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.