What My First Year as a Widow Has Taught Me by Gafna Vanova

What My First Year as a Widow Has Taught Me by Gafna Vanova

Last October, my husband and I were brought in by the Jewish community of Prague to give some classes as part of the international Shabbat Project. On our first day there, we met with Gafna, a long-time JewishMOM.com reader as well as director of Jewish studies at Prague’s Jewish school. Gafna is a sensitive, deep, beautiful human being; I fell in love right away. And then, the very next day, I received a text message that Gafna’s husband, Moshe, had suddenly passed away (I wrote about the incident and its aftermath in this post) My husband and I spent time with Gafna that first, devastating Shabbat, and have stayed in touch with Gafna over the course of this difficult year. Gafna even came to visit my family in Jerusalem this Passover. And yesterday she sent me the following post about all the people she would like to thank for helping her during her first year as a widow. It moved me to tears. And reminded me what a blessing it is to be part of a Jewish community (especially, it seems, the Jewish community of Prague:).

What My First Year as a Widow has Taught Me by Gafna Vanova

People say that the first year after losing a husband is the most traumatic for young widows. And it is true that becoming a widow at the age of 39 isn’t something I would recommend trying. But on the other hand, I don’t view this past year as an unmanageable trauma. This experience has been a great teacher for me; without exaggeration, I would call it a “beautiful loss”. Every day I realize, anew, that Moshe is no longer alive. But I also realize, anew, that I can continue to live. In large part because of the many people and their great and small deeds that have helped me and my young daughters, Johanka and Rozárka, to find firm ground under their little and growing feet.

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity at the end of this first year without Moshe, and almost at the start of a new Jewish Year, to thank at least some of them by name:

– Thank you, Eva, who helped me arrange everything for the shiva, and with whom I made such a good team that we joked “We are so amazing at this, one day we should open a ‘Professional Shiva Service!'”
-Thank you, Ester, Radka, Ivanka, Mariana, and Irena for staying with us overnight for the first few days, for making sure I ate something and for patiently listening to my assuring all of you that one day “It’s all going to be OK again.”
– Thank you, Miš, who persuaded me a few hours after Moshe’s death to be the cook for the Jewish scout camp this summer- I said “Yes” and it was an experience of a lifetime.
– Thank you, Chana Jenny, who escorted me from the synagogue to the subway on that first evening and gave me some Rebbetzinly advice that literally saved my life in 10 minutes.
– Thank you, Elise, for all the good pancakes and even better advice.
-Thank you, Ondra, who had a tree planted in Israel for Moshe
– Thank you, Chaim, for all his help arranging the funeral and much more.
– Thank you, Pavel, friend and therapist, who, when I asked him for advice, responded, “You don’t need advice because you can do this!” That helped me very much to believe that I could.
– Thank you, Esther, Rebecca, Jolanka, Sara, Adam, and many more of my students who offered to look after my girls and take them to their afterschool clubs, and often did.
– Thank you, Riš, for teaching me to prepare lokshen noodles with oil and garlic, which (I learned this year) is the best food in the world.
– Thank you, Martha, who collected donations for our girls through the school and helped me not to be afraid of being without money, even though I said I wasn’t scared (even though it wasn’t quite true).
– Thank you, Irena, who paid my cleaning lady all year long (and didn’t want me to know;)
– Thank you, Kerr-Jarrett family, who don’t know us at all, but let us spend Passover in their Jerusalem apartment in their absence.
-Thank you, Eva, Vera and Mirka, who also lost their husbands, and after that started to live life again, and showed me that it is possible.
– Thank you, Martha, Jolanka, Zofka and Kamila, who lost their parents as little children and grew up into normal, sweet, and kind adults, and showed me that my children can too.
– Thank you, massage therapist, who wondered aloud why my back was so stiff until I told her the reason, and then roared back, “So I’ll paint your nails too–for free!”
– Thank you, Debbie, a Jewish grandmother from London who doesn’t know us, but heard about us from JewishMOM.com and since then has sent us a large envelope with kosher sweets every Rosh Chodesh.
– Thank you, Stepan and Katka, who helped me understand that love does not die when a loved one stops living.
– Thank you, Lucian, for telling me I’m normal
– Thank you, Dassy, Alex and Ethel, who are far away, but helped me a lot with their friendship.
– Thank you, Irena, Jana and Smil, who gave me invaluable advice on “what you should know when you start dating again,” and especially Smil for his great advice to “Stop reading so many self-help books and calm down!”
-Thank you, Žaneta, for the flowers.
– Thank you, Dani, for arranging an incredible gravestone for Moshe’s new home…
– Thank you, Peer, for the inscription on the stone.
– Thank you, Rabbi Meni, Jakub and Rafi for reciting Kaddish regularly with a minyan for Moshe
– Thank you, Rabbi Meni and Rabbi David, for helping brainstorm how to continue making kosher wines (Moshe was a winemaker) and to Jakub and Tomas for helping us turn those brainstorms into a reality
– Thank you, Sheryl Sandberg, for writing the book Option B after she lost her own husband.
– Thank you, everyone, who came to the shiva and has been so kind to me.
– Thank you, Icik and Bert, for being born and showing me that life goes on.
-Thank you to Dany, Marta, Ester, Petr, Mariana, and Mis for being such good friends. You make it look like there is nothing easier in the world than being there for us!
– An almost final thank you, but the biggest one, from the bottom of my heart, to my parents and my family and to Moshe’s family, to whom I am so grateful that I have no words to express it.
And finally, thank you Moshe, for leaving us when you loved us deeply and we loved you in return, because thanks to that it will stay that way forever.

To read more of Gafna’s thank yous (there are many more), visit the original post in Czech at her blog. And then right click and choose translate to English.


  1. I remember your posting her story last year.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    What an incredibly profound woman she is, working through her pain.

  2. M Kerr Jarrett

    Such a touching and inspirational post. It was our honor to have you in our apartment. Sending lots of love!

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