Midway through the chant of “Kol Nidre” I sat in the bowels of the synagogue flanked by the love of my life, and already embracing the bitter-sweet.
For sixty years, give or take, I’d been coming to Park Synagogue. 1949 …Childhood … adolescence … college … marriage … divorce … odyssey … renaissance … 2016.
The congregation sat back down – me in the centerfield stands where familiar faces beam warmer by the year. As the rabbi spoke, overwhelmed I was by a sense that things were both the same and different. Hearing his words, digesting his words, I studied the room.
Jeff Schneider was there. (An usher since last century).
And Cousin Gary.
And almost-kin Maynard.
And the myriad of Levines.
And even the guy my brother once insisted has a face resembling gefilte fish — he was there. (Same seat, actually).
Aunt Etty was ailing, and at home. And my brother was ailing and at home.
The room was full; my heart was full; but did my mind not wander?
Our first year, it was, without Aunt Helen. (In a lifetime).
“I’ll pick her up and you take her home” Hal would say.
“No. I’ll pick her up and YOU drive her home,” I’d push back.
“Either way, will you get her home after lunch?”
Eyes watering, I heard Rabbi Skoff speak of the finiteness of time.
In the fifties, after Children’s Services in Glass Auditorium we’d wait by the rock outside the Main Sanctuary for the first citing of Al Bogart’s bald head. Must Grandma Bogart be the last one out of the service every year?
In the sixties came divorce and our father’s hiatus. The Brothers Bogart, though, were never alone. Certainly not at The Holidays:
The Eisners drove Grandma and Aunt Helen. Our Mom came with Sam. There were grandparents and great-grandparents, and aunts and uncles galore. Family abounded with Hoffmans and Woldmans and Ungars. (Ed. Note 1: Aunt Ruth opened as an Ungar, buried sweet Uncle Irv early on, and ‘ere decade’s end wed Irv Porter’s friend Sam Levensen. This stunned odds-makers as smart money had him going to also-widowed in the 60’s Grandma Cele).
Fact was there just was no place like Park for the holidays. (Ed. Note 2: My Dad’s Dad had been Torah Reader there. As such, we were grandfathered in for primo seats under The Dome. Our parents divorce, though, also divided our seating. Fast forward to Hal and I sitting in the caverns of Kangesser Hall or at Park’s temporary satellite shul, The Richmond Theater). (Ed. Note 3: It was outside this latter venue that in autumn ’67 Uncle Phil urged me to go back to college. I’ll never forget it. There we were, walking to our car after services, when his big car approached. Rolling down the window he warmly counseled “You’re a smart kid. “Don’t quit.” “I didn’t quit, Uncle Phil,” I tried to explain. “I’m just transferring to Ohio State.” He gave me his signature quarter, smiled at me, and with Aunt Lil aside him drove on — but I never quite thought he believed me).
We rose again for “Ashamnu”. My machzor was in my right hand. Was it wrong to pound my chest with my left one? My father would know.
The seventies saw Grandma Cele and her siblings head south. (Did they even have a temple in Pembroke Pines?). The eighties brought children while the nineties and millennium brought distance, dynamics, and less dovening. And yet, did not the pictures in the mural of my mind have us all together, still, on that night?
The Adelmans. The Eisners. Sam Lerner. The great aunts and great uncles (all of them). Grandma Becky, and Grandpa Sam. Grandma Cele and Grandpa Irv. Grandma Bogart. Aunt Helen.
My mother and father.
Up once more for “Ve-al Kulam”, I could hear yet long-gone Rabbi Cohen singing over —no, drowning out — the choir. I mentioned it to Carrie, (as I do every year).
Then we sat.
Minutes from conclusions, as others were leaving, we sat. I wanted to leave — was emotionally drained — but we sat. Longing to exit, clinging to the familiarity— sitting.
“Let’s go out this door, “ I urged as it ended. “I want to shake Jeff Schneider’s hand.”
Traversing the very walkway where Stacy’d had her Bat Mitzvah luncheon, we stepped outside to brisk air, crossed the driveway, and cut through a backyard to the side-street of Ivydale —where Bogarts have parked for sixty years …
(more or less).