By Talya Jankovits
When the shofar blasted, it rang loud and heavy, weighing down the ears of the living so that every moving eye was searching the skies and each pair of feet was balancing atop the trembling earth. Soil shifted, dirt and rock vibrating with vigorous reaction to sound. Sound long awaited. Prophesized and apotheosized. Fables to young children. Rays of hope to the old. Sound familiar to some and foreign and threatening to others. A sound that shook the earth, quaking ground that mixed and churned everything it swallowed whole for centuries: ashes, dust and bones, rotting flesh, skulls that once wore velvet caps. All of it pulsating, woke and waking.
Clouds, round and billowing, rolled across a blue sky that stared down on the confused faces of living beings so that it looked like the singular eye of God peering into the depths of their souls. Thunder clapped despite no rains, and the sky lit up despite no thunder. The branches of trees waved their limbs as if swaying in mighty prayer. Their laden branches were thick with leaves, an adorning robe fluttering in the strong winds that began to whirl as if an angel had swept down with its mighty warm breath to blow and blow. And from the skies continued the sound that many associated with repentance and hope. Renewal and faith. Even those who had long forgotten their heritage glowed with enlightenment. They tore their shirts, a shiva for a temporal life. DNA running deep through veins remembering century old customs they had never observed. They fell to their knees and whispered in ancient tongues as if possessed, or repossessed.
The Messiah was not as everyone had pictured him to be. He was not old, and his beard was not long, nor was his hair, and neither were white. He did not wear robes and garments of the past, but modern clothing like the rest. His strings did fall to all four corners of his garments swaying in the strong breeze, a single blue one in each gathered bunch. His head was covered, but not in a velvet kippa, and not in a knitted or a leather one, but in a textile no one had ever seen before. One that looked like all the cloths together. His beard was shorter, thick like his sideburns, and he wore a long white garment over his modern clothes like it was Yom Kippur. Clouds hovered all around him, as it had for the Jews who exited Egypt with unleavened bread strapped to their backs. He was standing atop a mountain that was central and clear to every person from every viewpoint, wherever they stood, whether it was Los Angeles, California or Shanghai, China, so that each person, no matter what their native tongue, believed the Messiah had originated from their land and their people.
From any angle, the Messiah looked white. He looked black. He had round eyes or slanted. His hair was straight or curly. He spoke aloud in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi pronunciation, answering a thousand-year long prayer: MASHIACH NOW. His voice was louder than the thunder. Louder than the shofar. Louder than anything anyone had ever heard. Loud enough that every grave that was rumbling and shaking was filled with the sound of his voice. A voice imposing yet gentle. A contradiction of balancing components that made people feel both humbled and comforted. Frightened and secure.
Beside him, two women stood. The first was standing, her head wrapped in white silk, her dress shimmering like diamonds and her face shining so intensely that it was impossible to actually see it. In her hands, she shook a tambourine. She held it in one hand and clapped it into the open palm of the other. The sound was gentle and calming. It accompanied the tranquil music emanating from the many-stringed harp played by the second woman, whose hair was long, flowing, and covering a face which was lowered in such a way that no one could glimpse it. Her hands were fluid like water, fingers so long and exact that they elicited harmonious melodies effortlessly synchronized with the tambourine, so that these two women offered a stark juxtaposition against the howling winds, bursts of thunder, and the blasts of the shofar that the Messiah kept lifting to his mouth and blowing through again and again, each time sounding it longer and louder. The tambourine shook. The strings of the harp were meticulously plucked. The ground trembled along in dance, and sound rained down in such an uproar that no one really knew what they should do.
The only ones who did were the ones who were dead. While above the earth, where life throbbed and flowed, be it in human, animal, or a single blade of green grass, godliness descended in beauty and awe, but down below, where everything was dead and gone, a more putrid and unpleasant accompaniment of the Messiah’s arrival took place.
Chava Cohen felt as if suddenly awakened. A light bulb switched on, pulsating electricity — instantaneously, as if a deep and dreamless slumber for someone living were harshly interrupted. She recalled the feeling very much even though she was quite dead. With her unexpected return to consciousness, she knew immediately what was transpiring six feet above her, and with an urgency she had not yet experienced, she longed to be a part of it. To bear witness to what she envisioned to be an even greater celestial performance than the hovering mountain, trembling storms, and life sucking voice of God that had revealed itself at Mount Sinai.
But alas, Chava was dead. Chava was very dead. And whatever beauty was taking place above her, she had not made the cut. She couldn’t help but feel an immediate jealousy to be experiencing it from the other side of the living. Deep in the warm belly of the earth, this was the very unglamorous component of the Messiah: the resurrection of bodies in various stages of decay.
Chava had died thirty years earlier of breast cancer. She was a pious Jew. She kept her hair covered, and her knees and elbows as well. She lit Shabbat candles each week and spent much of her free time reciting psalms. She ran an organization out of the basement of her New Jersey home that donated beautiful wedding gowns for brides in need, for only a very small fee that covered dry cleaning and the upkeep of the gowns. She raised seven children and all of them stayed on the path of the righteous, a tribute to her commitment to her home and family. And she had always kept a small suitcase tucked under her mattress, ready to go in the event that the Mashiach would arrive during her lifetime. In it, she kept her finest dress. Occasionally she had had to retrieve the dress for a simcha, but she always returned it to its place in her suitcase. Only a true tzedekes would keep a suitcase under her bed for the Mashiach. It was also there in case Americans turned out to also be Nazis and she had to suddenly flee, but in that event what would she need her loveliest gown for? So yes, she was convinced it was because she was righteous and not because she was fearful.
When Chava was on her deathbed at the age of seventy-three, she’d told her husband, Hershel, one thing: “Bury me in Israel!”Hershel’s eyes had widened. They weren’t Zionists and they already both had plots in a modest cemetery near their home. “Are you losing your mind in addition to losing your life?”he asked her. “A plot in Eretz Yisroel? You’ll be dead any minute! How would I pull that off? And besides, we got the two for one special. Right here in Jersey! We picked the bargain plots in the back of the cemetery. I’ll never be able to resell those!”
Chava had little energy to raise her voice, though she wanted to. She was much angrier at her inability to express herself properly than at her quickly diminishing life. Had she the energy, she may have given a good clap on the back of her husband’s head while she yelled. Instead, she settled for a whisper: “I am not rolling!” Hershel, never one to challenge her before she was distracted with the imminent arrival of death, flaunted his good health with a dose of sarcasm. “If you are righteous enough to roll,” he said.
It was all anyone ever talked about. In the time of Mashiach, all the bodies not buried in the Holy Land that are worthy of resurrection to see the construction of the third and final Holy Temple, will roll to the land. She remembered as a little girl learning of this morbid thing. She ran home to her father, asking him to validate such a preposterous idea. He ascertained, that yes, this is what Rashi says. “Tatte! We cannot be buried here! Not in America! Not in Brooklyn!”Little Chava began to tantrum, insisting they all move immediately to Palestine! “Chavala, Chavala! You are young, you should live a long life. Don’t concern yourself with such things. If you roll to the Mashaich, then consider yourself blessed! It means you were worthy.”
That her father even questioned her righteousness, her worthiness of being included in the select dead that will come back to the living to witness that ultimate height of the Jewish nation, was insulting. But her greater concern was the idea that anyone would let her roll! All through life, this was a circulated topic with her friends. First in high school, then when she was a young bride. And still when she was a young mother, and then a middle-aged mother, and then an old mother. All she and her friends would circle back to was where they would buy plots. Who would be staying in the States. Who would be buying the pricey route to be buried in Israel. By the time she hit sixty-five, anyone who had already secured a plot in the Holy Land made sure everyone else knew of her coveted resting place.
Hershel had looked into it. It cost a fortune. In fact, dying in general cost a fortune. They could barely afford the plots at the messy cemetery a few miles from their home. Once they finally bought these plots in New Jersey, Chava was so ashamed of her lowly status that she began to spread a mistruth, claiming to all that her husband had surprised her with two side-by-side plots in Israel. She even told Shifra Gertstein, to assure that word would spread fast. Okay, yes, maybe it started like a little lie, but really, by the time she was diagnosed with cancer, she had told so many people of her royal burial place, that she was almost convinced Hershel had bought these plots.
She had died uncertain whether her husband would honor her request. Now she knew. Because it was happening. It was finally happening. It was a slow movement at first, like a rocking chair gently cradling a baby to sleep, but then, the wooden coffin started to really jerk back and forth until she could hear the solid packed dirt around her encasement shifting. A long-forgotten sensation, that of gravity, took hold. The weight of the ground was rearranging itself so that the coffin was being pushed slowly to the surface. It was a hell of a shaking, though. Chava felt as if she were on a roller coaster, though she never in her living days had ridden on one. But she had watched many of her grandchildren on Chol Homoed trips zip up and down and all around like little lunatics. Screaming and waving their arms in the air so that she’d clutched at her heart until they safely came to a stop. She imagined that this is what it must have felt like to ride on one of those death machines. And as the kever shook, she felt formation: a rearrangement not just of the dirt outside the coffin, but of the bones inside. A tarsus, a patella, then a femur. It was working its way up, vertebrae, maxilla, a nasal bone. She was re-forming. Chasdei Hashem! I am worthy! I am being resurrected.
Chava had no idea what the experience of the arrival of the Messiah was like for the living and, to be totally frank, she was quite disappointed to be experiencing it from the side of death. It was messy and chaotic. She longed to feel awe, humility. She’d imagined herself in robes, something modest of course, but flowing like the limbs of a dancer. And dancing itself! Like Miriam had led at the banks of the Nile. Dancing that was itself prayer. Instead, she felt the stretch of muscle and tendon spread across bone like butter across bread.
But blessed be the righteous one above that she had made the cut. She’d always insisted that she would, but really, when you think about it, she did speak her fair share of slander, and there was plenty of petty jealousy. A few times she’d fallen asleep before saying the Grace After Meals, and then there was that one time, God forgive her — and He clearly had — when she’d wished she would miscarry her seventh child. But that was only a brief and very vulnerable moment when she was still nursing two other children and couldn’t find the strength to nurse a third. But when that seventh came, she was truly filled with pure joy, and knew in her heart that was enough teshuva for such hideous thoughts. So really, she was grateful that all was forgiven, even if she could feel the prickle of veins growing through her like ivy.
As she slowly returned to human form, she tried to recall where she had been all this time since she took her last breath. Could it be she’d already paid her dues? Was she coming back to the living from Gehonim or Gan Eden? Did it matter? Well, of course it did. What if someone asked? Or worse, what if there was some sort of class system, distinguishing between those who’d earned their resurrection straight from the land of the living and those who’d earned it through hard time down below? She wouldn’t be able to bear the shame if one of her friends could tell the difference. The more she considered this as her coffin rumbled and grumbled towards the surface of the earth, the more she realized she preferred not to know.
All the while, Chava felt a warmth and a tightening spreading over her, all this speedy growing as if atoms had combusted from dust to rebirth her. She was already wondering what form she would take. Would it be her youngest self, slim in the waist and generous in the bust and backside, or would it be the middle-aged her, after her seven children, where she forever looked like she was carrying a child in her mid-section, had crow’s feet at her eyes, and green bags hanging heavy beneath her eyelids? Please let it not be her cancer-ridden self, without a hair on her head from chemo, a double mastectomy, and a collection of wrinkles that had outmatched her collection of porcelain Judaica knick-knacks.
Something lovely and revitalizing pierced through the cracks of her coffin. Sunlight. Delicious heat, like milk warm from the stove top the way she’d liked it when she was young and old. It enveloped her, the Vitamin D furthering the manifestation of her new body of skin. Her scalp tickled and she felt something sliding down her neck to her shoulder blades. Her hair! It felt soft, a bit of frizz tickling her earlobe.
And then a bursting. The top of the coffin lifted as if someone had been cranking it open with a metal crowbar — the last latches snapping and the entire coffin filling with relentless rays radiating off the round golden ball of fire that blazed directly above. Chava blinked several times, both from the blinding light and because it had been thirty years since she last blinked. She felt her eyeballs moisten and remembered that grateful feeling of adjusted eyesight. But everything was cloudy, as if she were looking through a semi-sheer curtain. She tried to feel around, to get an idea of what she looked like. Her hands touched her thighs. Reached for her arms. Everything felt smooth, youthful. No wrinkles. Chasdei Hashem! He’d returned her to her most beautiful form. She took her hands, which were a bit wobbly, and placed them on her hips, and knew immediately her size four waistline despite not having felt it for the bulk of her adult life. Her hair! Was it covered? Uncovered? She continued feeling around herself, the unmistakable familiarity of linen, soft and draped. Burial shrouds, of course! It covered every inch of her, including her hair. Everything but her hands wore an article of the dead’s finest wardrobe. What kind of look would this make, to greet the world again after so many years wrapped in shrouds? She surely would not be wearing her best to greet the Messiah.
As the sun bathed Chava in brilliant light, the wide, single shroud that had encased her entire body like a caterpillar in a cocoon began to unravel itself. Falling to her sides like drawn curtains at the start of a great theatrical show.
“Chava! Chava! My beautiful wife! Is that you?”
Chava turned her head to see a hovering coffin next to her. A man was sitting halfway up and she leaned one hand to gain a better view.
“Hershel! Look at you! You are so young! And handsome. You look exactly as you did on our wedding day.”
“Really? I feel much more like I did in my thirties. But you, Chava, look at you! You are glowing. You look just as I remember you always, full and beautiful after a new child.”
Chava felt a feeling she hadn’t felt in quite some time. Panic. Her chest constricted. She couldn’t possibly look like that. She had just checked herself. She most certainly looked the way she had when they first got married.
“Are you sure? Is my face fat? You know how it got, and stayed so long, after each pregnancy, and so rosy that everyone thought I was having some sort of heat stroke.”
“Oy, Chava. Please. You never looked fat! Only beautiful. But I always found you most beautiful after you had one of our children.”
“And I always thought you were most attractive on our wedding day,” Chava said.
She thought a moment. Could it be that each person saw themselves exactly as they wanted to, and that they saw others exactly as they wanted to remember them? How confusing this would be. But vanity would be abolished completely if everyone saw only their best versions of themselves and others.
“There are a lot of coffins here, Chava. What do you suppose is happening?”
“Don’t be daft! It’s Mashiach!”
“Of course, of course! The Mashiach is finally here. Oh Chava, this is wonderful. This means we were worthy.”
Chava looked around and saw the head of Shifra Gertstein poking out of her coffin, her eyes darting around, already collecting inventory of who had and hadn’t made the resurrection of the dead.
“Don’t get too excited. It doesn’t look like it was very hard to make the cut.”
Chava looked around more, registering where she actually was. She was inside a coffin. Not saturating the holy dirt directly without boundary. If Shifra were here, as well as her parents, her butcher, her in-laws, and the rabbi of their synagogue, that could mean only one thing: she was still in Jersey.
“You buried me in Jersey!” Chava cried, gasping and clamping her hand over her mouth.
“Chava. Chava. Calm down. Of course! Of course, I buried you in Jersey. You didn’t actually think I was going to bury you in Eretz Yisroel after you insisted I get these two plots in Jersey! I told you before you died, I would never be able to pull it off.”
“Where’s Gittel? Where is Gittel Finkle?”
Chava looked all around her but she could not find Gittel Finkle, her best friend.
“Gittel passed away ten years after you. She was buried in Eretz Yisroel. A whole big levaya took place at LaGuardia airport and then all four of her sons accompanied her body to the Holy Land. It was quite a spectacle.”
“My best and dearest friend is in Israel during the Messiah because her righteous and pious children knew to bury her in the dirt of our ancestors, and I’m the idiot putz stuck here in Jersey!” She felt a fury settle in her new and heaving chest.
“You know what the Israelis say: ‘If you want to die so badly in Israel, you should live in Israel.’”
“Ugh! What do they know? Wait a second. When did you die? If you knew when Gittel died, that must mean you outlived me by quite a bit.”
“Thank God, I lived a long life. I died twenty years after you.”
“It was very difficult without you.”
“Twenty years! Hershel, that means you died when you were ninety-five!”
“I was hoping to make it to one hundred! But really, those last years weren’t even good. The kids stuck me in a nursing home. Strangers changing me like an infant. It was awful. Better to have gone like you with your wits about you!”
“With my wits about me! I died at seventy-three! It was young. Too young! I’d take another twenty years and have my fekakta diaper changed than lose both my breasts and all my hair and die at a young age! And after all that, after my cancer, still you buried me in Jersey. I should have married Yitzie Finkel. Then it would be me over in the Holy Land, already up from my grave.”
“Chava, you need to calm down. It’s not like you are going to miss Maschiach. We are being transported. All righteous bodies of the dead outside of our Holy Land will go to the Mashiach.”
“You idiot! We are going to roll!”
“Roll! Our lovely new bodies are going to roll across the ground like a bunch of vilde chayas! I specifically told you I don’t want to roll!”
“Chava, it will be okay. Look around you. Everyone will roll. We’ll roll together! No one here is better than the next. We are all worthy of the techiyas hamesim.”
There was more shaking. The ground beneath the hovering coffins shook furiously and, without warning, each coffin dropped back below in the swallowed earth, leaving each new pulsating body of flesh hovering in the air. Chava’s body started to move without her volition. It was happening.
“Chava Cohen! Is that you?”
Chava closed her eyes tightly. Being alive again came with the good and the bad.
“Chava! Chava Cohen? You still dead?”
Chava opened her eyes to look at Shifra Gertstein. “Shifra! So good to see you. It’s been so long.”
“We’ve been dead, Chava. Long, short, it doesn’t matter. There was no time where we are coming from.”
Chava forced a smile.
“So, you didn’t get the kevura in Eretz Yisroel in the end?” Shifra asked.
“It appears not, Shifra.”
“Well, it’s all good. The ones in Israel are no better than us. They just have a shorter commute.”
Chava’s body turned aggressively on its side, just as she used to go to sleep when she was full in the belly with her pregnancies.
“You look just as I remember you, Chava. Not a day over seventy-three!”
“Oy, God have mercy on me. My first minutes back on earth and it has to be with this shlimazl,” Chava muttered to herself before speaking up so Shifra could hear. “And you, Shifra, not a day over sixty-nine. What was it again? Oh, yes, it was all the chicken sc hmaltz that clogged you up and stopped your heart, right?”
“Estie! Did you see Chava? Her husband didn’t bury her in Israel in the end!” Shifra’s voice rang over the cemetery.
Chava wished herself dead again. She’d forgotten the exhaustion of being alive.
“Chava, I can’t see your face! Are you on your side, too?”
“Yes, Hershel! We all are! We are going to roll, and I am never going to forgive you for this!”
“Chava! It’s the times of the Messiah! How could you hold a grudge! It shouldn’t be humanly impossible.”
“Maybe you have to be in Israel to receive all the miracles of the Messiah, because right now, I’m feeling pretty begrudging!”
“Chana! Chana Segal! Did you see? Chava is here with us in Jersey! She didn’t get to the Holy Land after all!”
Shifra’s voice was exactly as Chava remembered it. Except now, instead of talking over the blessings of a chuppah or in the small school auditorium during a siddur play, she spoke over the grand arrival of the Mashiach! What chutzpah. How is it possible that she, Chava, is in the same resurrection category as Shifra Gertstein?
“Chava? Is that you?”
Chava looked up to see her old friend Dina. They had gone to school together as girls. She hadn’t even known they’d ended up in the same cemetery.
“Dina? Dina Weiss??”
“Chava, you look just as I remember you. Just like you did at your bat mitzvah! When did you pass?” Dina asked.
“Seventy-three. Not too young, not too old. I had cancer.”
“Oy, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“What about you, Dina? I lost touch with you after I got married. When did you pass?”
“Sixty-four. I choked on a chicken bone. No one knew the Heimlich Maneuver.”
“Oy! A tragedy! A tragedy! How did I not hear?”
“Well, I was living in Queens. It was a sudden death so my husband found a spot open here in Jersey. I barely have any rocks by my grave; my poor kids never wanted to schlep out to visit, I guess.”
Rocks! Of course. Chava hadn’t even thought to check her rocks. She’d wanted desperately to look but lost her chance. Her body was stiff on its side, revving up for the great roll. Around them, thunder clapped, a shofar kept sounding over and over, and Chava could have sworn she heard the jangles of metal zills on a tambourine.
“Dina, do you see him?”
“The Mashiach? Do you see him? I didn’t think to look. I was so busy seeing who else was here,” Chava said.
“I didn’t look, either. I was trying to find my husband.”
“No. You don’t think he didn’t… well, that he wasn’t worthy?”
“Chas v’shulem,” Chava said. “Maybe he couldn’t get a plot next to yours. You said he had to get it last minute.”
“Maybe he remarried. Maybe he is buried next to his new wife.”
“Let’s just get to Eretz Yisroel and then we can look for him there.”
Chava didn’t really mean what she said. When she got to Jerusalem, she wanted to find her children and her grandchildren. She couldn’t be busy with Dina who had been dead so many years before her and whom she hadn’t seem lifetimes before that. Besides, there would be a rebuilding of the Temple, and the issue of real estate: where would everyone live? She had always heard the land would expand and accommodate that mass of the dead and living once the Messiah arrived, but to witness the logistics now was a whole other story.
“Rebbetzin Scheinfeld! Did you see Chava? Chava is here in the end, with the rest of us!” Shifra said.
I’m ready, thought Chava. Roll me, just roll me out of here already so I can get away from this woman!
Briefly, for a millisecond, Chava wondered if she was still dead. If perhaps this wasn’t the Messiah at all. If maybe this was hell.
But then, before she could really consider the possibility, she felt herself hurled forward. The shroud that had once wrapped her encased her now again in a shield. It wasn’t tightly wound around her body as it had been when she was buried, but worked like a cylinder shield, blocking out any dirt that might have been kicked up into a storm of dust and dirt. The rolling was not in the earth or on the surface as she had always imagined when she’d feared being buried in New Jersey, but instead everyone hovered above the ground. Dozens, hundreds, millions of bodies wrapped in the white wardrobe of the dead were rolling, so they all looked like white dandelions floating in a field.
“Chava! Chava’leh! Is that my Chava’leh?”
Chava was young again. She was old. She was dead. She was alive. But that voice, that voice made her feel love. A feeling she had so missed, now she was experiencing it again. “Mama?” she choked.
She was rolling fairly quickly now and had lost track of Hershel, Shifra, and Dina. There were so many people that it was hard to distinguish them. How her mother had spotted her through her opaque shroud was a miracle greater than the resurrection itself.
“I knew it was you! I had to keep my eyes focused just so to be sure — oy, what an effort that was! — but look at my mameleh! Just as I remember you!”
Chava didn’t dare ask how her mother remembered her. But when she tried to catch a glimpse of her mother, she saw that she looked exactly as she was most engrained in Chava’s mind: as a middle-aged woman. Not the shrunken body of an eighty-eight year old, as when she had last seen her mother alive.
“Mama, we are going home! Truly, truly! Can you believe it? I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
Chava blushed. She hadn’t lived to see the day. She was not a part of the worthy generation of Jews to witness the arrival of the Messiah in all its glory — real bodies pumping with blood and beating with hearts. She had died. Her bones had been in the earth for thirty years. But she was worthy enough to come back, and that was worth mentioning.
“You! My sheyne meydel! I never doubted you!”
Chava’s mother still had a thick Romanian accent, just as Chava remembered. She wanted so badly to hug her, but instead they had to roll like hay. Those who were smart enough to get buried in Israel probably just popped right out of the ground. No coffins bursting open. Just flesh rising from the sweet land of their forefathers. Holy dirt blackening fingernails, falling like dark snow from the ends of white shrouds. Reuniting and embracing their loved ones. No one trapped in cylinders of linen. No one trying to focus on the face of her mother while her own head rolled in circles. It made her fresh blood boil, to think how Hershel had failed them, failed her. It has been her dying wish! Her dying wish not to roll. And here she was like garbage in the wind.
The scent of fresh sea water filled Chava’s newly formed nostrils. They were already at the coast. She noticed now that she hadn’t heard any of the familiar sounds of the city. Only the sounds of the shofar, the thunder, and the tambourine — and was that a harp? Had everyone died at the Messiah’s arrival like they did at Sinai upon the revelation of God? Was it techiyas hemesim for all Jews alike? And what of the righteous gentiles? And what of the unrighteous?
“I don’t like overseas travel, Chava, you know that. The only time I went over the water was to escape the Nazis.”
“Mama, let’s forget the Nazis. It is the Messiah! Can we just get through the Messiah without mentioning the Nazis?”
“If you roll by a Jew resurrected from the Spanish Inquisition, and they don’t mention the Catholic Church, or any Jews from the destruction of the Second Temple who don’t mention Titus and the Romans, then I won’t mention Hitler, yimach shemo!”
“Mama! We are here back from the dead to witness the greatest redemption in history, and you are talking about persecutions. It’s over! We don’t have to kvetch anymore! No one will ever come after us again.”
“Whose kvetching? We are just talking.”
Chava didn’t have a chance to respond. Her mother got lost in the shrouds. Chava braced herself for water but, as with the land, she rolled above it, still suspended in air. More and more bodies gathered so that the ocean looked like waves of rolling white foam, not an inch of blue-green sea water visible.
“Chava! Chava Cohen, is that really you?”
Chava tried to see who was talking to her.
“It’s Shelly! Shelly Shagolov, from Apartment 14B, back in Brooklyn.”
“Shelly! Oh, my goodness, I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“How is your little Yossi? Remember we used to schlep our strollers down the stairs together, to walk to the park?”
“Oy, do I remember!”
“How old is Yossi now?” Shelly asked.
Chava stopped to think. Yossi, her eldest child. He was fifty-three when she passed. That would make him eight-three! Older than she was on her last living day. She hadn’t really thought of her children as old men and women. They were frozen in time for her, forever young. She realized something awful now as she rolled across the Atlantic Ocean: her Yossi could very well be rolling along with her right this moment. Unless of course he’d learned from his parents’ mistake and purchased a kever in the holy land. In which case, he wouldn’t be enduring this journey.
“I guess eighty-three. Wow. We are remembering him in a stroller!”
“Goodness. But it’s all water under the bridge. Can you believe it? Here we are rolling to Eretz Yisroel, just like everyone predicted.”
“I wish maybe I weren’t rolling, though,” Chava said.
“Chas v’chalila! You mean to not be worthy of techiyas hamesim?”
“No, no. Chas v’shulem. I only mean that if my husband had thought to bury us in Israel, I wouldn’t be rolling. I would be walking out of the earth like a true princess.”
“Oh, yes. I always thought we would roll while we were dead and then be brought back to life once we arrived.”
“What would roll? I’ve been dead thirty years! Think of the rattling. All the bones jostling along in the shrouds as they rolled from all corners of the earth. What if something important fell out?”
“Yeah, maybe you are right. Plus, it’s nice to catch up as we travel.”
“I wouldn’t call this ‘travel’!”
“I already saw both my parents and two of my sisters,” Shelly said.
“Did you see any of your children? I hadn’t even realized that any of mine might have died. They aren’t little kinderlech anymore. Some of them are older than me!”
“Can’t you see the small shroud next to me? It’s my baby! My beautiful daughter who died in her crib from SIDS. She’s here with me now. I was buried next to her and she was the first one I saw when I sat up in my coffin.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Shelly. How could I forget how you suffered? We moved out right before it happened.”
“It’s okay. I don’t feel sadness in remembering it. I am whole now. That is the beauty of the Messiah. I feel no sadness!”
Chava didn’t hear back from Shelly. Perhaps one of them had picked up or lost speed. It was all very confusing as to what exactly was happening to them. Chava no longer smelled sea salt. It was warmer now, and there was a lot of sand and dust outside her protective shroud. Could they have already arrived in the Middle East? Were they in Morocco? Chava had traveled only once in her life to Israel. She’d gone on a trip with Hershel once the kids were all grown. It was an anniversary gift from the children. They had all pitched in to buy two tickets for their parents. Chava had cried and cried when they presented the gift. She and Hershel traveled all over their beloved land; davening at the Kotel, climbing Mount Masada, shopping in the shuk. Neither of them had ever experienced anything as close to true belonging as they did during their brief visit to Israel. It had almost made them make Aliya, but then they remembered all their children in the U.S., and how the Holy One – Blessed be He! – would call to them when it was time to come home.
The sight of a familiar face disrupted Chava’s memories, and again she was filled with the sensation of love, all-encompassing love like when she’d rolled passed her mother. But now she was the mother.
“Mimi! My Mimi. Oh no, Mimi you are here with Mama, rolling like the rest of us!” Chava shouted to her third child, her first daughter, whom she wouldn’t mistake anywhere, not even wrapped and shaded by a burial shroud.
“Oh, Mommy! Mommy, how I have longed to hear your voice. I have missed you terribly since you left. Even though I don’t know what that feeling is now, I know I once felt it.”
“My Mimi, when? When did this happen?”
“Eight years ago. I went to lie down for a Shabbat nap, and I never woke up. Apparently, it was the nap of a lifetime. But I saw all my children to the chuppah, Mommy. I had many grandchildren, I lived a good life. I was happy and never felt the pain of death. And now, look! We are all together.”
“Anyone else in the family I should know about?”
“No, but I saw Shifra Gertstein. If anyone would know who else was in the cemetery with us, it would be her!”
“But they didn’t bury you in Israel?”
“Oy, Mama — who really thought we would roll! And it’s not so bad, reuniting with people. It’s been quite nice, actually.”
“Mimi, I can’t even see your face properly because my head is rolling like a bowling ball! Just because it doesn’t hurt doesn’t mean it’s nice!”
“Mommy, don’t think about what you don’t like; that was the life before. Now we are here to really feel. To finally really feel what matters. It was never a story, Mommy. It was a prophecy. And now we can be free of all the human parts that kept us from being truly happy. Listen, Mama!”
The shofar rang in their ears, elongated like the large white ram horn that it echoed from, the sound stretching across the earth like the mighty arm of God. It filled Chava with something, a sensation that chased away all other sensations. She felt peace.
“You are right, Mimi. You are right.”
The shofar continued to blast. The Messiah was great and powerful. Chava closed her eyes, every inch of herself filled with a warmth unlike that induced by sunlight. This was a holy warmth. A soulful warmth. This was a warmth that made her the sun, the stars, and the sand, so that she was radiating, and permeating, goodness. She was beginning to forget her grudge against her husband for ignoring her dying wish. Something more transformative was taking place than her physical metamorphosis from the bones of the dead to the body of the living. It was a shedding of emotional skin, the layers peeling away. With each roll forward a distance grew further and further between her and anything that hurt, anything that angered. Her memories grew heavy, saturated with joy, and the pain of the life she’d lived before drifted further and further away. Chava smiled deeply, the corners of her mouth lifting towards her high cheekbones. Without opening her eyes she knew she was nearly home.