February 2019 Shevat-Adar 1 5779
Dear B’nai Shalom members, families and friends:
You will notice that in my article for this month’s bulletin, I chose to share with you something much more personal and something near and dear to my heart. I hope it is as meaningful to you as it was heartfelt to my family and me. In the words of my beloved Rebbetzin: “Enjoy, enjoy!”
I love driving trips. I have always loved driving trips. Even when I was a child, while my family didn’t go on more than 3 or 4 driving trips my entire childhood, I remember loving those car travels. It’s probably in my blood. My father always spoke of driving trips he took when he was a young boy. I can’t imagine they went on more than the 3 or 4 that we took but it’s the joy of being in the car with your family and going and looking out the window and seeing things, and stopping in places you’ve never heard of before. For me, it’s a joy. A real pleasure.
But not this driving trip. It’s probably the first time I didn’t anticipate an upcoming driving trip with anxious excitement like a little kid getting a long sought-after toy. No, I knew this would be a different kind of trip. Now, it’s nothing bad, and certainly nothing tragic, G-d forbid. No, it was just going to be sad. How else could it be? We were leaving our house in Chicago with three of us but we’d be returning just two. THAT was the sadness.
My youngest son, our “baby”, nineteen-year old Kenny, had long talked about moving to Israel, living in Israel, and making the ancient, yet modern Jewish homeland HIS home, fulfilling the visions of our prophets and his own dreams and desires. Well, he made all the arrangements, taken care of the paper work and the mountain of details, and in many ways, proved himself to us, that while the youngest of all our children and always to be so, in many ways he ceased to be the baby as had become his permanent label.
We had planned on driving Kenny to New York where he would catch his EL AL flight to Israel, a historic flight with over 360 Jewish North American citizens, just like Kenny, also choosing to return to our sacred and holy homeland after a 2,000 year exile. The date, August 18th was burned into my brain as THE DAY. Everything we did till then throughout the summer was in preparation for this day. The buying, the packing, the weighing, the constant reappearance of paperwork to fill out, the passport, the documents to bring with….it was an endless conveyor belt of more to do. But it was clearly going to come to an end. It had to. On August 18th, there was not going to be any more paperwork or packing or any preparation. Done. Over. Finished. That’s it.
My oldest son, Eliyk, (twenty-four years old at the time), and I were going to drive Kenny to New York. Eliyk had to be in New York for a singing gig with his a cappella group anyway, so driving to New York was way cheaper than flying. It was also far more convenient than flying as far as lugging all the bags, duffels, supplies, and luggage that Kenny was taking with him to start a new life in Israel. My wife, Robin, was upset that she couldn’t go with us on the trip because of her work schedule. She was a good sport, or at least as good as she could be, about our going and her having to stay back in Chicago when we said goodbye to Kenny in New York.
The last Shabbat before our trip was a Shabbat filled with somewhat less joy than usual. I kept thinking about all the “lasts.” The last time (at least for a long while) Kenny would be at my Shabbat dinner table, the last time I would bless Kenny during the blessing of the children before breaking bread, the last time the roof over his head would be his parents’ roof and not his own. While these thoughts jumped in and out of my head throughout the Shabbat day, it really did not make the day sad or morose. Surprisingly, we managed to go throughout the day with the same kind of loose, happy-go-lucky goofiness we typically employed on most Shabbat days when my family got together just as we did for this last Shabbat with the Ken-Man.
Leaving was a chore. I’m not even referring to the anticipated sadness we knew would be there as Kenny had to embrace his mom for the last time. No, I mean the chore of loading up our ten-year old minivan in such a way that I could manage to drive even without seeing out of the back windows. Once we piled all of Kenny’s bags, suitcases, and extras into the van and checked for the eighth time that “he had everything” (do you have your wallet, do you have your passport, do you have the immigration papers? etc.), it was tough watching Kenny say goodbye to his mom. I knew Robin would be emotional. That’s how she was. The tears were part of the ritual. How could they not be? This is her baby. He’s leaving her and she didn’t know when she’d see him next. When was the last time she could say that about any of her children? That she didn’t know when she’d see them next? The answer is never. It never happened before.
I wasn’t sure how Kenny would react. Once the final bear hug was completed after a series of perhaps six or seven, we pulled away from our garage and it wasn’t until we were a few blocks from home that Kenny lost it. He quietly sat across from me in the passenger seat with a stream of tears pouring down the sides of his face. This was probably harder for him than he had anticipated. I didn’t say a word to him. Nothing to say. Nothing to add in words. I did put my right hand on his left knee and patted it a few times. It said to Kenny: “I know how you feel, pal”. It’s tough. But you made a mature decision and this is life”. All that in a few pats on the knee.
During the 50 miles to the Indiana toll road, the 155 miles across Indiana, and the 239 miles traversing Ohio, I used to love stopping off at the rest stops along the way. When we were kids, they were called “oases” but I don’t think people call them that anymore. I think I’m dating myself. These days I especially liked the rest stops in Ohio that were newly built and modern in design. The stores, the shops, the ice cream and candy places, and the new, clean, modern look they conveyed always added to the pleasure of being on the road. Not this time. Our requisite stops on this trip were simply bathroom breaks. There was no joy in stopping. We did our business and got back into the van. That’s it. No pointing out this or that or anything we might have seen inside.
I never enjoyed the long drive through Pennsylvania. The 315 miles from one border to the other was just too long to be in one state all that time. While I did find the hills and the scenery of Pennsylvania beautiful and far superior to anything they had in Indiana or Ohio, it was the only time the driving became a challenge.
In spite of massive, New York style traffic jams, the kind they talk about in expressions like “grid-lock,” we did make it to the wedding on time where Eliyk was to be singing with his group. They sounded beautiful and their five-voice harmonies blended in such a way one would think a recording engineer was finagling the auditory results we were enjoying.
Before we had to bring Kenny to JFK to meet his flight, we still had some time to be together. We talked about visiting the Johnny Cash museum which we had seen and heard about just a couple blocks from the house where we were staying. We drove over there and saw the place, a transformed home made to look like an appealing, interesting-looking museum. However, we were taken aback by the sign on the automatic, electronic, swinging gates leading up the driveway, “Trespassers Will Be Shot – Survivors Will Be Shot Again.” We decided to forgo the Johnny Cash museum visit. We didn’t want to be dealing with a nut case. We imagined that if we needed to leave the museum by a certain time, the deranged, self-appointed curator of the place might say to us, “Oh no. You’re not leaving. You haven’t seen all of the museum yet. I’ll let you know when you’re leaving.” We must have all been thinking the same thing as we together concluded that we collectively did not like Johnny Cash enough to venture a visit.
It’s good that we had this laugh together. Our next stop was JFK and saying goodbye to Kenny. That was not going to be a laugh.
Somehow we managed to lug all of Kenny’s stuff into the terminal. We checked him in where he needed to be, made sure he was on the flight, asked him for the hundredth time if he still had his wallet, passport, and other important documents. The variety of passengers who, along with Kenny, chose to move to Israel and be on this flight was very interesting to me to watch. There were whole families, individuals like Kenny, there was young, there was old, male, female, religious, non-religious. What a wide assortment of Jews from varying locations coming together for the same purpose. This was impressive. I think I felt a pang of special pride in my son who, though we thought of him as our baby, came to an intelligent, well-thought out plan for making a new life in Israel. He was part of this grand and noble mission. I was very proud of him even as my heart was breaking.
We had to sit through a longer than necessary ceremony with several speakers all patting themselves and each other on the back. Since Kenny’s flight had the largest number, in quite some time, of North American emigrants traveling to Israel, many of the El Al and Israel Immigration Ministry officials were in attendance at JFK “strutting their feathers” looking puffy and sounding important. I didn’t have much patience for the speeches and the mutual congratulations being thrust on all of the bigwigs. Part of that was my focus on my youngest son leaving us for another country and a somewhat undefined future. Some of it, of course, was my own natural impatience for superfluous pomp and circumstance in which self-promotion is the watchword of the moment. I never had patience for “look at me” shows.
When the self-serving speeches were finally and mercifully over, the passengers started to move to the gateway area downstairs where they would go through security and walk onto the El Al Jet taking them into their future. The hugs, kisses, tears, called-out wishes and prayers and the sight and sounds of families being torn asunder was a foreshadowing of what was about to take place for us. Eliyk said his goodbyes to Kenny first. Watching the two brothers hug – the oldest and the youngest – was very hard for me. Kenny truly looked up to Eliyk and I know that Eliyk adored his baby brother. This was tough. But then, they were done. They released their grasp on one another and then it was my turn. With tears in my eyes and a heart that would never quite be the same, I told him I loved him and that I was so very, very proud of him, and I asked G-d to watch over my baby. My parting words were “Be well, be safe, be happy, and do great things. I love you.” With that, my youngest son, Kenneth Brian Piccolo Dvorin turned and with visible tears in his beautiful, misty, blue eyes, hoisted an insanely heavy backpack onto his capable shoulders, waved a short, almost shy wave to
us, and began walking down the steps to the security area.
We stood there for about fifteen seconds and then finally moved in the direction of retrieving my car. Not a word was said between Eliyk and me from the time we left Kenny until we got into our van and had to suffer the torture of FURTHER New York gridlock getting out of JFK. It may have been for the best. By being distracted and infuriated with a traffic jam in the middle of the day, I ceased, for the moment, to think about Kenny walking away from us and into his new life. Instead, I dealt with not being able to get anywhere near the George Washington Bridge for a full hour and a half in order to leave New York for the promised land of Jersey. Entering the “garden state” would assure us that we had officially escaped the hellhole known as the Big Apple with all of its crime, filth, graffiti, overcrowding, ugliness, and for me, the sadness of saying goodbye to my youngest child.
We knew that Kenny would call once he landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. That’s his style and certainly our expectation. Having been stuck in New York traffic in the middle of the day and knowing very well that the ride back to Chicago was around fourteen hours, I rhetorically asked Eliyk if he thought Kenny would get to Israel before we arrived back in Chicago. How funny is that? He could actually fly across the Atlantic Ocean, cross over all of Europe, and land on the other side of the world before we could make the familiar trek back to the Land of Lincoln and the City of Big Shoulders.
I was right. I would have preferred to be wrong. As we crossed over the Illinois Skyway linking Indiana to Illinois, Robin called telling us that Kenny landed. At that moment, maybe because of overtiredness or perhaps the emotional rollercoaster I had been enduring for the last several days, I thought to myself in the words of Apollo 11 astronaut and commander, Neil Armstrong, “The Kenny has landed”. Just like Neil Armstrong, Kenny was in a new place and would discover new experiences for himself changing his life and his life’s choices forever.
With Torah blessings always,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin