August 26, 2006

Subject: I just heard the news

Tova's e-mail, a blanket of love and support, lacked specifics I desperately needed. What news had she just heard? About which of the boys I have been anxiously praying for since the war broke out? I hastily checked Haaretz [Israeli daily newspaper] online to read the fine print and found the frightening details. My beloved cousin Gila's son Noam Mayerson, age 23, was killed in Lebanon defending against terrorists seeking his and his people's extinction. 

In this e-mail conversation, I got the news we dread, always, especially in war.

I have no words. I think the help will be in the days and months and years to come. If there is any way I can help you help them in the short term - be your shlicha [emissary] in any way - let me know. May this be the last time, the last soldier we lose. — Tova
  • Within hours, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post (among English-language Israeli papers and blogs I follow) posted Noam's photo and a brief bio. Israeli media always announce the names as soon as immediate survivors have been notified. (I shuddered, recalling that some elected officials and others in the USA chastise TV news programs for issuing a daily "roll call" — naming American troops killed in Iraq.) 
  • Minutes before Tova's emails, I had sent to Noam's father, Chaim, the message, "checking news at 3 a.m., again," hoping to lend strength and sending love by writing about Noam — alive and about Aviyah, our cousins Ditza’s and Chanan’s paratrooper son.
  • And now, reading Tova's e-mails I understood that Chaim wasn't at his computer; he and his family were together, in a pool of shock and grief. And in an instant, they had joined the bereaved people who lost a child, a sibling, a fiance, a relative, a neighbor, a friend, a colleague, a teacher.
Noam, in Hebrew, means pleasantness.

Of Torah, often called a path, we learn —

דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם D'racheha darchey noam, Its ways are ways of pleasantness [Noam] וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם vchol netivoteha shalom, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17)

נעם, כשמו כן הוא Noam, kishmo ken hu, Noam, as is his name, so is he.

We all loved Noam. It was impossible not to. A deep thinker with a buoyant personality, Noam spread joy and optimism. Once, I knowingly missed the deadline to pick up a package from the post office because I couldn’t tear myself away from discussing big ideas with him. (The package was returned to the sender, and though it was months before I received it, the gift of continuing the discussion will be with me forever.) How could I tear myself away from this passionate young man who expressed ideas and learning easily, engaged in civil dialogue eagerly, reframed his statements as often as needed, and explained terms and assumptions until I “got it”? Who could resist these encounters, all blessings?

When I visited his parents and turned the key in the front door lock, I rejoiced to spot him studying Torah, playing guitar, packing for a hike and “shopping” in the kitchen pantry, or yakking with buddies in person or on the phone. I always hoped Noam would be home from yeshiva or army service when my cousins invited me to spend Shabbat or a holiday together. I love listening to Chaim gently lead us in prayer or watching Gila hold high the havdala candle or photographing their children (in the photo of building a sukkah, Noam is flanked by his younger brothers, Yoni and Hilly).

עִבְדוּ אֶת ה בְּשִׂמְחָה Ivdu et Hashem b'simchah, serve God in joy. (Psalm 100:2)

Two years ago at Pesach, late into the Seder night of questions, he and his mother fell into a fit of laughter that would not stop. The antics of this jolly twosome brought me back to my childhood when at the most sacred moments of a ritual meal, my sister and I would fall out laughing, spurred by a stimulus, invisible to all but us, that set off our joint funny bone.

Noam was radically present, exquisitely alive, and fully engaged in the lived moment. His life comprised Torah study, reflection, refinement of character traits, deeds of loving kindness, gratitude, and action. All these he pursued with a glad heart, a spirit of happiness and vigor, with the joy of acknowledging God's goodness. The way Noam lived his life lifted us to connect with all creation in a kind of “spiritual oneness” of peace and good fortune for every being. Noam didn’t just follow Torah; he became it.

נעם בן גילה וחיים. יהי זכרו לברכה Noam ben Gila vChaim. Yehi zichro l’vracha. Noam, son of Gila and Chaim. May his memory be a blessing.

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allaboutgeorge said...

You have my condolences for your family's loss.

littlepurplecow said...

This is a beautiful tribute to Noam. A post you clearly crafted with much care and love.

A loss like this is so difficult to comprehend. Thank you for sharing it, so that we can lend support and prayers for you and your family. It's a gentle reminder that every minute is precious and each life... a blessing.

Shimon Peretz said...

When we read the news it's hard sometimes to remember that each name represents olam u-melo'o (a whole world). Thanks for reminding me of that.

Tamar Orvell said...

Thanks, all, for your warm words and thoughtfulness.

Penelope Trunk said...

Hi Tamar. I know I'm late to this post. But it really made an impact on me. I'm so sorry about your family's loss. Thank you for the reminder about what's important in life.

Tamar Orvell said...

Hi Penelope, my blogging guru whom I hope to meet one day! Thank you for your gracious, generous comment. It is NEVER too late to join mourners in their loss and to comfort them in their grief, and to draw lessons, as you say, on what is important in life (and, I add, in death). I returned tonight from Latrun, near Jerusalem, where in the annual state ceremony honoring those who fell in the tank corps the past year, I was privileged to sit with Noam's family, remembering this gorgeous young soul.