This is a more personal message than I usually post, and I hope you will take it to heart.
You may have seen the message floating around Facebook. “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
I can tell you that the message is true, and it’s important…and never more important than during a holiday season.
How do I know? My brother Ronald Fischman died late on September 30, 2014, during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He was brutally murdered by a man he had once befriended.
At first, I could not bear to tell people the news. I simply sent a message to friends and members of my synagogue community saying that Ron had died suddenly and that my wife and I would be heading to the Fischman family’s home town, Pittsburgh, after the holiday to bury him. When the newspaper article came out, I sent out the link and let it speak for me. And still, that weekend—and still, as recently as December 4th—I have had to let people know what happened and go over the story all over again.
That’s my struggle. My sister Yael had it worse. She had to lead worship services on Yom Kippur and try to inspire people with her voice, and all the while our brother’s body was waiting to be buried.
My mother, Faye, had it worse. At eighty years old, she had to go (along with my brother Joel) to identify Ron’s body and to arrange for her fifty-four-year-old son to be buried. My brother Gary spent the night before the funeral going through Ron’s forthcoming book of poetry to find the perfect piece to read as a eulogy.
The ones I feel for most deeply are Ron’s children. At ages thirteen and not quite eight, they have just celebrated their first Thanksgiving without their dad. Chanukah (a minor holiday, but usually a cheerful one) will pass and they will not light the menorah with him. 2015 will begin without him.
The day after Thanksgiving, we spent the afternoon with Ron’s children, our nephew and niece. We went to the park where Ron used to take them to play and had pizza at their favorite pizza parlor. We looked at photos and told stories. We even went to the mall on Black Friday to see if we could find our nephew the snazzy sneakers that are so important when you’re a teenager trying to be cool.
No one looking at us could have known that we were aching for their father, our brother. But they will grow up missing him, and every Jewish and secular New Year will mark the passage of time without Ron.
When you look at your coworkers, your employees, and even your friends and neighbors, please remember: they may be fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always. And especially in December.