come and visit Israel.
I love you, Mom.
Click the link below for the article