Elul is the time for inventory. What have we accumulated?
Of what value is it? What about the intangibles? Have we
stored up enough of those, the ones that really count?
Esther lay in her narrow hospital bed looking so pathetic,
bereft of the many trappings that used to surround her. The
few belongings that she had been allowed to bring with her
barely filled the small bedside locker, taken up almost
completely with the candy and fruit brought by her daughter
Elaine and other sporadic visitors, but which lay, uneaten and
uninterested in, by the tissues and glass of lukewarm tea.
How she would once have clucked her tongue in pity to see such
a sight! Settled comfortably in her spacious house in
Whitefield, with its huge garden, its many rooms filled with
sofas and armchairs, dining suites and coffee tables,
curtains, paintings, chandeliers, ornaments, dinner services
and tea services, she had accumulated them all with a sense of
satisfaction and achievement, so diligently and
enthusiastically over her married life.
Then came the day when her 18-year-old daughter actually took
to heart the propaganda of the local Zionist youth movement
that she and her friends attended. Caught up in the euphoria
following the Six Day War, Elaine came home one evening from a
meeting to announce blissfully that she was going off to
Israel for an indefinite period to volunteer in a kibbutz.
The almost inevitable sequel came barely two months later: she
had decided to get married and settle down in Eretz
Ten years and three Israeli grandchildren later, Esther found
herself alone with her husband in her big house, the only
interaction with her daughter and grandchildren being wistful
gazing at photographs, and rushed long distance calls.
Without warning, Elaine was informed of the fateful decision:
leaving beind sixty years of life in England, her mother would
sell everything and make aliya to Israel to be with her
daughter and grandchildren.
Once over her astonishment, Elaine immediately and correctly
summed up the situation. In order for it to be remotely viable
for her parents to come and live here, they would have to
divest themselves of most of the belongings that, while
enhancing their large, six roomed English house and garden,
would be quite unsuitable for the envisaged small two-and-a-
half roomed Israeli apartment.
Reluctantly, but having little choice in the matter, on
Elaine's instructions, Esther and her husband adapted their
belongings to the constraints of a shipping container. Sold
reluctantly for peanuts, given away or heartbreakingly even
thrown out, were the accumulations of forty years of married
life. Esther settled down to her new life a bus ride away from
Elaine and her children in Holon, with not much more than the
dowry of a newly married couple a third their age.
However, in contrast to a young couple, rather than see their
belongings steadily grow together with their family, for
Esther, the contrary occurred.
After five years of painful, barely successful acclimatization
to life in the Israeli suburb, Esther's health started to
deteriorate. The bus ride's journey away that she lived from
her daughter now became inconveniently and anxiously distant.
There was really no question now about the wisdom of the next
move -- if Esther and Elaine were to sell their apartments and
pool the proceeds, then a large six room house could be built
exactly to their specifications, with a tiny but self
contained parents' unit consisting of a living room with
kitchen area, bedroom and bathroom, with its own front door
just for Esther and her husband -- the ideal solution.
As can be guessed, implementation of the plan involved no
small amount of further selling, giving away and throwing out -
- but by now, Esther had become used to it.
Esther's inexorable advance into old age and infirmity was
accompanied by two traumatic occurrences -- her husband's
sudden death and a bad business deal by her son-in-law which
plunged them deeply into debt, obliging them to sell the house
and move to an apartment -- obviously much smaller.
Now that Esther is on her own, does she really need a sitting
room with kitchen area and separate bathroom just for herself?
Especially since, without house help, the smaller the space,
the less there is to clean...
And so, Esther is now allocated a small room -- but at least
her own -- in the new apartment. And her belongings? Well, now
that she is officially part of Elaine's family, eating from
the same table with the same dishes and cutlery, and no longer
cooking, all that remains for her to call her own is her bed,
bedside table, and closet -- with perhaps a lamp and a picture
The move from that bedroom, via steadily advancing senility,
to her narrow hospital bed here in the geriatric ward was a
I look at my aunt with compassion. How futile her life's
work of accumulating all her possessions proved to be now! How
striking, and how very pathetic, was the stark testimony of
her present situation -- that all a person's material
possessions and achievements, however many, however diligently
and self-sacrificingly accumulated, for no matter how long or
how much of one's life, are fleeting and transient; how, by
their very nature, they cannot endure the long journey of life
until the final destination!