The feelings one has upon the death of a father is not something that can be encapsulated in a single blog post. My dad, Rabbi Benjamin Shandalov (A”h), passed away on early Shabbat morning, November 23, 2019 (25 MarCheshvan 5780) in a quiet hospice room in Chicago. The purpose of this post is NOT to eulogize my father. Rather,I want to put down on paper, as it were, some of the feelings and emotions that I have gone through these past few weeks and, more specifically, these past few days.
My dad was 86 years old when he died, but it seemed to me that he would live forever. While he was a true force both in the Chicago Jewish community and, just as importantly, throughout the Jewish world, he was an even greater force in our family.
On the most basic level, my dad taught me my “first” of many things: How to read Hebrew, how to ride a bike, how to catch a ball, how to study, how to drive, how to write, how to speak and how to deal with people. He taught me the difference between right and wrong, and that when I would be wrong, how important it would be to admit the error and move on. He taught me a love for Israel and the Jewish People.
Not to say that it was always rosy being “the son” of a person so much in the public eye.
At Camp Moshava (Wild Rose, WI), where he served as the Director, I was “the Director’s son.” That made me very proud; and yet, it hurt to hear negative things from kids or counselors, who had run-ins with him. Then, years later, as Assistant to the Dean of Students at the Yeshiva in Skokie, I was “the son of the administrator,” who was responsible for the dorm. In that dorm lived many of my friends. And as the one responsible for the dorm, there were some kids that were not too fond of him being at “the right place at the wrong time.” And yes, I heard those comments, as well, in the hallways. When he joined the cRc (The Chicago Rabbinical Council) as the Kashruth Administrator, I heard some very nice and sometimes some, shall we say, not very nice things on the street.
You see, my dad had the ability to rub some people the wrong way — because he always wanted to to the right thing. That meant that if he had to take a counselor to task or if he had to deal with a wayward student in the dorm or if he had to cause waves in a company or restaurant due to Kashruth violations, he did it because he knew it was the right thing to do.
Among those things he taught me was the idea of integrity and how important a person’s word is. If you can’t trust a person to stand by their word, that greatly would impact on the relationship with that individual. And I saw that literally hundreds of times. I have now heard it hundreds of times from people both during and after the shiva.
The pride would swell up in me when so many people began their sentences with “Your dad changed my life” or “You have no idea what your dad meant to me/did for me!”
(At his graduation graduating with his degree in Master’s in Education from Northwestern University)
I am so proud of him and what he accomplished in his 86 years here on this Earth. But more than Camp, The Yeshiva or the cRc, the one area I am most proud of is his relationship with the family. While he was away a lot when we were little (travelling for Moshava), as we got older, and we saw how much family meant to him, we were always in awe of that feeling and that relationship.
One good example would be about what happened about a month ago.
I and my wife, Andy, went in to Chicago for a visit. That Friday night, we went to my sister’s for Shabbat dinner. Much of the family was present at the table, and we were so happy he was at the table, as well. Shortly after HaMozti, he said he was too tired and weak to sit at the table, and he wanted to go to the couch. We all offered to take him home, one whole block away. He refused and went to lay down on the couch near the dining room table. Why? Because at least he could hear the voices of his family! Even if he could not participate at all, to him just BEING with the family for that Shabbat meal was crucial to him. This was indicative of what family meant to him.
Perhaps the greatest “proof” of the amazing family that he and my mom (she should live and be well!) created can be seen in what occurred in the last week of his life.
When my dad, Zeidie, was obviously nearing the end of his life, his children and grandchildren flocked to Chicago to be with him. They flew in from Israel, New York, California and other parts of the world. They all needed to be with Zeidie. While various circumstances prevented a couple of the grandchildren from coming in, the vast majority of the family was with him near the end and at his levaya. That alone is a true testament to what a wonderful father, grandfather and great-grandfather he was.
I miss him.
I miss the fact that I can no longer send him pictures of my grandchildren. I can no longer ask his advice. I can no longer argue about a given situation, always both of us seeking the truth.
And yet, in a way I still can do all of these things. Because, he left an amazing legacy that guides me and helps our entire family through this time and beyond.
I have no sufficient words to thank my mom, my sister, Malka, my brother Dov, their spouses, Morris and Melanie, for the yeoman efforts they displayed in taking care of my dad the last year and a half of his life. They truly taught me what kibbud av v’em is all about. My dear wife, Andy taught me this with how she treated her mom (a”h) in the last years of her life, along with how she helped my parents, as well.
There are so many people I want to thank but I am afraid of leaving out someone. So, let it suffice for now to say I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for all who helped my dad, my mom and siblings before, during and after my father passed away. May Hashem bless you and repay your kindness a thousandfold.
On final comment. My dad’s levaya was live-streamed on Youtube. Between the uncut version and the version that was edited down to show only the euulogies, there are nearly 800 views. That says a lot about who he was in life
(LINK TO FUNERAL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJN-yui2RdA&t=197s)
NEXT POST: How I saw the Hand of Hashem during my trip back from Chicago to Israel during Shiva. It was a very difficult experience made much “easier” by the chessed and kindness of (former) strangers.