My first words as a mother were, “Don’t drop him.” It was as if I knew, even before I’d held my
first child, that I would not be able to hold onto all my children.
We were the family who lost half our children; over a ten year period —beginning in 1992—four
of our eight children died, as infants, from a rare mitochondrial disorder. After the babies died, I
was sure that nothing that terrible could happen again. Not to us.
When Yossi, our oldest child and only son, made plans to go scuba diving, my husband,
Nachman, told him not to go. I said it was okay. Yossi drowned six weeks before his wedding
As a child, Yossi had loved playing with words.
Once, when he getting ready for school, I’d said to him, “There are bagels on the counter if
He’d said, “Even if I’m not.”
“The bagels are on the counter even if I’m not hungry.”
After Yossi died, as I went through the motions of Jewish observance, I grappled with long-held
beliefs: God is close, everything that happens has a purpose, and our souls continue to exist
even after we leave this world. The comfort of my faith was there for me, if I was ready to
accept it, but also—as I learned—“even if I I’m not.”
I searched for Yossi everywhere. I sat in the sand on the beach where the divers laid him down
and the medics tried to resuscitate him. I flew to New York, stood outside the synagogue where
he’d studied, and stared at the faces of the rabbinical students who gathered there.
I cried in Yossi’s bed, binged on junk food, and plotted ways to stockpile pills. I panicked each
time my three daughters didn’t answer the phone. When I tried to shop for groceries, I stormed
out of the store because they sold the cake Yossi liked. On the day Yossi was supposed to get
married, I went to his grave and performed a crazed mock-wedding.
I was angry at everyone: at the diving instructor who saved his own life by shaking Yossi off, at
my family and my friends for not knowing what to do, at Yossi’s fiancée for not remaining part
of our family, and at the rabbis for… well… everything. I was angry at myself for not listening to
Nachman, at Yossi for leaving, and at God. Mostly, I was angry at God.
The impending birth of our first grandson a month before the first year anniversary of Yossi’s
death was a turning point for me. I was going to be grandmother; no one wants a sad
grandma. I would have to do more than survive. I would have to find my way towards joy. God
says, “I’m asking you to do something impossible. Do it anyway.” Even If I’m Not is the story of
doing the impossible.