Friday, February 17, 2012

HAS IT REALLY BEEN THAT LONG?

25 Shevat 5747. I received a phone call at work, just before noon. Carol had been killed in an accident. At the Tel Arad Junction, where you turn left to go from Arad to Dimona, which is what the driver of her van had been waiting to do.

Click to enlarge
I was in Oron, in the desert offices of Negev Phosphates where I was the mining economist. We got there by company bus, so I had to get someone to round up a car and drive me to Arad, where I too lived back then. I had no idea what the scene of the accident looked like, so I told the guy to take me around the other way, past our new plant.

I had no idea when the accident had occurred, though I should have realized that it would have been  several hours earlier, at the start of her work day. She worked as a nurse in a government well-baby clinic. Tipat Halav, it was called, "a drop of milk." Even the smallest town had at least one. Dimona, had three or four of these clinics and she had been working at one of them since returning to full-time work after her last child was born.

I was playing out scenarios in my head, but I didn't know what was happening.  Had her husband Yaakov come up from the Dead Sea already?  Were her four children still in school and day care? What about Mother? Who else knew? What all had to be done? Was Judith coming down already?

It was a Tuesday and I had last seen my sister three days earlier when she had come to shul specifically to hear me read my bar mitzvah. We had spoken only briefly. That was twenty-five years ago.

Carol and Judith are twins, my parents fourth and fifth children of seven. Carol was named Devorah after Father's Aunt Bessie Kraus who told Mother that she was carrying twins. Aunt Bessie died ten days before they were born.

Carol wore glasses for astigmatism from age three-and-a-half. The girls are identical, but even in the photographs without the glasses you can recognize her by the way she tilted her head. For a few years she wore an eye patch periodically to exercise her eye. Mother went through a stage where we all had to walk around with one eye covered, so we would understand how difficult that was. They were both well-behaved children, but Carol was extremely self-disciplined. Mother says it was the glasses. She never broke any and never lost any.

After their last year in high school - that one year in Williamsport - they planned a year on kibbutz on the Hachshara program of Bnei Akiva. Mother and Father decided that this was the time and they all went. After that first year - during which Carol had been on Kibbutz Saad and Judith on Kevutzat Yavne -  Carol enrolled at Bar Ilan University, a short bus ride from what had become home. A year later war came and she left the university for something more practical - nursing school.

One year later, Carol and Yaakov were married and they moved into a rented room in Jerusalem, where she attended Shaare Zedeck's nursing school.  The following summer Avi was born and they moved into an apartment quarters in an alley off Hayyei Adam Street, that words are inadequate to describe. (Father wondered out loud "This is what we left America for?")

See how traffic from the left has to
 adjust to the not-quite straight road
It was a few hours before I had a clear picture of what had happened that morning. The regular van took the nurses from Arad to work in Dimona.  As they waited at Tel Arad before turning left, an oncoming semi-trailer didn't keep to its lane and hit them head-on. The lane is not quite straight and you have to be aware of it. Leaving Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon hours before daybreak is not conducive to that awareness. Neither is speeding. The van was stopped, so had no way to escape.

From the newspaper "Hadashot." The van is on the right,
the Fiat on the left. Click to enlarge

The van was driven back into the small Fiat waiting behind it and the woman driving that car was on crutches for many months. I think it turned out that she lived in Mother's building. Carol was sitting directly behind the van driver and both were killed immediately. The nurse in the front seat was injured after being suspended by the seat belt. The van landed on its nose, off the road to the right.

Medical people came out from Arad, so some of our neighbors knew long before any of the family. The injured and the dead were taken to Beer Sheva.
The children had been sent to friends after school and nursery. Yaakov was just getting home. I went to gather the children, if I recall correctly with Jay Shames in his large car.  As we brought them home, I said under my breath "Kids, life as you know it is over." It also fell to me to phone the family in the US, including Aunt Betty and Uncle Ken, who had to go over to tell Nana. Nana phoned back a bit later and asked if grandmothers sit shiva.

Avi was a year old when Carol received her certification as a registered nurse. She did one more year at Shaare Zedeck as part of a mandatory service program and for that year received the Schwester Selma Award for outstanding service. The next year they moved to Akko, where they bought a nice apartment at the far northern edge of town.

Carol worked at the government hospital in Nahariyya and the next summer Michal was born. During their five years in Akko, Carol was given additional responsibilities at the hospital and was doing very well professionally. Not quite two years later, Yossi was born and two years after that they moved to a house with a small yard, in Arad.

Carol worked at the hospital in Beer Sheva until Shmuel Mordecai was born two years after that. He was named for Father's two uncles - Uncle Max (Mordecai Shmuel) and Uncle Fred (Shmuel) who had lived long lives but had no children. I made a comment about her not naming him for Father and she said "next time." Shmuel was three and a half. The gan cancelled their Mothers' Day program that had been scheduled for the following Sunday. He - and the others too - hung around Judith alot during shiva.  They really did look alike.

There was the matter of the funeral, but first we had to get her released from the hospital morgue. The release had to be approved by the police. They weren't sure if they could release her that day - something about maybe an autopsy. The Hevra Kadisha (burial society) was not allowed to send their van unless it was certain she would be released, so Jay volunteered his car and he and I, together with Elisha (I think that is his name) from the Hevra Kadisha went to Beer Sheva to see what we could do. We set up a headquarters by Macky and Barbara Goldman, insurance clients of Jay's. (I had known Barbara years ago in Camp Moshava and had met Mackey in Netzer Hazani, when I had done reserve duty there seven years earlier.) We made calls to everyone we thought might be able to pull some strings.

Eventually we got the OK but by then it was evening. The local rav, Rav Benzion Lipsker, urged Yaakov to have the funeral right away, but Yaakov was adamant that the children would attend and he didn't want the dark of night to be part of their memories. We went to the hospital morgue. I had been a Hevra Kadisha volunteer in Chicago and occasionally in Arad, but when they told me I had to identify the body, I was not prepared.

We brought her back to Arad and put her on the floor of the shul - Hashahar - with her feet near the door. Someone had set up a rotation of people to sit with her and say Tehillim all night. There was no tahara (ritual washing) and no traditional linen garments and shroud. In the case of a violent death - even a fall - you leave the clothes as they are. The irony of no tahara.

Carol wasn't sure about working after Shmuel was born. It was certainly a financial necessity, but Beer Sheva was too far. Rav Lipsker phoned me and asked me what I thought about their offering her the job of mikva lady. He hadn't known her well and I had been in Arad two years longer. He wanted to know if she had the merit for the job. For the responsibility.

I am not sure that he liked what he got, not at first. She had demands. About the conditions there. I don't remember the details but there were some issues of lighting and perhaps sanitation. And the phone. The mikva had no phone. "What if someone drowns? How do I call someone?" she used to say.

Eventually they got used to her, as everyone always did. She took the job in Dimona and later the head of the station showed me how she recorded everything in the most orderly way. She made demands of others, but was always first up herself. Her notebooks were everything they could have wanted. Mother said it was the discipline from the glasses.

And she continued working at the mikva, even after starting in Dimona. Responsibility.

I knew the halacha of no tahara, but it didn't seem right.

The night before the funeral, Rav Mordecai Cohen sat with Avi to teach him the meaning of kaddish. He was eleven and a half. The first kaddish was in the yard outside the shul just after nine Wednesday morning. Afterwards we walked up the hill from the shul and from there a long line of cars down through the Rotem neighborhood to the cemetery.

Yaakov is a kohen, so the grave was on the edge of a wide pathway. There were many people. Our own crowd, of course. And the Ministry of Health people. And the Gerrer hassidim who interrupted their learning to attend. And many many women. Rav Lipsker spoke.  Rav Zvi Shemueli of the ulpana girls' high school spoke. And the town Sephardic rabbi, Rav Yosef Albo spoke. Some of the family were not pleased about some of what was said that day, but all I needed was to hear Rav Albo say "את טהורה, את טהורה" (You are pure, you are pure.)

Young nephews joined in filling the grave.

Before the unveiling, after thirty days according to local custom, one of Carol's friends decided to put together a booklet with letters, photographs, documents, clippings. Everyone was supposed to write something, adults and children alike. I was probably the only one who declined. I suppose I am ready now.

4 comments:

  1. May her pure memory be for a blessing.

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  2. Very well written. Interesting to see this from your point of view. I don't believe I've heard the details like this before.

    It does seem hard to believe that it's been this long.

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  3. Very beautifully written, straight from the heart.
    May her memory be for a blessing.
    Ann

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  4. When I finished reading your story, I thought, Yes, dear Israel, you are "ready" at last to write about your dear sister. You have written a touching, deeply moving tribute to her, and by doing so, I believe it has helped you make sense of the terrible loss of Carol -- to you, and to your entire family. Most really good stories are "in the details," and that's how it is here. Yaakov's children might not have known or understood why he delayed the burial of their mother until morning, but now they will: "he didn't want the dark of night to be part of their memories." Beautifully said. And it makes perfect sense. I could say even more, but mainly -- thank you for this.

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