Included in the activity was to write some information about the person they were presenting and to bring in an artifact that reminds them of the people they picked. For instance, one girl brought in a chess piece because her grandfather was teaching her to play chess before he died. Another girl brought in a picture of her cousin. A boy brought in an old pasta maker that can also be played as a kind of banjo.
The class then came up with ideas for how they wanted to celebrate and honor the people they had picked to present. They worked hard creating games, writing songs, and doing arts and crafts projects to be part of their Day of the Dead ceremony, in the interest of filling the ceremony with the culture of their particular class, instead of taking on a culture of which they were not actually a part.
Two Sundays ago, I went to the hospital to visit my grandfather. It was hard for him to speak, but he spoke a lot. Among the things he told me was that he loved Psalm 23 and the Dveikus song that went with it, Gam Ki Elech:
Gam ki elech b'gai tzalmaves lo ira ra ki ata imadi--Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me;
In 1938, when my grandfather was eleven years old, he had to leave home forever. He left behind his parents, and after a few months he was separated from his sister, as well. From eleven onward, he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. But he remained good-natured, and he was intelligent. He served as a mentor for another boy in England during the war--and that was just the beginning. My grandfather mentored countless people throughout his life and spent his whole life fighting Hitler. He was truly unafraid. He went out to schools and other institutions and spoke passionately about the good in people and the fight we all have, as members of the human race, for the greater good.
My grandfather was also quite refined. He was a true European gentleman, despite having had a turbulent childhood and no formal education past the fourth grade. He was shy, but he was on a mission. Though he spoke with passion, his words were never harsh.
At his funeral on Thursday, November 4th, my brother read Psalm 23 (chaf gimmel). My grandfather's favorite Psalm was one that truly epitomized his life. His faith in the goodness of mankind persevered throughout all the evils that befell him. He somehow braved his way through World War Two, keeping his sanity and goodness in tact. He truly walked through the valley of the shadow of death, but was unafraid.
How fitting, then, that my father's last day sitting shiva was November 9th--the anniversary of Kristalnacht. Kristalnacht--the night that started my grandfather's terrible childhood journey.
Back in the hospital room that Sunday, I cried as my grandfather said we should think of him for a brief moment during upcoming family simchas. But though he won't be with us in person, I know he will be there all the same, together with his sister and his parents, my great-aunt and great-grandparents who never made it through the war, and who my grandfather spent his life trying to find information about.
And who would have ever thought, back in 1938 in Germany, when my grandfather ran over the border from his parents and his stable life into a world filled with war and confusion, that he would have an official American flag folding ceremony, with taps and all, at his funeral 72 years later? That he would have children and grandchildren living prosperously in America?
What will the world be like when we all have grandchildren?
When I returned to field work earlier this week, the third-graders were presenting the relatives they chose to honor for Day of the Dead. Though none of you will read this, 8-9s, this post is my presentation.
A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil:
For Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou annointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.