Three people have I heard sermonize with any regularity over the years: Rabbi Cohen, Rabbi Skoff, Aunt Helen. Still, it was the words of Sophocles, first heard by me in a eulogy at Woody’s’ funeral, that crossed my mind in temple last week:

“One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been”.

This is my sunset. Sure, I look to more “best years” ahead —but well I know that slowly, inexorably, the sun must set.

In the last seat of the last row on the left…alone…on our mother’s yahtzeit…thinking….

Friday night’s service at Park is a vibrant experience, a family matter. Liturgy is overwhelmed by the spirit of klezmer music children love. (Those my age? Not so much). There’s a buoyancy — and contagious is the sense of community. Indeed, sitting solo, I felt not lonely but transformed; I filled not with sorrow but elevation.

Why would anybody NOT want to live his life in this community—this Jewish community that is Cleveland? Where, I wondered, could life within two square miles yield such a sense of loyalty… fraternity … belonging?

Hal was home last week, so my tone was gray. I missed his warmth, our banter, us…

—Eyeing the crowd, mind spanning ‘tween prayer and decades, heart tugging a bit, I waited for Mincha.

On my far right—all the way at the other side— were Billy and Nancy. Whenever I’m here (I swear) so are they. Be it summer for Dad, winter for Grandma, or spring for our Mom—there they sit…together…always. Do they come every Shabbos? How nice they’ve been married so long! That they still fit together! We nodded hellos as folks do in shul, and outside I smiled. My insides, alas, were now swimming in melancholy, traversing a beautiful landscape:

I was picturing the schoolyard, Bill’s older brother Les (the first kid I knew to make the “Majors” at nine), and his even older brother Stu, (All-World in his sport). I was in the back of Rowland playing Swift Pitching the night Les got lime in his eye sliding into home as a Red Sox. ‘Tis a tale apocryphal, no less now than then. —Because it’s true!

Then I saw Mrs. Chaitoff. Mrs. Chaitoff! She sat, actually ten seats down, to my right. Same row. She too, I knew half a century. Jeffrey’s mother, Hebrew car pool connection — very nice. “Benjy”, he calls me, to this day, at once shortening and Anglicizing my Hebrew name of Binyamin. Came to know his wife as well —Jews know Jews in this city! She was Queen to my King Ahasueros.  (I approached Mrs. Chaitoff…before services, of course…as our parents had taught us).

Then I dovened alone. Thought alone. Felt at home.

There’s a moment in Maariv when the rabbi has fathers stand and bless their sons; then the mothers bless their daughters; then the spouses join hands; then she says “Turn to a friend.” I was sitting alone —they were at the husband/wife part and frankly, studying a couple some five rows up I was wondering how the two of them ever hooked up. Looks-wise, they just didn’t match up.

“If you’re with a friend…” urged the Rabbi, as I sat missing Harold.

“Bruce, come over here,” came the voice. It was my old car pool chauffeur, Mrs. Chaitoff. By her side was Rich Lichau. How many years have I known him? And Al and Barbara, from my first life in Beachwood.

Together we stood (for an instance only), hands coupled in prayer.  And then, breaking the most social of scrums, I took my seat…

Smiling and thinking but not of the past.

Resolutely my mind turned,  to the future…the immediate future.

From the east they were coming! And the west!  Tomorrow!

I pictured my Max; he’s now three; and reveled at Lucy; she’s two.  And I conjured, Eli—nine months. His eyes: if my mother could see them.  Ah, but if my mother could see them!

Services ended minutes later…a minute past 7.

To the car I strode, my gait somewhat quicker, as I marveled at the beautiful sunset.


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