Replacement for a Child Lost

Born After Plane Crash, Judy Mandel Lived in Sister’s Shadow

In Her Place: A doctor told Florence Mandel (left, with 1-year-old Judy Mandel) that having another child would ease her suffering.
Courtesy of Judy Mandel
In Her Place: A doctor told Florence Mandel (left, with 1-year-old Judy Mandel) that having another child would ease her suffering.

By Sarah Seltzer

Published May 14, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 4)

“The yahrtzeit candle would come out for my sister’s yahrtzeit, but they never told me what it was,” she said. Eventually Mandel pieced together the stories she overheard and the references to the “accident” her relatives assumed she knew about. She finally learned the complete truth from her parents when she asked for their permission to fly to Florida as a teen. Her parents never flew themselves, but they reluctantly allowed her to go.

Mandel had to process that her own life was meant to be, she writes, her family’s “salvation,” the salve on the burn. Her relationship with her parents was tangled up in their truncated attachment to Donna. Adding to the pain, Mandel’s parents often talked about how perfect Donna was, a daunting memory for a spirited girl to live up to.

Mandel’s presence was “alternately a blessing and a painful reminder” to her parents, she writes in “Replacement Child.” Up until her father’s death, his love mostly came across as fretful and overprotective rather than affectionate. Mandel wrote that her father’s attitude influenced her, leading her into a series of failed marriages and relationships with men.

“It’s true we marry our mothers and fathers in some sense,” she writes of her ex-husband, Steven. “His emotional distance drew me to him like a long-lost relative.”

The book is filled with Jewish references. The day of the crash, a few neighborhood children came over to the house so that Florence could help them practice for a skit they would perform at Temple Beth El — a pedestrian moment in a life that was about to be shattered.

The funeral for Donna, which Florence and Linda were too ill to attend, as well as three b’nai mitzvot — Linda’s, Mandel’s, and later, Mandel’s son’s — signify the family’s perseverance after the crash, milestones along its journey. “The party had a carnival feel, a kind of wild abandon,” Mandel writes of her own bat mitzvah, while her sister Linda’s was a tearful affair. Mandel learned Hebrew because her mother wanted someone in the family to recite the Kaddish she didn’t know how to say for her dead daughter.

In writing her book, Mandel pieced together the story of the day of the crash through painstaking research: newspaper clippings, photos, public records, interviews with friends and other survivors.

“The difficult part of it was, I wasn’t there for any of it — the accident, the plane crash, my sister and her surgeries when she was very little, or even the years when I was young and didn’t know,” she said. “How do you structure something from the past but really be true to what happened?”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.