Monday, February 26, 2007

Yair Elmaleh 1972 - 2007

This posting is in memory of Yair Elmaleh (z"l), a friend who passed away suddenly 30 days ago. I had the opportunity tonight to attend a memorial service for him which only reinforced how special a person Yair was. To find out more about his life, an article was published about Yair in the Intermountain Jewish News.

Yair touched me personally in many ways – from his amazing cooking, to his talent at making a room glow with his laughter and jokes, to his ability to make me feel like a special person in his home, even though we knew each other for a relatively short time. I feel honored to say that we both shared a great mutual respect for each other. During the last thirty days, I’ve also spent a lot of time learning how much Yair touched other lives, especially that of his long time girlfriend and dear friend of mine, Shira, but also those of people that he came into contact with for only a few minutes. Tonight was a testament to the connection he made with people, as almost 200 people attended tonight’s service in New York, while other memorial services were held for him in Toronto and Israel.

Upon Yair’s death, a group of friends and family decided to honor his memory by studying all six orders of the mishnah, which is Judaism’s Oral Law that was first passed down from generation to generation before being recorded and edited in and around 200 C.E. To accomplish this, people volunteered to study 1-2 of the 63 tractates that compose the six parts of the mishnah and agreed to finish it during the thirty days preceding tonight. Though I was originally hesitant to take on this responsibility because I’ve never really studied any mishnah in depth, my brother and I agreed to sign up for the tractate that examined the laws of the Nazarites (these are the laws regarding Jews who take vows of asceticism, a practice that no longer exists today). My roommate also joined our study group, and on occasion, several other friends also did. What turned out to be a somewhat daunting learning experience turned out to be much more than that – it became a way of building friendships, and of sharing an intellectual and spiritual experience while munching on Stella D'oro cookies.

There’s no eloquent way for me to say it, but it really sucks to see a friend pass away, and more than that, to see close friends suffer the pain of losing a loved one at such a young age and so suddenly. The last tractate of the mishnah closes with a description of the blessings that ohavei hashem, God’s loved ones, receive in life and after death. At the memorial service we recited this last mishnah, and together imagined that Yair’s life is now filled with hundreds of blessings, wherever he may now be, and that on earth he has left with us the blessing of peace.