How I Met Mordecai Kaplan

How I Met Mordecai Kaplan

It was 1976-77 my first trip to Israel also first year at Hebrew Union College. I showed up with a suitcase and a guitar and sat on the steps at 13 King David Street in Jerusalem and unpacked my instrument, attracted the attention of an excellent Israeli player-entrepreneur who soon had me on the road in a Rhythm and Blues then a Country and Bluegrass then a Jazz and Blues Review that covered the country. I tried to conceal this part of my life. I was often gone and missed a lot of the tiyulim [trips around the country organized by my school].

My friend and co-player lived on ibn Ezra street I think the corner of Keren Kayemet if I am remembering correctly. He had a nice mirpeset [balcony] and almost every day during the week I would stay late in the library then make my way down Keren Kayemet street where a lone Temeni [Yemenite] restauranteur who stayed open late fed me a spectacular cuisine like he was my mother then on to Moshe’s mirpeset for some late night every night guitar playing.

We did that the entire year. I would sometimes see an elderly man dressed dark shuffling with a cane down the same Keren Kayemet street when I came earlier in the day who paused in front of a mercolet [small notions store] and barked Adon! [sir] and the proprietor would bring out the newspapers.

On Shavuot someone asked if I would like to attend a tikkun [late night teaching] at Mordecai Kaplan’s apartment, a rare occasion I was told during those years. I went with my sweetheart who later became my wife. Mordecai Kaplan was taken with her and gave her a sweet little book.

The tikkun was great. His wife was welcoming and I don’t remember much about what we learned because I realized that he was the man I saw shuffling on the street and moreover it was directly next door to where Moshe and I played guitar every night. Oh no, I thought, I’m keeping this man up at night. I think he was 95 at the time.

I wasn’t going to say anything but after he spoke he retreated into another room and his wife (I assumed it was his wife) was pleasant and social and enjoyed a little conversation before we left. It came up in conversation that my guitar playing friend lived in the building right next door. I grimaced.

You’re the guy who plays guitar on the mirpeset at night?

Yeah, that’s me, I started to apologize.

He loves listening to you. He waits for you every night. When you’re not there, he asks where’s my guitar player?

That’s how I met Mordecai Kaplan. I was his guitar player.

james stone goodman
united states of america

Into the Ascent I Honor my Teachers

Into the Ascent now
I honor my teachers

Remembering Dr. Reines

He sat on a stool in his refuge,
fourth floor, wearing a lumberjack shirt,
he looked like a repairman,
taking break, lunchtime.
The owl-eyed Reines behind thick lenses at his table,
Mrs. Finkelstein behind her desk,

“All you rabbis are !@#$%” Reines said.
He said it again,
shook his head and stared at his feet.
Boots, large proletarian boots.
When we worked him up
he began to foam at the edges of his mouth
his voice squeaking registers.

“Maimonides saw clearly the relationship
between epistemology and religion,” Reines said.
“The Pentateuch did also.
Nobody around here did –
until Reines.”

“Does the moral right exist
for one entity to exercise authority
over another entity?”
Reines, voice rising.

“You are your own authority.
Sit down right here,
have a cup of structured freedom.”

“What’s this?”
He picked up a journal from the College.
“A fetus that has never achieved peoplehood.”

“Where is your altar?”
we used to ask.
“Surely you have a hidden altar
somewhere in your basement
where you make sacrifices
to the mystic gods you worship.
Who are your gods?”

“Hume, Kant, the secret Maimonides. Descartes.
Pour me a cup of coffee.
Before you leave, take my book.
Face your finitude.
Read it and tell me:
How is polydox religion
a response to Hume and Kant?”

“How do you feel?” Reines asked when I was sick.
“I don’t know.”
“Not knowing is a threat to the soterial state,”
said Reines, on his roost,
behind the table
where he sat.

jsg, usa

All my Teachers

Eulogia: Eugene B. Mihaly 1918 – 2002

I was dreaming about Mihaly when Frank called,
it was a late dream morning. In the dream
I had asked Mihaly if he would speak at my graduation.
“Certainly, dear boy.”

I picked him up at a hotel,
there was rubble all about. I was in a taxi cab,
I had not seen him in years,
how young he was —
I never knew Mihaly in life that young –
young thin dark, the moustache prominent and already drawn
he jumped over rubble as I approached. I thanked him,
I thanked him again,
“never mind dear boy,” he said.

The event was some sort of passage.
In the rubble of existence that wasn’t my making
there was danger associated with this place, what city I didn’t recognize —
it wasn’t Detroit not Jerusalem —
light bulbs strung over the street,
emergency lighting.
He got into the cab, I gave him my hand
and thanked him again.

It was just after the holidays.
I had worked late into the night on my pieces,
“who shall I read them to?” I asked Mihaly.

“Give them to me dear boy, work them every night
in these broken places, look around –
write them for me. The best things I have written
are sealed in a shoe box in the rear of a closet.
Dear boy, the work is everything. Read me your words,”
he said in the back seat of the taxicab,
moustached, spiced, long before I knew him
he led me to our meeting.

He sat back in the taxi
lit up his pipe, “read me every piece,”
then the phone rang Frank and Mihaly said,
“quit belly-aching, dear boy,
wake up and write about it.”

jsg, usa

Teachers Inspirations Influences

All Over the World the Sun is Rising

Into the Ascent now
three weeks I sat in sadness
seven weeks of recovery —
we’re into the Ascent
I’m marking it by honoring
my teachers inspirations and

Later I was remembering Jakob J

asking him How are you?

When he said sur-vi-ving

it was ascendant

He fled Berlin just before the War

a victory for sure

But we were standing on the third floor

so many years after Jakob J

in the United States of America

When the curtain parted

I ascended to the top of the chariot of Ezekiel

It was covered with the dew of light

from there I saw everything

I saw us all into the future

a long queue of hungry souls

praying for some good

A pledge to repair

something fine here

something better left behind

Jakob J taught me to say amen when I agree

and when I promise –

I swear.

jsg, usa