Mourning in Los Angeles
The death of an 11-year-old boy rocks our community.
I went to a terrible funeral yesterday. There may be no such thing as a good funeral but this was excruciating. It rocked our whole community. An 11-year-old boy who had been sick for over four years, who had been the subject of our prayers and our blood donations and our food deliveries and just our thoughts, lost his battle. His parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles lost their battle too. In fact the whole community lost – the battle and this precious soul.
And we are all shell-shocked. We are numb as the pain reverberates throughout Los Angeles. Conversation is at a standstill because what is there worth saying? To offer consolation seems presumptuous and to engage in the trivial seems blasphemy. And so we say nothing. And we stare at each other in pain and sorrow, nodding knowingly.
It is right before Rosh Hashanah. How do we begin to learn from this? How do we move forward? All else fades away as we focus on the pain of his family, pain that seems to permeate the very air we breathe, and on the fragility of our lives. So many of my pursuits seem meaningless as I ponder how short our time on earth is and how much we need to do, as I lie awake and think about a little boy who only wanted to study Torah and whose dream was to go to Israel (realized by a generous donor) and then to go back again…
I don’t want to lose these moments of pure clarity, when the mundane disappears and the reality of life stares me in the face, when love and family and community mean so much and when a relationship with God seems all too real and all that counts. I don’t want to lose this clear insight and this laser-like focus.
I don’t want to return to sweating the small stuff. I want to retain this other-worldly direction, this transcendence above my petty concerns, this sense of the Divine. It is not just joy that connects us to the Almighty; pain and death can also be a powerful tool.
On Yom Kippur when I look back at the mistakes I’ve made, I see all the moment when I lost focus, when I obsessed over meaningless occurrences, when I fought foolish battles with others and allowed trivial concerns to disturb my peace of mind or interfere in my relationships.
It’s a time of mourning in Los Angeles. There’s a shadow over the city and we are united in our shared pain. It’s enormous. It’s incalculable.
I know that his memory will be a blessing for those who knew and loved him, but even for those of us who didn’t, our lives were touched and I hope they will never be the same. I hope that this moment of insight and connection – to the rest of the community and to the Almighty – will last beyond this short period of mourning and into the new year. And I hope and pray that at least I will become a better person because of it, because of him.