Monthly Archives: November 2009

The World’s Oldest…Question

by Irina Tsukerman (Brooklyn, NY)

…is “Who am I?” In my case, it means who am I as a Jew. Am I even a Jew? My ethnic identity and my religious identity should be one and the same, because all Jews, as a people, are supposed to follow certain religious prescriptions (many of which indeed sound like a bitter pill to swallow). But I don’t believe in much of it. For instance, I don’t think kashrut is justified. I’m an agnostic. Praying doesn’t do the trick for me. I don’t want to waste my Saturday afternoons in synagogue, which to me, is a good place for community interaction, but otherwise isn’t particularly useful. I’m not a Democrat. I don’t believe in abortions, welfare, affirmative action, community service, and pro bono work. What can I say? I’m a bad Jew…

Or at least I would be according to one view. The other view, secular nationalist one, seems to justify me completely. I espouse my history and background. I completely support Israel. I encourage the unity among the Jews, including one language, which should be Hebrew, not Yiddish or Ladino or anything else. Hebrew. I’m an ardent advocate of Israel’s right to exist… I long to rejoin the Jewish community, and hopefully one day will actively participate in a number of important Jewish networks and organizations. And I support the core tenets of “traditional” Jewish values, such as justice, defense of the helpless, and love of learning. (Though the phrase “People of the Book” has a slightly different connotation in my view). I hope to become the best that I can and make my people proud of me. Which makes me a good Jew…

But wait a second. Some of the more religious communities wouldn’t call me Jewish at all. I don’t even follow the basic of Jewish things. I eat pork, well, sometimes. I don’t really like pork. But I love rabbit and seafood and black caviar and chicken covered with cheese with dry plums. I am far from modest in my attire. I don’t mark the Holidays with the exception of Yom Kippur, which I mark only by fasting not prayers or restraint from work. I don’t have a Jewish name and I don’t want one. And though I want my children to have a Jewish education, I’m more concerned about their secular one and that they enjoy life, and are vivacious, aggressive, fun-loving, a bit crazy and to an extent, even disobedient and skeptical.

I want them to be everything I am and more. I want them to have an opportunity to go to the prom in school if they so wish. I didn’t, but only because I didn’t want to, not because I couldn’t. I don’t want them to wear long skirts all the time, but a variety of clothes that they like, as long as they don’t look like prostitutes. At the same time, I would love them to be as much interested in Jewish history, culture, and current life as I am, and I want them to be just as supportive of Israel. So who am I? Am I Jewish or not? Am I a bad Jew or a good Jew? Is an agnostic who supports Israel any better than an ultra-Orthodox who doesn’t? Is it so wrong to want to live to the fullest, and eat what I like, and do what I want with my life and free time, in the modern world?

Life is so short – why waste it on useless restrictions? Don’t get me wrong, if I were forced to follow the rules (such as if I married into an observant family), I’d be able to. I’m a good, disciplined girl. But is it worth it? Is any man and any family, no matter how much I love him, worth the sacrifice of my core belief, my very identity of living life to the fullest? Can I really change – not just my habits, but my very nature- for the sake of somebody else? Do I want to? I’ve read John Fowles’ masterpiece, Daniel Martin. There, a character, an energetic, spunky though very stubborn young woman, marries a guy who becomes a deeply observant Catholic. She adapts to his way of life, but in return, fades, and loses her sparkle. Is that what would happen to me if I were to embrace my traditions? Do I want that? I’m seriously questioning myself and my motivations. I have no right to make promises that I can but do not want to keep… including promises to myself.

And I have to make peace with myself and know who I really am. Otherwise, I don’t feel like I really belong anywhere. If anyone of my readers has ever experienced such a conflict, please help me understand what is happening to me. How do I deal with not knowing what I am in relation to my own nation? What do I owe to my ethnicity and my religion? One thing I know for sure: if I want to come to any satisfactory conclusion, I’ve got to be honest with myself, which I haven’t been previously. And if any observant Jew ever reads this, please do not judge me too harshly. I came from a world where Jewish tradition was suppressed, and for me it doesn’t make any sense half the time, rationalized or not. For me the costs of giving up the way of life that I enjoy seem greater than the dubious benefits of an observant lifestyle. Before condemning me as the heretic that I probably am, read Daniel Martin and try to see how similar I now feel to Jane. And read Hesse’s Steppenwolf – it’s kind of the opposite. There, a cultured but very withdrawn and dry individual, reaches out to embrace life with all its complexities and heterodoxies. Please do respond to this, whether you’re Jewish or not. What, to you, is your identity?

Maybe Jewish and maybe not,

Irina

Irina Tsukerman was born in Kharkov, Ukraine in 1985, and came to the United States in September 1995. She received an A.B. in International/Intercultural Studies from Fordham College at Lincoln Center in 2006, and graduated from Fordham University School of Law in 2009. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

You can read more of her work at her blog, The IgNoble Experiment http://sicat222.blogspot.com/ where this piece first appeared in 2004. It’s reprinted here with permission of the author.

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Our Hairy Jewish Bodies, Ourselves

by Van “Zev” Wallach (Stamford, CT)

Let’s not beat around the bush. I’m that hairy Jewish guy, built more like Esau than Jacob, who comics and cartoonists love to lampoon. While I’m bald on top, genetics compensated me with swirls of fur everywhere else: arms, legs, shoulders and back. I’d be a terrible criminal because I leave curly DNA evidence everywhere I go.

The look has pleased me since a line of hair first ran down my chest starting in the seventh grade. An early bloomer, I was. I still delight to see the hair poke up at the top of my shirts, like a wash of black foam on a beach of skin. At real beaches, I shuck my shirt to stroll about in my barrel-chested Russian-Jewish glory. At my health club, sleeveless t-shirts display my shoulders and their halo of hair, what I see as a living tattoo of shapes, shadows and textures.

I grew up with positive media hair images, like Sean Connery in his 007 days and Burt Reynolds with his April 1972 Cosmopolitan centerfold. The hippies of the 1960s, who let their freak flag fly, gave me confidence with my own evolving body. That’s just who I am, man. Impending baldness rankled me, since I knew, as the latest in a long line of bald Wallachs, I’d lose hair on top in my 20s. But that happened so gradually that I barely noticed and hardly cared.

Then over the past 20 years or so a new look emerged, favoring shrunken-chested Euromen with less body hair than a Chihuahua. Media images taunted my curl-enclosed physique. Ads in the Village Voice celebrate hair removal via laser and other technologies. The pages of GQ and Esquire glisten with images of young men of marbleized features, with nothing on their hard but hairless abs and chests. A recent cartoon in The New Yorker by Roz Chast, about an updated version of the 10 plagues of the Exodus, showed a girl on a beach recoiling from a man with a hairy back, under the title, “Unwanted Body Hair!”

And I’ll never forget the derision heaped on the poor “40 Year Old Virgin” for his hairy chest, which drove him to a salon for a wax-and-rip treatment. Actor Steve Carell, who really did undergo this painful procedure on screen, got big laughs with his outbursts of yowls and curses, but the obvious message made me wince. The message:

Male body hair = social handicap.

The negativity corroded my confident body image like battery acid on ice cream. When I turned 50, I suddenly noticed that I’m afflicted with “Hobbit ears,” with their feathery outcroppings. Gazing into a mirror, I saw not a jolly bald Jewish guy with glasses and a goatee, but – a Hebraic Quasimodo, scorned by the elegantly cruel Esmeraldas of the shtetl called JDate. I finally bought a Conair ear/nose/eyebrow trimmer to keep my ears in check. Even after that, the ads in the Village Voice took on new urgency. Dare I revise 40 years of acceptance for a buttery post-millennial look?

I thought, “Surely other men deal with these issues.” Online, however, I found little serious discussion of male body issues. The articles sounded vague and forced, ruminations on Brad Pitt envy, men with eating disorders, steroid use to get that ripped look; I read nothing compelling or even particularly relevant.

I did discover The Men’s Seder, a project of the Men of Reform Judaism that nods toward the unexplored land of Jewish men and their bodies. Topics for the seder include “What enslaves us as men?”, “How do we evaluate success?” and “What are the plagues of being a man?” According to one review, the new plagues include “prostate cancer, weight gain, hair loss and impotence.” I can imagine the discussion: “On this night we are all like unleavened bread, because we cannot rise. Farewell, my shankbone.”

In my research, nothing I read about men and body image even approached the agony found in the books, articles, seminars and conferences on women and body image. While I’m content to muse fondly on my hirsuteness, I learned that women strategize, rage, fret and commiserate over their bodies at great length.

And the intensity spirals upward when Jewish women raise the issue. A commentator on the Jewish Women’s Archive site wrote,

I’ve watched incredibly talented, beautiful, intelligent, and critically-thinking girls and women locked into an eternal struggle with their bodies to conform to an arbitrary and unreachable standards. For Jewish women especially, the tension between a rich food culture, contradictory ideals of the zaftig and the rail-thin, and the constant confusion of being accepted into mainstream (read: white) culture while trying to maintain a unique ethno-cultural identity is one that leads far too many people to unhealthy and dangerous relationships with food and the mirror.

Blogger Rachel Lucas struck a less academic note when she wrote, after flipping through an issue of Maxim magazine,

Are women not feeling shitty enough about ourselves? Are we not as hyper-critical of our looks as we should be? Do you desire that we have it kicked into our heads as much as possible that we can never ever FUCKING EVER live up to your expectations of what women should look like? Do you wish to ensure that once we reach a certain age or pass that threshold of 115 pounds, we accept that we are ‘unsexy’? Thank you sir, can I have another? And guys wonder why we don’t like having sex in bright light, why we’re afraid to prance around in lingerie, why we take an hour to put on makeup and do our hair.

As painfully relevant as such reflections are when I think about the Jewish women I’ve known and cared for, they don’t do give me much to chew over on male issues. Since men don’t dare talk about these matters outside the Men’s Seder (“Hey, how’s your prostate hangin’ these days?” or “Still hitting the Viagra for Shabbat afternoon?” are not questions that come naturally to our lips), I’m on my own to decide how I relate to the “mainstream (read: white) culture” and its standards for men. Would I shrivel in the white-hot presence of Brad Pitt? Would the Chihuahuas of GQ hammer me into a state of depression over my height, my baldness, my pathetic lack of Matthew McConaughey-ness?

I am pleased to report: no on all counts. Other than my indulgence in an ear-hair trimmer, I decided to keep accepting myself as I am. Certainly the women in my life have never complained, at least not to my face. I successfully fought the urge to call one of those Village Voice advertisers for a wax-and-rip. My hairy Jewish body is – my physical self. I’ll never deny that. I get positive reinforcement of this attitude by watching lots of Israeli movies. They’re enjoyable because they show bald hairy Jewish guys doing cool things (e.g., driving tanks, shtupping) without a dollop of irony or self-loathing.

And lately, hairy guys are winning more respect. My self-confidence has bounced further back, Hobbit ears be damned. A friend on Facebook posted a link to a blog about actor Hugh Jackman’s fuzzed-up chest. I commented, “Fausta – you can rest even easier after looking at some of my profile photos. Hugh Jackman is a Euro-girlie man compared to, well, me.” Men’s fashion magazines show more natural, fuzzy models.

A British newspaper ran pro-and-con essays with the title “Hairy Chests or Polished Pecs?”, complete with photos. Arguing the “Yes, oh my God, YES!” (my paraphrase) position was Tanya Gold, who winsomely explained, “I am a Jewish woman and making passionate love to textiles is in my genes. But the real reason that I love a hairy chest is this – when you see hair nestling like a headless squirrel on your beloved’s chest you know you have a man in your bed. Not a metrosexual, but Man. Grrr.”

Often, I revel in the presence of men with the same look. At my gym, I’ve checked out other guys and vice versa, in a silent but friendly male competition to see who’s got the baddest, hairiest – whatever.

This spring, I’ve felt deep kinship with a Chasidic man who exercises at the same time I do. Off come the black hat and suit, on go the gym clothes. Once we stood in line for a shower and I marveled at the tribal similarity. While he was much heavier than me and older, our backs and shoulders looked identical. We never spoke but in that silent fraternity of the shower line I knew we were landsmen. We both come from the same Eastern European stock, two guys whose families crawled out of the mud of Ukrainian shtetls to eventually deposit their hirsute offspring in the United States, where we unashamedly maintain our burly physiques. Here are two Yids who’ll never get a back waxing. Roz Chast may find us horrifying, but that’s her problem, not ours.

And I can acknowledge that a hairy Jewish body offers loads of amusement. The look intersects with my daily routine in odd ways. Take medical procedures like EKGs. When I turned 50 and revised a life insurance policy, an insurance company operative came to my apartment to administer an EKG. Her first try failed because the electrical leads wouldn’t stay connected to my chest. They floated atop a follicular ocean, not touching any bit of skin. Gallantly, I offered to shave some strategic patches so she could get me hooked up. She agreed, so I spent 15 minutes in the bathroom hacking at the underbrush until I burrowed down to relatively bare skin. The EKG attachments worked well this time, although I fell into a yowling Steve Carell mood when I yanked them off my newly scraped flesh. Ouch! I can’t say this was exactly fun, but the episode amused me, and the hair grew back more luxuriant than ever, as I knew it would from past medical procedures.

The most satisfying affirmation of my look came way back in May 1987, when somebody went beyond furtive looks to – poke me in wonder. I was attending the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival then. The fun, the sun, the music and the crawfish made me groggy by mid-afternoon, so I stretched out on the ground, shirt off, hat over my eyes.

I had dozed off when somebody started playing with my feet. I opened my eyes and saw two young women sitting down by my feet. “You’re lucky I have such an amiable disposition,” I mumbled.

“Did you pass out?” asked one of the women in a heavy Southern accent. She had dark hair and said her name was Monie.

“I’m just tired,” I said.

“Let’s rub his stomach! That will wake him up,” cried Monie, the chattier of the two.

She did that – and was agog at what she found. “Why you are just the hairiest man Ah’ve ever seen,” she exclaimed. “Can I call you Curly?”

They had come to the festival from Mississippi with a male friend for the music and to see the sites. Well, they got a sight to see in me. Monie kept running her finger down my chest. I didn’t mind her frisky explorations.

“I bet you moan,” I told Monie, but my Mississippi Queen was too sloshed to get my drift.

I had my camera so I snapped a picture of her demonstrating what looked like a drunken Cajun-Caribbean limbo dance move. We listened to music for a while under the pounding New Orleans sun. Finally I handed the camera to their male buddy so he could capture my special moment with Mississippi Mona and her friend. And I’ve got the visual proof of her hand running wild through the Jewish jungle.

Van “Zev” Wallach is a writer based in Stamford, Connecticut. A native of Mission, Texas, he holds an economics degree from Princeton University. Van writes frequently on religion, politics and other matters. His interests include travel, digital photography, world music and blogging, which he does at Kesher Talk http://keshertalk.com/, where this piece originally appeared earlier this year.

“Our Hairy Jewish Bodies, Ourselves” is reprinted with permission of the author.

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The Pui Factor

by Ferida Wolff (Cherry Hill, NJ)

Half my family rails against superstition; the other half spits. Pui, pui, pui.

Mention that you are feeling well, thank you, and the spitting starts.

Just say that you had a good day on the stock market and you are bound to get pui, pui, pui.

Announce that your career is on the rise – Pui, pui, pui. Or as my friend says, poo, poo, poo. There are many variations on the spitting theme.  No actual spitting takes place; it is a verbal facsimile. Said three times, it is sure-fire protection against the evil eye, whatever that is, which is then blinded and can’t see you so it can’t do you any harm.

This curious form of behavior was introduced into my family by my grandmother who came from the “old country.” It makes as much sense as any for people who had no real way of protecting themselves from the ravages of religious prejudice. And it gave them a sense of control over an unfathomable universe.

There are other forms of protection in operation against the evil eye. When my sister was born, a red ribbon was tied to her crib so she would be safe when she slept. She never left the house without a red ribbon somewhere on her – in her hair, tied around her wrist, pinned to her underwear. No harm was going to come to her as long as the red bendle was in place!

My sister remembers hunting for the hard candies my mother put under her newborn son’s crib mattress. Mom claimed they kept the demons of nightmares away and brought sweet dreams. My sister said they attracted sweet little bugs. But the baby slept soundly.

My mother never said anything flattering about my sister or me. She said that other people should be the ones to give us a compliment. She didn’t want to give us a kinnehara. And if something good were said, it would be met with a “knayna hara,” meaning without the evil eye. I discovered that it stems from not flaunting your blessings because it might cause pain to someone who is not as fortunate, an honorable notion that morphed into not bringing attention to one’s own fortune, which you never wanted to do, should some evil being hear it and do mischief.

My grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, wouldn’t sew on something a person was wearing unless the person bit on a piece of thread while she was sewing. Traditionally, only a shroud was sewn on a person. Biting on the thread was a way of showing the angel of death that the person was still alive and active.

And should anyone ever spill salt on the table, it was essential to throw a pinch of it over your left shoulder right into the eye of the devil waiting there.

If you say something is good, make sure you knock on wood. This even works when there is no wood available. All you have to do is say the words, “Knock on wood.” For example, “My son is doing well in his new job, knock on wood.” The protection works through intention. Some people have been known to knock on their heads. The symbolism of  “woodenhead” or “blockhead” seems to get translated into the ethereal language with no trouble at all. I’m not sure that this is a Jewish thing but it was so ingrained in my household that I grew up thinking it was.  Like spitting.

Years ago, when we took a family trip to China, my children, husband and I were all confused about a sign that seemed to be everywhere. It was a picture of lips in a circle with a red, diagonal stripe through them. We knew that we were being told not to do something, but what? Our first guess was that it meant no kissing. Perhaps there was a public lewdness law of which we were unaware. Then we thought it might mean no talking. But Chinese cities are not quiet places. The signs were all over including in open spaces like parks and city streets. There was enough conversation going on to tell us that wasn’t the correct interpretation. We finally asked our guide who said it meant no spitting. They meant the real, juicy kind of spitting, not the pui or poo kind. Yet a sign like that might make a good present for the non-spitting relatives.

And there are several. Don’t say, “God bless you” to my father-in-law when he sneezes unless you want an argument. “Superstition!” he sneers. I think a blessing is a fine thing no matter what. So when he’s around, I say it softly.

My husband is a spitter in jest only. He doesn’t take the evil eye protection seriously but saying pui, pui, pui gets the point across. I know that he is aware of the value of something.

I guess I fall somewhere in between. I don’t believe the spitting itself does anything but I do believe the intention is powerful. When a thought is sent out into the universe, it creates energy. So I praise my children a lot for their fine qualities but it is not to the exclusion of others because I say nice things about them, too. I believe in seeing the positive in people whenever possible.

And I celebrate the successes of the people I love, rejoice in their happiness, and applaud their good fortune in whatever form it takes, adding my intention for more of the same. I know that the good things in life come from hard work and connections and courage.

My mother, may she rest in peace, would have loved her great grandson, my sister’s first grandchild, but would not have praised him. My sister calls him the cutest baby in the world. I do, too. Knowing the philosophy of his parents, both rabbis, I am sure they will help him to understand that the beauty of a compassionate soul is more important than physical beauty and that gratitude is greater protection against the vicissitudes of life than all the salt and spit and wood can provide.

And yet, there is something endearing about the pui factor. Maybe it is the amusement that it engenders when it is invoked.

Then again, maybe it’s like chicken soup. It couldn’t hurt.

Ferida Wolff’s newest book of essays, Missed Perceptions: Challenge Your Thoughts Change Your Thinking, is available from Pranava Books, an imprint of Andborough Publishing, a publisher based in North Carolina.

Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Moment Magazine, Midstream, and Woman’s World, among other periodicals. She’s a contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, HCI Ultimate series, and Chocolate For a Teen’s Dreams, as well as the author of Listening Outside Listening Inside and The Adventures of Swamp Woman: Menopause Essays on the Edge, and seventeen books for children. She’s written elsewhere online at www.grandparents.com and www.seniorwomen.com. You can find out more about her work at www.feridawolff.com.

This story originally appeared in Midstream in July/August 2007. It’s reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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A Small Rescue

by Mimi Schwartz (Princeton, NJ)

November, 8, 1938 :  Some villagers smelled smoke wafting through the windows. Someone heard Mrs. Lowenstein shouting, “Our synagogue is burning. Please, help!” But the street in this little Black Forest village remained silent. Only one voice was heard, a man man shouting: Stay inside and shut the curtains! And people did as they were told. The fire brigade (including two Jews who used to belong before Nazi times) went to put out the fire, but strangers in brown shirts on a truck aimed rifles at them and said, “No!” Only when the house next to the synagogue was in danger did these men—“hoodlums from Sulz!” as the villagers called them later—give the command to use the water hoses to quell the fire on this night, Kristallnacht.

The next day everyone knew that the heart of the Jewish community in this tiny village had been destroyed. The synagogue’s beautiful interior was ruined: the dark wooden benches for 500, the delicate candelabras hanging over the center aisle, the carved wooden balustrade leading to the women’s section, and the ark for the Torah with its sacred scrolls. All was lost, people thought. And with it, the optimism of those who believed their Christian neighbors who said that “the crazy house painter from Austria will disappear and things will be as before!” Not so, not so. Jews now knew without a doubt that they must leave 300 years of history if they still could—and the fact that everyone in this village of 1,200 had gotten along before Hitler didn’t matter.

One night, a few months later, a young Jewish couple heard a knock on their door. They were frightened. And even more frightened when they opened the door, and there was the local policeman. “Don’t be afraid!” he said softly. “I won’t hurt you. I have something to give for you.”

The wife backed away, but the husband said, “What is it?”

“A Torah.”

“A what?”

This policeman, it turns out, had seen the Torah scrolls lying in the street on Kristallnacht and thought it was not right—a holy book, treated so badly. So he took it home, a heavy thing, and dug it deep into his garden. When he heard that the young couple, a few houses from his, was packing to leave, he hoped they might take the Torah with them.

The wife suspected a trick, but the husband thought, This man is a good man, a decent man I’ve known all my life! He told him yes, bring the Torah. The next night, another knock, and there was the policeman carrying the sacred scrolls like a giant baby wrapped in a blanket. A day later this Torah, hidden in a rolled-up living room carpet, was placed in a huge crate that the couple was shipping by boat to Haifa .

I saw this Torah in Israel, north of Acco near the Mediterranean Sea. It is in a Memorial Room built by those, including the young couple, who escaped the village in time and started again, this time farming avocados and melons instead of trading cattle as before. On the wall beside the Torah are the names of eighty-seven village Jews who didn’t make it, weren’t rescued by anyone, and so were murdered in Riga, Theresienstadt, and Auschwitz.  I bowed my head to honor them, and when I looked up in outrage and sadness, I saw the rescued Torah.  Its edges were soiled and slightly charred, and there was a knife gash; but its Five Books of Moses, saved by one policeman, was open for all to read as before.

I still wonder how many it would take, like this policeman, to rescue hope from the fires of hate.

Mimi Schwartz’s latest book is Good Neighbors, Bad Times – Echoes of My Father’s German Village, from which this essay was adapted. Other recent books include Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed, and Writing True, the Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction. Six of her essays have been Notables in Best American Essays. She is Professor Emerita of Richard Stockton College in New Jersey and her short work has appeared in Agni, The Missouri Review, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Calyx, The New York Times, Tikkun, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, Florida Review, Brevity, Writer’s Digest, and Jewish Week, among others.

This essay originally appeared in several Jewish newspapers and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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Remembrance of a Shabbos Past

by Robert J. Avrech (Los Angeles, CA)

The arrival of Shabbos is a time of awe and delight for observant Jews.

The Kabbalists in Safed used to dress in white and singing with joy they would greet the Sabbath Bride in the mountains.

Here in Pico Robertson, Los Angeles, we too greet the Sabbath albeit with a less romantic gesture.

The Sabbath is a time when the ordinary burdens of the work week are left behind and time becomes consecrated. Every man becomes a king in his home and every woman a queen.

When our son Ariel ZT’L was alive he would spend a great deal of time preparing for Shabbos. He put on his best suit and hat saying: Would you meet with a president or a king dressed as a schlump?

It was something of a running joke in the house that Ariel, no matter how early he started, was almost always late. By the time I was ready to go to shul, Ariel was still awkwardly struggling with his cuff links or wrestling with his tie, trying to get the knot just right. Ariel moved slowly. His weakened lungs made it so, but it was also the pace at which he moved through life. Slow, deliberate, thoughtful. Ariel moved like a man from another century. None of the frenzied 21st century movements for Ariel. No doubt he would have been entirely comfortable in medieval Europe, in the Yeshivas of Provence, studying in the house of Rashi. That was his temprament.

Ariel and I walked to shul together, three short blocks that are as familiar to me as the architecture of my wife’s lovely face. We waved to the other men on their way to the various shuls. We said hello to strangers walking their dogs. Sometimes we talked, but often there was a companionable silence. Ariel was preparing to pray, adjusting his state of mind for a holy dialogue.

In shul, Ariel was often asked to daven for the minyan. He had a beautiful voice and his pronunciation of the Hebrew was perfect. Often, Ariel was the last to finish davening. Here too, he took his time. He spoke to God: a true I and Thou relationship. Frequently, I had to wait for him to finish davening. Everyone else was already gone, on their way home, but Ariel was still shuckling, eyes closed, totally unaware that we were the only two left in shul. I sat and watched him daven and said to myself: How did this saintly young man spring from my loins? How did this happen for I am less than good, far from pious, never close to God; just another struggling schlemiel.

I watched Ariel daven in the empty shul and I remembered when I was a child in Brooklyn, in shul with my father. I gazed in awe as he davened. I felt that here was a man in touch with something I could not even glimpse.

And so, I am watching Ariel, I am watching my father, past and present merging and I say to myself: Let this moment never end Let this moment never end Let this moment never end…

Robert J. Avrech is a screenwriter and producer in Los Angeles. Among his best-known films is the thriller, Body Double, directed by Brian DePalma. His script for the modern Hasidic tale, A Stranger Among Us, directed by Sidney Lumet, was an official selection of the Cannes film festival. Robert won the Emmy award for his adaptation of the young adult classic, The Devil’s Arithmetic, starring Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy. Robert was also nominated for The Humanitas Award for Within These Walls, starring Ellen Burstyn and Laura Dern. Robert writes an award winning blog, Seraphic Secret http://www.seraphicpress.com/. He also writes a regular column for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/author/ravrech/.

This piece is reprinted here with permission of the author. It first appeared on his blog, Seraphic Secret, in 2004.

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