When I greet a Jewish friend that I haven’t seen in a very long time I typically say, “Mchayei Meitim.” It literally means, “who resurrects the dead.” Weird huh?
It’s less weird if you know that “Mchayei Meitim” is the conclusion of a traditional Jewish blessing that thanks God for, yes, resurrecting the dead. Some Jews take this blessing literally and recite this blessing x3/day as an affirmation of God’s limitless power. When greeting an old friend it’s a way of saying something like, “It’s great to see you” and “Let’s pick up right where we left off.”
I don’t put much stock in the traditional Jewish view that one day the dead will rise and be gathered back together in some sort of “Zion.” But this week the dead literally came back to life for me and my family.
I’m writing this post mid-journey so some of the details are still a bit fuzzy, but here’s as much of the story as I feel I can meaningfully share right now…
A couple of months ago I received an email from an active member of The Davis Academy grandparent community named Carol. She wrote to ask me if I was related to a man named Morris Lapidus who lived in Syracuse, NY. Like most Lapidus’, I’m fairly accustomed to being asked if I’m related to such and such Lapidus from such and such a place. It happens a couple of times a year and I typically respond by saying, “Not that I know of, but I’m sure we’re distant cousins somehow.”
As far as Morris Lapidus from Syracuse is concerned– well he’s my great grandfather. I’m named after him. So you might imagine my surprise and curiosity when out of the blue came an email asking if he was a relative.
Carol, who I have known for many years, was sitting with her friend, Ann, at Shabbat services at their synagogue– B’nai Torah. Coincidentally there was a Davis Academy student who was becoming Bar Mitzvah that morning. At some point during the service the Bar Mitzvah family said something along the lines of “Thank you Davis Academy and thank you Rabbi Micah Lapidus.” Upon hearing my name, Ann, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, turned to Carol and asked, “Lapidus? I wonder if Rabbi Lapidus is related to Morris Lapidus?” Carol replied, “I don’t know, but why do you ask?” At that point Ann shared that Morris Lapidus rescued her and her husband from the displaced persons camp in Europe after World War II. Morris Lapidus was their sponsor, bringing them to the States, and helping them settle in Syracuse, NY. All this because Morris Lapidus’ first wife, whose name none of us recall at the moment, was Ann’s husband’s aunt.
I can’t speak for the rest of my family, but I can say that I knew none of this and I’m pretty sure that most of my cousins don’t either. What I’m saying is that this week I was reunited with family I never knew I had who live right here in Atlanta.
This week I met Ann and her daughter Hilda. They were kind enough to come and visit me at The Davis Academy. Together we started to unpack the story of our family. Preliminarily I learned a few things….
I learned that when Ann and her husband got off the boat in New York my grandfather Harold met them at the docks and escorted them via train back to Syracuse.
I learned that my great grandfather was an “entrepreneur” who owned various rental properties and was also a very learned man, always reading.
I learned that, at his medical school graduation, my grandfather downplayed the fact that he was at the top of his class saying that he had an unfair advantage because he had served as a medic in the war and was therefore older and more experienced.
I learned that my grandfather wrote a note to Ann when my grandmother, Florence, passed away in 1997. In that note he expressed his anguish and heartbreak.
I learned that my grandparents sent Ann and her second husband Rosh Hashanah cards every year, a few of which Ann still has and was able to share with me.
I learned that thinking about my grandfather, and particularly the fact that I officiated his funeral, isn’t something that I’ve fully processed on an emotional level.
During my visit with Ann and Hilda I learned a bit about their family as well. I heard a few of Ann’s stories from the war. I heard about how Morris Lapidus had helped her husband learn to become a kosher butcher, which became his profession. I learned that Ann and her husband opened a kosher butcher shop when they moved to Atlanta in the 60s.
A few times during our meeting Ann looked at me and told me that, when she looked me in the eyes, she could see my grandfather.
That’s about all I have to report at the moment. Hopefully there’ll be more forthcoming.
But the amazing thing about all this is the coincidence of Ann being at synagogue on the day when the Davis family mentioned my name from the bimah. I don’t attend many Saturday morning services of Davis Academy students but I’m fairly certain that I am only rarely mentioned by name at any of them. That this particular family said my name is the fluke that led to this whole discovery. I’ve been living in Atlanta for 6 years now and Ann and her family have been here much longer. Who knows if we ever would have found one another if Ann hadn’t been at synagogue that morning and if my name hadn’t been mentioned?