Yahrzeit

Every year on the Hebrew day that corresponds with a loved one’s death, we commemorate the yahrzeit (memorial day) by reciting kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) with a minyan (quorum of 10 Jews).  The kaddish is said first at evening prayers; then the next day at morning prayers; and then again for the afternoon prayers. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but here in Maine finding a minyan on even one occasion, much less three times, can be a challenge.

In the past we’ve simply admitted defeat and my husband has returned to our home town so he can say kaddish there.  But this time we knew we’d be in Maine and we would have to find a minyan somewhere, somehow. Normally we would have gone to the Chabad House in Portland, but the rabbi there was away in New York, celebrating his son’s wedding.

Fortunately there are two places in the White Mountains in New Hampshire that have minyanim in the summertime:  Lincoln and Bethlehem.  Since Lincoln, a 124-mile round trip across the Kancamaugus Highway was the closest to our home, we traveled there this past Thursday to Loon Mountain.

Usually the views from the Kancamaugus Highway are expansive, but just before a massive thunderstorm, the clouds rolled in.

Usually the views from the Kancamaugus Highway are expansive, but just before a massive thunderstorm, the clouds rolled in.

2014-07-04 11.59.59_resized   Next to the ski lift is a deli that is operational only in winter, so in the summertime Jewish travelers get together to rent it from June through August, and amongst the tables and menus for chili dogs and sub sandwiches, they transform it into a temporary synagogue. Since it was still before the peak vacation season, there were only a few worshipers – – my husband was in fact the 10th man – – but he was able to say kaddish for my mother’s yahrzeit.

The makeshift synagogue at Loon Mountain, usually the home of Slopeside Deli.

The makeshift synagogue at Loon Mountain, usually the home of Slopeside Deli. We got there early, so my husband sat and reviewed some religious texts while waiting for the rest of the minyan attendees to arrive.

The outside of the "synagogue"

The outside of the “synagogue”

The ski resort where the minyan is held

The ski resort where the minyan is held

Here is the base of the ski lifts across from the shul

Here is the base of the ski lifts across from the shul

The view from inside the shul

The view from inside the shul

A one-time $15 donation is requested from minyan participants, which is applied towards the rental of the space from the deli.

A one-time $15 donation is requested from minyan participants, which is applied towards the rental of the space from the deli.

This map shows the boundary line of where one may walk on Shabbat to be in proximity to the synagogue

This map shows the boundary line of where one may walk on Shabbat to be in proximity to the synagogue. There is no eruv.

The chassidic rabbi from the Bethlehem community is hoping to keep his synagogue operational on a year-round basis in the future.

Bethlehem is 30 minutes from Lincoln. The chassidic rabbi from the summertime Bethlehem community is hoping to keep his synagogue operational on a year-round basis in the future. They recently restored an old mikva there.

Originally we thought we’d go camping at Hancock Campground, a lovely NH State Campground that is only 10 minutes from Loon Mountain.  That way, we could also bring our dog and we wouldn’t have to pay for a kennel to board him.  We could sleep in our tent under the stars and return easily to the minyan the next morning in Loon Mountain before heading back home. Unfortunately, the weather report was ominous and it was obvious that camping out was not a realistic option.

We had considered staying in a motel nearby, but thanks to the upcoming July 4th weekend the prices were very expensive and I would have also needed to pay for boarding my dog.  So we opted instead to drive home that night, and return the next day for morning prayers, despite the long drive.

We knew the weather called for lots of rain.  What we hadn’t counted on was the immense thunderstorm that was a prelude to a now-weakened Hurricane Arthur, making its way up the East Coast from North Carolina.  Driving the normally scenic Kancamaugus mountain road in the pitch blackness, the only illumination besides our car’s headlights was the constant bolts of lightning.  Ferocious winds and sheets of water pounded our car up and down the steep traverse, and fog further impeded my vision.   At least I didn’t have to worry about traffic  – – we were the only ones crazy enough to attempt to drive home under such conditions.  I went very, very slowly.  About 4 inches of rain fell during the two hours we were on the road.

Since the ride normally takes 90 minutes, we left our house in Maine at 6:30 a.m. the next morning to make it in time for the morning prayers back in Lincoln NH.  Since it was July 4th, my husband was off from work and we decided on the way home from prayers to take a leisurely detour along the Kancamaugus, stopping at very scenic Rocky Gorge.

First, though, my morbid curiosity got the best of me, and we stopped at Hancock campground to see how the other campers had fared during the storm.  A few of the tent campers had packed up, but several people had erected an elaborate set of tarps to shelter the tents from getting too saturated.  Even the people with pop-up campers had set up tarps.  Now that the punishing rain had passed, the weekend forecast was promising and the soggy campers were in for a pleasant holiday weekend.

But meanwhile the skies were still a threatening grey and in fact it was drizzling.  That was not enough to stop us from exploring Rocky Gorge along a beautiful walkway next to the Swift River.

Some of the falls at Rocky Gorge on the Swift River in NH

Some of the falls at Rocky Gorge on the Swift River in NH

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There were many “No Swimming!” signs posted along the gorge and soon we came upon a plaque describing exactly why swimming was forbidden.  Reprinted from Readers Digest, it told the following dramatic story, which reminded me of the scary ghost stories told around a campfire when I was a little girl:

The disappearance of Dorothy Sparks on July 20, 1942 will likely be remembered as a classic of the strange, the terrible and the true.

One moment she had been seen, young and beautiful, poised a the river’s edge in a New Hampshire wilderness.  Another tick of the watch and she had vanished as if by a conjuror’s hand.

With a group of friends, Dorothy had gone for a holiday to Rocky Gorge, not far from North Conway and Intervale.

There, through a chasm of jagged granite, flows the Swift River, to plunge over precipices in two noisy, misting cataracts, one below the other with a churning pool between.

For Dorothy, one of University of New Hampshire’s most intrepid swimmers, the pool was a challenge.  She plunged into it for a swim, then joined the others for a picnic lunch.

The group spent the afternoon hiking along the river shore.  When they returned to their cars, someone asked, “Where’s Dorothy?”

She had lagged behind on the way back.. Several of her friends recalled seeing her silhouetted on a rock at the rapids’ edge above the upper falls. “Dorothy!  Doro-thee!” they called.

But from the heights and valleys no answer came.

They scoured the slopes around the falls.  Man after man dived into the river, above and below the two cascades.

Edmund Pennypacker even hurled himself recklessly into the maelstrom at the foot of the upper waterfall.  Instantly he was sucked into the relentless drag of a current near the bottom of the pool where the water was pouring through a natural tunnel in the rock formation of the second cataract.  Catapulted through this hole into the shallows at the foot of the fall, he reappeared, bruised and spent.

Surely, if Dorothy’s body had been caught in the jagged rocks of the subsurface,  tunnel, he would have come upon it.

And it was not lying in the shallows beyond.

The knot of heavyhearted picnickers realized at last that there was only one thing left to believe:  Dorothy had been trapped under the falls.

And her death was already certain.

Still, some of the picnickers kept up their futile diving, while others drove to the nearest hamlet to phone the police.

It was two hours later before State Trooper Kenneth Hayward arrived, together with the deputy medical referee, the local undertaker and a squad of 20 forest rangers. They went to work with tongs, lowering and lifting long bamboo poles.

Once the trooper thought that his grappling iron had hit something solid.  Again he probed in the same place and this time fished up a forlorn strip of pink silk cloth; it was part of Dorothy’s bathing suit. So Dorothy’s body was down there, snared in the densest drop of the falls.

Since it could never be raised against the force of the descending water, they decided to divert the stream above the falls.

With darkness now beginning to close in, they might have said, “We’ll wait until morning to build the dam and drag for the body.”  Instead, with the tenacity characteristic of every small American community, they decided not to give up so long as a remote chance remained.

After a mad trip back to town for potato sacks and shovels, the crew, working against time and darkness, shoveled the sacks full of sand, cut own brush and rolled stones.

At last the thunder of rushing water yielded.  Enough of the flood had been sent off at an angle to give a weird translucence to the lessened cascade.  That was when Chick Whitcomb, looking through the spume and spray at the bottom of the falls, saw a human hand swaying back and forth in the water.

Failing to hook the hand with his sharp grapple, Whitcomb yelled for a pole with a noose at its end.  Somehow he managed to lower the noose over the swaying wrist, draw the rope taut and pull the ghostly hand closer to the surface.  Then, while the others held him by the belt and heels, he plunged his arm into the chill water, reaching for that hand.

To his consternation, he felt cold, clammy fingers close around his wrist and squeeze it!

What had happened to Dorothy Sparks?

When last seen, she had actually been betting herself that she could walk across the rapids above the first waterfall by stalking barefoot from stone to stone.  In mid-river she slipped, fell, and was instantly swept over the falls.  Like a plummet, she plunged headfirst to the bottom of the pool . . .

. . . Spray constantly washed her face and slapped her denuded body, from which the bathing suit had been torn in her struggles.  As she lay there, soaked and numb with cold, the dim light all around her was greenish yellow.  She tried to scream, but the noise of the water drowned out her feeble calls. For three hours and 15 minutes, passing in and out of consciousness, Dorothy Sparks remained alive in her watery cage.

When at last tongs grazed her face, she tried vainly to seize them and signal.  What if the searchers gave up and looked elsewhere?  If they never came back?  It might take her days to die!  When Whitcomb’s rope brushed mercifully across her face, she caught hold of the loop, in a last desperate spurt of strength, and forced it around her wrist.

With great heaving and pulling they dragged her foot free and pulled to the surface what all believed to be her dead body.  The slim nude figure looked like a marble statue as it was raised to the top of the ledge.  Then Dorothy opened her eyes, her lips parted in a feeble smile, as she flung both arms around the neck of the popeyed trooper.

In the ambulance the trooper told her:  “That was the first time a corpse ever hugged me – – I darn near fainted and dropped you!”

After visiting Rocky Gorge (and after reading Dorothy Sparks’ story, we tread very carefully!), we returned to our house in Maine.  We had only four hours to relax before getting back in the car to travel to our next destination, Old Orchard Beach, 75 miles away. We would be staying with friends for Shabbos in Old Orchard (our friends maintain the Orthodox synagogue there).  The shul was built in 1912 and is quite simple but very beautiful.  (You can read about the synagogue here and see pictures here.)

Besides the quinoa-corn-edameme salad and gazpacho soup I made for our hosts, I also brought some homemade watermelon margaritas and some gin- and wine-based honeydew-cucumber spritzer, whose recipe I found in a Good Housekeeping magazine I read while at the dentist several weeks previously.  I figured that the l’chaims would contribute to a relaxed and happy atmosphere at the Shabbat dinner table, and help us cool down.

(The entire week leading up to Hurricane Arthur, it had been very, very hot.  I think I gained 10 lbs. because basically I reduced my mealtimes to two food groups:  beer and ice cream.  The only other way to cool off, and which we took advantage of, was to spend the searing weekday afternoons swimming at the lake once my husband’s work days came to an end.  At least if one has to be in a heat wave, it was probably the least painful way to sizzle (very few people in rural Maine have air conditioning).

Although Hurricane Arthur never touched down in Maine (nor was it hurricane strength by the time it made its way north), it did bring very heavy rain to Old Orchard Beach on Friday night.  Fortunately my husband was well prepared with a head-to-toe rain suit and his Muck boots so the walk to the synagogue, while formidable, was at least do-able.  I worried needlessly that the weather would be an impediment to synagogue attendance.  Nine other hardy souls slogged their way through the heavy downpour by foot to make it in time for mincha and kabbalat Shabbat, and so my husband was able to recite the third and final kaddish in my mother’s memory on her yahrzeit.

We had a lovely Shabbat with our Old Orchard Beach friends, who as usual regaled us with amusing and interesting tales of their life experiences in Maine.  As Shabbat came to a close, we made havdala in the shul and then stepped outside onto the sandy white beach where tens of thousands of vacationers of all ages looked skyward, in anticipation of a July 4th fireworks show that was about to begin.  It had been delayed by 24 hours because of the storm, but tonight it was clear and pleasant and the fireworks display was really impressive.

It had been a very interesting but exhausting yahrzeit.  We had driven a total of 400 miles through stormy mountain roads and alongside crashing ocean waves so that my husband could say kaddish three times in 24 hours.  In this world, my mother (who was not an Orthodox Jew, but appreciated observance of the recitation of kaddish) would have probably said, “That’s crazy!” but hopefully her neshama (soul) in the world Above was becalmed and pleased by our success in thrice finding a minyan, even in faraway Maine.

 

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