The Hidden Moon of Tammuz

Prayer on the New Moon of Tammuz

O Master of Mirrors
let me see with the unclear mirror the dark images
the moon in the darkness
images discerned at night
by moonlight.

God of the light and the dark
release me from distractions
bind me with invisible fibers to the deep story –
the dark story hidden story
the right words not simple ones
not the easy ones not even sweet words
I want the true words.

Don’t sweet talk me —
draw me into the deep.
Carry me not in your pocket
but sling me like a satchel
over your shoulder.

Let the truth plump like the moon
the dark moon the dark candle
the candle at the hearth
with all its shadows,
it’s the moon, it’s the moon, the dark candle,
the reflected dark dark dark —
light.

jsg, usa

Today We Dedicated Mrs. Klevens’ tombstone

Mrs. Klevens You Are A Subversive

For Esther Blitz Klevens

You’re a Hebrew teacher
You are a yiddishist
You are rare
You represent a culture that doesn’t
Basically know its own languages
In the place Where you live

That means you are more important
Than almost everyone
— Except a select core of initiates —
Realizes

You are an authenticator

In the place where you live
You almost
Single-handedly
Return language to the center
Where it belongs
What is culture anyway
Without language?

It is water without
Vessel

It is branch
Without
Root

It is Length
Without depth

You are well rewarded for your effort
You make many bucks an hour
From parents of children
Learning something their parents
Had not themselves acquired enough
To teach
Except when you refuse to charge
anything

You are extremely
Counter-culture
In a way that is not recognized
Because you sit on a couch
And recite lessons
In your living room

And give your students cookies
And sesame candy
And confidence

You give your students
confidence

You are a subversive

You get inside their heads
And teach them the source-words
Of Western civilization

You are connected to Akiva
And to the Rambam
And to Rashi
And Rashi’s daughters

You are Moshe Rabbeinu
Moshe Rabbeinu in slippers
Sunglasses
With the blinds drawn in your living room
You are Moshe Rabbeinu
In slippers

Your wisdom — the building blocks
Of Everything
All creativity
Words
Language
Letters
Portions

You could probably have explained this
But you were busy with the alef bet
And making sure that young Jacob
Or Stanley
Or Cherisse
Were learning their lessons
Correctly

By honoring the Torah
When even their parents may have been honoring
Mostly

Narishkeit

You on the other hand sit on your couch
And impart wisdom
In letters
Then syllables
Then words
Then portions
Ideas

You are teaching Hebrew
And you know
In your heart of hearts
That something much larger

Is taught here
Than a language that limps along
Through the interest of a small group
Of eccentric people
Who do not give it up

What that people’s gifts are –
You understand

But you don’t say it
You do it

And you teach others
Who are attentive it

To do it too

You teach Hebrew
And
Dignity
And
Respect

You teach koved
Honor

Confidence

When you leave this world
Somebody should say
Out loud
At least once

That you have left a large space
Behind you

That when a person of depth leaves
A place
She leaves a large space
Behind her

Somebody should say
Out loud
At least once —

Esther Klevens –
You have left a large space
Behind you

james stone goodman, united states of america
Wednesday, june 29, 2011

My Commencement Speech

To the class of 2011

Thank you for the opportunity to address the graduating class of 2011. It is a privilege to be the guest speaker after having spent so many years sitting in the audiences of my own children’s graduations. Every parent is proud of the accomplishments of their children, but every parent is also a citizen with an eye to the future entrusted to the next generation, hopeful for good citizens, good leadership.

I have listened to dozens of these addresses over the years, not only my own children’s graduations but the graduations of friends and family, all eager to witness their seedlings grow into the sprouted and rooted plantings we dream of when preparing them for the future.

Generally the message at these events is basic in a variety of forms and styles: begin with an anecdote, a joke, the best a personal remembrance, follow with the charge which is either change the world or be good human beings in consonance with other human beings, world peace, etc. I am most partial to the change the world scripts.

Graduates of 2011, you probably won’t change the world much. Forget that Margaret Mead quote, it’s prosaic and will one day be disheartening. My generation thought we would change the world too. Save yourselves. Do something honest, gather up a nest egg of money and don’t let the news depress you. All the expressly powerful and most of the famous are nincompoops. Do not pay any attention to them, don’t pay any attention to them at all.

If you must distinguish yourself, become a good criminal. An old school criminal. The criminals nowadays are generally faceless, nameless, and now untraceable.

Our elections are in the pockets of the secret donors who have planned their future security around the takeover of our beloved political process through privately financed groups, mystery backers — generally the corporations motivated by power and profits and idiot self preservationist fringe philosophies — protected by tax-code provisions that do not require disclosure of donors. Now that our Supreme Court has opened the door to the unabashed manipulation of the democracy through anonymous — that is, secret – funding, our crooks are mostly hidden. That is where we have arrived in our noble country: welcome to your future.

Class of 2011, save yourselves. I want to make a case for a return to honest crime. The kind of crime I grew up with. Now those guys were criminals. They smoked cigars and they insulated themselves with payoffs and graft and they barely bothered to hide it. They enjoyed their work.

Smuggle goods over the borders, intimidate business persons to buy your protection, surround yourself with strong, secure, ruthless people. Protect your community from a store front that serves great espresso, do favors for people for favors in return. Create a parallel world where your word rules. Never forget a good turn or don’t miss the opportunities for revenge. Be a good criminal. Let people know what you stand for. Do it publicly and without guile. Smoke a cigar now and again.

Infiltrate honestly. Be a citizen and make the expressed and unexpressed powers answer to you. Don’t let the politicians become so important. They’re the phoniest of all, cowards too fragile to value truth over re-election. Don’t respect their secrecy.

Most of your friends will be corporate cogs. Not you. Let the corporations know you are not afraid of them. Speak truth to power, as we used to say. Be bold. Reclaim optimism through crime. It will be a great gift.

If you can’t be a crook, be a writer. There’s so much inspiration these days as our culture has slid into irrelevance, consumerism, greed, and cyncisim. Everyone is so ridiculous you won’t have to make up a thing.

Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2011.

jsg, usa

Black Shoes

Black Shoes

I am not a good shopper. I buy fast and intuitively. I don’t compare prices. I have no idea how much is too much to pay for a pair of black shoes, for example, yet I know right away what I like and what I don’t like.

The good news is I am the world’s fastest shopper. I can buy more in shorter time than anyone I know. Schnucks is, of course, my best arena but I am fast everywhere. The bad news is that I am sometimes undiscriminating.

I recently cleaned out my closest and discovered that I owned three pairs of the same black shoes. I liked them so much I bought them three times and didn’t realize it until I cleaned out my closest. This has become a big joke in my house.

Last week, I took one of those pairs of black shoes to the shoe repair man I frequent. I usually take my cowboy boots to him; I can tell he enjoys the boots I take to him, a secret shared pride in extremes. But this time I took him one of the three, a pair of nice, but rather plain, black shoes. Actually, I took two pairs of shoes, one black, one not. I would be ashamed to take even two pairs of the same black shoes to the shoe repair man, which is something like the shame one might feel in ordering a gallon of drinks from the bartender. Surely the bartender is not in the shame business. Neither is the shoe repair man, I imagine, but still, I would never take two pairs of the same black shoes to be repaired. This is my own sinister secret: I own three pairs of the same black shoes. Who would not appreciate that if not the shoe repair man?

I often wonder how the shoe repair man stays in business. I know he must pay a good rent for his little shop. I love his shop because it is old and dusty and full of beautiful obsolete machines; one in particular, a great, huge, beast of a machine from another era when shoes were not disposable. Surely such machines cannot be repaired. As a matter of fact, I asked him once about the machine. “Oh, I just use it now to hold the shoes while I fix them by hand. I don’t even turn it on.”

“Can it be repaired, the machine?”

“No,” he said, “the company that made this machine is long gone. It would cost me too much to haul it out of here so it stays.”

It is a beautiful machine. It reminds me of the obsolete cappuccino making machines made out of copper that I saw in Italy. Great beasts of machines designed to do something specific but simple, replaced nowadays by throw-aways.

The shoe repair shop also reminds me of my father’s shop, where he sold children’s clothes. He also had some beautiful machines in the back, one in particular that I worked, a machine that attached tickets to clothes, little paper price tags with straight pins stuck through to attach the paper squares to the clothes. The machine had an ejectable square mechanism that looked like a miniature type face in which you placed the numbers of the price plus whatever few letters of code or identification you wanted on the paper ticket. The pieces of the type face were kept in a drawer attached to the machine, beautiful miniature words and numbers and letters in elongated rectangular metal pieces that fit into the slots of the square metal type-face holder. I wish I had kept that machine when my Dad closed his store.

I did keep his old sewing machine. It’s a Singer on a great table and you worked it by working a large metal pedal underneath. I took off the sewing machine and kept the table. My father was good with that sewing machine; I’m pretty good on that table, and that will have to suffice for the generations.

When I went in to pick up my black shoes the other day, I was gazing at the beautiful shoe machine behind the counter and daydreaming. The shoes were perched on the counter between us and the shoe repair man was staring at me. I had been daydreaming; beautiful obsolescence, machines, my Dad’s store, the tickets.

“Oh, sorry, how much?”

He started to apologize for the price. It was a big job to repair my two pairs of shoes. He was making excuses for the fee.

I interrupted him. He ekes out a living among the sophisticated cappuccino stands, flower shops, cafes, cleaners, tratorrias, work-out gyms of this neighborhood and he is apologizing to me for charging me such-and-such to repair my black shoes.

“Hey,” I said to him in a moment of disclosure, a true confession, “I own three pairs of these shoes and I am grateful to pay whatever it takes to repair them.”

I had opened the door so I walked in. He smiled. No judgement.

“You know, I’ve been coming here a long time, and I don’t know your name,” I said to him. “What is your name, I mean, I’m sorry I don’t know your name. My father had a store, he knew everybody’s name, don’t you think I should know your name? I have three pairs of black shoes like this, exactly the same! Can you believe that?”

“A lot of people have the same shoes,” said the bartender, er, shoe repairman. “If you like them, what the heck. My name is Walter.”

“Thanks, Walter,” I said.

I felt so much better. I felt like I had honored my father, all my hard-working, face to face retail progenitors who scratched out their livings in small shops that sold relationships more than goods during the days when you bought things from people you knew, and the people who sold you those things made their living because they gave you service. Now I know no one, I don’t have the time for names or relationships that are not crucial to my life, and there is something awful about that.

I own three pairs of black shoes, they are exactly the same, and I am not ashamed.

I am celebrating obsolescence.

The world is cracked and my feet know it, even when my mind forgets.

I am honoring my feet, for remembering what my mind forgets, with every pair of black shoes.

jsg, usa

Sustain

Sustain

We were discussing the mystery rule of Torah
the mystery mitzvah as it were if it were understood
we might understand
it all —

The chok of the little red cow –
how what purifies can corrupt
what corrupts might purify.

We came to rest in a place none of us imagined before
we began with a sense of redemption through learning
through guidebook Torah in a way suggested by
the Sefas Emes —

Every soul has a portion
in the Torah
a dot
or a point
that is
incorruptable.

At that moment we had become a letter of the guidebook
a dot a vowel a dia-critical a mark on the page
we became a letter of the text
we arrived at a-symmetry.

We came to the death of Miryam
how she died –
by the kiss of God
God inhaled her soul so to speak
Moses and Miryam both
with a kiss.

They died sensually
inhaled into God’s breath through the Divine kiss
n’shikat Hashem
from God’s perspective they were taken like
a sweetheart.

What can we make now of the frustrations of their lives
or our lives for that matter?
How frustrating at the end to have been
loved into death this way —

God breathed life into Adam [Gen.2:7]
God inhaled Miryam’s soul.

What’s not integrated, what’s left undone in the story now
from God’s perspective
how could they have passed with more intimacy and gentleness
than with this holy kiss
through which they returned to one being with God?

With the death of Miryam following on the heels
of the mystery rule of the guidebook
the mystery paradox of the ritual of purification
the very preparation defiles
followed by the death of Miryam
the removal of the well that followed us
forty years Wilderness wandering
with the death of Miryam as she was inhaled into the mouth of God
do we mourn the absence of sustenance now?
The water that followed us the well that accompanied us
And the Wilderness the Wilderness?

The well gone
we are moving over the threshold without sustenance
the a-symmetry of the various stories that settled
not into harmony, not logical these stories
not entirely mysteries either
a-symmetrical, they do not converge
we will not figure them
they will not unlock the secrets of the guidebook for us.

The category of recoverable wisdom
gone for a moment
undeciphered for now
but known in night vision
a future
at night you understand them you do
at night you know what it is
not to penetrate this secret
it will not unravel
not entirely mysterious either.

We are always waiting
for that recoverable wisdom
the elders all of them
may return to us someday
to carry the sacred load throughout our lives
so we remember them
the bearers of recoverable wisdom —

Sustaining like Miryam’s well of water
Like the water
Like Miryam herself.

jsg, usa

O holy Shabbes Chukkat
Maqam Hoseini
D [1/2] E flat [1] F [1] G

Every portion has a musical figure,
A maqam
Arabic cognate to maqom
Signifying Place.

New York: The Politics of Marriage

The Politics of Marriage

What broke the marriage was this line:
If you love me, you’ll love my pancakes.

He/she left him/her when he/she habitually burned his/her pancakes.
It was pancakes that brought them together
And without the pancakes
They were finished.

They disagreed on everything
Including pancakes.

Make one more pancake that way
And I’m leaving you.

He might have left
Ultimately

Over pancakes
Ultimately in the sense of ultimatum —
Is that the right word?
There was no one to ask.

All they wanted really were pancakes
The same pancakes that everybody else had
Or didn’t have
Fought for
The pancakes that brought them together
And the pancakes that drove them apart.

Pancakes, I said,
Is that what you really wanted?
Was it pancakes?

Yes, chimed in the unmarrieds
The betrothed to vows
Before their marriage —

Do you William
Take Willem to be your awfully wedded wife-husband
To love and cherish
Bathe in oil
Make pancakes
Tart up once in a while?

Do you promise to love and cherish
Play scrabble
Make pancakes
Dress up now and again?

Clean the seeds out of your teeth
The detritus from the front yard
Make pancakes?

Are you going to make the ****-ing pancakes?

When marriage is common
It is common when you have it
When you don’t it is of the highest consequence.

You want pancakes?
Marry me.

I married you for your pancakes.
Why not, marriage isn’t political
It’s love-ly.

Plodding away we are through pancakes
And leaving our socks around the room
Empty tooth paste tubes
Not enough aspirin for the headaches you’ve given me

Someone to curl up with on Sunday night
These lowly lovely blessings of life
Passed up passion ages ago
As the enduring legacies of marriage,

Keep the politics in your pajamas
I will —

Pancakes please
Not burnt
All the pancakes I want
Whenever I want them.

jsg, usa

The Right Time

Korach

Joseph hid three treasures in Egypt
one was revealed to Korach
one revealed to Antoninus son of Asviros
and one hidden away for the righteous
in the world to come. [BT, Pesachim 119a]

I went searching for the third treasure
In my dreams I was directed to Prague
Then in Prague by a bridge
You know the story —
A guard sent me home
But not before I asked him –
Do I qualify?

No way, he said,
Go home and look anyway.

I went home, dug up my back yard and found a document
Written in Hebrew with a little Arabic –
It read:

Ten miracles created bein hashemashot
bayna shumus
between the suns at twilight
outside of time as it were
built into creation at the end of the first day
before the Shabbat
between-time
created for the world to catch up
so to speak –

The mouth of the earth that opened
the mouth of the prophetic donkey
Miriam’s well
the rainbow the manna the staff of Aaron
the shamir the writing and the pen and the tablets
some say the evil spirits the jinn
and the grave of Moses and the ram of Abraham
some also say the tongs
made from the tongs — [Avot 5:9]

I showed this to my friend the surgeon
Science
technology where there is no technology
stem cells
transplantation
the arc of discovery that we follow with hope
the saving of lives in ways we cannot quite imagine –

The world is spinning fast fast
and what we know will catch up
outspin the world in the future
then we will know what we could not know
the right time —
the mouth of the earth will open
and we will assume
discovery.

Soon — the hidden moon of Tammuz
concealing the future
all the hidden possibilities that could save one of us
or all of us
some day.

jsg usa

Maqam Nahawand
C D E flat F

Every Shabbat is characterized by a maqam
A musical figure
Hebrew cognate maqom
Signifying Place.

Nowadays the Blue

[What we Learn When We Are Learning]

Memory
At the end of the lengthy story
Of optimism gained and
Lost

The optimists: those who fail with enthusiasm
And the minority opinion that prevails
Because one laid flat out on the grave of his ancestor
Got strong there
And brought another one in

And another
And another

Until G*d Herself could not sustain the anger of forgetfulness
And to remember we concluded with —
Include in your fringes a thread of blue
To remember and do all the mitzvahs you have been
Given

What’s the relation between the thread and blue
And remember and do?

For that we have to move ahead in time to the Greeks
And visual imagery as a mnemonic device
Memory palaces –

Used a second time by the Greek poet Simonides in 477 BCE
Simonides the only survivor of a roof collapse
killed all the guests at the banquet —
How did it happen?

He visualized who was sitting where around the table
Simonides: people remember location

Roman generals later learned the names of their soldiers
The medievals memorized their religious tomes
European mystics of 15th and 16th centuries created memory theaters
Fanciful locations where mystical facts were stored

A thread of blue – look and remember
Simple, but no inherent relationship between
The blue
The murex
The purple
The fine Japanese pen of the same name
The dentist from the Territories
Who identified how to make it –

It comes up once every seventy years
Nowadays I carry it around in my pocket

jsg, usa

I Become a Father, Again, Sunday June 19, 2011

I acquired another offspring on Father’s Day. It is ten in the morning as I am writing this. Last night there was a horrendous storm that passed through the area in the middle of the night, so much thunder that it totally disoriented my almost-deaf dog (she pee’d in an inappropriate place). There was enough lightning outside to look like fire from behind our drawn blinds. Both my wife and I were awakened by the thunder, even my doggie, and the lightning looked like the sky was on fire. Or the house next door (I checked).

In the morning my wife went to gather in the morning papers and she found on the grass, next to the papers, a tiny tiny baby bird that must have fallen from the tree above. We checked the tree above for signs of a nest or a searching mother bird but couldn’t locate either.

Aside: Tribute to my Daddy

When I was a little boy, we lived on a street in a little house with a screened in back porch. It’s what I remember most about the house. The back porch was mine. I kept animals on the porch and my parents assented. My father even brought me a white doctor’s coat with a head mirror to strap on my forehead and I ate breakfast with him every day in the summer and then we both went off to work. I searched the neighborhood for animals to nurse on my back porch. I had many birds and even developed a relationship with the local humane society who would assist me in my activities. I honor my father especially on this day for participating in my fantasy. I should have become a veterinarian and I probably would have if my dog Ralph had not gotten shot on the morning of my Russian Intellectual History exam (see below).

On Father’s Day, cont’d:

My wife asked me what should we do? I know what to do, I said. We looked it up on the internet anyway. I made a shoe box, heated it up, put holes in it, gently placed the bird in the cotton nest and fed it with a chop stick. The bird ate like crazy, its eyes opening and closing, its mouth gaping to ingest the chopped up cat food and water.

We kept feeding it every half hour and then found a wild bird rescue house not far from our own, called them up, and sure that we couldn’t find its nest or mother, took the birdie over there.

Took the Birdie to the Rehabilitation Center. It turned out to be a wonderful place with 200 birds they were nursing back to health. Our bird was starving and the added wonder is our bird is a Flicker, or a woodpecker! Everyone seemed surprised about that, I surely was, since I had not seen a woodpecker in our front yard but Susan thinks she has. This is turning out to be a more exciting story and they welcomed our little bird and if the bird grows, they will try and return it to our tree from where it came.

Aside: Doc Elliot or My Dog Got Shot

Ralph was my inheritance at the University of Michigan. I moved into an apartment on Thayer Street that Ralph [and his consort Francine] never left. Every morning I would go off to class and Ralph and Francine would wander around Ann Arbor. They were both hounds of some kind. Francine disappeared. Ralph’s owner gave up on taking Ralph home so I assumed ownership of Ralph. Ralph was not a dog to be owned, however, and we led independent existences but Ralph followed me around for the next five years or so. I don’t think anyone ever really owned Ralph.

My last year in Ann Arbor Ralph and I shared a single room upstairs on S. University Avenue. A complete dump — I paid $50 a month. A couple of my window panes were Sam’s Levi plastic shopping bags. The dog would wander around all day and return in the evening. He would stand on the porch a floor below and bark when he returned. He had a ferocious bark. That was the routine, no questions asked, no attachments, but he returned every night, extremely loyal in some no expectations Buddhistic, unattached way (I wish I had conducted all my relationships this way).

He was somewhat wild, Ralph, unintegrated to social life in Ann Arbor and not the kind of animal that would take to a leash or Frisbee on the Diag[onal]. He fought a lot with larger dogs that all the fraternities owned so I worked out a deal with a country horse doctor named Doc Elliot, near Ypsilanti, who appreciated Ralph for who he was and respected the kind of relationship we had.

My last year in Ann Arbor I was able to get into Dr. Mendel’s Russian Intellectual History class, which was one of the most popular classes on campus and it took me until the last year to get in. We read all the great nineteenth century Russian novelists, in addition to the philosophers, etc., and his lectures were brilliant and the class eye-opening, challenging, startling, life-changing I might even say – for me. I worked very hard in the class and Dr. Mendel limited enrollment and I was poised for an A of the noblest nature.

Dr. Mendel was notorious for high standards, no compromise, no exceptions. The morning of the final (it was at 9:30 AM) Ralph came wandering in at 9 AM and sat facing the corner of my room. Ralph, I said, turn around. He wouldn’t turn around. Ralph, I said, come here. He sat facing the corner.

I went over to him and tried to turn him and he yelped and my hand was covered with the blood that was issuing from what looked liked his right front leg. I got some warm water and a towel and cleaned out (the best I could) what looked like a puncture. I had to make a decision.

Blood was still issuing from the wound so I threw Ralph into the car that the girl who used to live downstairs had left to me when she split for California (the Sixties), and drove out to the countryside near Yspilanti and Doc Elliot.

Doc Elliot took one look and felt around, gave him a shot, and a couple of minutes later came back with a bullet he took out of Ralph’s leg. Your dog’s been shot, Doc Elliott said in his typically abbreviated horse doctor way.

It was already about noon. I asked Doc Elliot if I could use his phone and called Dr. Mendel. I had never talked to him personally before. I reached him.

Dr. Mendel, this is James Goodman, I’m a student in your Russian Intellectual History class. I missed the final this morning, I’m so sorry. I loved the class completely but – well – my dog got shot.

Your dog got shot. . . Dr. Mendel repeated slowly, I thought maybe he was mocking me.

I pushed on: My dog got shot. Yes sir. In the leg. I’m with Doc Elliot right now.

Mr. Goodman is it? Well, Mr. Goodman, generally a final is not made up unless there is a medical emergency. Your medical emergency. But your dog got shot? That’s good. Can you get in here this afternoon and take the exam?

Yes sir. I took the test later that day. I received an A, by the way, in the class and I have never lost my love for the nineteenth century Russian novel but the reality of caring for animals clarified for me.

Aside #2:

Twenty years passed from the adventure with Ralph, Doc Elliot and Russian Intellectual History. I had gone on to an abbreviated career in puppetry and wild animal training a graduate degree in Classics and rabbi school. I was now a father.

Ralph had not integrated well into suburban Detroit home life with my father and mother so I had found a place for him with a hunter in upstate New York.

I was living in St. Louis, Missouri, when my third child was born with a series of medical problems. We had contacted a gifted surgeon in Ann Arbor who offered a surgery that was not offered in our area so we decided to take our little one to the University of Michigan for the surgery.

The surgery was serious and we were in the hospital in Ann Arbor for a good week. Every day I would go to the local Chabad to pray the daily prayers anonymously, I just wanted to say the prayers and get back to the hospital. One day I went for the afternoon prayers and the rabbi asked me if I would like to stay around for a short meal afterwards. Sure, I said.

He sat me at the head table with himself, though I had not introduced myself to him or anyone and no one there knew me. That evening was a special meal honoring one of their benefactors who had passed away.

During the course of the meal, they described the man they were honoring and it was Dr. Mendel, the Russian Intellectual History teacher mentioned above. I was sitting with his wife at the table.

I started to tell her the story, twenty years ago, about my memory of her husband and when I got to the part of My Dog Got Shot I realized I was too deep into the story to get out effortlessly. I felt like an idiot for telling this ridiculous tale at the dinner table to his wife honoring her husband.

And what are you doing now? She asked me.

I told her I was here for the surgery of my child.

You are still taking care of creatures that cannot take care of themselves, she said sweetly, which is why I include Aside #2 in this story.

It’s Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to all of you Daddies who began your fatherliness just that way – taking care of beings that could not, in the beginning, take care of themselves.

I often regretted not becoming a veterinarian or something like that, but then again, I persist in my essential nature witnessed by the bird story that began this Father’s Day.

That’s all for now.

jsg, usa

Minyan, for Father’s Day

Minyan

There were many minyanim [prayer services] in my neighborhood, there were many synagogues. My father would often leave the house early in the morning to “make the minyan,” I didn’t even know for sure which synagogue he stopped at, from there he went to work. He worked late, so he never made the minyan, to my knowledge, on his way home. But I suppose he made the morning minyan frequently, though I didn’t think much about it and never wondered what place it occupied in his life.

When he died, I traveled to the old neighborhood to speak at his funeral, to organize the minyan at our house, to sit shiva with my family and his friends. He had many friends.

I was the only rabbi but that didn’t qualify me to lead the minyan at our house. One of my Dad’s best friends was our eccentric next door neighbor, who was an amateur chazzan [cantor] and insisted on davvening [praying] the minyan in memory of my father. It was a privilege for him and I suppose he felt somewhat the way I felt when I spoke at my Dad’s funeral, here was something I could do to express my love and respect.

After the first few days of minyanim at my parents’ house, I went to one of the synagogues in the neighborhood for the morning prayers. I wanted to pray anonymously, but there was no anonymity. It was a small, declining synagogue — displaced by a freeway that was built too close to the building — abandoned by many of the younger people who moved out to the far suburbs.

I walked into the small prayer space that was used for the morning prayers, and the ten men seized me, interrogated me, asked me when I would return. I told them I was there to say kaddish, for whom they asked, my father, what’s his name? Harry Goodman.

Harry Goodman! they all shook their heads, hugged me, put their hands on my shoulders, stared into my eyes in case I wasn’t listening carefully enough to what they were about to tell me.

Your father was one of the sweetest gentlemen I ever knew. Such a kind man. A good neshama, your father was. Your father was a fine man. And he davvened so beautifully. What a voice. He would often lead the davvening here you know.

I didn’t know. I knew my father had beautiful singing voice, but I didn’t know he even knew how to lead the davvening. Not only did he make the minyan, he led the minyan.

They asked me if I wanted to lead the davvening that morning. I did. I stood at the prayer stand, spread the big siddur out in front of me on the velvet covering, and sang the holy song to God, me and my father, both of us. I apologized to him in my heart for not sharing this part of his life with him, then I thanked him for passing me something secretly, silently, the love of melody and the vacancy in the heart for this declining shul and all futile activities, all the hopeful prayers of the soul that float dreams gently and quietly, and make our lives not meaningful, but beautiful.

I didn’t know, but I knew. He had passed me something in my bones, in my blood, my father did, and though he didn’t speak the words to me, he planted it within me, the melody, the minyan, the song, his friends, something that was given through the hands, the eyes, the touch. There was something of the mystery that was unexpressed, more beautiful because it was discovered, this posthumous gift that my father left to me, maybe in the same way that his father left it to him [maybe it skipped a generation I understand], his grandfather, all of them. Maybe this is the way it was always passed, maybe even something in this that is the secret of its survival. Its silence.

And then, when its time, its discovery.

I often make the minyan these days in my town, in a synagogue that reminds me of the one that stood in the shadow of the urban freeway of my home town, the place where my father davvened. Sometimes they ask me to lead the davvening, and I do, my father and I, we stand there behind the reading stand leaning over the velvet covering, swaying back and forth, singing the prayers some out loud, some in silence, holding hands.

jsg, usa