Ilan passed a week ago tonight, and this has been the hardest week of my life. In addition to the obvious, there have been other serious issues in my life this week, all conspiring to give me panic attacks. Thankfully, and much to my surprise, I have handled the anxiety, anger, hurt, frustration, pain, etc, in a healthier way than I ever thought I was capable of, particularly because I have a panic and anxiety disorder.
I think half of the strength I've found comes from Ilan's memory ("What would Ilan do?"), and the other half comes from all of you. I've received messages from over 50 total strangers who shared a love of Ilan. The way the people in the UC Davis and Jewish communities have come together to support each other is simply incredible, and I think it's the most appropriate way to honor Ilan's memory. He was there for all of us, and now we are all there for each other.
Which brings me to some of the things I've been thinking about this week.
I've been blown away by seeing people embrace their very best qualities. Ilan was very good at seeing the best in people, and in the last week, everyone has lived up to the qualities that Ilan saw in them. Personally, I've received such kind words and offers from people who I would never have met, even despite Ilan's devious plans to integrate me into his old community when I move.
Every one of us has our own pain or fear when dealing with the death of a loved one, no matter how close you were or how long since you've had contact. Mine is that I know I had a short time with Ilan, so I don't have a large pool of memories to draw from. I'm very afraid that I'll forget these experiences. I've told these funny, touching, and silly stories to anyone who will listen, probably in some subconscious attempt to memorize the stories. However, a friend of Ilan had a great point: I'm internalizing the lessons I've learned from Ilan. I know it's natural that I'm going to forget at least some of these stories, but I feel better knowing that the real substance of those times with Ilan will stay with me.
Ilan and I joked a lot about Jewish Geography, and unlike many converts, I think it's great fun. However, I realize now that Jewish Geography was something much more serious to Ilan. It's not just making that initial connection, but it's maintaining that connection and strengthening Am Yisrael. But on a foundational level, it's seeing every person individually and taking the time to really KNOW him or her. I never thought I'd think of Jewish Geography as a holy mission, but it really can be. It takes an incredible amount of effort, effort that most of us aren't willing to do on a regular basis. After all, none of us had any idea how many people Ilan kept in regular contact with, and he must have spent 1-2 hours a week placing Shabbat Shalom calls every Friday afternoon. But he did it so cheerfully and effortlessly that every person felt special and had no idea the others existed.
That's what I've learned from Ilan and what I hope to internalize from our time together.
If you would like to share memories of Ilan, here is a place you can do so.