I was sitting in my den on the evening of Sept. 16, 2009 reading or watching TV when my son, Kenneth, came into the room and said the fatal words “Dad, we are losing Mom,” to which I replied “will she live for another year?” and Kenny said “no Dad, within three days”.
I knew Kenny was an excellent physician but I did not know that he was also a clairvoyant. Three days later, on the first day of Rosh Hashana, we all, including grandchildren and great-grandchildren, went to shul to pray leaving Hilda at home with a nurse.
After services, Ken and the grandchildren went to visit my wife to see how she was doing. I did not go. Perhaps it was due to the prediction made by Kenny. About 2 hours later, they all returned to Kenny’s house and mournfully advised me that my beloved was gone. As I am writing this, I am sobbing as I am reliving that dreadful moment in my life.
In the late afternoon, when I felt that I was mentally strong enough to visit and say farewell to the woman who was and will always be an integral part of my life, I went to my home with the children. I, immediately, went to our bedroom where my aishas chail was lying on her side with a slight smile on her face bereft of any pain. An aura of contentment shown on her face. She accomplished what she always wanted. Her desire was that she would predecease me and she obtained her wish. I closed the bedroom door as I wanted to be alone with my darling.
I took her hands and caressed them with final kisses and began to cry uncontrollably. I could not believe that I would not hold her in my arms again and tell her how much I loved her and needed her.
On major festivals, Jewish law forbids Jews to inter their dead on the first day of the holiday. Because conditions in contemporary society are such that funerals on either day of the festival invariably result in needless transgressions of the law, it is preferable to postpone the funeral until after both days of the holiday.
Motzei yomtov, the funeral directors and Anne and Michael Strauss, who are in charge of the Chevra Kadisha of our schul, came to the house to take the body. Anne was to perform the tahara on my darling wife. About 20 years ago I wrote 2 notes to Hilda to be read by her when I die and I requested that she should insert these notes in her coffin. She complied with my request.
Now that she is gone, I can now publicize what is expressed in these notes that were placed in an envelope which read “For my dear wife after I will join my ancestors.”
TO MY ACHAS CHAIL HINDY
In the event that I depart without having an opportunity to express my heart-felt love and gratitude to you for being my alter-ego and partner for these many years, I do so now and hope that we will meet again somehow, somewhere. You were instrumental in my enjoyment of the wonderful life that I was blessed with. How can I ever thank you enough for being such a devoted and loving wife and companion throughout the many years we’ve been together?
You exemplified the quintessence of an Aichas Chail. May God bless you with good health and a long and happy life to continue to enjoy our children and grandchildren. Please do not rush to join me.
The second note reads:
From the moment I met you, I knew that you were my zivik. Your zest for life captivated me. Your ability to make me laugh, your constant smile, readiness to laugh and your beauty were traits that made me want to be with you forever.
The four years we spent together during our courtship were heavenly. Your strong commitment to me despite the first two years demonstrated your strong love for me. Your visiting me very often at my college library, while I was working there, again manifested your feelings toward me. You changed me in so many ways for which I will always be grateful. I can never forget what you said to me when you were only seventeen years of age. “Mac, if we will marry and have children, you will always be number one.” Not many wives feel that way. Most importantly, you kept that promise.
Throughout our marriage you made my life as happy and full as can be. I am so grateful to God for giving you to me. You gave me two wonderful children and through them exceptional grandchildren. When, I leave this earth, I will have no regrets, thanks to you.
I want you to know that I love you and no man could have been given a better life partner that you have been to me.
The funeral service was held on Monday morning Sept. 11 in our newly built synagogue. This was the first event in our new sanctuary; not having prayed therein previously. It was incredible and amazing that close to 300 people attended the service to bid farewell to their close friend and relative whom they loved. Eulogies were delivered by Kenny, Dennis, Joshua, Tamar, Benjy, David and Rabbi Goldin. Even though I did not shed a tear, I was not able to speak as I was in a trance. My close friend of 59 years, Jack Walker, sang the kheil molei rachamim.
The cortege of many cars then drove to Wellwood Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY. The burial took place in our private plot which I purchased at the age of 24 when I was the accountant of Wellwood. I witnessed my sweetheart being placed in the earth and then being covered by many attending. Again, I was amazed that I did not cry. I kept thinking that the one being buried was not my Hilda who shared my life for 73 years. The person in the grave was a corpse which will soon decompose and only a skeleton will remain. Although I did not cry from the moment of her death to the end of the burial, I have not stopped crying many times daily to this day when I am writing this one year later. I will express my feelings about her demise later on.
We all sat shiva in Kenny’s house which included Kenny, Dennis, Pearl and Chippy. I could not believe how many people came to manachem oveil . Besides our friends and relatives, persons came from Hilda’s beauty parlor, her pharmacy and several physicians who took care of her for many years. She was loved by every person who she touched with her warmth and caring personality. Every morning and evening we conducted prayer services. Many people attended whom I never thought that they knew us. For many years Hilda and I were told that we were their role models. Perhaps, our devoted and intense love that we had for each other was quite evident. Throughout the seven days of shiva, I did not stop crying as I could not believe that death was final and that I would never hold her in my arms again and that there were no more hugs and kisses. There was a complete denial of reality.
A few months after Hilda’s death, Kenny received a call from Rabbi Spitzer of Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Israel. For many years Ken was the primary doctor taking care of the Klauzenberger Rabbi who was a survivor of the Holocaust and who lost his wife and all his children therein. The Rabbi made a vow that if he would survive, he would build a hospital in Israel.
I believe Ken started to treat the Rabbi when he first lived in Union City, NJ. After a while, the Rabbi moved to Netanya with a new wife and children and redeemed his vow. For several years thereafter, the Klauzenberger Chassidim would send Kenny, Jeannie and the children to Netanya to observe the health of the Rabbi; especially, during Succoth and other Jewish holidays. One year at Laniado’s annual dinner, Ken was the guest of honor.
Rabbi Spitzer in his call to Ken asked if he could visit him and me to discuss a matter. Ken advised him that it would be best to visit in my home. He arrived a few days later with Rabbi Waldman, the executive director of Laniado. I knew Rabbi Waldman through his wife who was a bookkeeper at one of my nursing home clients. Whenever I met him he kept thanking me for teaching his wife bookkeeping.
They began their conversation by telling us that they knew that Dennis was a good friend of Pastor John Agee who was the Senior Pastor and founder of the Cornerstone Church, a non-denominational evangelical church located in San Antonio, Tex. with more than 19,000 active members. Pastor Agee is President of John Agee Ministries, which telecasts his national radio and television teachings throughout America and in 235 nations worldwide. Over the years, John Agee Ministries has given more than 60 million dollars toward humanitarian causes in Israel. In 2006, Dr. Agee founded, and is the National Chairman of Christians United for Israel. Dr. Agee gains support for this worthy cause by conducting “A Night to Honor Israel” in every major city in America and by organizing an annual Washington DC – Israel Summit where his church delegates have the opportunity to meet members of Congress face to face on behalf of Israel. Christians United for Israel has nearly 400,000 participants.
Knowing of Pastor Agee’s involvement with Israel and Dennis’s friendship with the Pastor, both rabbis who visited us suggested that, in memory of Hilda, a Department Of Pulmonary Medicine be inaugurated at Laniado Hospital. I presume that they selected pulmonary because Ken is a pulmonologist. They stated that this project would cost $ 500.000. I told them that I and my 2 sons would naturally want to participate in this wonderful tribute to my wife and their mother. However, the cost was certainly not within our means. I then asked if Pastor Agee did not contribute would they go ahead and build this Department nonetheless; they answered in the affirmative.
On Sunday evening, April 25th, 2010, Laniado’s Annual Dinner was held at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York and the invitation read:
In Memory of
Mrs. Hilda Prager, o.b.m.
By Her Beloved Husband,
Mr. Max Prager
Her Dear Children,
Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Prager and Family
Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Prager and Family
I was very hesitant to go along with the idea since in November 2003, Hilda and I were guests of honor at the Annual Dinner of Chabad of Bergen County and we solicited contributions from many of our friends both within our schul and others. We also solicited members of our family. We were exceptionally successful by raising over $39,000. We received a letter of thanks from Rabbi Ephraim Simon informing us that this was the largest Dinner that Friends of Lubavitch ever made and that it also raised the most money; namely, $146,000. In fact, he told us later on that they had never reached our figure in subsequent dinners.
So I was in a dilemma. I discussed the situation with Kenny and we both decided to again solicit the people that I previously contacted. To my great and pleasant surprise, we raised $34,000. A few months after the Dinner, Rabbi Waldman called me and said that Dennis had been with Pastor Agee at a speech that Dennis had given and that he donated $400,000 for our project and 8 million dollars to other Israeli charities. I knew for sure that the project in memory of my beloved wife was a certainty.