Ariel Pesach Pietrodarchi, Z”l: The Month After

To mark thirty days since the burial of my friend, a righteous convert, an eclectic caravan-family of Catholics and Jews set out to the Mount of Olives.

Late Monday afternoon, May 7, the 15 of Iyar, a bus with about 20 people left from in front of Machon Meir yeshiva in Kiryat Moshe. We were to rendezvous with a similar bus in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem to form a convoy, along with a security vehicle, going to the Mount of Olives cemetery. Today was the Shloshim (thirty days) since the burial of Ariel Pesach Pietrodarchi, z”l. It was an eclectic caravan-family: a mother, a step-brother and his wife from Montreal, teachers, fellow students, friends, Catholics and Jews. Ariel Pesach was a ger tzedek (righteous convert), who was buried Erev Pesach, four days after he died. The delay was due to the need to obtain permission from his Catholic family in Montreal.

We arrived at the gravesite. To view the Old City of Jerusalem and the panoramic view of the Judean Hills from the Mount of Olives side was absolutely breathtaking.

We gathered round the monument erected over the grave and as we were about to start reciting Psalms, there was a moment of confusion, as Eleonora, Ariel Pesach’s mother, wanted to understand what was written in Hebrew on the stone. Rabbi Menachem Listman, Ariel Pesach’s teacher and mentor from Machon Meir, provided an expressive translation and we continued with Psalms and eulogies.

As we concluded and as is customary, most of us took a small stone and placed it on the monument as a sign of our presence and participation in the mitzvah of attending to the dead. Leaving flowers is not a traditional Jewish practice. Flowers and fragrant spices were used in ancient times to mask the odor of a decaying body. Since Judaism places high regard on the needs of the deceased, requiring the earliest possible burial, flowers and spices aren’t required and not having them marks our difference.

As the security was hastening us back to the buses, Eleonora unwrapped a simple potted plant with a stunning red flower and set it on the monument. In it, she placed a note card and we all stood there, Ariel Pesach’s Catholic and Jewish families, marking the moment, in silence. When there is respect and sensitivity, we distinguish ourselves and make a real Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name.)

Ariel Pesach, as a convert who didn’t have a wife or children, has no Jewish relative to mourn for him. Rabbi Listman took on the responsibility of saying Kaddish, but the responsibility to mourn and to remember falls on us, his community of teachers, fellow students, and friends. How appropriate that the calendar during the Shloshim, which included Pesach, Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, was a cycle of redemption, loss, sacrifice, and promise of the final redemption.

On returning from the cemetery, there was a memorial service at Machon Meir. Four of us spoke, remembering Ariel Pesach’s kindness, consideration, and humility. Afterward, I spoke with Eleonora, Jose (Ariel Pesach’s step-brother) and his wife, Melissa. I learned that Eleonora’s husband had been killed in a construction accident when Ariel Pesach was eleven years old. Eleonora was pregnant at the time and she subsequently lost the child in a miscarriage. She married a widower with a son, Jose, and the boys grew up together.

As we finished speaking, Eleonora gave me a card, the same as she left in the plant at her son’s grave. From here I learned that Ariel Pesach’s given first name was Pascal. According to Wikipedia, “Pascal derives from the Latin paschalis or pashalis, which means ‘relating to Easter’, from Latin pascha (‘Passover’, i.e. the ‘Easter Passover’)…, in turn from the Hebrew pesach, which means ‘to be born on, or to be associated with, Passover day’.”

Ariel Pesach’s time with us was too brief and his loss incomprehensible. But, from his given and chosen names, from the way he lived his life, and from the time of his death to the time that we said a final goodbye, we - his birth and adopted families - can take some comfort in believing that his destiny here on earth was fulfilled.

Rabbi Yehoshua Looks is Managing Director of HaOhel Institutions. HaOhel’s venture Threshold, fostering Jewish Educational Entrepreneurship, will be hosting Launch Night of the First Fellowship, June 28, 2012.