Holiday of Joy

Posted on September 27th, 2013

Almost all Jewish holidays involve a religious commandment to do something unique. So we eat matzah on Passover. We eat and sleep in special outdoor “booths” on Sukkot. We don’t eat or drink on Yom Kippur. You can go right down the list and every time there is a Jewish holiday, there is something that we are commanded to do (or not do.)

Simchat Torah is different. The commandment of the day is that you are supposed to be happy. You are supposed to feel joy. Dance, eat, drink, rejoice. Sing Hallel and stay up late with friends.

Two weeks ago, I chucked the very notion of feeling happy on Simchat Torah. We had a rough Rosh Hashanah and a painful Yom Kippur. In the middle of the night on Yom Kippur, things were looking very bleak indeed. I looked out the window at 3:00 AM at the darkness with the Neve Daniel fog rolling by. It was completely silent outside. While the world slept, I felt a terrifying sense of being on the edge of a bottomless chasm.

The next day, I went to shul for the end of the service, “Neilah.” It is Yom Kippur’s final, short service and the name refers to the closing of the gates of heaven. It is the final chance to plead for life for the year. I had just gone twenty-four hours without food, drink, or sleep. I have never felt more exhausted. I wasn’t into the red, I was in the black. I was a zombie.

And we still had two more weeks of holidays to go. “Chag Sameach” (Have a Happy Holiday”) people would say to me. Yeah, right.

Not a chance. You go have a Chag Sameach. I have to go home and stare at the clock.

But a few days later, something unexpected happened.

It started with something simple. Max and I were watching a football game and suddenly Stella walked downstairs and joined us on the couch as if this was something she always did. She even commented on the game (like she knew who was even playing!) Max and I looked at each other with a “What the heck is mom doing” shrug. She stayed for a awhile and then went and found the girls and hung out with them.

Every day leading up to Simchat Torah, she got a little bit stronger. She made it to the Sukkah for dinner with friends. After that her strength would  only be for a few hours in the afternoon, and then back to bed, but for those hours things were almost normal. The night of Simchat Torah, we had friends over and Stella actually was able to stay awake longer than me.

On Simchat Torah, I suggested that we go over  to the shul for the kiddish. It was a beautiful, sunny Neve Daniel day. Even though the shul is just down the street, she wasn’t keen on going at first. She hadn’t left the house in weeks. But I pointed out that the Mazkirut had built us this beautiful wheelchair ramp that she had never used. I said it would be really rude of her never to use it. They might even be — gasp — offended. So she agreed and we set off into the sunshine. (Do I know my wife or what.)

We got there at the end of the kiddish when many women were milling about. The reception could not have been bigger if I had the biggest rock star on the planet with me. And all the positive energy and love that was showered on her, she reflected right back. It was amazing to be there. Since I could not take a picture, if you weren’t there let me paint one for you.

Stella sits in a wheel chair. Her legs and arms are extremely thin, matchbook thin. The cancer has done a job on her. BUT — she does not have the pallor of a sick person. She does not have a sad, beaten look on her face. Despite everything, she had a bright smile a mile wide on when she saw friends. Her eyes weren’t downcast as you might expect from a person so sick. They positively sparkled. She was so happy to be able to see people that she was glowing. Can you see it?

As dark and terrifying as Yom Kippur had been, Simchat Torah was the opposite.

How do you follow a religious commandment to be happy? Easy, just be around Stella.

Am I exaggerating? Maybe. But I hope some of the people who were there comment and tell us how you felt seeing her. Because from my perspective, it was nothing short of amazing.

And so we continue our fight. We have again surpassed anything the doctors have guessed. Stella had such a good time that she wants to try and come again on Shabbat tomorrow.

Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s easy to do. These are precious moments in what are difficult days. Sometimes we both feel physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.

But maybe that’s what makes them so special.

At the end of the day, being around a nice house, a nice car, or a nice anything won’t make you feel anywhere near as happy as being around a nice friend.

So the holiday may be over, but we still wish everyone a “Chag Sameach” no matter what day it is.

Yarden Frankl, Neve Daniel




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  1. rutimizrachi says:

    Thank you for this. I didn’t get to be there — but your word picture makes me feel as if I had been.

    May Stella continue to sparkle and shine and surprise everyone.

  2. Sally Mayer says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your description of Stella on simchat Torah – I was amazed by how bright and cheery she was, how her eyes sparkled as usual, how she enjoyed easy conversation with all of us, and as usual showed interest in everyone. Baruch Hashem, it was just wonderful to see her.

  3. Shoshy neubauer says:

    Just seeing Stella in shul made the chag such a special one for so many people. Her radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes… Can’t wait to see you again on Shabbat!!!

  4. Ruth S. says:

    Right now, at this moment, it feels like the real deal of the Simchat Torah dance with the Torah for me, as I feel so much joy reading about your moments of joy with Stella.

  5. Judy says:

    Many people had Stella in their prayers this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. G-d is not uncaring. May the joy you felt this Simchat Torah continue and get stronger, more consistent. May this become the norm. May Stella (and you) go from strength to strength. Sending hugs.

  6. Heather G says:

    If G-d can create heaven and earth as we read on Simchat Torah, then G-d can certainly create a cure for Stella, as I’ve been praying for months. I feel so happy that your family felt the joy for the holiday on such a deep level.

  7. Haya says:

    It made my day
    It was definitely the happiest part of my day
    Ty for your amazing simcha

  8. Carla says:

    About to leave for our synagogue’s celebration of Simchat Torah. A dear friend is being honored today. Reading your beautiful words and realizing what a miracle you are letting us in on made me cry and smile. Today will be more special for me because of the picture I have of Stella being surrounded by people who love her and got inspiration out of just seeing her in her “usual place”, in shul and her big smile. My love to you all. Thank you for allowing us “in” to be apart of this. Will be davening for her today along with the rest of our congregation in Toms River. You are in our hearts always.

  9. miriam says:

    Stellas warm and loving smile was the highlight of my holiday and certainly made the simcha in Simchat Torah!

  10. jeannette says:

    What beautiful words and thoughts and inspiration to us all…I pray for you all for many more beautiful moments.

  11. Avigail Stern says:

    As I was standing in the women’s section in shul, looking over towards the men awaiting “kol nearim” – the most emotional shul moment of the year in my eyes, when all the children of the community gather under the Talit for their annual joint Bracha ..and everyone songs “ha’malach ha’goel” together .. My eye caught yarden pacing at the back of shul , close to the women’s section. I winked at yarden. A simple wink that said ” I’m thinking of you and I care” and to my surprise, yarden’s in response smiled and tilted his head pointing out to me the other side of the women’s section– at first I wasn’t sure what he was trying to tell me – – was I missing something ? and then understood him and asked quietly– here?? shes here?? ” I quickly moved to the other side and saw my sichat torah surprise, and to be honest , I’m not even sure i heard the Bracha this year because this year my most emotional moment was somewhere else .. I was enjoying our dear Stella , who’s smile and sparkle ( and still being so personal with all of us!) was such a great surprise and comfort. Yarden , Stella, you and your dear family are such treasures to all of us. May hashem bless you with only good, may you continue to strengthen, have only joy and bring joy to everyone around you. Thank you for making my simchat Torah !! Love, Avigail ( Stern)

  12. Shoshi says:

    Yarden, you are not exaggerating. You painted a completely accurate picture. And seeing Stella at the Jacobson’s kiddush today matched it. Totally. But you forgot to mention your smile and the smiles of your kids. You were all glowing. May God bless you all with many, many more happy days.

  13. Lauren Lieberman says:

    Thank you for sharing and painting a beautiful picture of Stella surrounded by family and friends.

  14. Denny Berman says:

    Dear Yarden and Stella,
    Thanks so much for the uplifting post. Yes, we could “see” it!
    Denny and Debbie

  15. Paul Goldstein says:

    Wow – just sitting here with a big grin on my face! Good for you, Stella. We’re continuing to doven for you.

  16. David Barak says:

    I’m tearing up with happiness. That is the most uplifting thing I have read in a long time.

  17. Bernice says:

    Yarden and Stella,

    You both continue to inspire the Cohen family and everyone that is blessed to know you guys. May Hashem continue to give you the strength during these trying times. Your joy and radiant smile can be seen across the oceans in Silver Spring!!
    Bernice and Eddie

  18. Bill Landau says:

    Echoing Denny and Paul. Thinking back to yesterday, watching Rabbi Tessler come up to the bima as Chatan Torah, with his granddaughter (!) in his arms. The energy and the ruach that I felt then was incredible, and yet pales in comparison to what it must have felt like 24 hours earlier in Neve Daniel. Chazak, chazak….

  19. Iris says:

    Thank you for the post,Yarden. I couldn’t wait to check my e-mails,knowing I’d see something positive and wonderful about Stella. Just great to read. Stella,you
    go girl!

  20. Evie Berman Garnet says:

    We live in Atlanta Georgia and my brother David Berman sends on these
    inspirational and love letters to Stella as they come through. We all have
    challanges in our lives and we cannot negate their importance but when we
    read crossing the Yarden we are reminded of what is important in life. It
    is simple just love and sharing with others. You and Stella and the family
    inspire us to be better people and value each other more. What a tribute and
    lasting legacy for your children. When we lost our brother to a brain tumour
    I wish we had the skills to have better documented his time to have a lasting
    memory written down. Wishing Stella so much love and health. Evie and Stan

  21. Tammy Berman says:

    Stella you go girl. I only hope you keep getting stronger and use the ramp more often. Thank you for such a positive post.

  22. Phyllis says:

    Beautiful, inspiring, uplifting, so full of love and hope….so totally Stella and Yarden!!! Thank you!

  23. Your words were so descriptive and sincere.We felt like we were there with you and your family. May this become your norm…. Devorah and David Kaler…

  24. Genendy Radoff says:

    Awesome!! Wish I could have been there! Love you!! Genendy

  25. Susan Terry says:

    Sitting here crying as I read your words…….may HaShem have listened to everyone’s prayers for you, Stella and the kids

  26. Teruyo and Harold Slate says:

    Stella and Yarden and family,
    We have been reading your blog, it really has touched our hearts. You are always in our hearts and prayers. So nice to hear you are feeling better and able to spend time with your family and friends. You, Yarden and your family are an inspiration to all of us. I always see your beautiful smile and pray for you and your wonderful family.

    Love always Teruyo and Harold Slate

  27. Zahava Miryam Ben Yishai says:

    hi there,

    since i have never met stella, and was only told to pray for a tzuria cochevet bat sarah, this is how i know her. a friend of mine on facebook posted that she needed prayers and i found my way to this blog. i davened for tzuria all throughout the chagim and when it came time for neilah, i had made a list (a long one!) of people and things that i felt were really important. i am so happy to have read this blog! tzuria cochevet bat sarah should have a refua shleima min hashamayim u’v’chol ma’asei y’deihem!

    shavua tov and brachot from be’er sheva!