The First Time I Went to a Synagogue

I checked my outfit 3 different times, changing clothes and kept pestering the kids to get them ready.  Mr. Safek nervously tied his tie.  It had been a little while since he’d gone to the Synagogue.  I didn’t understand his apprehension.  After all, I’d heard it was a holiday party.  This should be fun, right?!

“What holiday is it that they’re celebrating?” I asked between swipes at my son’s face with a wipe.

“Shavuos,” he answered, retying his tie for the third time, frowning into the mirror.

“What is that anyway?”  I asked, having no idea.  He mumbled some response that probably was really helpful, but I was too distracted.

We walked through the sticky heat of what was already summer in Jacksonville, Florida, to the nearby Chabad house.  It was small, mostly there for the college students nearby, but there was a young, friendly, energetic Rabbi my daughter immediately nicknamed “Rabbi Smoothie” because she had trouble pronouncing his last name and she really thought he was the coolest.  We didn’t yet know about Mr. Safek’s safek-ness.  At that point, for all any of us knew, he was Jewish.  I swelled with pride when he got an aliyah, even as I struggled with the Hebrew letters in the Siddur.  The kids played with other kids.  I listened to the story of the giving of the Torah and dreamed that maybe, just maybe, one day we could belong here, all of us.

Shavuos was the first Jewish holiday we celebrated, all those years ago, before all the twists and turns.  I already knew then I really wanted to convert and for us to be a Jewish family, but that’s really about all I knew.  I came to our Chabad house wide-eyed, like a child.

I feel like, this year, I have been able to regain some of that childlike wonder and joy that I had lost somehow along the way.  As I pick through my recipes, looking for what will survive in the RV over the Yom Tov, I’m able to find that same freshness and enthusiasm again.  I’d lost that in all the tears and disappointments.  My relationship with Judaism had become one more of duty and commitment and less one of joy and love, like a pendulum that had needed to swing more in that direction, but had swung too far.

Each Shavuos we receive a gift of the Torah anew.  This Shavuos, I really do feel like I’m receiving it again and looking at it with fresh eyes again.  That is a HUGE gift!

Why Begin Again…Up Here?

In the brief break between the Shabbos and last two Yom Tovs of Pesach…I was cooking up a storm.  My husband’s mind, however, was elsewhere.  He’d found IT.  The Shabbat RV 2.0 that he’d been looking for.  And, he needed to wrap things up as much as possible before the Yom Tov began…on what was a major holiday for everyone else around us, Easter Sunday.

To say he was a little stressed is an understatement.

He felt the full weight of his family’s trust on his shoulders as he worked through paperwork and phone calls.  Finally, he called his father for a little financial advice.  This is almost more stressful than everything else combined.  My husband hasn’t always had the warmest relationship with his father and stepmother, but it’s gotten better since I met him.  His father loves him and has a hard time connecting with him since they are both so different.  However, he loves it when my husband asks his advice and he has good experience to draw on when it comes to financial matters, so my husband called him.

Me?  I was juggling 3 things cooking at once and my 11-year-old daughter who was starting to come down with something.  I didn’t have a spare brain cell to process much.

When he hung up the phone and came back to talk to me, I could tell it had been an interesting conversation.  He went through the financial aspects and his plan, which all sounded logical, then he took a deep breath.

“And he wanted to know why we’re doing all this, up here, when there’s no chance of us finishing it up here.”

He didn’t need to explain what “this” was.  You see, Mr. Safek’s father is a happy secular Jew.  He occasionally will attend Synagogue services on major holidays at a Reform Synagogue, but part of the reason he and Mr. Safek’s mother didn’t work out was due to differences in observance.  She always wanted to be more observant and he always wanted to be less.  He’s never quite understood why his son should care what Orthodox Rabbis think of his halakhic status or why we’ve gone through what we’ve gone through trying to change that.

I know that these kind of conversations are difficult for my husband.  No one can make you doubt yourself like a well-meaning parent.  His father knows the pain we’ve gone through, the years of work without a light at the end, and doesn’t want to see us suffer more.  His intentions are kind.  To him, it didn’t make sense to try to observe Shabbat somewhere it is so difficult to do so, particularly when the odds of it resulting in us converting here are low and we’ll probably just have to start over again with a new Rabbi when we move.  However, doubt is a luxury we can’t afford these days, with the price of hope so high.

I tell my husband all the good reasons we have and that we cannot know how this all will play out.  Maybe we can’t convert until we move, as we suspect.  At least by doing things this way, we’ll be more prepared when we do move.  Then, there’s the question…is observance really about conversion?  If we’re only observing mitzvos with some end goal in mind, is that really the point of it all?  Shouldn’t we observe Shabbat…as an example…simply to observe Shabbat?

It’s true, we have no control over the timeline or outcome.  We can’t push or pull this along in any way.  We are at the mercy of the whims of Rabbis and Rabbinical courts.  But…we also have to trust that G-d is in charge above it all and that He will guide us to where we need to be when the time is right.  There is only a tiny fraction of a part of all this that we have any control over…and that’s ourselves.  We can continue to learn and grow in observance and teach our family.  And that’s it.  We can’t know anything beyond that.

Our daughter, sickly as she was getting, had the best response to the news about the Shabbat RV 2.0.  She simply said, “Yay!  No more breaking Shabbos!”

Yes.  And that is why we’re doing this up here, whether it has any chance of bringing a tangible result or not.  It’s because we want to be as close to Shomer Shabbos as we can be in this state and observe as many mitzvos as we can.  The truth is…there is no finish line and this is something we’ll need to work on beyond conversion for the rest of our lives, continuing to grow and learn and do better at observing mitzvos.  There is no time to waste catching up and, one day, somewhere, our halakhic status will also catch up.

The Ups and Downs of “Practicing” Pesach

To boil or not to boil?  Which customs shall we use?  How stringent do we want to be this year?  These are all relevant questions we face as we clean out cabinets and work to gobble up all the chametz (leavened foods) in our house prior to Passover.  We’re often on our own to try to find answers since Passover is quite likely the busiest time of the year for Rabbi’s and the answers are complicated in our case, even more than for most conversion candidates.

For most conversion candidates, there is a lot of choice when it comes to Passover traditions as well as what level to observe prior to conversion and your best guidance will come from your sponsoring Rabbi.  This can be complicated by the fact that Rabbis are so very busy this time of the year, but you can’t really go too far wrong trying to follow the customs of your community when it comes to cleaning and such.  A non-Jew’s dishes and such are already not really kosher, so any kashering you do is mainly for practice and to learn what you’ll want to do when it’s for real.  There are varying opinions as to whether or not a conversion candidate should do something like attend a Jew’s seder or eat the afikomen, but generally a local Rav can sort those out for you.

And then there’s us.

 

My husband’s murky status often means we’re not quite sure exactly to what level we MUST observe and what we should and should not do.  Early on, the assumption of most people around us seemed to be that we needed to observe as closely as possible to what we might observe after conversion.  So, instead of perhaps trying a Sephardic Pesach to experience what sorting through rice multiple times could be like or slowly easing into the chaos that can be Pesach cleaning, we jumped in with both feet.  We also have never really quite gotten an answer when it comes to customs.  Unlike a lot of conversion candidates, my husband was raised with some and it seems like we could choose to inherit those of his Mother and Stepfather, who have been spiritual parents to us both as well as actual parents to him.  But, when we ask the question of “Should we?” That becomes more complicated.

There’s a lot that conversion candidates practice without being able to fully do.  Married conversion candidates practice Taharas Hamispacha without going to the mikvah.  We practice kosher, even though nothing a non-Jew can cook by themselves can be kosher and our dishes are inherently un-kosher, not able to be toiveled.  It’s not really a state that most Sages expected anyone to be in for long, but in modern times, it’s not unusual to take several years to convert.  When we first began, because of my husband’s upbringing in Orthodox day schools and his unusual halakhic status, friends and family assumed our process would have to proceed quickly and advised us accordingly, hoping we’d work to prepare to be fully observant soon.

Our first Passover, this meant dishes and such in storage, bought bit by bit whenever sales came up for that day that seemed like it would happen at any moment.  Like most conversion candidates, we knew most of our kitchen stuff would not be able to be saved and would need to be donated or given away after conversion, since it couldn’t be kashered or toiveled.  We would often hold off buying anything new.  We’d practice kashering our non-kosher utensils just for practice.  I’d cook food according to kosher laws that couldn’t be kosher because I’d turned on the oven.  For Passover, we followed the Ashkenazic customs of the local community to help simplify things some, but I did practice some non-gebrokts recipes in case we’d take on Chabad customs one day.

Over the years, I relaxed some of this and practiced other parts more thoroughly.  As it became more clear that this journey was going to be a long one, I started to think it might be more important to delve more deeply into a specific aspect of observance of holidays than try to do everything “right” but only on a surface level.  After all, if we weren’t obligated, then now was the time to make mistakes and learn, not to just try to fake our way through things.  As we unpacked the stuff we’d stored away and finally put it to use, I began to settle into living in this space between Jew and non-Jew rather than trying to rush past it.  One Passover, this meant really digging into the details of the Seder, preparing for it, looking more at the “why’s” behind the “what’s” and maybe spending less time obsessing over aluminum foil.  Another year, this meant really getting into the bedikas chametz even if it meant less time cleaning right before.  One Passover, it meant turning the kitchen over completely early and experiencing that.  Was that easier or did it make things harder?  That year we really got into kashering, nearly killing an oven with a blowtorch in the process.  The meals that came out of that kitchen were much simpler to compensate for all that in-depth effort.

This year, I’m finally circling back to those questions of customs and I’m trying out (bli neder) the customs of my in-laws.  This means a lot of peeling, not many spices, no gebrokts until the last day, and a whole lot of making things from scratch.  I’m looking to see what’s here for us, as I have any time we’ve practiced an aspect of Pesach or observance in general.  Does this bring deeper meaning?  Is there something hidden in doing this?  Does this make the week of Passover more separate, more holy?  Is this something I could handle next year or years beyond or something that’s too much for now?  As a result of this focus and the fact we got invites for the Seders, I’m turning over the kitchen late this year, on Sunday.  That has me a little anxious and I feel that pressure to turn it over a little early (I’m the type that is always worried about time, always afraid of being late or behind).  I’m asking questions of that anxiety.  What am I afraid of?  Do I not trust that whatever needs to be done will get done?  Where am I not having faith or not asking my family for help here?

They say practice makes perfect, but I think that the mitzvos are an area where demanding perfection probably misses the point.  I think it’s more that perfection is a goal we can never fully reach, yet we become better people by the effort.  I think reaching for unattainable goals can teach us a lot about humility and having compassion for others’ shortcomings.

But…I’m still practicing.

The Kindness of Strangers and Our First Shabbat in the RV

My heart is full today.  Yes, it is snowing again and the roads are a mess and the Spring that seemed so close by last weekend now feels like it has fled south to the lower 48, but…this weekend is our first weekend in our Shabbat RV and we have invitations to both Seders from a wonderful family for Pesach!

If you can’t tell from my words, every time I think of both of these things, I nearly scrunch up my face in glee, like my daughter when she gets a new stuffed animal.  It’s that kind of joy.

The RV was our Rabbi’s idea, the practical answer to a halakhic issue, but in true Alaskan style.  Since our house is too far from the shul to walk on Shabbat, we will camp out in the shul parking lot in our tiny 22 foot RV.  Mr. Safek has carefully combed over every manual for the RV, figuring out what can and can’t be done to make sure the RV itself is shomer Shabbat (following all the laws of Shabbat).  I’ve cleaned it almost as much as the rest of the house this month, adding to the already long list for Passover preparations.  The kids have tested it out and figured out which sleeping spot is theirs.  Now, tonight, it’s really going to be put to the test.

Candle lighting times (the time when Shabbat begins) edge later and later now and we don’t light tonight until up to 8:26, so the plan is for an early dinner, then drive to shul, park and prepare, and then light candles and make the blessings over wine and bread there, with dessert as a treat before the blessings after bread and tumbling into bed.  Similarly, the days are long here and we won’t be doing havadalah (the blessings that end Shabbat) until 10:15 Saturday night.  Soon, we’ll probably just go to sleep in the RV Saturday night, waking to do havdalah.  It’s always better to add more time to Shabbat than take any away and it won’t be long before havdalah is in the middle of the night for us.

But for now, I’m just happy knowing we’re getting back to being (mostly) shomer Shabbos again.  We’ll still need to intentionally do some melachah before havdalah if we haven’t made any mistakes because non-Jews are forbidden to fully keep Shabbat, but this helps us prepare for the day when we can, G-d willing.

Conversion candidates are often at the mercy of the kindness of others, but one of the good things about that is that we’re often surprised by just how kind others can be.  Being in a position of needing help means that you sometimes get to see the very best of someone and you also give them an opportunity to help.

So it is with our Passover Seder invitations.

In the 7 years we’ve had Passover Seders, we’ve had plenty of guests, usually a rowdy bunch of non-Jewish friends who didn’t quite get what we were doing, but really enjoyed the food and novelty.  However, the kids and I have never sat at someone else’s Seder table.  We’ve sung songs my husband couldn’t teach us the tunes to, making up our own tunes.  Even if he where he remembers them, music, singing, and carrying tunes is not among Mr. Safek’s many talents, so we’re on our own.  For a few years, I made an amazing Yemenite Charoset…not realizing it was kitniyos (a food that Ashkenazic Jews won’t eat on Passover).  I learned to cook for Seders from recipe books and we collected haggadahs (books that have the text for the Seder and sometimes commentaries) to liven our Seders up.

But, I’ve always longed to be at someone else’s Seder, to experience a “real” Seder among Jews.  I’ve always wanted to hear the tunes to the songs, the “real” tunes.

This year…we have that chance!

There was some nervousness when we were invited after the initial, “YES!!  What gift can we give them for hosting?!”  My heart sunk as I realized they might have invited us without knowing our halakhic status.  I didn’t want to tell the kids in case they got their hopes up.  Mr. Safek discretely spoke with the head of the family, just to be sure he understood our unique situation and to let him know we would not be offended if they couldn’t host us.  Different communities have different customs when it comes to having non-Jews at Yom Tov meals, let alone Seders.  In one community, we were allowed at lunch meals on Yom Tovs (festivals), but not dinner.

Happily, Mr. Safek was told that the family already knew and that we were definitely still welcome.

To me, that a Jewish family would be so generous to host a family of four in our circumstances is not a small thing at all.  For one, kosher food is not cheap in Alaska and that is four more mouths to feed.  For another, often there are tricky halakhic issues to deal with when hosting non-Jews.  It helps that the husband of the family is a Rabbi himself, but it’s still an additional burden on a night when there’s a lot to keep track of.

My heart is full of gratitude and I feel like our little family is very blessed as we prepare for Passover.  May it be a taste of the freedom we also will one day enjoy after our long wanderings in the wilderness!

Unanswered Questions

When you’re a safek or part of a family with one, life is full of unanswered questions.  I often talk with Jews who casually mention calling their Rav’s for a question or that their Rabbi came by to show them how to do something and I have to remind myself that, one day, that may be our reality.

For now, though, we have Rabbi’s we can ask, but it’s never been a sure thing that they will answer.  There are many reasons and I don’t blame the Rabbis for it.  Sometimes, the lack of answer is because they don’t want to make a ruling on something that really could be either way.  With my husband in particular, it’s hard for anyone to know what he really should and should not be observing.  Jewish law is tricky and often what is an obligation for a Jewish man is forbidden for a non-Jewish man.  This means that when a Rabbi can’t really be sure what a man is, any ruling could be wrong either way.

Another reason is simply time.  Most Rabbis lead amazingly hectic and rushed lives.  They do their best to balance the needs of their congregations with their large families and their own Torah study.  With limited time, they often have to kind of triage issues.  Issues affecting a known Jew necessarily take priority over the issues of someone who might be Jewish and whose family is verifiably not.  It’s not personal, but Rabbis only have so many hours in a day.  It also doesn’t help that conversion candidates often come and go.

It used to drive me crazy.  There are so many areas in Jewish law and practice where you’re told to “ask your Rabbi” so you can know how to apply this to your life.  We’re told we need to learn how to do these things for when we are converted.  Yet, very often when we bump up into a “ask your Rabbi” situation…there isn’t a Rabbi to ask or the answer we’re given might is evasive.  We eventually began joking that the next question we asked we’d probably receive an interpretive dance as a response.  More often, though, the answer comes in the form of…no response.  It’s as if the question never existed.  At first, I assumed this was by mistake and I’d ask the question again, but over time I learned that this only annoyed Rabbis, whose good will we depend on.

I keep asking, though, and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by a speedy answer.  I’m not surprised, though, when questions are left unanswered.  Other times, I’m given a vague answer without any further clarity because the Rabbi I’m asking doesn’t want to make a ruling.  I do my best to shake it off and not take it personally and then I go and try to figure out an answer, digging through what resources I have.  Even if it’s not the “right” answer, I try to find something that will at least work until the day there are answers.

They say you should never posken (make halakhic rulings based on Jewish law) for yourself, but I’m hoping it’s a habit we’ll be able to break one day.  Until then, we just do what we must as best we can and look forward to that day when answers are easier to find.

Passover Prep – Alaska Style!

The sun is now up past bedtime.  It peeks through the little edges of the blackout shades, sneaking into the room, tiptoeing to my eyelids.  Granted, bedtime at the Safek household is around 9-9:30pm.  We hit the hay early and get up early.  But still, the sun is coming back, regaining his dominion over life here in the subarctic.

We are also fast entering that season that is unique to Alaska…breakup.  In other places, snow melts in a relatively orderly manner.  Here, it takes a month or so and is a season unto itself.  Everything is melting and then sometimes re-freezing, only to melt again.  Mud is everywhere.  Puddles are deep enough I’m a little nervous driving our all-wheel-drive truck through them.

It is against this dramatic backdrop that we prepare for Passover in Alaska.

For me, it fits.  It makes sense.  We have been buried in snow and cold for months, living in darkness.  The Jews of Exodus had their own winter of slavery.  Their spiritual life was dormant, buried.  They were in darkness and it probably seemed it would never end, that spring would never come.  Alaskans can certainly relate.  And yet, as Moses comes to them and they begin to see and experience the miracles G-d made, it’s much like their world thawed and burst open.  It’s messy and chaotic and beautiful and exciting.  The newly freed Jews are pulled into the light, blinking.

On a practical level, it means we generally do our Seders early, so that no one has to try to stay up for sundown and THEN an entire Seder.  Our Seders at least begin with sunshine that looks like mid-afternoon streaming through windows.  It’s hard for Eliyahu to sneak up to our house.  We try to drag things out past sundown to get a little darkness to help him out.

Passover in Alaska also means ordering…almost everything.  We have meat and basics shipped north from Seattle and place orders through our local Chabad house.  When the shipment comes in, everyone picks up their groceries on the same day.  We can’t count on much being available in the local stores.  They’ll often try to sell things that aren’t kosher for passover in the tiny display they do have, which isn’t labeled.  It’s a quiet endcap on a random aisle.  The fact we’re not doing gebrokts until the last day this year helps.  Our needs become smaller to fit what’s there and trying out this custom means we need fewer specialty Passover products.

And then, as always, there’s the conversion dimension.  Passover is one of the BIG holidays and it’s one that has special laws as to what a Jew can do and what a non-Jew can do.  Conversion candidates live in some space in-between the two.  A safek?  Even more so.  A regular conversion candidate is encouraged to keep as many of the Passover laws as they can, to practice for the day when they will be obligated.  They are encouraged to learn about kashering their kitchen for Passover and practice what they feel comfortable with, to clean out chametz and use it up or sell it, and to observe the Yom Tovim.  However, what they are able to participate in varies widely from community to community.  In some communities, they are not allowed to be invited to a Jew’s home for a Yom Tov meal.  In others, they can be invited for a Yom Tov meal, but not a Seder.  In others, they can be invited to a Seder, but they can’t eat any of the Afikomen.  In others, they can participate fully.  It generally depends on where they are in the process as well as what the local Rav holds.

For a safek, all bets are off and often, we can ask a question and the Rabbi’s just won’t answer because there is no way to know.  We get used to unanswered shailas and doing the best we can.  I like to believe that G-d understands we’re trying and is forgiving.

Generally, we host our own holiday meals and we gather up others who don’t fit elsewhere for guests.  Other conversion candidates are welcomed to our Seder table as are patrilineal Jews.  Our Seders are usually full of joy…even if they aren’t full of Jews and most of us don’t know the tunes to the songs.

We aren’t quite free yet, even as we celebrate and sing and say, “Next year in Jerusalem!”  The exodus still remains a promise for us, set in a future where obligations will be clearer.

The snow is melting, though.  It’s coming.

What’s In a Name?

We walked, silently, around and around the fortress-like building in which we both worked.  He wasn’t yet anything more to me than a stranger, a slightly unusual guy who sat a cube row over.  We were only walking because he’d overheard my conversation on the phone and my sobs after.  Unlike all the other men I worked with or around, he didn’t pretend he couldn’t hear them.  Unsure how to offer comfort, they’d tried to keep me focused on work.  Somehow, he knew I needed something else.

I needed to walk, in silence, in circles until I could breathe.

My brother was dying.  The cancer was spread all over.  My family were so far away and I was useless to help them.  I was so alone, a divorced mother of two adrift in the world and just trying to keep my head above the surface of the recession so many were drowning in.  I didn’t know him, but I learned his sister had died, just a few years before.  She’d been younger than him and cancer had claimed her, too.  He’d gently heaped dirt onto her coffin.  He still had his torn shirt in his closet.  His pain was also still raw and raw enough that when he heard it echoed a cube row away in my disbelieving words and sobs, he’d felt compelled to ask me to walk with him.

This was before I knew he was Jewish.  He already knew I wasn’t.  This was before he learned he wasn’t “really” Jewish, but somewhere between, lost in a paperwork mistake.  This was before we were anything to each other beyond a morning greeting if we happened to be walking inside at the same time.  After we walked a while, staccatto conversations sharing tiny bits of pain from our sibling’s death or impending death, he finally asked me my name.

“My name is Karen,” I replied.

He stopped walking, looking a little lost and maybe embarassed.  I’m guessing he wasn’t sure how to handle this coincidence or if I’d believe him.  Finally, he began walking again, having caught his breath.

“My sister’s name was Karen.”

And there it was.  A Karen who died before I met him, who’d grown up with him and now a Karen walking beside him and that dreaded, cursed disease winding connections around us all.  The summer heat began to fade to fall and there were more phone calls from home that needed walks to make sense enough to get back to work.  Over time, those walks became something more, but neither of us were quite ready or sure what to call it.  He didn’t speak of it, but he worried what his mother would say, she who worked so hard to convert to Judaism.  He, the only son and the last surviving child.

The phone call came in the morning.  It was early spring, still gray and cold back on the farm.  My brother had died.  The last time I’d seen him had been across a room, months earlier, unable to hug him lest I make him sick.  We’d waved to each other.  He was gone.  I sat, numb.  He asked me what was wrong.  I explained.

“When do we leave?”

I stared at him.  It seemed just as implausible that he would drive me across the country to my family’s farm as it had that he, a stranger, would have gotten up from his work to see if I needed to take a walk.  But, just as I’d gratefully accepted his offer of a walk without thinking of objections, it seemed just as natural to pack a bag and set it next to his in the truck.  I called ahead, telling my parents he was coming, trying to figure out what in the world we could feed a kosher keeping Jew…and how I would explain whatever this was.  Did I know what this was?  His presence was a comfort to me and for my family, a welcome something else to think about.

This was before they’d refuse to come to the wedding and threaten to disown me.  Apparently, I didn’t know it was one thing to date a Jew and quite another to marry one.  It’s always interesting that non-Jews don’t really seem to place much importance on halakhic status.  I took on his last name and felt the awkwardness of stepping into the space held by his sister’s shadow.  A google search turned up my life and her death, her life being so brief it left few marks.

Converts can choose a Hebrew name.

Over the years, I’ve collected stories of how different converts chose their names, what drew them to one name over another.  For some, it was spontaneous, just a name they blurted out or that sounded good.  For others, their name was given to them by someone who taught them or guided them.  Still others chose a name from the Tenach, a hero or heroine of scripture that they wanted to emulate or whose name they hoped would bring them strength.  And others, chose the name of a virtue or character quality they either already had or wanted.

Karen was a name chosen for me.  It was meant to be Catherine, after my paternal Grandmother, a devout Catholic who had died rather than have an abortion.  She became a martyr to her faith when my father was only 2 years old.  I grew up wondering if she’d made a selfish choice, given my father’s life hadn’t been easy after that.  I’d been born very small, premature, and such a long name didn’t seem to fit, so, on the spur of the moment, Karen it was.

And it could still be.

I could keep Karen or re-spell it Keren for the Hebrew word for crown.  It’s used in the Torah to describe the way Moses’ face glowed as he descended Mount Sinai with the stone tablets.  It’s a good name and would require little effort on my part.

And yet, it’s a name that already seems to have had more than enough of a story of its own.  Two Karen’s, one living, one passed on, both brought together by a deadly disease and a brother.

Maybe it’s time for a new name to begin a new chapter?

My husband and I often joke (in that morbid way that those whose lives have been brushed by as cancer moved past us do) that our siblings were our shadchanim, that, perhaps they are somewhere, smiling that at least some joy was found from the pain of their loss.

Perhaps it’s time to let the shadchan have her name back.