It was the summer of 1973 when my mother’s first cousin, Toby, came to live with us in Israel.
Toby was twenty-two and had just graduated college. I was twelve, an awkward preteen who was thrilled to finally have a “big sister” and role model to call my own. She was so beautiful. About five-feet-three-inches tall, she had blonde hair and a body to envy. She was cool, loved to dance, told great stories, had a great laugh, always provided a sympathetic shoulder, and served as a wonderful bridge between my mother and me. All these years later, I still carry one particular funny memory from those days…
It was October, the afternoon of Yom Kippur. My three siblings and I were playing a game of “Risk” when Toby decided she simply couldn’t fast any longer. She strolled into the kitchen and began preparing something to eat. It was about 2:00 PM and all of a sudden, with no warning, an incredibly loud (deafening!) siren went off. Toby was so scared that she threw the sandwich up in the air, sending pieces of bread and salami slices all over the kitchen.
We had no idea what the noise was and ran to the window to figure out what was happening. We saw people running everywhere and heard them yelling. Rushing to our apartment door, we quickly followed the other residents who were running downstairs to a bomb shelter in the basement of the building. There, in semi-darkness with no food or water or idea how long we’d be there, my mother and Toby sat terrified with four children, praying that we wouldn’t die. We had learned that Israel was attacked, on the holiest day of the Jewish year, from the north and east and south. Israel was at war.
My story has been retold many times over the years and continues to bring about nervous laughter as the frightening details of that day are recalled. It’s interesting how certain incidents create a bond that lasts forever. Despite the difference in our ages, the number of years that have passed by, and the different relationships and events that we individually encountered, I have felt close to Toby from that summer in 1973 to today.
I was in Israel on business during the first days of March. It had been about three years since I had last seen Toby. Although my time for family visits was short and she was headed out of the country for a business trip herself, we knew we had to find time to get together. And so, along with my sister Randi, the three of us met on a rainy (as in a cold, torrential downpour!) Thursday morning. We drank cappuccinos, shared salads and breads, gossiped, caught each other up on our lives, and laughed a lot. Saying goodbye was loving and tearful, with big hugs and kisses, and promises that we wouldn’t wait so long to meet again.
Toby passed away early this morning. She was only sixty years old. The insidious cancer that she seemingly beat a few years ago came back with a sudden malicious, ruthless vengeance that caught her by surprise and left her defenseless, unable to even launch a counter-attack. She and her entire family spent the past month in shock and utter helplessness.
Given the heavy-hearted grief I’m feeling, I cannot begin to imagine the tremendous sense of loss that Toby’s husband, children, grandchildren, other family, and friends are suffering. I’m enormously grateful that – on behalf of our family – Randi was on-hand to share our love, a final kiss, and our goodbyes.
Toby, I love you and will miss you always. May your memory be for a blessing.