Ruth has finally left the room. She was sitting here waiting for me to start typing, watching my hands hover over the keys. Nothing happened, so she decided her excitement was making me nervous. I thought it would be easier with her gone. It isn’t. This paragraph took me 10 minutes.
Ruth is the woman I live with. She decided that we should each write a blog. We don’t do enough coupley things. We can post comments to each other and link to each other’s blog. It’ll be cute. It sounded better than Latin dancing. Ruth says I’m to provide personal anecdotes about the things that have happened to me recently.
I went to the temple recently. I decided I had been away too long. It was getting close to the new year, and I had seen lots of ends of years, but hardly any heads. For some reason, I thought I should be there for this one. I knew if I arrived for the actual yom tov, there could be trouble. This was a test run, Thursday morning.
It scared me, walking in the main doors. It’s a nice building. Lots of brass work. Lots of light bulbs. Lots of pamphlets. A sense of safety, which I still can’t get used to in temples. I felt along the walls and even shut my eyes and found lacquered panels. White cedar, common enough. Extremely tight grain. There was marble too. Thin green tiles with gray veins.
A lot of it came back. How the temples used to look.
I hid in the washroom until the drips and gushes and ambient hum turned into voices. Pushed the door open a crack. Wondered if there would be a minyan. Tiny group in the front hall talking about a bad slice and doctors’ visits. They drifted, as if by accident, as if embarrassed to reveal why they had come, into the little downstairs chapel. I waited. The last one entered, plucking a kipa from the communal box and blowing into it. Can’t be too careful about head lice.
When it got loud, I eased into the back of the chapel. Moving without movement. No one saw. I realized that it was Thursday, they were going to read from the Torah, and I wasn’t wearing a tallis. Decided not to risk going to find one.
So this is where the tabernacle had set downacross from the video store, trucks backing up far away. Twelve groggy figures dressed for nothing in particular. I watched the backs of their heads. You expect to see the old guard on a weekday, but there was hardly any gray hair. They didn’t stoop forward with passion. Their fingers were creeping toward their BlackBerries.
It didn’t matter. I thought it might, but none of it mattered. They knew how to chant, and the words had a power beyond them. The melodies were an oral history. I hadn’t heard them for an exceedingly long time.
I decided I needed to sing.
Ruth decided we should each write a blog. We can post comments to each other and link to each other’s blog. It sounded better than Latin dancing.
No, I didn’t decide, I just sang. My voice is a murder of sounds no matter the language. English, Spanish, it’s all grinding rock. Hebrew is most unforgiving. I had to sing with them, as I had never sung with the old ones, in the old shules with their secret entrances and stucco and flourishes dictated by ancient lawyers. Samuel and Judah loved the arcane for different reasons. They would have enjoyed the air of permanence in this place, but bemoaned the dearth of arcana. Judah would have been proud of me for being here. Judah stood in awe of the melodies.
Then I remembered I was making noise. Not having a tallis was suddenly the least of my problems.
It’s rare for a crowd to notice me en masse anymore. My blending skills are as close to perfect as I can make them, honed by the European crowds that did more than notice, and helped by this continent’s diminished standards of weirdness. I was caught off guard. Also rare. Most of them stopped davening altogether, and that made me stop. They saw me. Tallest one in the room, in nearly every room in every country. Hard to ignore.
A few turned away and continued, tense, the way they would react to a homeless man. Vague pity from the lone woman in the group. The rabbi never stopped chanting. But the rest stared, unashamed. Those expressions took me back, too. My life had hinged on faces like these.
One man started toward me. The gabbai. From the venerable strain of gabbais, low-rung managers who have injected religion into their officious blood. I’d know a gabbai from the pace of his footsteps. Like an undertaker he greets you, as someone put it years ago. As he approached, his measured steps lost their rhythm.
I think you’ll have to leave. His voice broke on leave. Fear in that break, on all their faces.
They knew I couldn’t be counted. I would venture that none of them had even heard of my one-time friend Zevi, but they knew without knowing they knew, somehow heard him declaring that I couldn’t be counted in a minyan. They had more than 10 without me, but I was diminishing them. Reminding them that this was serious business. This was no quick stop before work. This prayer could kill you just by speaking it, even now, and they didn’t want it that way. Their forbears had worked so it wouldn’t be that way. They wanted solid walls and marble, not me.
I could have said I wasn’t there for them. Nobody needed saving. I just needed to be here this one time. With them, not for them. Forget the new year, this was enough. This morning could count as my shofar, my apple, my honey. Or take them away, and this could be my dia puro.
I did what always serves me best: stayed quiet and left.
Trying to sing airless, lungless. My sidewalk skin. Head bound up in rags. Stupid to even come. Considered walking past the chapel window to see if they were watching for me, hunkered down. Briefly wished they were. Very briefly. It’s not right to wish for such things.
Found myself wishing I had paid more attention to the Torah scrolls. That’s a better wish. Lying flat in the Ashkenaz manner, it was hard to see the age of the parchment, the wood of the handles. Eitzat chayim. I remember carving a pair that were fixed to a Torah that burned, along with the man who wrote it. I piled snow on him, too late. His house collapsed around me and I had to stay under the rubble for days, watching my legs smolder, further blackening his body under mine, digging deeper when I thought someone was coming, losing his form in the embers.
Much easier to type now. This could work. Must watch the digressions.
The Golem Blog
Rather than shopping or a pottery workshop, blogging shows promise as a fun, “couple-y” activity. THE GOLEM writes the entry that took a thousand years.