The 30-Year-Old Widow by Karni Eldad
This article by Karni Eldad has been edited and translated from the original Hebrew version. Special thanks to the widow’s cousin, Efrat Razel, for her assistance with this post.
That day, the Village Baker pedaled on his bicycle. He was unusually distracted. He thought about the bread dough that was rising, about his house that was being built, about his new distributor in the big city and all over. The Village Baker made a wide turn left and rode towards his bakery. It was Friday, the most stressful day of his week. Everybody wants bread, and the demand for his special bread was growing from week to week. We were no longer just talking about twenty loaves on the rickety table by the village store. On the way to the bakery he stopped by his neighbors’ home to give them some pesto spread he had made. For no special reason. Just so they would have something tasty to eat on Shabbat.
The Village Baker had black curly peyot that he slid behind his ears. He had a beautiful wife and three children: 8-year-old Tsviel, 5-year-old Emuna, and 2-year-old David Yosef whose first haircut would take place exactly a month later. The Village Baker had good neighbors who loved him and he always greeted them with a smile and a shining face. Once a newcomer came to Tekoa and the Village Baker greeted him with his shining face and spoke with him as though he knew him. “Do we know each other?” the newcomer asked. “Now we know each other,” the Baker replied.
When a new baby was born in the village, the Baker would take his mandolin and play joyful songs at the simcha. For no reason, just so that people would be happy.
The Village Baker had an especially deep voice, and sometimes he would serve as the cantor on Shabbat and holidays. Sometimes he would sit with his friends on the grass and sing and play, while the children played around him. The Village Baker.
With his bread, Hillel chose to perform acts of kindness. When stores would return loaves that had not been sold, his wife noticed that he was mysteriously happy. Afterwards she found out that with a wide smile and shining face he would distribute those loaves to the needy people of the village. There was once a tragedy in the village; two parents passed away in one year. And for a long time Hillel would bring bread to feed the orphans three meals a day.
The village baker, Hillel Rudich z”l, my dear and beloved neighbor, died that Friday last month without knowing he was going to die. He died of a heart attack while he was playing with his children, in the water, in the desert. Nobody knows why. He died a pure death. Clean. Simply death. There’s nobody to be angry at. There’s nobody to channel the anger and the shock that his leaving created. A 32-year-old man, at the height of his life, who didn’t smoke and ate very, very healthy food, and was in good shape, with no obvious reason that he shouldn’t return from his swimming trip with his children at the spring, and get into his car and drive home to welcome Shabbat.
The worst scene you can see on a yishuv is when the neighbors gather together, and speak quietly. Whoever lives on a yishuv is familiar with this scene and trembles from it. It’s a chronicle of tragedy: the shiva and the crying and the incomprehensible pain of the final moments before they tell the family. It’s a chronicle of the crumbling of the comforting routine, the joy, which doesn’t actually exist but which we hold onto as though it’s real.
The truth is that each of us could die any day. And therefore the only choice and the final lesson I learn from the Village Baker is to love. To live every day and to love every day. My husband. My children. My parents and my siblings. To love what I am doing since I am going to die and it’s a shame to waste time. To live with focus. And with positivity. And mainly, to love. To give to others. A lot. Without keeping track. To play music, to make people happy, to feed people, to play, to live.
Thank you Hillel. For everything. We will take care of your wife and children. You can pedal around Paradise with a quiet heart, and take wide turns, and smile your sheepish smile in Heaven.