Monday, October 10, 2011

Of Fasts, Pasts and Funerals

i fasted this year for Yom Kippur, something i haven’t done in over 10 years. i’m not even sure why i did it — probably to prove to myself that i could. anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time has probably guessed that i’m not a very religious Jew. i love bacon cheeseburgers and gentiles way too much for that. but being Jewish is definitely part of who i am, even if it’s not the main part.

you can find it in my numerous superstitions, my always expecting the worst in every situation and the fact that i know the words to countless Neil Diamond songs. the Russian part of me is a whole other blog post but trust that it’s present in many ways as well. there’s also the Angeleno part, but this is already getting too narcissistic so let’s go back to Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement.

so yes, i fasted that day. 24 hours of no food and lightheadness and bad breath and a growling stomach that made me spend most of the day in bed reading. what was i reading? a book on witchcraft, of course, but that’s also a blog post for another day.

i broke the fast with my also-fasting parents at Jerry’s Famous Deli, a restaurant i absolutely loathe, but they offered a multicourse kosher meal for a fixed price and you know us jews and our deals, so we went for it. during dinner, we got the call you never want to get during dinner, especially a Yom Kippur dinner: a relative had died.

she had been sick for many months, so it wasn’t exactly unexpected. still, it sucked, especially for my mom as it was her favorite auntie. to me, it was my great-auntie Tyotya Moosya, my grandma’s sister who lived down the street from my grandma for as long as i could remember, even long after my grandma died.

by Jewish law, the dead have to be buried as soon as possible, so the funeral was scheduled for monday afternoon. i came to the cemetery a little early to meet my parents and sister so we could visit the graves of my grandparents on my mother’s side, who are also buried there.

i also wanted to visit my friend Alexander Merman, whom i knew was buried at the same cemetery, though i wasn’t sure where. Alexander, or “Sasha” as i knew him, was an ex-boyfriend who was murdered three years ago during a freak killing spree in Santa Monica. the police never found his killer.

after dropping off flowers for my grandparents, reading a psalm and kissing their headstones goodbye, we started making our way to the temple for my great-auntie’s service. i was talking to my mom about Sasha, saying that i was going to find the directory to see where he was buried when i saw a headstone with MERMAN etched into it. and there he was, buried just a few paces away from my grandparents, when he was 36 years old.

he looked handsome in the photo on the headstone, just as i remembered him. some of his art was also embedded into the stone right next to an inscription from his mother. i couldn’t find a pebble anywhere, so i left a shiny penny nearby to let him know i was there. then i kissed his headstone, got up, walked away and burst into tears.

my great-auntie was one of five sisters. they were known as the Kravitz sisters, their maiden name. they were also known for being made of steel. with that strength came a fair dose of bitchiness. i well remember hearing my father tell my mother that she was “acting Kravitz” plenty of times while i was growing up. the Kravitz sisters were the matriarchs of their families in that iron-fisted Soviet way that didn’t stand for bullshit.

they were a close-knit family, staying together through the war that killed their only brother — and then their mother, whose weak heart gave out when she received the news about her son. (their father died a few years later.) the Kravitz girls endured, putting down roots in L’viv, Ukraine, where i was born some 30 years later.

three of the five sisters immigrated to the States with their families, leaving behind the oldest two, one of whom died six months after her sisters left, reportedly of depression. all of them married, changed their surnames and had children of their own (except for one, i believe). most of the sisters had daughters who also had daughters. on my mother’s side, there have always been far more women than men, and all of us have a little Kravitz in us, myself very included.

my great-auntie had a lot of Kravitz in her. she was a colorful character in every way, from her perpetually sparkly clothes to her vibrant personality. she was a gossip, but a kind-hearted one, generous with everyone and with an opinion on everything. a life force not easily dismissed, she hung on until the bitter end, dying from kidney complications at 88. with her death went the Kravitz legacy and the last link to a past that is nothing short of incredible.

to be honest, i don’t think it’s a past i’ll ever fully understand. it’s one filled with war, fear, hunger and a communist republic with state-sanctioned antisemitism that put my Jewish family at a disadvantage. it’s the reason my relatives left for the promised land, my then-twenty-something parents leaving with them with two kids under 10 and no english skills. i was 3 years old at the time and completely clueless as to how lucky i was.

i know it now, though. we all do.

my mother loved her auntie tremendously and visited her often — in her final days and in healthier ones. she was like a second mother to my mother, especially after my grandma died. “make your face before you make your bed” was one of my great-auntie’s more famous sayings. she was slightly vain that way. i’ll never forgot the bright pink lipstick she wore well into her eighties.

when they lowered her casket into the ground, everyone stood by watching, tearful and sad, while the Rabbi said a few final words. then we heard a boom that brought the service to a standstill. it was a big boom, too, one that seemed to shake the entire sky. everyone looked around for the smoke, certain that a bomb went off. but all we found was a blown tire on one of the cemetery’s golf carts. it had popped without warning or reason right as dirt was being thrown on top of the casket.

“she went out with a bang,” everyone laughed. that was exactly her style. it was the Kravitz way.

goodnight, great-auntie. you were a fighter until the end. i hope you’re enjoying a happy reunion with your sisters, brother and parents. be sure to tell my grandma i said hello.

standing sister is my grandma Zhenya; from left: Fanya, Riva, Manya, Moosya


Michael Landis said...

Very sweet. You may have some Kravitz in you, but you're also 100% Milla. Shine on, sweetie. ^_^

Katy said...

Thanks for sharing, Milla!

Gitella said...

Thanks for posting that. Brought tears to my eyes.

Mila Kiselyuk said...

Thank you for the story. Yes, its the end of Kravetz sisters era on earth and they will be watching us from above. But guess who gonna be in charge now! THE SECOND GENERATION!!!!!!!!!!!!
Watch out, its gonna be worse.

Ida G said...

I have been crying all the way to the end while reading it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Wade said...

Great Stuff! Also, wow, you totally look like her!