I have vivid memories of my father standing in the front corner of our dining room donning his tallit, or prayer shawl. That was his spot for the days he did not make it to shul to daven in the morning. It was also where he would recite Tehillim, Pirkei Avot, and practice reading from the Torah.
Every Friday night when I was in middle school, I would join my father in this designated spot to recite Lecha Dodi, one of the ritual prayers to greet the Shabbat, with him. He would recite all of Kabbalat Shabbat, which I did not have the patience to do. Instead, every week, when he got up to Lecha Dodi, he would come and get me and we would sing it together, always in the classic, original tune. Even today, years after I have moved out of my childhood home, our voices are permanently etched in my mind.
I remember standing in my father’s dining room corner for an hour or so every evening at the end of the summer of 2000. My cousin, just eight years old, had been injured in a freak volcano accident. My father and I would fervently recite Tehillim every evening when she was in the hospital, praying for her speedy recovery. I was 15 at the time. It was then that my father taught me which Tehillim are recited for those in need of healing.
I vividly remember the night my cousin passed away. My father was the one to inform me of her passing. It was late at night and I was sitting in the kitchen. When my father began to speak, I knew what he was going to say. His tone was solemn. It was the greatest tragedy our family had faced. Yet, somehow, through his mournful tones, my father’s words carried commitment and faith in G-d: his voice stable and his faith unshaken.
My father’s example would later serve as my foundation for spiritual connection and emunah when he passed away several years later.
It was the fall of 2006. My father and my mother were visiting my brother at college for Simchat Torah, which coincided with the college’s family weekend. My parents had a delightful time dancing with the Torah and celebrating Simchat Torah with the college students. My father remarked to my mother how young it made him feel like he and my mother were college students again. Later my mother would describe feeling like that evening, my father was all neshama — pure soul.
As the holiday came to a close, my father walked to the closing services. There, he experienced a sudden loss of consciousness followed by a fall and a traumatic brain injury. He passed away five days later.
My father’s last experience on this earth was joyously dancing with the Torah.
A couple of months after my father’s passing, my mother donated a Torah cover in his memory to the college campus. A few weeks ago, I, along with my husband and three-month-old daughter, visited that Torah.
While it pains me that my daughter will never meet my dad, it was very meaningful to show her the Torah cover dedicated in his memory. She will grow up knowing that her Grandpa Harlan was a righteous, spiritual, religiously-devoted man whose soul lives on through the lives he touched and impacted.
Perhaps it is no mere coincidence that my father lived out the verse in Pirkei Avot that he would study in the corner of our dining room: “Who is honored? Those who honor His (G-d’s) creations” (Pirkei Avot 4:1).
While my father was only with me for 21 years, he left me the rich legacy of his example. The pain of losing him never goes away, but I feel proud to be his daughter and proud of all that he represented in life. Though he is not here physically, I continue to find inspiration in his example. His spirit runs through my veins.