If anyone had asked me, I wouldn't have thought that I would be close to this particular student. She's shy, and was, to be blunt, weak in English.
In fact, at the end of eighth grade, I told her she should go back to a regular class, rather than staying in the advanced class I teach. She needed another year of practice before her matriculation exams, and she needed to study grammar, something I don't focus upon.
I was surprised when she asked me if I would give her private lessons. She came regularly, diligently, rain or shine and throughout the winter and even the summer months.
Last year, she asked if her younger sister could also begin to study. They are three years apart in age, and they continued to learn with me and, in the course of time, I got to know them both better. The younger girl loves strawberries. One day during a lesson, I had put out potato chips, chocolate, and strawberries. She gobbled about twenty of the luscious, sweet fruits. We even laughed at how many she had eaten and she admitted it was a favorite of hers. Here in Israel, strawberries come out in the winter. Their vivid color and delicious taste liven our souls during the rainy winter months.
Their father was sick with cancer and when he was hospitalized they held their breath. Ultimately, he emerged from the crisis, and would even drive the girls to their lessons, and wait in the car for them to finish.
Two years ago, Israel experienced the horrific and terrifying war with Gaza. Areas in the south experienced a barrage of rocket attacks, often several times a day. Since we live near Jerusalem, we weren't too worried but one day, as we were learning, the siren began to wail. Wanting to set a good example, I insisted that we join our neighbors in the collective safe room. My young student was terrified, not for herself but for her father who was typically waiting outside.
I had to physically restrain her from running to him, which would have obviously defeated the purpose for waiting in a sealed room. Where could he be? Was he safe? He was just recently out of the hospital! It was hard for him to move quickly. Oh, dear, what about my Daddy? She was beside herself!
The siren began again, signifying that it was now safe to emerge, and we all sighed. The Iron Dome had done its job and no one, that time, was hurt.
Where had her father been? There were children playing at the park across the street and this hero, who was in pain himself, got out of his car and rounded up the kids to shelter them inside a garage. He covered them with his body, arms around them, and calmed their fears.
Just before Passover this year, the evil cancer reared its head again and this time her father succumbed. Because of the holiday, the traditional seven days of mourning did not begin until after Passover had ended. Thus, the family had the week of the funeral, which was supposed to be a festive holiday, to grieve and then the official mourning began.
They live nearby and, of course, I went to their home. When I stopped off at the store to bring something to the house of mourning, I found other fruit, but the season for strawberries had ended—or so I thought.
The following day as I walked through the open-air market in Jerusalem, what did I see but gorgeous, sweet, and fresh strawberries! How extraordinary! Strawberries along with watermelon? How strange! I don't remember another time in over twenty-four years in which strawberries were in season after Passover. I asked the fruit vendor and he admitted that it was strange but said to taste and see that they are very, very sweet! I did, indeed, and they were! I bought a kilo and brought them to my friends. Their smiles and their hugs were priceless.
“Taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8). Could it be that these strawberries were in abundance to demonstrate that even in the midst of mourning there will be joy? There will be seasons of sweetness and seasons of pain. Passover will always be bittersweet to my young friends, as this was the season in which they lost their Daddy.
But perhaps they might also come to understand that this is the season in which he passed through his own waters, into his own promised land, and he is no longer in pain. Before he passed, he left the taste of his love, his bravery, his optimism, and maybe even some strawberries for his little girl.
Maybe someday, in time, these little girls will come to know their Heavenly Father, who will never leave them and who will be with them always.
Taste and see that the LORD is good! Spring always follows winter. Always. Without end.