Anna Jacobs died a year ago on the same day in the Jewish calendar that her beloved husband Jack passed away eight years before. That was a poetic synchronicity that reflects the wonder of her life. She couldn’t have known consciously that it was the date. She had not seen a calendar in weeks. Did he call her?
Last night, following Jewish tradition, we lit a Yahrtzeit candle for both of them and recited the Kaddish prayer. A Yahrtzeit candle comes in a little jar and it burns for 24 hours. This year I learned that the Hebrew word for the Yahrtzeit candle is ner neshama—the candle of the soul. The candle represents the soul of the departed, and is meant to evoke the light she shed in the world—and for a brief time to fill the darkness she left when her soul left the earth.
The light of their neshamas shone in their own unique ways. Jack’s smile would illuminate an entire room. I remember him in his wheelchair on a dance floor, his face shining with joy– clapping his hands and singing without words as we danced around him at every family simcha (celebration). Anna’s light was an inner glow that would warm any heart and heal any hurt. She was the go-to person whether it was a boo-boo or an emotional crisis. Her kindness and emotional wisdom rose to every occasion.
When he died, we couldn’t imagine how she would go on. “We were like bread and butter,” she liked to say. Caring for him was her reason for living. They sang to each other every morning, You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you; so don’t you take my sunshine away.
Anna’s true belief and her mantra (though she’d never call it that) was, “I’m so lucky.” The corollaries were, “My children are the best” and “My husband was unbelievable. Nobody could have done what he did.” When he was gone she lived for her children and grandchildren. We called her every day and the reward was to hear her voice filled with love when she heard your voice on the line. “Hello Roiseleh.” “Hi my Fredoosh. “Hello Harold darling. How are you?” She called me Laurie-baby and I’m smiling as I remember her inflection as she said it. It was nectar for the soul to receive our daily doses of her love.
We learned from her how to extract joy from life. As physical limitations circumscribed her life, she mined the memories of the good parts of her life. She looked at her photo albums; she re-read the cards that her kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews had sent her over the years and enjoyed them all over again. She sat in the lobby of her building to listen to the player piano and talked to people, babies and dogs as they came and went. She repeated her mantras. She never forgot her past. When I asked how she coped with the horrors she’d experienced she explained, “I want to remember, but I want to have a good time too. Pain goes together with happiness…The secret to a happy life is to be satisfied with what you have.”
As I gaze at the two Yahrtzeit candles side by side on her silver tray, I know their souls are united and I believe she’s also reunited with the beloved family she lost in the Holocaust. Rest in peace, beautiful woman. Know that your family holds you close and that your memory is alive and is teaching compassion to thousands of people around the world through your films and book “Finding Kalman” and through The Memory Project.
If you’re one of the people whose life she or Jack touched somehow, I encourage you to share a memory or a thought. Let her light shine.