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Danita and Michel Aziza


By Danita Aziza, December 22, 2010

There is nothing positive in a death, except perhaps the legacy that a person leaves behind.

Michel’s uncle passed away this week in Ashdod at the age of 84. Nissim Attar Z”l was born in Morocco and was the son of a Rabbi and was a very learned and devout man himself.  He lived a relatively good and financially secure life in Morocco for many years, but after becoming insecure about his family’s safety living a Jewish life in an Arab country, decided with his wife, Sarah, to make Aliyah in 1970. Immigration wasn’t easy, having to learn the language at an older age and find employment and yet Nissim believed strongly in the Jewish State and hung on steadfast to his faith and ideals.

Nissim’s funeral took place on a hot and sunny day in a cemetery in Ashdod with a Rabbi, friend and grandchild paying tribute to him prior to his body wrapped in a talit (prayer shawl) being placed gently and lovingly in the soil of the Land that he loved so much.  The service was simple and while still extremely sad, there was something very natural and somehow comforting, if that is possible, in the manner in which he was laid to rest. As we left the cemetery, Sarah, my father-in-law’s sister and Nissim’s wife, whom Nissim loved so dearly, whispered in my ear “Nissim holech”, “Nissim left”.

On Tuesday, we traveled to Ashdod to attend the Shiva and I had an opportunity to visit with Nissim’s eldest daughter.  She told me a story of how the evening prior a man, similar in age to her, came to the apartment and sat in a chair.  She watched him as tears ran down his face.  She was puzzled as he didn’t look at all familiar to her and so she approached him and asked him who he was.  The man responded that he was almost her brother and then began to tell her how for the past forty years he had sat beside Nissim in the synagogue just down the road from their small apartment and that every Shabbat her father would wrap his tallit around him as the Kohenim recited their blessing over the congregation. He told Nissim’s daughter just how important her father was to him and what an impact he had on his life.  She had no idea.  How was it, she remarked, that at the end of the day we know so little about our parents and their lives outside of “us”.

As I carried on with my routine this week, this thought has followed me.  Last Friday everything was normal for Nissim’s family and then in an instant everything changed.  With no where to go, nothing to do, prohibition about taking care of yourself, the son and daughters of Nissim are given hour after hour for seven days to remember their father, learn from others snapshots of his life and realize just how much information was previously missing from their memory.  Parents invest so much time in their children’s lives, knowing of the details, what’s happening with the grandchildren, the struggles and triumphs and yet, the children sometimes fail to know many of the details of their parent’s life.   

I think back to my own father’s passing six years ago and remember one evening in particular in the hospital when I knew that he was extremely ill and his time limited.  It all of sudden struck me that there was so much I didn’t know about his life.  I remember pulling up a chair beside his bed and taking a pad of paper and questioning him about his parents, grandparents, his life growing up as a teenager, his after school jobs, and how he met my Mom.  I scribbled the information feverishly for fear that I would miss some of the things he whispered to me.  Although we were extremely close, I was full of regret for not having taken the time to ask, not in a moment of crisis, but just as conversation over a cup of coffee so much more about him, his life, desires, fears and personal accomplishments.

It is a Moroccan Jewish tradition to have a seuda, or meal, on the final evening of Shiva.

We battled three hours of bumper to bumper traffic, with three agitated teenagers in the back of the car to go to Ashdod for the meal.  As we approached hour two of barely moving, I questioned if it was truly worth the effort to make the trip.  We’d probably miss the meal, be embarrassed to walk into the synagogue late and get there just in time to turn around and battle a similar jam on the route home.  We got to the synagogue just as the prayers were ending and in time for the meal.  Nissim’s daughter came over to me looking worn - the reality of loss written on her face.  She took a seat beside me and looked at me with tears in her eyes and said how much her father would have liked all of this.  All of us in the synagogue that he attended daily, with his wife, children, grandchildren, and relatives eating food that he took pleasure in and appreciated so much.  The simplicity of what truly mattered to Nissim she had captured and I was ever so grateful in that moment that we made the trip and put forth the effort.

Too often we live with the “would haves, should haves and could haves” as Michel likes to say.  We race through phone calls, visits and e-mails with our parents because there is always something else to do and some task that awaits us.  We can truly love our parents and even take care of them in their later years without getting to know them in the same way that they know us. Nissim “halach”, he went, leaving behind for me a lesson he most surely never would have realized he would share.  

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