Remembering Simone Veil

Simone Veil. Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen.

By Frances Novack
Simone Veil, the Auschwitz survivor and France’s Health Minister, died at the age of 89. As Health Minister, she fought for laws that changed the lives of millions and which revealed the power for good an extraordinary woman can wield.   Veil, who passed away on June 30, was a staunch defender of the European project, which promotes integrated economic legislation to make Europe a political union, as well as a key figure in her own country’s reforms focusing on women’s health.  
Deported to Auschwitz with her mother and a sister at l6, Simone Jacob survived the “death march” and became determined to better the world.
After the war, she studied at the famous Institut d’etudes politiques  (Sciences Po)  in Paris, where she met and then married Antoine Veil. She passed the competitive exam to become a magistrate, and was surprised when in 1974, then-Prime Minister Jacques Chirac asked her to be Health Minister.  Here she improved access to contraception and aided people with disabilities.  But her greatest distinction — and fiercest battle — was for passage of the law legalizing abortion in 1975, still called the Veil Law today. Vilified by many — one opponent accused her of wanting to put babies ‘in the oven” — she spoke movingly before the French Parliament, where she  “apologized” for bringing women’s point of view to the virtually all-male assembly, insisting that every abortion remained a tragedy, but that it was necessary. No woman ever makes that decision lightly, she asserted, but women do have to make it.

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May the Angels Carry You

— by Reb Simcha Raphael

I am pleased to announce the release of my most recent book, May the Angels Carry You: Jewish Prayers and Meditations for the Deathbed

This book provides a collection of traditional and contemporary Jewish prayers, meditations and sacred readings designed to offer comfort and solace for those wrestling with dying and the approach of death. May the Angels Carry You is a simple, practical and functional deathbed manual for people on an end-of-life journey, for family members who accompany them, and for professional care-givers in search of practical tools for Jewish patients.

Honoring the legacy of Jewish deathbed practices and inspired by the spiritual insight of Jewish renewal, this small volume — the third in the Albion-Andalus “Jewish Death and Transition Series” — is a valuable and unique deathbed resource for contemporary Jewish life. Among material included in this book are:

  • traditional and innovative Vidui prayers;
  • an essay entitled “What Does It Mean to Pray for Someone Who is Dying?”;
  • Prayer for When Life Support Is Being Removed” and
  • a Foreword by Rabbi Nadya Gross.

In this book of deathbed prayers and meditations, Dr. Simcha Paul Raphael provides us with powerful insights into Jewish tradition. His look at the role and power of prayer as life ebbs provides the reader with a foundation for comfort, compassion and caring that links us with a sense of the sacred. His desire to have us ritually engaged with life’s last passage serves as a practical tool for the mysterious journey at the end of life. May The Angels Carry You guides one’s soul with a sense of dignity and celebration of the gift that is our life.

—Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, Director, Jewish Sacred Aging

Book Review: Zayde Comes to Live

— Reviewed by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

It takes a remarkable soul and talented writer to accomplish the simplicity, elegance and gentle support accomplished in Sheri Sinykin’s award-winning children’s book Zayde Comes to Live with illustrations by Kristina Swarner. Zayde is Yiddish for grandfather and the grandparent does not need to live in your home for this powerful book to have great value. When family dynamics allow for it, the reciprocal love, between a grandparent and a grandchild can be one of life’s most precious and memorable gifts. Even so a great challenge arises for those who live long enough, as the grandfather explains simply and clearly to his little granddaughter:

“My body is getting tired. I know you can see this. Soon that outside part of me will return to the earth.”

The granddaughter responds with the eternal voice of the child to ask: “But what happens to the inside part of you?” It is here that we realize just how tenderly and accessibly the author has come to our rescue in the pages that have lead up to this poignant moment.

More after the jump.
This brief illustrated volume makes it possible to appreciate what the grandfather calls “the cycle of life” in action:

“Now he lives in a sleeper-chair in the living room…He watches squirrels in the trees. And movies on TV. And me….”

Sinykin’s Zayde gives us the perspectives and words we may well need in our mouths for accompanying our family members, and no less ourselves, with dignity and kindness to the very end. Each of the little granddaughter’s observations of Zayde‘s changes in status help us to normalize and accept as living life’s final chapter.

“When we read, he gets out of breath and I say, “It’s okay, Zayde. Let me.”

The granddaughter learns from friends about their traditions’ after death traditions ideas. And she asks her rabbi:

“Is Zayde dying?” I ask him, because rabbis do not lie.”

I love the rabbi’s answer; his name is Rabbi Lev. Lev means “heart” in Hebrew. And when the granddaughter continues, after the rabbi answers, she asks:

“When Zayde dies…what will happen to him?”

Every page is important reading rich in child-appropriate responses and approaches in response to which the granddaughter’s imagination takes off in such healthy and helpful ways. This is a reminder to us how adult-style thinking and worry can get in the way of simply loving and living in each moment. Our souls travel with hers and Zayde‘s.

Time progresses. Zayde sleeps more and more. Sinykin continutes to show us how to relate, with simple inquiry, just like the granddaughter does.

“What were you dreaming about, Zayde?”

The granddaughter’s voice, deliberately nameless, becomes our own.

“‘I don’t want you to die, Zadye.’ Her voice “whispers like his air machine.'”

The grandfather’s response when she says this is perfect. I urge everyone to read this book. It is certainly what I want to be able to tell my grandchildren someday, rooted in shalom, the Hebrew word for peace and completeness.

The author the granddaughter begin to collect memories about her grandfather, while he yet lives. Each step of the way, this read-over-and over-styled book prepares us to create and receive comfort, intimacy and meaning for living. The title, Zayde Comes to Live, contains a pun so beautiful as to immediately inspire us toward a deeper understanding of this time of life.

The only fault with the volume is the opportunity lost by author and illustrator to honor diversity in Jewish families, by reflecting some diversity within the family itself, a Sephardi relative or main character perhaps. Nono is grandfather in Ladino, and nona is grandmother. That said, the illustrations are very accessible windows in and of themselves into heartfelt, thoughtful, healthy exploration for all faiths into this step of the way forward for each and every soul.

Did I mention today is my father’s yahrzeit? Yahrzeitis Yiddish for the annual memorial for a soul’s passing, the Ladino term is nahala. Last night, as is traditional, we lit a memorial candle at home because a single flame is the Jewish symbol for a soul. The candle is burning beside me as I write this review of yahrzeit, which I first read a year ago, when it first came out. Life was too painful to write on this topic then, so soon after several traumatic deaths of loved ones, and not at all the fault of the volume.

It’s not so easy to write when crying — even so, the tears are good tears and the memories of many good times together are beautiful to revisit. I do wish that Zayde Comes to Live would have come out just a bit sooner. Turns out it’s not just for (grand)children.