Notes from the Shiva: Sholom Wacholder z”l

Sholom WacholderI am sorry to report the death of my brother, Dr. Sholom Wacholder z”l, on October 4, 2015, during the Sukkot holiday. He had been sick for two years. I attended the funeral in Maryland, and returned to finish sitting shiva at home from after Shabbat. Sholom was 9 years older, and possessed an unusual combination of personal and intellectual gifts. I plan to write more about him and his influence on me (and this blog), but in the meantime you can read his professional obituary from the National Institute of Health.

For now I have written up a few memories of the shiva. As always, we are grateful to our friends who provided practical and emotional help during this period. We are facing a difficult situation in Israel, with random terror attacks, mostly stabbings. It’s surreal how you don’t leave your home during shiva, yet you experience, through your visitors, a snapshot of what is happening in the outside world.

  1. Three friends who visited had lost spouses to cancer in the last several years. All of those spouses had attended shiva for my father nearly 5 years ago.  Two of them had spoken extensively with Sholom at the time.
  2. The last visitor was a friend and colleague, who sat shiva about a month ago after the death of her daughter from a genetic disease.
  3. A woman from the neighborhood told my daughter, who is starting Hebrew University, that the dormitory is full of Hamasnik Arabs. She stopped just short of saying that my daughter is likely to be the only Jew on campus. Another visitor told me afterward that she kept expecting, in vain, for the woman to realize that she was saying the wrong thing and stop. But I think she was convinced that she was performing a public service.
  4. A friend worried because her son was called up for reserve duty that morning, a week before his wedding.
  5. My other brother’s two children, who are currently studying in Jerusalem (a couple of hours by public transport), sat themselves down on my sofa and said, “So tell us all about Uncle Sholom.” Their older sister had said the same thing a few days earlier in Rockville. This led to the retrieval of some long-buried memories about my family.
    One of the hardest things about shiva, especially for someone who has died young, is recognizing the magnitude of the loss of the family memories. Just a month before he died, Sholom, my sister and I were having an email discussion about how my father got his first job. My sister had her narrative, and I had mine, but Sholom added a piece to the story that we hadn’t known. His death brings up the pain of the loss of my parents, especially my mother who died 25 years ago at the age of 65. Sholom was 60.
  6. A friend shared how he had lived in Rockville as a child, and it turned out that my cousin had been the rabbi of the shul they attended. A few minutes later, the cousin’s son, David, walked in the door.
  7. David brought another cousin, José Levkovich, who made aliyah a year ago at 88, and was one of the oldest immigrants to arrive via the aliyah organization Nefesh Be’Nefesh. Born in Poland, José was involved in rescuing Jewish children from Europe after the Holocaust. He explained that only about ten percent of the rescued children were boys. Boys could be identified as Jews by their circumcision, of course. But they also had stronger Yiddish accents in Polish, having attended chederim, or Jewish religious schools, while girls at that time went to public schools.
    José also shared how my father’s first cousin, Jose’s father-in-law Naftali Lederman, ended up in Colombia in 1929 after meeting a landsman (Jewish compatriot) loading coffee onto the boat. The dock worker, who later became a multi-millionaire, convinced Naftali not to continue on to the United States where he he had no papers. The friendly dock worker convinced Naftali to shave and swap clothes with him in order to use the worker’s ID to get ashore. Once Naftali got established, he helped numerous family members migrate to Colombia. These eventually included my father and other Holocaust survivors, only my father eventually continued to the U.S.
  8. One friend mentioned that she had made the trip from out of town because she was grateful for how I had helped her in the past.
  9. Another friend shared how she took a baseball bat for protection during her daughter’s dental appointment in Tel Aviv. That was before Israeli citizens thwarted terrorists with nunchucks, umbrellas, and selfie sticks.

I hope to share more good news with you in the future.

Update on a post that was removed:
On Sunday, I posted about a case in which the parents of a young man encouraged him to refuse to give a get, or Jewish divorce, to his wife. I removed the post the next day (after it went out to email subscribers), when I learned that progress had made made and that public pressure was now counterproductive. The get was granted yesterday. 


  1. I have just now seen your post and may you and your family be comforted by Hashem. Your remarkable family -late father, brother says a lot about you. Your notes remind us to be grateful for our good health with so much sickness and suffering around. While even in Israel we have it much easier than Jews in WW2, life is still very challenging and can be unsafe. The amazing thing about the stories, that despite the hardships and dangers there were always people who were thinking of others , trying to make a contribution and help others – thanks for sharing

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