Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:

Those of you who may read these shul bulletins with care and scrutiny, may recall the focus of the following article from an article I wrote for this bulletin from a number of years ago. It is not that I flatter myself by assuming anyone pays such attention to my articles that he/she would “keep track” of the articles I submit. Rather, it is the topic of this article that I believe tends to get one’s attention and therefore may sound familiar. You are not wrong.

Because January 31, 2020 will mark ten years since the occurrence of the tragic events mentioned in this article, I chose to share the sentiments of this article once more with the B’nai Shalom family. I believe now, as I believed when I first wrote the original article seven years ago, that the thrust of the article may motivate and inspire people to alter decisions and choices when faced with conflicts of time and space.

When I first wrote the article, I called the piece: “To Attend or Not to Attend.” My thoughts on the subject motivating me to write the article have not changed during this period of time.

Once again, I believe that you will understand how and why I was moved to write the following piece well before you are finished reading my remarks.

At the time you will be reading the following article, we will undoubtedly be near Jan. 31, 2020. This date is significant for me, because it will mark ten years since an unforgettable, heartbreaking event in my life and, more to the point, in the lives of others, will have taken place. It is not the birthday or yahrtzeit of anyone in my family — but because of this tragic occurrence, this memory will stay with me forever.

Prior to my current fulltime work at Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care as a pastoral care providing chaplain, I worked in the Religion, Health, and Human Values Department of Rush University Medical Center on the near West Side near downtown Chicago. In that capacity as the on-call chaplain on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010, I was called to the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit to attend to a suffering family in which a beautiful, dark haired, dark eyed four year old boy was struggling to breathe as his lifelong battle with heart disease was descending into massive heartbreak. Being on-call, I was the only chaplain available to this bewildered, anguished family. Not being knowledgeable of the precise medical details surrounding this distressed little boy and his horrified family, I could never have foreseen that the next seven hours I spent with the family would be the last seven hours this beautiful child would spend in this world. I was there when he took his last breaths and slipped into the world to come, leaving his parents in a tragic, state of shock and disbelief. These inconsolable parents, who prior to seven hours earlier had been complete strangers to me, both melted in my arms as their sobs, tears, and wailing, brought the nurses, doctors, and medical assistants who were present to atypical weeping of their own. My job that day was to try to offer comfort and support to the medical professionals as well.

As you can imagine, this painful episode is something locked in the most vivid compartment of my memory’s archives and will remain there for as long as my mind remains intact. I have made a point of calling Mikey’s mom every year on June 4th and on January 31st — the days in which this little angel came into this world and left this world, just so his grieving mom would continue to know that someone, not part of their family, remembered Mikey – would ALWAYS remember Mikey, and was touched by him in such a way that he became a permanent part of my life’s most vibrant recollections.

I share this agonizing episode with you not to break any hearts but to underscore the blueprint of life itself and what it presents to us each and every day. According to the clear plan devised by our Heavenly Creator, life comes with all types and degrees of joy, celebration, fulfillment, heartbreak, pain, and suffering. According to the sage and helpful advice I received years ago from my own mother as she slowly surrendered to the pain and symptoms of lung cancer, said in the most pointed, accepting, and direct way possible, “get it in your head……that’s the way it is.” And yes, that IS the way life is: birth and death, coming and going.

This article is NOT meant to be morbid, depressing, or gloomy. Rather, I remind us all that life is ALSO full of the former and not just the latter. Life, thank G-d, presents us with occasions on which to celebrate, be cheerful, and enjoy one’s self in high spirits.

Why is it then, that quite often I have heard and witnessed friends, acquaintances, and colleagues running to funerals, memorial services, or shiva houses, and dropping everything to make every effort to attend these hours of sadness while casually and flippantly skipping the equally-frequent simchas and joyous occasions?

Knowing that life IS filled with both kinds of days: occasions of joy, pleasure and delight as well as heartbreak, sadness, and pain, I humbly submit that we “jump into” those opportunities to celebrate when we can, when our schedules, budgets, and family constraints legitimately allow us to partake of those special days that G-d provides us with the same zeal, passion, and efforts as when we rush off to times of sorrow.

So, I call these thoughts: “To Attend or Not to Attend” and I hope that when presented with the factors that we consider and weigh when deciding “yes or no” to attending happy, joyous, celebrations, that we will not continue to be casual, nonchalant, and indifferent in viewing and considering them.

May we all be blessed with more – WAY MORE of the happy times that will be sent our way, and may we “jump on them” so as to take advantage of the good, knowing that the other types of events are inevitable and often just around the corner.

With Torah blessings,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin