The Eternal is her portion

By Rabbi David Burstein, Temple Beth Or

I remember meeting my friend Vicki for the first time in the parking lot of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. I had returned after taking a year and a half off to collect my head and recover from a medical procedure.

Rabbi David Burstein
Rabbi David Burstein

I was going to be entering with a whole new class of strangers and was feeling a bit uneasy. Vicki was very, very pregnant with her first child and was trying to extricate her oversized book bag from the back seat of her car. I ran over and offered to help. She looked up and gave me a smile that I can remember today, almost 20 years later.

She was the first person I met in my new class and would become a close and lifetime friend. She and her husband, Rob, were the experienced parents I called when we had Emma; Vicki and I spent hours talking about our dreams for what the rabbinate could be; we shared dinners and Seders as our families grew, and when we ran into each other after ordination, it was like we had never been apart.

On April 9, Elizabeth and I flew to Princeton, N.J. to stand with Rob and his three children as they buried Vicki — another casualty in the war against cancer. She was 45 years old, a loving mother, wife, and rabbi who charted her own path. My heart is broken.

In March, I led a spiritual retreat for 19 men. The topic was transition, change and loss. As I get older — almost 50 — one of the transitions that rocks my core is burying my friends. Two years ago it was my friend Scott, 42, who died of lung cancer. He left a wife and 8-year-old daughter behind.

Recently a friend was given a terminal diagnosis and asked me to do his funeral.

My Mom is getting older. My Dad is gone. We, as humans, live in a world of transition and change. We should get better at it, at least on paper.

Our tradition teaches us that these transitions need to be honored with rituals and teachings that will help us get up the next morning, get dressed, and greet the day with hope and faith.

The rituals Vicki’s family engaged in helped the family. The rituals I bore witness to and participated in as a friend helped me. That is the beauty of our religion. The day of a funeral unfolds at its own pace, but is led by the wisdom of our ancestors.

Dr. Ruth Langer, professor of Jewish studies at Boston College, writes: “Among all ‘life-cycle’ events in traditional forms of Judaism, the rituals surrounding death are at the same time the most tightly choreographed and the least liturgical. While, in general, Jewish rituals tend to be accompanied by a relative torrent of encoded verbal prayers, the performance of funerary rituals are striking in their combinations of silence and free speech. The result is the creation of a time that is markedly different, that responds powerfully to the emotions of the moment, and that effects the dual transition of accompanying the deceased to the grave and only then of comforting the mourners.”

Rabbi Vicki Tuckman
Rabbi Vicki Tuckman

On April 10, I witnessed and participated in a funeral service infused with kavanah, intention. Each ritual was woven together to create the picture of Vicki and honor her as a complete person. She wrote her own service, designing the ritual around the themes of music, triumph, and transcendence. The ritual, with her creative and powerful additions, held us.

Her family was held in love by more than 1,500 people who participated fully, emotionally and spiritually, in the service. Judaism helped my dear friend transition from life, to life everlasting; it also helped us all to transition from a life with her to one without.

The emptiness was lessened by the intention of the day. I dedicate this column to my friend Rabbi Vicki Tuckman, her husband, Rob, and to their children, Jonah, Elon, and Yael.

God full of compassion who dwells in the high heavens, grant perfect rest beneath the wings of Your In-dwelling Presence (Shekhinah), in the exalted places among the holy and the pure, to the soul of Vicki who has entered eternity. May her resting place be in the Garden of Eden. Please, Master of Compassion, shelter her under the cover of Your wings forever; and may her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life. The Eternal is her portion; may she rest in peace.

To read the complete June 2015 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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