On our mother’s yahrtzeit what’s left of her family sat clustered in temple. Five of us, that’s all. Just five.


Connected by love now more than consanguity, what was once nearly two dozen grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins gathered under Park’s big dome had dwindled through time, travel, and atrophy to a quintet. Just five of us. Five!

So there we were: Margie, H, Etty, Carrie, et moi … sitting not in Cleveland Heights, but in Park’s new, friendly confines: Pepper Pike. A motley crew! (Ed. Note 1: Four Bogarts and a Hoffman by marriage, but we had our own row. Still, give Aunt Etty her “props”. Remember — she did date Al Bogart at Glenville).

The lump came early (to my throat). How could it not? From the rabbi’s first intonation to the cantor’s last blessing my senses were triggered by sight, sound and memories.

There was the shaking hands and warm embraces with Hebrew School faces. (Most names I remembered, but gee did they get old!).

And the singing of songs. (The tunes had varied o’er time, but the words remained. My father, to be sure, would have cringed at the changes. And so too his sister). But chant I did, and smile I did, and remember I did:

— My Bar Mitzvah, the day the Cuban Missile Crisis ended…
— Hal’s Bar Mitzvah (sixteen months after mine — the significance of which is that during that interval our parents divorced) … and how after services Grandpa Irv walked in front of our dad’s car in the lot, and though stopping, our father dramatically puffed his lip and exclaimed “I could hit him now and no jury would convict me”.).

— Michael at Park Main, too young for fire yet holding a flashlight in the dark of an aisle for Havdalah.

— Jamie accompanying me “religiously” to minyans for my father.

— Stacy, being married by the same clergy presiding that night.

The Shabbos service, of course, bears a recipe ripened by time. The lineup of prayers changes not; the regimen of hymns alters not; I hold peace in just sitting, contemplating, and yes, sometimes people watching: (Ed. Note 2: There’s something warm and fuzzy about seeing an old Sabbath School friend … all these years later … still pedaling in the same parish). (Ed. Note 3: There’s something intriguing too, seeing other old faces and trying — in those moments of mind-wandering — trying to decipher if indeed that was their first wife they’re sitting with). (Ed. Note 4: The most compelling question of the night, however, was trying to guess which surname they’d announce my mother under. Bogart was out, we knew. But would it be Lerner or Turner?).

Yes it was bittersweet Friday. Until it wasn’t. Until it was just sweet.

Readying for the Sabbath Kiddush to close things out Rabbi Skoff urged kids in the congregation to join him on the bima. At once
a girl rushed by me; she couldn’t have been four. Followed, she was, by her sister (perhaps two).

In a Chicago Minute I thought of Ruby and Lucy, who I’ll see on Yom Tov. Eyeing young lads as well, in a New York minute I thought of Eli and Max; they will join us out west.

Then it was over… for the night.

Hal and Margie drove Aunt Etty home; (we had gotten her there). (Ed. Note 5: I drive one way and he the other; it’s the way The Boys roll).

H and M we would see in the morning, at the cancer walk, on campus. Aunt Etty? An envelope she’d given me— with a pic of my mother … and phone numbers for her grandsons in Chicago.


I walked out with Carrie, hand-in-hand.  It was early, and the stars weren’t out.  The sky was full of blue, the lightest of azures. And well I knew that above it all was a mother looking down … and smiling.

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