ROOTS

I hooked Grandpa Maysai’s tie clip to the cravat gifted from Cousin Rick and hung my dad’s dog tags ‘round my neck. In my left pocket was a photo of my brother and in my right, photos of six grandkids.

I stuffed yarmulkes from Great Neck, Jamaica, and Cleveland weddings into my Siddur bag and pulled my grandfather’s century-old tallis — the one he’d worn on Park Synagogue’s pulpit — from the Diamond Men’s Wear hanger.

And I left, already wistful, for my Confirmation Class reunion.

From Chagrin Boulevard I drove: down Richmond, left on Fairmount, past the temple 80’s Beachwood housewives cherished … through Fairmount Circle, where Cousin Howard, in a since-razed theater once taught us to throw popcorn in the air and catch it in our mouths … and down through the Heights.

Fifty-one years it had been since our class convened. Some of us (the vast minority) had classes three days per week; the greater portion: weekend warriors. Still, ‘though a new world punctured the 60’s, at one level or another each of us — perhaps pushed by our parents — had played by the rules.

I turned down Euclid Heights Boulevard, then right at the gate. (Ed. Note 1: Rabbi Cohen lived there “in the day”. Aunt Helen didn’t like him. “He was rude to ‘Pa’”, she would say to her grave).

Driving past a police car, (the presence of which wasn’t needed back then), I parked in a primo spot that would have made George Costanza kvell. Then I froze! Outside my car, you see, staring right in my face, was a deer. A giant deer.

Really?

(Ed Note 2: He finally moved, but not until I’d taken a picture and perhaps even frightened him. I’d post the pic on Facebook, but in this PC world it would offend nature lovers. Or PETA people perhaps. To paraphrase my hero Gilbert Gottfried: “I apologizes to all animals).

Risk extinguished, entering the temple I joined old friends (some of whom I even recognized). Mixing in the lounge they were, looking older than before.

A beautiful service ensued. They had us march in in procession and put us in field boxes. Me? I took an aisle seat next to Billy Levine. (Ed. Note 3: Water seeks it’s own level. We were Rowland School boys.).

They would bring us to the bima and read our names, but the splendor of the morning came sitting in repose, watching those fifty years younger embrace their own roots. And Torah.

—Like most Jewish simchas: we came, we prayed, and we ate —

I didn’t care for the post-service luncheon. Not my thing,so I mingled. “The art of conversation”, Brother Hal would say.

On a table to the side lay a four by five foot frame. Within it, one half-century later we were: our entire class, posed in black-n-white smiles, framed in composite.

Grabbing my cell phone I took Wieder’s picture. (Ed Note 4: I had no choice. From the Left Coast this month he’d been denying being part of our class. Here was proof I could send him. No wonder Mrs. Tishkoff didn’t like him!).

“Which one is you?” asked a confirmant still wearing his gown.
“That’s me” I said, and then straight-faced: “Do I look older?”
(The boy nodded).
“Do you want to know why I look older?” I asked.
(He nodded again, slightly).
“Because I married a girl from New Jersey”.
(This time he didn’t nod. He just walked away).

“I’m sitting over here,” pointed Levine, and I trod over — to a table with other women I hadn’t seen in fifty years. From Rowland School, of course. (Like I said: water seeks its own level. Beachwood kids? They sat elsewhere).

And then I left. Politely. Shaking hands. Saying all the thank you’s.

Walking to my car I loosened my tie but tightened my grip on what was. Without thinking I drove the periphery: past the old school where Michael begun, past the door Jamie carried her lulav, past the creek Stacy joined me for Tashlich….

This was not my grandfather’s world … nor my father’s … nor even mine.  Yet it was all three.

I am a vibrant and reasonably healthy. I have family, friends and love in my life.

I cradle each day and find comfort in the future.

… And yet … in some ways I couldn’t help wondering, as I drove from my father’s synagogue … whether my tour of the grounds had been a nostalgic victory lap— or just me rounding third, and heading home.

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