TEANECK The words "fire" and "death" were never uttered during a program at Cong. Beth Aaron here commemorating the second anniversary of a tragic accident that took the lives of four children from one township family.
Those words may well have been on the minds of the adults whose first- and second-graders decorated fabric squares to be made into memory quilts for Ari, Noah, Natan, and Adira Seidenfeld, victims of a fire that swept through their home in the middle of the night two years ago and left their mother, Phyliss, in critical condition. Two other sisters survived the blaze and a third was in Israel when it happened.
And yet despite the heartbreaking history behind the evening’s program, Seidenfeld herself set a child-friendly, convivial tone as she spoke to participants about what they might help her accomplish in memory of her children. Many were classmates from the schools her children had attended, and she saw this as "a closure event" for them.
"Quilting has become my passion and my therapy, and it occurred to me that it would be awesome if kids could write a memory and their feelings, or if they didn’t know the children, then write how it feels to be part of this second yahrzeit," Seidenfeld said.
Over the next year, she and her "quilting buddies," members of the local chapter of the Pomegranate Guild, plan to assemble the squares framed by novelty fabrics that Seidenfeld has bought with each of her deceased children in mind. There are swatches with pictures of sushi, skiing, and tools, for Ari. There’s one with pirates, for Noah; strawberry shortcake for Adira; Simba from "The Lion King" for Natan. She’ll add pieces cut from the four children’s clothing as well.
Seidenfeld explained to the children here that in Yiddish, "yahr" means "year" and "zeit" means "time."
"We are marking this time of year by remembering my children on the 11th day of Adar," she said. "And for a yahrzeit, we don’t just remember; we do. A lot of that ‘doing’ is giving tzedakah." She had set up a table with four separate bowls for donations to charities that would have resonated with each of the children.
Seidenfeld spoke to the young participants about the earthly purpose of the neshama, the human soul a theme she is writing about in a children’s book she hopes to have published.
"Every neshama has a job to accomplish," she told them. "For some people it takes a long time to finish that job. But for my children, their job was finished quickly."
She explained that Torah learning helps the souls of her children "go up and up and up" and she encouraged each to "adopt a mitzvah" in their memory "to try to copy the beautiful things about them and carry it into our lives."
Because the event took place days before Purim, Seidenfeld insisted that it have a festive air. Members of the Beth Aaron sisterhood had set out four cakes one in memory of each of the children donated by Butterflake Bakery, and baskets of hamantaschen donated by Ma’adan.
"God willing, next year for the third yahrzeit, we will display all the quilts we made and the kids can come back and find their square," she said. "It gives me a lot of comfort to see them actively participating and doing. It’s so beautiful."