I learned recently that a woman named Adina died several years ago. She had been one of the very first women I dated after I moved to New York in 1980. I found a paid death notice in a newspaper from 2006, saying she succumbed to diabetes and breast cancer. She was 51 – younger than I am now.
Adina and I had a tumultuous relationship, with wildly different social backgrounds and levels of urban dating prowess: suburban Long Island vs. small-town Texas, intense Jewish education vs. no Jewish education. Still, we had a connection because we were writers and Jewish and on the prowl. Adina played a big role in my life at the time.
Judaism provided many of my favorite memories of our times together. We joined her friends to hear Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sing during Purim at B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side, a favored hunting ground for singles. I attended a seder with her family on Long Island on the snowy Passover of April 1982. With Adina’s encouragement, I visited Israel in May 1982 and wrote about the experience for the Forward newspaper.
The little markers of memory accumulated over the months. I have photos of Adina at B’nai Jeshurun and with her friends Rena, Rachel and Marilyn. She sent me postcards from her trips to Israel and Peru. We called each other “Y.D.,” short for “Yiddishe dumpling.”
Shlomo Carlebach at B’nai Jeshurun, 1982
For what turned out to be our last date, I stunned Adina with tickets to what I called “Bereshit,” the Hebrew name for the book of Genesis – we saw her favorite music group, Phil Collins and Genesis, perform at Forest Hills Stadium in August 1982. That was the end. She called it quits after that.
Other relationships would follow, and soon, but as time passed I thought fondly of Adina. We parted in frustration, not anger. Four years later, on a rainy evening on the Upper West Side, we ran into each other. We immediately had a long catch-up coffee klatch in a diner. Adina had left journalism to study social work, while I was several years into a stint as a globe-trotting freelance writer. Freed from the anxieties of stillborn romance, we shared a warmth and were happy to see each other.
“Don’t be a stranger,” she said in her distinctive cigarette-raspy voice.
We never saw each other again. The next year I met the woman I would marry. The new flame burned bright and I fed it all the oxygen I had. Old flames flickered and fell away.
Long after my divorce in the new millennium, I became curious about Adina and recently uncovered the death notice. I mentally overlaid my life on top of her last years and wondered what type of friendship, if any, would have resulted from contact. Maybe nothing, but I like to think we would have stayed connected this time as friends with interests in Judaism, journalism, travels to Latin America and, well, life. I had changed since we dated – becoming more at ease with myself, more Jewishly literate, comfortable in groups. In any case, I found myself aching and sorry that we had had no contact for those last 20 years. I never had a chance to say good-bye to Adina.
That’s one missed farewell in a digital world that logs birth and death regularly. I would have never known about Adina’s passing without the Internet. Online, the once-hidden and unfindable becomes common, jolting knowledge. Through Facebook, I read daily about the illnesses of friends’ families, with prayer requests and mentions of deaths of parents, siblings and, most grievously, children. We’re in our 50s and older; these things happen and the pace will quicken with age. And as the webmaster for my college class, I post links to memorials for departed classmates.
And then . . . I learned about Adina’s passing at the exact same time of something entirely new in my Jewish experience: a “shiva” call to a house of mourning. I had attended Jewish weddings and funerals, but had never visited a family sitting shiva, or mourning a death.
“Not even your grandparents?” somebody asked after I mentioned this anomaly.
“No, not even my grandparents,” I said.
But a death occurred in a family close to me, and I wanted to pay my respects. I had no idea what to expect, although I knew of the traditional rituals of covering mirrors and tearing clothes.
So I went and saw people I knew, the relatives of the elderly man who had died. I gave them my condolences. Some people wore small black ribbons. I recognized the rabbi who conducted the service, which consisted of prayers I had heard many times before and could read and mostly say in Hebrew. This included the Mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer for the dead that does not mention death but rather exalts and sanctifies the Name of God. As I looked around the room, at ongoing life and memory, I thought how ancient tradition and ritual created such emotional support at a time of ultimate loss. People are not left to flail on their own in the darkness; they – we – have a way to mourn that links them to generations past and future.
The moment seemed right and as we prayed I said the Kaddish for my late friend. I had finally found a time to say good-bye to Adina, Y.D.