Remembering Grandpa

Remembering Grandpa October 2, 2014

The most recent time I visited my sister, we were sitting in chairs in front of her house, eyes closed, faces turned up to the sun while her kids played. One of us said that it reminded us of visiting our grandparents in Florida when all we did was lie in the sun. I said, “All we need is Grandpa. He’d be sitting next to us and our eyes would be closed and the only sound would be the sound of him turning the pages of the newspaper.” She said, with what may have been equal parts annoyance and admiration, “God. You are such a WRITER.”


This month, I’m participating in an interfaith ancestor remembrance project with the Pagan channel here at Patheos. I’ve been paired with Yvonne Aburrow, who blogs at Sermons from the Mound. Together we’ll compare and learn about each other’s faith’s practices regarding remembering and honoring ancestors who have died. We may (or may not) create a practice for the month of October, which is particularly important to Pagan traditions. While the premise of the project is to have the Pagan blogger help the non-Pagan blogger find something that works for him or her, I have a feeling Yvonne and I will draw out each other’s traditions and find many similarities in the ways we’ve chosen to honor our respective ancestors.

In Yvonne’s tradition, there are three types of ancestors: Ancestors of Blood, Spirit and Place. Ancestor of Blood refers to family and genetic ancestors. An Ancestor of Spirit involves someone you admire or feel a particular affinity with. An Ancestor of Place may be someone who lived in the place where you live now (no matter where your family came from originally.) She explains much more in her post entitled “Ancestors.” I hope you’ll follow her posts throughout the month, too.

Paganism and Judaism have a lot in common, and are each very earth-bound religions. I guarantee Yvonne is more well-versed in hers than I am in mine. As a matter of fact, Yvonne is more well-versed in MINE than I am. (I have already apologized to her in advance for that…) I realized this when, in her first email to me, she mentioned she admired the Jewish view of the soul (ruach, nefesh, neshamah,) to which I reacted by furiously writing my more observant friends to ask them what the hell that meant. Tribe to the rescue, they quickly came back with answers. Deb Gilboa (aka Dr. G.) told me, “Ruach is energy, Nefesh is soul, n’shama is spirit.” Another friend, Jessica Bernstein, had a more in-depth explanation:

They can basically all be seen as words that mean soul. They can also be seen as the 3 dimensions of the soul. Ruach means wind, breath, mind and/or spirit. It is God-given and is described as going in and out through the nose. Ruach Elohim is the divine spirit aka God. Ruach is kind of the wind of the souls which goes back and forth between the physical and the spiritual. Neshama is also breath. It is the thinking part of the soul–it’s the most spiritual piece. Death is ‘yetziat haneshama’ or the exiting of the spirit from the body. Nefesh comes from the root of the word for rest–nefesh is the resting soul, or the more physical component…

Honestly, I’m not sure how this collaboration will evolve, but I DO know I will focus on remembering my grandfather, Manny Lirtzman. He was a constant, magical presence in the first 23 years of my life. I may focus on the stories he used to tell us when we were little girls (and eventually wrote down, thankfully.) I may discuss two versions of the Kaddish (prayer for the dead) – both the traditional, and a version written by a teacher I respect and love. I may explore the dreams I have about my grandfather and the effect those dreams have on me.

However it develops, I’m looking forward to it, since the more I think about my grandfather, the more I smile.

Grandpa's birthday
Grandpa’s birthday

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  • yewtree

    I love it.

    I got my info about the Jewish view of the soul from Wikipedia. I love your friend’s explanation, it is much more poetic.

    I like the photo of your grandpa, too. He looks like a lovely man.

    • theworthingtonpost

      I’m so looking forward to this! Yes, Jessica has a way with words, for sure. 🙂 My grandfather was the soul of gentle kindness. Thank you.

      • yewtree

        I loved my grandpa and wish I had had the opportunity to get to know him better (long story).

        Not sure if you are aware of this, by the way, but Paganism is a collection of distinct religions, which include Wicca, Druidry, Feri, polytheist traditions (e.g. Kemeticism, Religio Romana), and Heathenry. I am a Wiccan, so I am borrowing the Druid concepts of ancestors. I was a Druid for a while as well as a Wiccan, as one can be a member of more than one Pagan tradition, but I don’t identify as a Druid now.

        • theworthingtonpost

          Hoping you can learn a lot about him through this process. I can’t wait to hear about it. 🙂

          That’s fascinating about Paganism – I do remember reading that in one of your emails. As a Jew married to a Catholic, I’m sure my kids can relate to the ambiguities and weirdness of identifying with more than one religion.

  • This is lovely, Aliza! I am so glad to have found you. And I wish I still had the paper I wrote in grad school about pagan/agrarian/earth-based rituals that influenced our celebrations of Sukkot and Pesach. Found this article – thought you might enjoy it.

    • theworthingtonpost

      That was absolutely fascinating! Thank you so much for the link – the part I loved was this…

      But, I asked the rabbi, how do we know that we’re not in danger of precisely that which so many sacred texts warn about? The answer, he said, is ethics. “You know it’s holy eros because it leads to ethics. People help each other, work with each other. That’s the litmus test.” And the opposite? “A KKK rally,” Gafni answered. “Lots of bonfires, lots of energy. No ethics. That’s the distinction between holy paganism and idolatry.”

      I absolutely love this about Judaism. 🙂

      P.S. I found you a long time ago! I had friends introduce me to Holidays in a Box years ago! 🙂

      • yewtree

        Interesting article (and the Tel Shemesh website is a great resource). I think Judaism is a very sensory religion, and attuned to the cycles of the Earth. Whether that makes it “pagan”, I am don’t know. If the cap fits, wear it, as they say.

        I disagree about polytheism being idolatry. (The bit where it says that thinking the things within the universe have their own power. Well, maybe ultimately it comes from the Source, but according to Kabbalah that is the unknowable Ain Sof Aur, so who knows?)

      • I’m so glad! The whole earth-based, spirit-based component is why I’d love to be able to attend a celebration. G’mar chatima tova.