© 2011 – Steve Lieberman - All Rights Reserved
The jurors filed into the hushed courtroom.
David and his associates Steve and Isaac scanned their faces for a clue of the
verdict. The foreman rose. "The jury finds the defendant, Atlas Energy
Corporation., not guilty."
A sigh of relief, a rush of congratulations,
and then back to the office to clear away the case's mass of papers.
Being Friday, Isaac left early, but David and Steve went to the Citylights Disco
happy hour to celebrate. David downed a drink, and danced with a pretty
stewardess named Suzy who Steve introduced him to. The throbbing pulse of the
music vibrated through him as he glided in sync with Suzy's moves. A few hours
later, it was goodbye to Steve, and back to Suzy's place to continue
The next morning, David put on Suzy's, extra roller skates and
walkman, and they skated through Central Park, closed to traffic on weekends.
Tuned to the same, disco station, they skated as well together as they danced.
Wind rushing through his hair, he sailed and bobbed in time to the beat,
watching the radiantly colored trees of late fall.
David Kahn, 28,
reveled in the rush of freedom as he boogied through Central park. He mused how
his life was getting faster and higher. Valedictorian of Great Neck High, honors
at Harvard College and Law, and now he was making big money winning big cases at
a big law firm. Six feet tall, intelligent brown eyes, brown curly hair, going
out with gorgeous women... David was soaring.
Rounding a turn, Suzy's
skate hit a rock and she crashed. Finding she had some scrapes and a twisted
ankle, David carried her to a cab and took her home. He patched her up and bid
her goodbye. Nice girl, he thought, maybe I'll see her again. But his sights
were aimed high, and he was ready for a lot more flying before landing.
When David got to work Monday, a note on his desk said,
"See Mr. Teller first thing this morning." David had been with the firm over a
year, but he had never spoken with Mr. Teller, one of the head partners. When he
went to the executive suite, the secretary buzzed Mr. Teller who came out and
shook David's hand, motioning him into the office. It was a stunning
office, with a panoramic view of midtown. Aside from the large desk, there were
two couches facing each other, and Mr. Teller sat on one and David sat on the
"I've been hearing good things about you, David," Mr. Teller
began. "You did well on the Atlas case. There's every indication you have a
bright future with our firm." Mr. Teller stood up, opened up a cabinet, and
poured himself a drink, offering one to David who declined. David looked at
his boss: about 60 years old, stocky,
graying at the temples, with a red face that belied a temper.
stood up, and walked to a wall of books, still holding his drink. "David, we're
working on an important new liability case, and we've been doing research on the
opposing firm. One of their lawyers grew up in Great Neck when you did. Did you
know a girl named Fran Rosen?"
David was startled. "She was a girlfriend
of mine in High School," David said. "But I haven't seen her since then."
"A stroke of luck," Mr. Teller smiled. He sat down on the couch, put his
drink on the table between them, and leaned forward. "I'd like you to renew your
acquaintance with Fran. You don't have to tell her where you work. Be discrete,
don't push, but if she happens to tell you anything pertinent, let me know."
He got up. "David, it's been a pleasure seeing one of our rising stars. Keep
me posted." They shook hands, and he saw David out the door.
shaken when he got back to his desk. On the surface he'd be resuming a
friendship. But it wasn't really honest. His curiosity,
however, was aroused - what did happen to Fran?
He called information,
dialed the number, and someone answered.
"Hello, is Fran Rosen there?"
"This is David Kahn, from Great
"David! How are you, old high school beau!"
fine. How are you?" David asked.
"Fine. I'm working at home this
morning. What have you been doing with yourself? How did you like Harvard?"
"Let's get together and catch up on old times", she said,
sounding excited to hear from him. They arranged to meet a week from Friday.
David wrote down her address, and said goodbye.
David was deep in
thought when Isaac walked in. "You look like you heard bad news."
didn't think it showed. I just did something shady for Mr. Teller."
a bully," Isaac sympathized. "In my four years here he's often asked me to do
things I don't approve of. But I have a way out. I say it's against Jewish Law,
and it usually is."
"Jewish Law? I thought that only had to do with
"Jewish Law covers every aspect of life", Isaac
explained. "My father, who's a Rabbi, sits at a phone much of the day
answering questions of Jewish Law, and he gets lots of civil law and personal
David ruminated a moment. "Just for the heck of it,
I'd be curious if what Mr. Teller asked me to do is against Jewish Law."
"Call my father. I've talked about you, he'll know who you are. It's best to
reach him in the afternoon. I'll tell him you might call." Isaac wrote down the
number and left.
That afternoon David noticed the number on his desk, and
on a whim, dialed it. A kindly voice answered "Hello?"
"My name is David Kahn, I work with
your son Isaac."
"Hello David, Isaac told me you might call. I've heard
so many good things about you. I heard you have a question that came up at
"I hope I'm not bothering you," David said.
"No, not at
all. If no one asked me questions, I would get pretty lonely sitting by the
David told Rabbi Levy about what Mr. Teller asked him to do.
"This is not so straightforward", Rabbi Levy answered. "I'd like to do some
research on it and get back to you. Better yet, why don't you come for a
Shabbos? Shabbos afternoon we'll have plenty of time to discuss the issue in
depth. That's when I like to answer my more complicated questions."
"Well, I don't know..." David was taken by surprise.
"You can stay by
Isaac's, and eat lunch here. Would this Shabbos be convenient for you?"
"I guess so," David said hesitantly. He hadn't made any dates
"Fine. I'm so glad you called. You have an
interesting question. I very much look forward to meeting you and
speaking to you about it.”
David's hand shook a bit as he put down
the phone. Shabbos? He had no idea how Orthodox Jews observed Shabbos. His
familiarity with Judaism was weak at best. He got up, and went into Isaac's
office. Isaac was smiling. "My father just called and told me the news. Have you
ever observed Shabbos before?"
David shook his head.
it," Isaac said. "It's a day worth living the rest of the week for, a day of
peace. Anyway, Mr. Teller must have given you an interesting task, because my
father usually can answer most questions 1-2-3."
Should I prepare anything for Shabbos?” David asked.
yourself. You’ll love it”, Isaac repeated.
SOON - Chapter 2
On Friday morning David
brought a valise to work with an extra change of clothing for his first Shabbos.
Shabbos - the word had an exotic flavor, David thought. It reminded him of
Hasidic men with long beards and black coats scurrying around the city. David
had been Bar mitzvah'd in a Reform synagogue when he was 13, but he had never
understood - or barely been curious about - what that or any other Jewish ritual
meant. It seemed like a distant land.
Leaving work a little early,
he and Isaac took a train to Avenue M in Flatbush. Walking to Isaac's house, he
saw men with black hats and yarmulkas hurrying home. About half the stores
had some Hebrew lettering on them. Isaac had a pretty one family house,
and his lovely pregnant wife, Sarah, came out of the kitchen to welcome
David. Isaac introduced his three children: "Here is Nachmun,
6 - Tzvi, 4 - and Rachel our baby, who was 2 last week."
David was shown his room. He took a shower, got dressed, and met Isaac in the
living room. Isaac's family had washed, and they and the house looked clean.
They all wished each other "Good Shabbos", and Isaac and David walked to
synagogue three blocks away.
The synagogue - or 'shul' as Isaac called it
- was a small brick building, nestled between two houses. Inside there were
about 50 men wearing black or blue suits and black hats. Isaac introduced David
to a dozen friendly people, and then went to the front where he introduced David
to Rabbi Levy. "Good Shabbos, David", Rabbi Levy said warmly, holding David's
hands between his. The Rabbi was slight and short, and his eyes shone and seemed
to laugh as he spoke. "I'm so glad you came and I look forward to speaking to
you at length tomorrow", the Rabbi said.
Isaac took David to the
bookshelves, and gave David one of the few books in English. "This is called the
Artscroll Prayer Book and should help you follow what's going on", Isaac said as
he opened the book to a page labeled 'Minchah'. "We are about to say the
afternoon prayers. That will be followed by psalms that welcome the Sabbath, and
then 'Maariv', the evening prayers."
The praying began, led by someone at
the front. For the next half hour, the people alternatively sat and stood, were
silent and spoke. David read portions of the book. When it was over, David said
to Isaac "Do you read this 1000 page book every day?"
"Parts of it,"
Isaac laughed, "and after 30 years you get to say it pretty quickly."
they walked back, David noticed how quiet the streets were. There were few
cars, and the only sounds were of men talking coming home from 'Shul'.
Isaac's wife and children greeted them with "Good Shabbos", and they went to the
dining table that was set around a beautifully lit candelabra.
at the head of the table, with Sarah and the younger children on one side, and
David and Nachmun on the other. They stood as Isaac held a cup of wine and said
a prayer in Hebrew that David didn't understand, except that it had the word
'Shabbos' in it. Then they all went into the kitchen and used a big two handled
cup to pour water on their hands and say something in Hebrew. Isaac showed David
what to do, and he repeated each word after Isaac, wondering what this meant.
Back at the table, Isaac held up two loaves of bread, said something in Hebrew,
and passed out pieces of bread to everyone. Then the real was served.
they were eating, Sarah smiled warmly at David and asked, "Are you familiar with
"No," David answered. "This is my first one. You'd be amazed
how little I know about Judaism. I don't even know the Hebrew alphabet. So that
I don't embarrass you or myself, what should I avoid doing on Shabbos?"
"We don't turn lights on and off. We don't write. And we don't carry things
outside", Isaac answered.
"It sounds so restrictive," David said.
Sarah responded, "Shabbos has been called an Island in Time. It's said that on
Shabbos we get an extra soul. I don't know how people survive without a day to
be with their families, rest, and think.'
"By the way," Isaac
interjected, "are you a Kohane, Levy, or Yisroel?"
"I don't know what you
"On Shabbos morning in Shul," Isaac explained, "we ask people to
say blessings over the Torah reading, and we wanted to ask you. All we need to
know is your and your father's Hebrew name. The Kohane and Levy are descendants
of the priests of the Temple, and they get to say the first blessings on the
Torah. I'm a Levy, that's why my name is Levy. Many people named Kahn are
"I can try to find these things out," David said. "But I have
no idea what my Hebrew name is. And if the blessing is in Hebrew, I'd be
It was a pleasant meal, and when it was over, Sarah
passed out little books. "Are you familiar with benching?" she
asked. David shook his head.
Isaac explained: "It's what we say at the
end of a meal to thank God for His generosity. If you want to say it, the
English translation is on the left side of the pages." As the others 'benched',
David read it. He was amazed how long it was, almost 8 pages. All this praying
and blessing, David thought, must take up half their time.
a bit more, they all went to their rooms for the night. As he lay in bed, David
felt a surprising calm. He thought how he'd probably now be at a disco now - how
different Shabbos was from what he knew as 'the weekend'. There were too many
rules and strange rituals, he thought, but he liked the peace of Shabbos. "I
wonder if I'm also entitled to a second soul on Shabbos," he smiled as he
drifted to sleep.
David still felt the peace of Shabbos when he woke the
next morning. He got dressed, met Isaac downstairs, and walked to Shul. In Shul,
as the others prayed, David read more from the Artscroll prayer book. "Why all
this praising God?" David thought. After about 45 minutes, they opened a closet
in the front, took out a large scroll David assumed was the Torah, and somone
read from it out loud. The reading was done in sections, and a different person
said a blessing over each section. After the Torah was put away, the Shul became
silent and Rabbi Levy climbed the platform in front and began speaking.
"In this week's Torah reading, Yitzchak - who is old and blind - wants to give
blessings to his sons - Yaacov and Esav". Isaac whispered to David that these
were the Hebrew names for Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. "Yitzchak wants to give the
spiritual blessing to Yaacov, and the material blessing to Esav. Rivkah,
Yitzchak's wife, tricks him into giving both blessings to Yaacov. Rivkah knew
that in order to be spiritual it helps having food in your stomach. She believed
in the spiritual mission of Yaacov - from whom we are descended. She wanted to
assure that Yaacov had the sustanance to carry out his mission."
was surprised by the power and electricity of Rabbi Levy's voice. A fire seemed
to project from his small frame.
"We, the Jews, received both blessings.
But we only have three physical blessing to help pursue the spiritual. If we use
the physical blessing as an end in itself, then we obtained it under false
pretences - and then Esav's anger at us is justified."
returned to his seat, and the praying continued another half hour. Afterwards,
Isaac's and Rabbi Levy's families met outside the Shul to walk to Rabbi Levy's
house for lunch. Rabbi Levy introduced David to his wife and his daughters
Esther and Rivka. While walking, Isaac explained to David that he was
oldest, a younger brother Moshe, 20, was learning in Yeshiva in Israel,
Esther was a year older than Moshe, and Rivka was 12.
The table was set
when they arrived, and Rabbi Levy, standing at the head of the table, said the
blessing over wine that they called 'kiddush'. Then they washed for bread, and
began a delicious meal. "This is a warm family," David thought as he ate,
talked, and listened to the Shabbos songs.
When the little benching books
were passed out, Isaac noticed there were none in English. He whispered to his
sister Esther, and she went upstairs and returned with a prayer book that had
the benching in English. As she handed it to David, he was struck by her
After benching, Rabbi Levy invited David into his study
down the hall. It was a medium size room with a desk in the middle and walls
packed with Hebrew books from floor to ceiling. David sat down as Rabbi Levy
started pulling books from the shelves.
"I enjoyed researching your
question," the Rabbi began. "It seems there are four issues involved." He then
talked for about an hour, bringing in dozens of opinions from people David had
never heard of, weaving the opinions together, jumping up occasionally to get
and quote from another book. His eyes glistened and darted as the books piled
higher on his desk and he pulled the strands of opinion together into a
"Therefore," he summed up, "most opinions follow the
Ramban, who would frown upon it, but there are others who could let one be
somewhat more lenient in matters of great need."
In Law school and after,
David had rarely heard such a masterful legal treatise. He looked at the books
piled on the desk, at those that filled the room, and then at the smiling Rabbi.
"Thank you for an enlightening answer. If you don't mind my asking you," David
said as he waved his hands at the shelves, "what are all these books, and who
are all these people you quoted?"
Rabbi Levy leaned back in his chair.
"These are my law books," he said. "This is our legal tradition, covering every
nuance of our lives, that our sages have handed down to us from generation to
generation for 3500 years. It pains me that so many Jews in this generation know
so little about it." David thought he saw a tear in his eye. The Rabbi got up,
and stood by the shelves. "As for who the sages I mentioned are, it is all
rooted in the Torah, the five books Moses received from God at Mount Sinai.
After 400 years we conquered all of the land of Israel, built our temple, and
saw it destroyed and rebuilt. Then our sages collected the writings of our
prophets and kings into the Tanach, the Bible. For 1000 years our temple stood,
where our priests led our nation in worship of God. All the while our tradition
and laws were kept alive by word of mouth. When 2000 years ago our temple was
destroyed, Yehuda Hanasi brought our sages together and preseved a summary of
our laws in the Mishnah. Five hundred years later, our sages put together the
Talmud, explaining the laws of the Mishnah in more detail". The Rabbi pointed to
a set of over 30 large books.
"A thousand years ago the Rambam,
Maimonedes, wrote a summary of our laws distilled from the Talmud. A hundred
years later Rashi and Tosfos wrote commentaries on the Talmud, explaining
nuances we wouldn't otherwise understand. All the while, Rabbis answered the
questions of their communities based on the knowledge of these works, and their
writings fill these walls. Four hundred years aao, Yosef Caro wrote the
Shulcahn Aruch, another summary of our laws we use extensively today. And only
60 years ago the Chafetz Chaim wrote the Mishneh Brurah, another extremely
Rabbi Levy sat down and looked at David. "Most
days, when I am not learning or teaching, I sit at my desk answering phone
calls, giving my humble interpretation of what our great sages taught concerning
the daily problems of our troubled age."
Rabbi Levy had been talking
about one and a half hours, and he looked a little tired. David got up, and
thanked the Rabbi for sharing his time and knowledge.
"It is entirely my
pleasure," the Rabbi said as he stood and shook David's hand. "If you have any
more to talk about, I'm available. You're an intelligent young man, and smart
people often have many questions. In fact," the Rabbi said as he walked to his
shelves, "I have a book in English on the history of our people. Would you be
interested in reading it?".
David thought a moment and said yes.
"I'll have Isaac bring it to work for you. Now I'm ready for my Shabbos nap,
that fuels me for the whole week." He walked David to the living room where the
Rabbi's wife was reading. She looked up and said, "Isaac and his family went
home. He said the door is open."
David put on his coat and stepped into
the Saturday sunshine. Thoughts were swimming in his head as he walked to
Isaac's house. Mishnah, Talmud, Rambam, Rashi. In his 20 years cf education, he
had only vaguely heard of these.
Isaac's house was quiet when he let
himself in - everyone was probably asleep. He went to his room, lay down, and
took a nap. When he woke up, he lay in bed feeling the peace and quiet of
Shabbos. Isaac knocked on the door and said it was time for Minchah. They walked
to Shul, where David continued reading the Artscroll prayer book as the others
said their afternoon prayers.
In the half hour waiting for the
evening prayers, everyone went to an adjoining room where they washed for
bread and ate what Isaac called the 'third meal1 of Shabbos. Rabbi
Levy read and discussed rules about Shabbos. At
the end he put his hand on David's shoulder and said, "I want
us to welcome a good friend, Mr. David Kahn, who is staying with us for
Shabbos." He turned to David and said, "May you have blessing and success in all
that you do."
They then 'benched', went to the Shul, and
said 'Maariv', evening prayers. Isaac then turned to
David and said, Shabbos is over". Before walking home with
Isaac, David thanked Rabbi Levy.
"We enjoyed having you, Levy
responded, and you are you are always welcome," Rabbi Levy responded
Isaac's children jumped all over him when they returned. He took out a
spice box, filled a cup of wine, and as his wife held a lit braided candle with
a big flame, he said some more blessings in Hebrew. Then they all said "Good
Vock," that they explained meant 'good week', to each other.
his things, and thanked Isaac and his wife. Shabbos is specical," Sarah said.
"It's not that we keep Shabbos as much as Shabbos keeps us."
to a party at my sister's," David said. "How do I get to Greenwich Village?"
Getting directions, David left as Isaac's family waved to him from the door.
As David climbed the steps to the
fourth floor of the brownstone that his sister lived in, he
could hear and smell the party. When he opened the door, he was hit by the
energy of the rock'n'roll, the noise of the group of about 50 people talking
over each other, and the smell of grass. His sister Sharon saw him, and
ran over and hugged him. "Oh David, how are you?" she said as she
took his coat and threw it on a pile of coats on the waterbed in the
David took a drink and looked around. He knew some of the
people, mainly singles on the prowl from the West Side and the Village. There
were some pretty girls he had never seen before, and as he was choosing from
among them in his mind, Sharon took his arm and led him into the bedroom, pushed
him onto the waterbed, closed the door, and sat down next to him.
David, it's so good to see you," she said. Even though she was high and smiling,
David sensed a troubled look in her eyes.
"Is everything OK?" he
"I have great news," she began. "Jeff and I have been living
together for four years now, and we finally did it. I found out last week I'm
pregnant". She paused, and the edges of her smile came down a bit. "I think
this is a sign," she continued, "for Jeff and I to tie the knot - but Jeff says
he's not sure he's ready. He wants me to get rid of it so he can have more time
to think about it, and not push and rush him. You have a way with words, David,
will you talk to Jeff?" Sharon'sat up more on the bed, and pulled some of the
coats around her. "David, I'm 32 going on 33, and my biological clock is
ticking. I've got life inside of me - I'm ready to hug it and cuddle it - I
don't want to wait".
Just then, the door opened and David could see the
silhouette of Jeff in front of the light and noise of the party. His beard was
shorter and his hair longer than the last time they had met. "Sharon, so here
you are, huddling with your brother. David, good to see you."
pulled himself up from the waterbed and shook Jeff's hand. Jeff looked at
Sharon's hurt expression, and said, "So you told your brother." He leaned back
against the dresser, folded his arms, and continued: "Don't look at me that way,
Sharon. It's you who messed up counting the pill. Do you know what it costs to
raise a kid these days? On my pay as a welfare case worker and yours as a public
school teacher, we could barely afford diapers. Besides..." he hesitated, "the
committment scares me. I'm not sure my head's there - for marriage, much less a
kid. It's for life. And what's the rush? We can always have another kid
David looked at Jeff. He seemed trim but small in his tight
jeans. David said, "Jeff, we shouldn't let fear make our decisions for us."
Jeff turned to David and snarled, "Look who's talking, Mr. Commitment!" He
walked over to Sharon and stood over her. "When you and your brother finish
solving our problems, join me at our party".
After Jeff walked out, David
sat next to Sharon, who was resting her chin on her knees, and he put his arm
around her. "You know Jeff has trouble with decisions," he said. "You'll have to
strengthen your bond together to help him decide. And it is a little
Sharon leaned against David. She said, "Thanks. Let me get
myself together, and I'll see you back in the party."
As he got up,
Sharon said "Don't tell anybody about this, especially Mom and Dad."
a matter of fact," David reassured, "I'm playing tennis with Mom tomorrow, and
mum's the word."
When David went back into the living room, the party was
going full force. People were dancing, talking, laughing, and a few were
snorting coke in the corner. One of the girls he had noticed before was putting
coldcuts on her plate, and even though his spirits were dampened, he went over
to her and started talking.
Sunday morning David drove out to Great Neck to pick up his mother for a
game of tennis. They played once a month as a way of keeping in touch. They
drove to the indoor courts, and had a good match. Sweated up, they drove home,
showered, and relaxed in the kitchen, sipping lemonade and eating
As David ate, his mind wandered to Sharon's predicament, and
became nostalgic about growing up in this house. He saw in his mind's eye images
of he, Sharon, and his parents watching TV together in the evenings; he and
Sharon playing games on the living room carpet on weekend mornings; the fun they
had at the beach, especially when David's father took time off in the summer
from his job as a stockbroker in New York.
He also remembered how, while
he was in High School, the peace was shattered when Dad ran off with his
secretary. The pieces were hard to pick up and rearrange after that.
"Your father has fallen behind on his alimony payments again," his mother said.
"What should I do?"
"Do you want me to answer as a son or as a lawyer?"
She got up and started putting the dishes in the sink, and he put the
food in the refrigerator.
"He certainly makes enough," she said with a
tinge of tired hostility, "and he'd have plenty if he didn't spend it all
entertaining his girlfriends in his East Side co-op."
"I'll talk to him
about it," David reassured as she poured them both some coffee. "By the way,"
David said, "do you have any idea what my Hebrew name is, and if I'm a
His mother sat down, took a sip of coffee, rested her chin on
her hand, and said, "That's about the last question I ever expected you to ask
me. How did that come up?"
"I was invited for a Shabbos," David answered
a little defensively, "by an Orthodox friend from work. When they call someone
up to the Torah, they need to know his Hebrew name."
"You're not thinking
of..." his mother asked.
"Are you kidding?" David answered.
David's mother laughed. "You know, my parents were kind of religious, but it
never made any sense to me. Your father thought it was a lot of ancient
superstition, so we went away from it completely. But I do have some nice
memories of Shabbos. Did you like it?"
"It was OK," David said as he
drank his coffee. "But there are so many rules and restrictions."
certainly glad to be free of them when I got married. To answer your question,"
his mother continued, "your father is a Kohane, and I believe that makes you one
too. I remember because my father was happy about my marrying a Kohane. He
didn't like too much else about your father, though. About your Hebrew name,
maybe your father will remember. You can ask him when you ask about my alimony
payments. By the way..." she said as she got more coffee, "you probably don't
remember, but you sometimes spent Shabbos with my father until he died, until
you were about four years old."
David thought back. He barely had any
recollection of his grandfather at all.
"My father was a good hearted
man. He had a hard life. I miss him." David thought he saw tears in his mother's
They finished their coffee, got up, and hugged. "It's always so
good to see you, David. You're a good son, and it breaks some of the monotony
out here. Have you seen Sharon lately?"
David hesitated. "I went
to a party she and Jeff gave last night."
"I must be old
fashioned," David's mother said as she gave David his coat. "I don't understand
why they don't get married. How is she?"
"Fine. She looks great,"
When David got to work Monday morning, he went to Isaac's office to thank
him for his hospitality. Isaac took a book out of his attache case and handed it
to David. "My father said this is for you." David looked at it - its title was
'The History of Our People'.
"Thank your father for the book and for his
time on Shabbos. He's a wonderful man."
That afternoon, Steve, another of
David's associates, came into David's office to talk about a case, and saw the
book on David's desk. "Is this yours?" Steve asked with surprise.
"Isaac's father lent it to me," David answered. I spent Shabbos with
"Ah, Shabbos," Steve said with a tone of cynicism. "That
word brings back bad memories. Have I ever confessed to you that I used to
"No" David shook his head, surprised.
brought up non-religious. My father died when I was very young, but when I was
13 my mother married my stepfather, who is Orthodox."
"That must have
been some change," David said.
"It was. For 5 years, until I went to
college, I was forced to keep Shabbos, keep kosher, and hundreds of other rules
no one bothered explaining to me. On Shabbos I was told I couldn't play ball
with my old friends."
"Sounds awful," David sympathized.
don't do this and don't do that. I liked some of the people, and the families
were more closely knit, but I had grown up tasting that heady brew of freedom,
and I just couldn't squeeze myself into that box."
"Well, it was a new
experience for me," David said, "like a vacation in a foreign country. I never
experienced Shabbos before, and I had no idea that Shabbos - at least the way
they observe it - even existed."
Steve got up and lifted his arms. "You
have no idea how good it felt when I left home and could eat anything I wanted
and run around with anyone I wanted whenever I felt like it. I was free
Steve looked at his watch and said, "Well, not totally free. We
still have to work slave hours for this firm." They laughed, and Steve left.
David mused for a while about the two opposite viewpoints. The Levy's said
Shabbos gave them a feeling of freedom. Steve had felt imprisoned by it.
"Interesting," David thought as he resumed his work.
Later that day David called his father and
arranged to visit Wednesday night. Wednesday after work David took the train to
80th Street and Park Avenue where his father had a two bedroom co-op with a
magnificent Southern view of Manhattan. The chandelier in the lobby, David
thought, is bigger than some studio apartments on the West Side. David rang the
bell, and his father opened the door wearing aviator glasses and a polyester
shirt with the top three buttons open showing two gold chains on the top of a
hairy chest. David thought he had put on a little weight.
in, sit down and I'll fix you a drink."
"Hi Dad, it's good to see you
again." David sat down on a couch, and remembered how much his father had spent
decorating his 'pad' eight years ago.
"So how's the world of law, Dave,"
his father said as he put down their drinks on the glass table and sat down on
the other couch. "I hear you won a big case last week. That Harvard education
has prepared you for this pushy world - and I'll bet it doesn't hurt with the
"I'm enjoying work, Dad, it's challenging, and I'm having
Just then the front door opened and a blond, around David's
age, came in. "Oh, Cheryl," David's father said as he got up, "this is my son
David." David got up and shook her hand.
"Your father talks a lot about
you, David. Sorry I can't stay, but I forgot my handbag and I'm late," Cheryl
said as she picked up her handbag and left.
"Cheryl's a knockout, isn't
she? She's been here over a month," David's father beamed.
"Just to bring
you up to date," David said "I saw Sharon Saturday night, at a party she and
Jeff gave. They're fine. And I had one of my monthly tennis games with Mom
Sunday. She's fine too. Incidentally, she says you're a bit behind on the
"Damn her," David's father spewed as his face got red.
"Why doesn't she get married to a rich widowerer on Long Island and stop
draining my wallet."
"Your wallet looks in pretty good shape, Dad," David
said as his hand showed off the room and the view.
"Appearances can be
deceiving. This costs a bundle."
"But Mom needs the money. And
remember, you're the one who left her."
"Look David," his father said as
he got some crackers and a dip. "I don't regret it. Your mother just stopped
turning me on, and I realized I had the hots for a lot of other women. If it
feels good, do it. You're a swinging bachelor, you know what I mean."
David looked at his father, and sensed some tiredness behind his bravado. "That
was your choice, Dad. But the price you agreed to pay is to keep Mom in the
style she was accustomed to. She was a good wife and mother for many years."
"Don't get sentimental. OK, David, tell your mother I'll catch up on the
payments. So, what else have you been up to?"
"I had an interesting
experience Saturday. An Orthodox friend from work invited me for Shabbos. I had
a long talk with his father who's a big Rabbi."
"I don't understand these
people at all," David's father said. "They're still living in the dark ages, as
if the enlightenment never came."
"They asked me what my Hebrew name is.
Do you remember what it is?"
David's father put his hand to his forehead.
"As I recall, they say so-and-so son of so-and-so. That would make your name
David ben whatever my Hebrew name is. Hold on." He got up and pulled a chair
over to a closet. Standing on it, he lugged down a box. "This has old books. I
think one of them is a prayer book I got when I was Bar Mitzvah'd." David helped
him pull the box to the couch and his father took out the dusty books. "I
haven't opened this box in 20 years at least. Here it is", he said as he wiped
off a book and opened its cover. "Sure enough, it says 'Mazel Tov to Abraham ben
Jacob.' That's right, my Hebrew name is Abraham. And that makes you David ben
Together they put back the books. "Help me drag
this box to the bedroom," David's father said. "Maybe I'll look at a
few of these books later."
After dragging the box, they returned to the
living room. "That box brings back memories," David's father said, sounding
melancholy. "Time flies by. Use every second."
David sensed a softness he
rarely saw in his father, and it made David feel warm towards him. They talked a
bit more and then got up.
"It's been great seeing you again, Dad," David
said, and they shook hands.
"Don't be a stranger," his father said.
All week David thought about the upcoming Friday night date with Fran Rosen,
his old high school girlfriend who Mr. Teller wanted him to spy on. He didn't
feel very good about the date. It had been arranged under false pretenses.
Should he pretend that he was interested in her? On the other hand, to break the
date now would hurt her, especially since she sounded so glad he called. And
what reason would he give Mr. Teller for not seeing her? Besides, he concluded,
he doesn't have to spy or report what she says, and maybe it would be fun.
He got home Friday after work and showered. As he was getting dressed, he
saw on his dresser the book about the Jews that Rabbi Levy had lent him. He
thumbed through its pages. "I'll have to find time to read this," he thought. As
he held the book, he realized that Isaac and his family were beginning Shabbos
David took the crosstown bus to First Avenue and walked up to
85th Street where Fran lived. David figured he'd take her to Angelo's, a quiet
Italian restaurant nearby where he often took dates who lived in this area. He
went up the elevator and rang the bell. As soon as Fran opened the door, he
recognized her: medium height, straight brown hair, pretty, but a bit weathered.
She was wearing a tight revealing knit dress.
"David, it's so good to see
you", she exclaimed as she hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek. "I've got a
surprise to celebrate our reunion - I've made a special dinner for us." David
walked in and saw a small but nicely decorated apartment, with the table set,
candles burning, and the lights low. "Let me rake your coat. Make yourself at
home - I'm just finishing up in the kitchen."
"Thanks, Fran," David said
as he sat down. "Don't rush. It's good to see you too - it's been about 10
years, hasn't it?"
Fran went into the kitchen, and returned a few minutes
later with a big salad that she served. They sat down and began to eat.
"Tell me what you've been doing since High School," Fran asked. "I still
remember your Valedictory speech".
"I went to Harvard for college and
law," David said.
"Oh really," she exclaimed. "I'm in law too. I went to
NYU. Where do you work?"
David hesitated. He was going to have to lie. "A
small firm in midtown you probably never heard of. Do you like law?"
"It's challenging, but the hours are tough. Until you make partner, it's a form
"Tell me", David said to change the topic. "How have the
last ten years treated you?"
"OK," she said as she cleared the salad
plates, served them soup, and sat down. "I was married for a year, to a guy I
knew in college. There were too many distractions in New York, though, and
neither of us were mature enough." She paused and leaned across the table and
touched his hand. "It's sure good to see you, David. Boy, did I have a crush on
you. What made you think of me after all these years?"
explain these things," David said feeling like a heel for lying again. "It just
"I'm flattered," she said. The main course was a delicious veal
dish. They talked about Great Neck and who they had kept in contact with. "I
have another surprise for you," Fran said after dinner. "I've rented a video.
Go sit on the couch and I'll set it up." The video began, and she sat close to
him on the couch. It was clear she was interested, but what if she found out
where he worked and why he really called? As the roots give nourishment to a
tree, David thought, the roots of this date were not right. He tried to be warm,
but didn't encourage her advances. When the movie was over, he looked at his
watch and got up.
"I have to be at work at 8 tomorrow morning", he lied
again. "Fran, you're a wonderful cook - it's been a great evening."
took his hands. "I make the same mistake every time - I come on too fast to guys
I like. Promise me you'll call again. I really loved seeing you again."
"I promise," David said as he hugged her. "I really liked seeing you
again too, Fran. I'll call you soon". She saw him to the elevator
and they said goodbye.
On the crosstown bus going home, David tried
to sort out his feelings. He didn't like having to lie so much. He was
going to have to tell Mr. Teller that this assignment was beyond the call duty.
Maybe he'd say it was against Jewish law, David mused as he smiled and
thought of Isaac. Then he remembered:
this is Shabbos,
isn't it? I wonder if I got my extra soul tonight?"
Sunday evening David read a chapter from the book Rabbi
Levy had lent him. It told the history of the Jews, from a religious
perspective. David found himself surprisingly absorbed. He remembered how
fascinated he had been by the program Roots on TV, the story of a black man
tracing his ancestry back 200 years. Here, David realized, was his roots -
going back 4000 years.
Over the next two weeks he read a little every
night, until the book was done. He was amazed at how little he knew about this
He saw the Jewish tribe begin with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
become enslaved in Egypt, and freed 200 years later by Moses. Now a large
people, they received the Torah, and then entered the land of Israel after
wandering in the desert. After several hundred years, they chose kings such as
David who completed conquering the land including Jerusalem, and his son Solomon
who built the Holy Temple.
As a Kohane he felt a kinship to the priests
who ran the Temple for almost 1000 years, all descendents of the first priest
Aaron, the brother of Moses. The book described the destruction of the
magnificent Temple, its rebuilding after 70 years, and destruction again 2000
years ago by the Romans.
He read how the scattered Jews, while their land
lay barren, codified their traditions and laws. Then a generation ago, after 6
million Jews died, they rebuilt their land.
David was impressed by the
expanse of the story in terms of time, geography, and drama. But some questions
disturbed him when he put the book down. The book kept referring to God, and
explained much of the history in terms of the Jews relationship with a God. What
did a God have to do with this? Wasn't this just the story of a people holding
onto their customs for an amazingly long period?
David was appreciative
that Rabbi Levy had lent him the book. The questions, however, lingered.
One morning David went into Isaac's office and returned the book. "Thank your
father for me. It was fascinating."
"I'm glad you liked it,"
"It's amazing how little of it I knew. I didn't know the Jews
had a gigantic Temple for 1000 years. It must have been some sight in the
"It was magnificent," Isaac said.
problem I found," David said, "was why the book had to explain the history in
terms of God. You see, I don't believe in God."
"My father talks a lot
about God's role in history. He could give you a good answer."
wouldn't want to bother him, he's so busy," David said.
"It's no bother,
especially on Shabbos afternoon. He enjoyed talking with you so much last time.
In fact, how about another Shabbos with us?"
While reading the book David
had quite often wanted to ask Rabbi Levy questions. David surprised himself by
saying, "OK. I'd love to see your father again and ask him some questions".
After checking their schedules, and Isaac calling his father, they picked the
Shabbos a week and a half later.
The following Wednesday, Isaac dropped by David's office and asked,
"By the way, did you find out your Hebrew name and if you're a Kohane?"
"I asked my parents, and found out my name is David ben Abraham, and I am a
Isaac's face lit up. "Great. Now you can say the blessings over
"No I can't," David replied. "I don't know Hebrew".
"That's easily remedied. Tonight after work, I can teach you the blessings
in an hour," Isaac offered.
After work Isaac showed David
how to say each word. "That's not so hard," David admitted. "But what am I
"These are brochas - blessings. All brochas begin the same way:
'Blessed are you, Oh Lord, Our God, King of the Universe'. These particular
brochas thank God for giving us His true and everlasting Torah."
Friday David brought a valise with a change of clothing to work again. In the
afternoon, he and Isaac left work early to take the train to Flatbush. When they
got to Isaac's house, Sarah and the three children greeted them. Sarah looked
about 7 months pregnant.
David was familiar now with the routine of
preparing for Shabbos. He showered, got dressed, and met Isaac downstairs. They
said 'Good Shabbos' to Sarah and the kids, and walked to Shul. David could feel
the calm of Shabbos beginning to descend on him already.
In Shul, David
found an Artscroll prayer book and read it while the others said the afternoon
and evening prayers. David found the book's commentaries on the prayers
After services, David said 'Good Shabbos' to Rabbi
Levy, who welcomed him warmly.
Outside, Isaac introduced David to a
young couple who was joining them for dinner. "David, this is Ari and Sima
Schwartz. They just moved to Flatbush from Baltimore. Ari is an accountant and
Sima is a nutritionist." They talked on the way home.
Shabbos dinner was
delicious and the conversation interesting. They sang songs in Hebrew, and the
discussions ranged from Israeli politics to finding a house in Flatbush.
After benching, the Schwartz's left and David helped Isaac and Sarah clear the
After everything was put away, David asked Isaac to review
the brochas of the Torah with him. Sarah excused herself, saying she was
going to make sure the kids were asleep, and then go to bed herself.
"There's someone inside me making me tired".
David repeated the brochas
until he was confident, and then he said, "Two words were used tonight - what do
they mean: Hashem and davening."
"Hashem means 'the name' in Hebrew, and
is a way we refer to God," Isaac answered. "Davening is yiddish for
"You spend a lot of time davening, don't you", David said,
"Actually, there are just two main prayers", Isaac responded.
"The Shema and the Shemoneh Esreh".
"Show them to me in the prayer book",
David requested. "Maybe it'll help me feel less lost tomorrow."
turned to a page in the Artscroll Prayer Book. "Here's the Shema. It's composed
of three short paragraphs from the Torah that talk about the unity of Hashem and
how we should follow His commandments." He turned to a different page. "The
Shemoneh Esreh is a series of brochas that we say standing. In it we ask Hashem
for what we need - such as knowledge and health - and thank Him for what He
gives us. The other prayers are psalms and songs, like Ashrei and Aleynu, that
set the right mood." He pointed out these too.
Isaac went to a drawer and
took out a while cloth with fringes and black stripes. "Before you go up to the
Torah, you'll put on a talis like this." He told David the brocha to say before
putting it on. "The brocha says that following the commandments makes us
The Shabbos candles were flickering, and David felt
tired. They both said 'Good Shabbos,' and went upstairs to sleep.
morning David woke up, got dressed, and went downstairs. He was a little early,
so he waited in the living room enjoying the peace of Shabbos. Isaac then joined
him, and they walked to Shul.
With Isaac's help and the commentary in the
prayer book, David followed the 'davening' better now. It started with some
morning brochas, then psalms, followed by Shema and Shemoneh Esreh. Then someone
took out the Torah, and placed it on a raised table in the middle of the Shul.
Isaac handed David a talis, helped put it on his shoulders, and then whispered
"OK, you're on. It's time for you to say the brochas on the Torah."
David took his prayer book and walked up the steps to the Torah. There were two
men on either side of the table, and a third was standing between them who
apparantly was going to read from the Torah. David looked down and saw the the
Torah. It was a scroll made of parchment written with black Hebrew
Then one of the men by the side of the table said something in
Hebrew that included his name 'David ben Abraham ha Kohane'. They indicated that
it was time for his brocha. He looked at his prayer book and said the first
The man next to him then read from the Torah in a strong voice,
using a silver pointer to keep his place. David could see the letters in the
Torah, and wondered what was being read. It felt interesting to be part of a
ritual that had been going on for over 3000 years.
The reader stopped,
they nodded to David, and David said the second, concluding brocha. They then
indicated for him to stand at the side of the table, and they called up Isaac
who said the same brochas before and after the Torah reading. Everyone then
shook David's hand, he took the talis off his shoulders, and walked back to his
seat. "That was an impressive experience", David thought.
the Torah reading, put it back in the closet in front of the Shul, and then it
was time for Rabbi Levy's speech. David didn't follow it well because it
contained many Hebrew words, such as Tumeh, Taharah, and Mikveh. "I must ask
Rabbi Levy what these words mean", David thought.
After the speech,
they finished davening, and then everyone shook each others hands and said 'Good
Shabbos'. Several people David had met the week before congratulated him
on his brochas. Isaac's family and Rabbi Levy's family then met
outside and walked to Rabbi Levy's house for Shabbos lunch.
The Levy's had other guests for lunch, a couple who were
distant cousins of the Rabbi's wife, with two sons 8 and 10. The meal began and
ended with blessings, and in between was good food, singing, and
After the meal Rabbi Levy winked at David and they got up
to go to the Rabbi's study. Isaac said that Sarah didn't feel well, and that
they would stay awhile to let Sarah rest.
"It's good to see you again,
David," the Rabbi said as they sat down. "I hear you have some questions for me.
Good, questions are a sign of an active mind."
"Thank you for lending me
the book," David began. "I learned a lot. But I couldn't relate to its religious
viewpoint. It saw history in term of God's actions. With all respect, how do you
know there's a God?"
Rabbi Levy sat still and his face grew serious.
"God? I'm not sure if I've ever thought about this question. It's like asking a
fish how he knows he's surrounded by water." Rabbi Levy's look got softer. "With
every breath, at every second, I feel Hashem's presence. We call Him the 'Life
of the Universe'". He smiled. "Hashem is like the electric outlet from which all
life and existence comes. But you are asking how do I know this?" Rabbi Levy got
up and walked to the window and looked out. "The ten commandments do not command
us to be believe in God. It begins 'I am the Lord your God'. It is an axiom." He
turned and looked at David again. "For me, too, it is an axiom. I love Hashem
and feel His love towards me. I thank Him for my life, my family, our Torah.
Thank you for asking me this question, David," he said as he sat down again. "I
must give more thought to what could make a person numb to Hashem's
David was ready with the second question. "Assuming there is a
God, why would He make a special relationship with the Jews?"
is a question I've thought a lot about," Rabbi Levy began. "Do you know what the
word kedushah means? Kedushah is Hebrew for 'holiness'. Hashem needs a people
whose lifestyle is an example of kedushah, so anyone coming in contact with them
will understand and want kedushah. Holiness is not easy to comprehend." Rabbi
Levy took a large book off his shelves and opened it. "The Bible begins with
many stories of people who do what is wrong. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the
generation of Noah." He turned to a page. "In a very touching scene, Hashem says
to Cain, 'Sin is crouching at the door, but you can prevent it.' The next thing
Cain does is kill his brother. Even Hashem finds it hard to convince man to be
good. So Hashem chose Abraham to be the father of a people that is an
advertisement for good".
Rabbi Levy turned to another page. "In Exodus,
Hashem tells the Jews, 'You are to be for me a kingdom of Priests and a holy
nation." Hashem needs an environment that explains kedushah, that shows why
people are better off being good than being bad". Rabbi Levy smiled. "After all,
on the surface, it would seem that being bad is better. You can then take and
do what you want. The truth, however, is that doing what is wrong destroys us
internally, destroys society, and cuts us off from Hashem's love." The Rabbi's
voice became impassioned. "Hashem tells Abraham "Those who will bless you shall
be blessed'. Hashem needs the Jews to be examples of the right way to live, to
build a society that breathes kedushah, to be as Isaiah says 'A light to the
nations'. And that is why Hashem gave us a land, as a place for us to be that
David felt moved, and responded "Have the Jews done this?"
Rabbi Levy put his hands together and placed them on the desk. "To some
extent," he said. "Don't you feel the kedushah of Shabbos here?" David nodded.
"We've been keeping that flame burning for 3500 years. When the world was full
of darkness and paganism, we observed Shabbos and worshipped Hashem in our
Temple. Today, most of the world believes in Hashem and observes a day of
Rabbi Levy looked down and his voice got lower. "But compared to
the goals of our mission, we should be doing much more". A look of sadness crept
into Rabbi Levy's face. "We are fragmented, and so many of our people have lost
touch with Hashem. We have so much to do. For thousands of years, we have not
lost our dream, to fulfill our mission. Hashem needs more than ever for us to be
that holy nation."
"I have one more question", David said.
all means", Rabbi Levy answered.
"During your speech in Shul this
morning, you used three words - Tumeh, Taharah, and Mikveh. What do they
"Something has Tumeh," Rabbi Levy answered, "when it comes in
contact with death. A person who comes in contact with certain kinds of Tumeh
must wait seven days, immerse himself in a special pool of water called a
Mikveh, and is sprinkled with a special water we had in the time of our Temple.
He then becomes Tahar, meaning pure or clean. A priest had to be Tahar to serve
in the Temple. We no longer are able to make the special water, so today no one
is completely Tahar."
Rabbi Levy stood up and walked to the window again.
"Our society today generates Tumeh. People's lives have so little Taharah or
Kedushah - and so much Tumeh. Torah is like a Mikveh. When we immerse ourselves
in it, it protects us from the Tumeh of society".
All of a sudden
there was a knock on the door, and Isaac rushed into the Rabbi's
"Sorry to barge in, but Sarah's water just broke. She's two
month's early. She's lying down upstairs. Mom's with her."
hesitating, Rabbi Levy picked up the phone on his desk and dialed a number. He
said into the phone, "Woman in labor. Hurry." He gave the address, and hung up.
He looked at David and said, "Until the next time. It was a pleasure".
David followed Rabbi Levy and Isaac into the living room where Rabbi Levy's
daughter's Esther and Rivka were playing with Isaac's children. Within two
minutes, they heard an ambulance outside. Isaac opened the door, and two
orthodox men with beards bounded in. "She's upstairs", he told them, and they
sped upstairs, carrying a stretcher. Within a minute, they carried Sarah on the
stretcher down the stairs and into the ambulance. Rabbi Levy and Isaac put on
their coats and hats, joined them in the ambulance, and it sped off.
David was thunderstruck. The peace of Shabbos had been interrupted hv a spike of
elecricity, and now the quiet had returned. David sat down on the living
room couch, and looked at his watch. It Said 2:30. What should
he do now? His guides for Shabbos - Rabb Levy, Isaac, and Sarah - were
gone. He didn't have the key to Isaac's house, so he couldn't go there. Should
he stay here, or go for a walk?
Rabbi Levy's wife, who had been taking
care of Sarah, had come downstairs and was talking to Esther, her oldest
daughter. Mrs. Levy came over to David and sat down next to him on the
"Well, David, a little Shabbos excitement", she said comfortingly.
"Can I get you something to eat or drink?" He shook his head, appreciating her
"Esther wants to walk to the hospital", she continued. "It's
too far for her to walk alone. Maimonedes Hospital, at the far end of Boro Park,
is almost three miles from here. Would it be very inconvenient for you to escort
David looked at Esther, and then back again at Mrs. Levy. "I'd be
glad to," he said, relieved to have something to do the rest of Shabbos.
"Thank you, David, that's very generous of you," she said. "It's about an hour
walk. Esther knows the way. You can catch Minchah along the way."
Levy nodded to Esther, who's face burst into a smile. She got Esther's and
David's coats. "I'll see you after Shabbos," Mrs. Levy said. "Give Sarah my
love, and wish her a refuah shlaimah, complete health." She opened the door, and
Esther and David walked out into the brisk February afternoon air.
walked several blocks without saying anything. David wasn't sure of the
etiquette of what to say to a beautiful, young Rabbi's daughter while walking
several miles on a Shabbos afternoon. He had a chance now to see how beautiful
she was. The word Tahar - pure - came to mind. Her skin looked soft and fresh,
she stood poised and stately.
David was grateful when she broke the ice.
She turned her clear brown eyes towards him and asked, "Have you been having a
"Very good", he answered. "Your family has made me feel at
home, and I enjoy talking to your father. By the way," he said, puzzled by
something that had happened before, "I thought you didn't use phones or cars on
Shabbos, and your father just used both".
"To save a life," Esther
answered, "all other rules of Shabbos are suspended. When a woman is in labor,
her life is considered to be in danger".
"There are a lot of rules
to follow, aren't there?" he ventured.
She laughed. "There
sure are. We spend our whole lives learning them."
liked Esther's warmth. "I have a friend at work," he said, "who was religious
for a few years, and he said he felt imprisoned by all the rules. He says that
now he loves doing anything he wants on Saturday."
Esther looked down and
grew pensive. "But now he's missing the peace and kedushah of Shabbos. The rules
are from Hashem, and following them elevates us."
They crossed a major
thoroughfare called Ocean Parkway. As they walked, he noticed more Jews with big
fur hats and long black coats. He commented on that to Esther.
"We've entered Boro Park from Flatbush," she said. Boro Park has more
There was a thought he wanted to share with her. "I like the
wholesomeness of your community," he said. "But there's so much
She turned her eyes towards him again and said "You
must have been very disciplined to become a lawyer. But I'm sure you feel it was
She then pointed to a building they were
approaching. "That's my uncle's Shul. We can stop off here for
When they got to the building Esther pointed out, David saw it
was an ordinary house with a sign in Hebrew over a door leading down to the
basement. They walked down the steps into a medium size room with shelves of
books on the walls and rows of tables. In the front was a closet covered with
curtains where David figured the Torah was kept.
There were about ten
people at one of the tables, each with a large book in front of him, listening
to a man with a long black beard at the head of the table, who was waving his
hands as he talked in a language David didn't understand.
as the man who was talking saw Esther, he excused himself and rushed over to
her. Esther explained to him why they were walking to
the hospital, and then introduced David. "This is my uncle, Rabbi Wasner,
my mother's brother. And this is David Kahn, a friend of Yitzchok's from work,
who is spending
Shabbos with us. He's being kind enough to walk me to the
The Rabbi shook David's hand enthusiastically, and then said
they would talk more after his 'shiur', that Esther explained was a discussion
he was giving in Talmud.
By the time the 'shiur' was over fifteen minutes
later, the shul had filled up. Esther introduced David to her cousins, ranging
in age from 8 to 20, all wearing black coats and black hats. "My uncle has eight
sons," she said. She whispered something to one of her cousins who came back
with an Artscroll prayer book for David. "It's time for Minchah, I'm going to
the women's section," Esther said as she disappeared behind a curtain at the
other end of the room.
David found the section of the prayer book labeled
'Minchah for Shabbos afternoon' and followed along. They took the Torah out and
put it on a podium in the middle of the room. Esther must have told them he was
a Kohane, because they asked him to say the brochas over the Torah. He read them
from his prayer book. "Twice in one day," David thought. It was a much shorter
Torah reading than in the morning. They put the Torah back and then everyone
stood quietly as they said the Shemoneh Esreh.
After davening, Esther
reemerged from the curtains and talked animatedly to her uncle and cousins. She
then said she better continue to the hospital, and she and David walked up the
steps to the street, where the sky was slowly getting darker.
walking twenty minutes more through Boro Park, they arrived at Maimonedes
Hospital on 9th Avenue. They found out at the desk where Maternity was, and they
walked up the stairs. The waiting room was filled with dozens of people, most of
them men with beards and long black coats.
Rabbi Levy was sitting at the
other end, talking to someone. When he saw Esther and David walk in, he smiled
broadly, got up, and hugged Esther. "Esther, David, you walked all the way from
"It was a nice walk", Esther said "and I want to thank David
for escorting me."
Rabbi Levy introduced the man he was talking to.
"David, Esther, this is my friend Rabbi Finkelstein. His wife is here for their
tenth child, please God."
Just then, Isaac, looking pale, walked
in. He looked happily surprised to see Esther and David, greeted them, and
then said to them and Rabbi Levy, "Sarah is still in labor. This one is not
being easy. Sarah is in a lot of pain."
After they sat for a minute,
someone announced 'Maariv', and the men moved to one side of the room. Isaac
whispered in David's ear "Pray for Sarah and me."
A man in front said
something in Hebrew, and they all started davening. David noticed that none of
them had prayer books, so they must have known the prayers by heart. "Most of
these men are having babies," David thought, as he watched them sway back and
forth, their lips moving softly and their eyes closed.
Then David looked
at Rabbi Levy standing next to him. His eyes were shut tight, and his hands
periodically rose. David was amazed by the intensity of the emotion that
emanated from him. David closed his eyes, and tried to pray for Sarah too.
After davening, someone brought out a cup of grape juice, and handed it to
Rabbi Levy who stood in the center of the room and said to the hushed group the
brochas of Havdalah, the prayers that marked the end of Shabbos.
instant the peace of Shabbos turned into the din of the week as everyone hurried
to the phones to call relatives and friends.
Isaac then rushed back to
the delivery room. Five minutes later, he emerged beaming. "It's a boy, our
prayers worked, everything's OK." They went to Sarah's empty room, and after a
little while, Sarah was rolled in holding a little bundle. They walked to the
side of her bed, and looked at the baby's small, cherubic, sleeping face. "Mazel
Tov," Rabbi Levy said. "A link to our future. May he grow strong in Torah and
After staying a while longer, Rabbi Levy, Isaac, Esther,
and David took a car service back to Flatbush. David packed his things, and said
goodbye to Isaac. "Of course you are welcome to come to the Bris, probably next
Sunday morning," Isaac said.
On the train back to Manhattan, David
thought: "A nice community, closely knit and full of life. Wholesome, but
restrictive. Too many rules. But there is less tumeh," he admitted.
On Thursday Isaac stopped by David's
office, and verified that the Bris would be Sunday morning, 9 AM, in his
"What does the word Bris mean?" David asked.
means 'covenant'," Isaac answered. "God told Abraham that all male Jews should
be circumsized when they are 8 days old. It's a covenant between God and the
Jews. It's interesting that it's done on a part of the body men need to
Sunday morning, David's alarm woke him up much earlier than
usual for Sunday, and he headed out by car to Flatbush. When he got to the shul
it was crowded with people. The whole Levy family greeted him like a member of
Inside, in the front of the shul, a man with a long black
beard and a white jacket was arranging some medical instruments on a table.
"That's the mohel," Isaac explained, "and my father is going to be the Sandek".
David noticed Rabbi Levy sitting on a big chair near the table.
descended on the gathering, and David watched someone carry the baby in on a
pillow and place them together on Rabbi Levy's lap. The mohel prepared the baby
by putting a clamp on the baby's foreskin. He then turned to Isaac, who said a
brocha while holding a cup of wine. The mohel reached down, cut off the
foreskin, some more brochas were said, and everyone said 'Mazel Tov' to each
other. "Have Jews really been doing this since the time of Abraham?" David
The crowd moved into a large room where tables had been set with
food. As everyone found a seat, Isaac waved at David, calling for him to sit
next to him and Rabbi Levy. The people washed for bread, and ate bagels, lox,
and cream cheese.
David looked around as he ate. The people were dressed
the same as on Shabbos. The men wore their black hats, dark suits, white shirts,
and ties. The women, who were sitting at separate tables, wore long dresses.
David saw Esther sitting next to her mother.
"Well," Isaac said to David
"you're practically part of our family now".
"Who are most of these
people?" David inquired.
"Many are friends from our shul, and
many are near and distant relatives. Happy occasions are called simchas, and are
times for the extended family to get together. We'll be seeing many of them
again next month at my brother's wedding."
"What brother is this?" David
"My younger brother Moshe, who's learning in Yeshiva in Israel.
I'll be seeing relatives I haven't seen in years."
Rabbi Levy overheard
the conversation, and said "Since you're like a member of the family, David, I
must apologize for the oversight of not inviting you to the wedding too. We
would be honored to have you join us at Moshe's wedding."
"Thank you, I'm
flattered", David answered. "When and where will it be?"
from today," Rabbi Levy said, "in Jerusalem".
David thought hard.
Jerusalem. He had never been to Israel, and he wondered what it's like. He could
probably get the time off, and it could be an interesting vacation. "How long
will you be in Israel", David asked.
"A week," Isaac answered. "You'll
love Israel. It's a special place."
"Plenty of kedushah," Rabbi Levy
"If I can get the time off, I'd love to come", David decided.
"Thanks for inviting me."
A little while later, Isaac and Rabbi Levy got
up and spoke about the meaning of the Bris with Hashem. Then everyone benched,
and wished each other Mazel Tov as they left. David heard several say 'Next
month in Jerusalem'.
As David drove home, he thought about the book about
Jewish history he had read, and wondered what Israel and Jerusalem were like
Monday morning David requested a week off to go to Isaac's brother's wedding in
Israel. David had some vacation time coming up, and he didn't expect any trouble
getting it approved.
On Wednesday David got a call from Mr. Teller's
secretary saying Mr. Teller wanted to see him that afternoon.
arrived on time, and after a fifteen minute wait, Mr. Teller opened the door of
his office and welcomed David in. As they sat down on the couches facing each
other, David saw a half finished drink on the table between them. Mr. Teller
looked spiffy, David thought, with his tailored blue suit, blue shirt, white
collar, and yellow tie.
Mr. Teller smiled. "It's good to see you again,
David. So you want to take off for a week in Israel. Though your schedule is
busy now, it can be arranged." He leaned forward and took a sip of his drink.
"By the way," he winked, "have you made any progress with your old girlfriend
from Great Neck?"
"I saw her a few weeks ago," David answered, "but she
didn't say anything relevant."
"Well pursue it," Mr. Teller said
firmly. "Any information will come in handy."
Mr. Teller got up,
and as David walked to the door, he felt Mr. Teller's hand on his shoulder.
"Working for our firm means teamwork. We have to pitch in when we're needed.
And," he said as he smiled again, "I hope you're not considering dabbling with
religion - for your sake or ours. Isaac doesn't know any
better, he was
born into it." He took his hand off David's shoulder. "And
between you and me, with all the holidays and things you can't do, you
can't do, it doesn't help one make partner around things here."
opened the door and shook David's hand, "It's a pleasure. And keep me posted
about the girl."
As David walked back to his office, he felt the
heat of anger rise up inside him. "What an arrogant, domineering man," he
thought. He had a decision to make with regard to Fran Rosen - seeing her more,
or telling Mr. Teller he wasn't going to spy for him. As for the religious
issue, his boss was way out of line. "He's got some nerve," David thought "I'm
not running to become religious and give up my freedom. But when it comes to my
personal life, I sure won't let him push me around."
During the next few weeks David was absorbed with his work and
time passed quickly. On the night before he was to leave, he was packing at home
when the phone rang. It was his sister Sharon, and she sounded upset.
David, I must come up and see you."
"Sure, come over now. Is
everything all right?"
"I'll explain when I get there."
arrived a half hour later, carrying a suitcase. Her hair was disheveled and she
looked like she had been crying.
"Oh David, David," she said as she
walked through the door, sounding hoarse.
"Sharon, sit down".
He took her bag and coat and brought her some orange juice. "What's wrong?" he
asked as she sat on the couch.
"It's me and Jeff. We had a big fight. I
can't live there anymore. I can't stand looking at the place." She took a sip of
juice and stared into the glass. "David, can I stay here for awhile till I find
my own place and get my bearings?"
"Of course, Sharon, you're always
welcome here. In fact, while I'm in Israel next week, you'll have the place all
to yourself." He sat down next to her on the couch. "Sharon, what happened?"
She turned toward him. She looked worn out, and there were lines under her
eyes. "Remember our party when I told you I was pregnant? It was hell after
that. Jeff and I talked and talked - and fought and fought. I wanted us to get
married and have the baby, and Jeff kept saying he just wasn't ready for the
responsibility. He just repeated over and over 'my head's not there'. I just
couldn't take it anymore. And time was running out for making a decision."
Sharon looked down. "So I had an abortion". She started weeping and her hair
fell in front of her face. "And they messed me up."
'What do you mean?"
She looked back at him, her eyes swollen. "I'll never
be able to have children again. They messed me up inside."
her lip. "David, ... I had life inside me, and its gone. I'll never be able to
have a child of my own anymore, I'll never be able to give birth."
put his arms around her, and she wept on his shoulder. She cried for a long
time, until she cried herself to sleep.
The next morning David
woke early and finished packing. He was going to meet the Levy's at Kennedy
Airport to take El Al's Thursday noon flight, arriving in Israel Friday morning.
They were spending Shabbos in Jerusalem, and Sunday was the wedding.
got dressed and went into the living room where Sharon was asleep on the couch.
She stirred and opened her eyes, reorienting herself. A look of sadness crept
across her face.
She sat up as David brought out coffee and sat next to
her. "The keys are on the dresser," he said, "and you're welcome to stay
as long as you like. I'm sure you'll like the West Side better than the
Village, anyway". She smiled.
She drank her coffee as David got his
bags together. "Thanks for everything," she said as she saw him to the door.
David gave her a bear hug. "I love you, Sharon. Enjoy the
apartment, and I'll see you when I get back."
"Enjoy Israel," she
SOON - Chapter 6
When David got out of the cab at Kennedy Airport,
he saw the Levy's in a big crowd of people. They greeted him warmly, and
introduced him to all the relatives and friends who were also going to the
After checking their baggage, they got on the El Al plane. David
sat next to Isaac and Sarah, who was holding their month old baby.
festive atmosphere continued through the ten hour flight. There were several
meals. For Minchah and Maariv, a crowd of at least forty men went to the back of
the plane to daven. David joined them with his trusty Artscroll prayer book -
that he had bought at a Hebrew bookstore the previous week - feeling
uncomfortable to sit alone in his seat while the others were praying.
night most of the people took pillows and blankets out of the overhead
compartments and slept. When David woke up, he could feel the plane
Israel. It's strange, David thought, just a few months ago he
felt little connection to it, and now he saw it as the home of his roots.
They landed, got off the plane, and got their baggage. On the other side of
customs, a large group of friends and relatives greeted and hugged them.
They drove to Jerusalem, or 'Yerushalayem' as most of the others pronounced it.
As their car climbed the hill entering the city, David saw the bronze brick most
of the buildings were built with. David had a curious feeling of the modern age
and antiquity merged together.
Everyone was assigned to various homes,
and David stayed with Isaac and his family at his cousin's house. After
unpacking, a large group met for lunch.
After the meal, they dispersed to
get ready for Shabbos. Esther asked Isaac if he wanted to walk with her to the
Kotel, but he said he had too many errands to do. She looked disappointed.
David turned to Isaac and asked "What's the Kotel?"
Isaac answered, "is the remaining Western wall of the Temple, in the center of
the Old City".
"I'd love to go see it now," David said to Esther, and her
face lit up.
David and Esther got ready and started on their
walk. They began in a residential neighborhood, and came to a
bustling area with lots of traffic and stores. Esther knew the way well.
"You seem very familiar with Jerusalem," David commented.
"This is my
fifth time here," she said. "After High School I spent a year going to a girl's
Seminary in Jerusalem. I love it. The air sparkles with Kedushah. You can feel
Hashem's presence." Her face glowed as she spoke.
"Up ahead," she
pointed, "you can see the wall of the Old City. The wall protected the city
They walked to the wall, and then through the gate to the
other side. "There are four sections in the Old City: Jewish, Arab, Christian,
and Armenian. We'll be passing through several of them to get to the Kotel. This
is the scenic tour."
As they walked, David was amazed at the number of
little stalls with Arabs selling food, trinkets, and clothing. He wondered if
this was how it looked two or even three thousand years ago.
old is your brother, the one that is getting married?" David asked.
"He's 20, a year younger than I am."
"I guess the Orthodox get
married early," David said.
"Why not?" Esther responded. "People are
meant to be in a loving, married home. The Bible says it wasn't good for Adam to
"The psychology is different in the regular culture," David
said, thinking about his sister Sharon and Jeff. "People want to be extra sure.
They're very cautious about commitments."
"We learn very early to commit
ourselves to Hashem," Esther said. "So being committed to another human being
isn't such a jump."
They walked down a flight of steps and came to a very
large courtyard. Esther stopped, and David looked up and saw at the other end of
the courtyard a big wall, perhaps 60 feet high. There were hundreds of people in
front of it, many praying. "I guess that's the Kotel," David said. Esther nodded
as they walked closer to its large bronze-colored stones.
They stood in
silence for a while. "Many people have their Bar Mitzvah's or even weddings
here," Esther said.
"I can understand why", David said, "I
can almost feel its kedushah."
Suddenly a young man with a black hat and
a beard ran out of the crowd and came over to them. "David Kahn, is that really
you?" he said.
David looked at him, and then recognized him through the
beard. "Barry, Barry, how are you doing? What are you doing here?"
a long story. Maybe I can tell it to you on Shabbos. What brings you to
"I'm here for a wedding," David said. He turned to Esther.
"This is Esther Levy, the sister of a friend I work with. Their brother is
getting married Sunday, and they were nice enough to invite me to the wedding.
We just landed in Israel this morning."
"You must come over for a Shabbos
meal," Barry said.
"I'd love to, if its OK with the Levy's," David said,
turning to Esther.
"Oh," Esther said, "you should get together with your
"I live in Geula," Barry said. "Is that close to where
"Very close," Esther said.
"I must be going,"
Barry said. "It's getting close to Shabbos, and I still have errands to do.
Here's my address. I'll see you after Maariv, for dinner tonight. We've got a
lot to talk about." He turned to Esther. "It was nice meeting you. Mazel Tov".
He grabbed David's shoulders and said, "It's so good to see you David," and they
hugged. "See you tonight," Barry said, and ran off.
Esther stood in silence for a minute. "He seems like a good friend," Esther
"We were very close in college," David answered.
"But we haven't seen each other since. His name is Barry
Shine. It's great to see him. I wonder what he's doing
here. He wasn't religious in college."
Esther looked at her
watch and was startled. "My goodness, we better hurry back. We only have an hour
before candle lighting." As they retraced their way back home, David was lost in
thought. Barry Shine. What was he doing here, dressed like that?
they got back, Isaac told David, "You better get ready quickly. I'll meet you
here in 15 minutes and we'll walk to Shul for Minchah". David put on his suit,
took his prayer book, and met Isaac, Rabbi Levy, and a group of men to walk to
Shul to begin Shabbos. Everyone looked freshly showered wearing dark suits and
On the way, Isaac introduced him to his brother.
"Moshe, I'd like you to meet a good friend, David Kahn."
pleased to meet you," Moshe said smiling broadly. "Thanks for coming so far for
"Mazel Tov," David said.
"What did you think of the
Kotel?" Isaac asked David.
"I was moved by it," David answered. "I met a
friend from college who lives here. He invited me for dinner."
means go. Though we'd love to have you join us, how often do you have a chance
to see your friend here in Jerusalem?"
When they got to the shul a few
blocks away, the Levy's greeted and hugged people it seemed they hadn't seen for
a long time. When they davened Minchah and Maariv, David was pleased that he was
getting better at following along.
After shul, Rabbi Levy came over to
David, and shook his hand enthusiastically. "Isaac tells me you met a friend
here. All Jews meet in Jerusalem. Enjoy dinner. David, I'm so happy you're here
to share in our simcha."
David got directions to Barry's house, about ten
blocks away. The Jerusalem night air was brisk and quiet, and David could see
the stars clearly. "This neighborhood must be Orthodox," David thought, for
there were no cars and no sounds other than men walking home from shul and the
sound through the windows of families singing Shabbos songs.
walked, David thought about Barry Shine and Jerry Fisher, his closest friends at
Harvard. They were three Jews from New York, and for almost four years they were
Barry lived on the third floor in a small apartment house.
David knocked on the door, and a pretty woman carrying a year old baby opened
the door. You must be David," she said. "I've heard so much about you. Come in,
it's so good to meet you."
Barry came out of another room, and ran over
to David and hugged him tightly. "David, David, great to see you again. In
Jerusalem, the center of the world. This is my wife Chaya, and my son Shlomo.
Come, let's sit down at the table, we've got a lot of catching up to do."
On the table were two lit candles, and bread covered by a white embroidered
cloth. They took their places, and Barry poured wine into a silver cup and said
a brocha. They went to the sink to wash for bread, and back at the table Barry
said another brocha and passed out the bread. Then Barry and Chaya served the
"Delicious," David said. "Barry, what
are you doing in Jerusalem. How did you become religious?"
been quite an experience", Barry said. "After I got my PhD in physics at
Berkeley, I took the summer off and travelled. When I was in Jerusalem, standing
by the Kotel, someone invited me for a Shabbos meal. He then took me to a class
at a beginners Yeshiva here. I loved it. It awoke something in me. That was
three years ago, and I've been learning and working part time here since.
Finding the Jew inside me, getting closer to Hashem, has been amazing." His eyes
glistened. He turned to Chaya. "Two years ago I met Chaya who was learning at
the women's branch of the Yeshiva. We got married and a year ago little Shlomo
"I'm from Montreal," Chaya said, "and majored in psychology
at McGill. While visiting my brother here, who become religious a few years ago,
I started learning too."
"And you?" Barry asked, turning to David with a
'Oh, no, I haven't caught the religious bug", David said laughing.
"A friend from work who's religious invited me to his brother's wedding here.
This is only my third Shabbos. Frankly, I don't think I could take the
restrictions. I'm on the outside looking in."
"I'll admit", Barry said,
"it's a change in lifestyle. David, what have you been doing for the last seven
years. I've wondered why we didn't stay in touch. Probably because of
They talked for two hours over dinner. Shlomo fell asleep, and
Chaya put him to bed. They benched, and Chaya excused herself, saying she was
Then Barry poured a little brandy for both of them. "David, I've
had a lot of thoughts over the past three years, and I'd like to share them with
you, old buddy".
"By all means", David said. "I'm all ears."
Barry loosened his tie and began. "At college and at Berkeley, some people
had a motto of 'sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll'. David, they just took a theme in
our culture and took it a bit further. Our culture is hedonistic, believing in
pleasure for the moment. And as it gets worse, the glue holding it together is
getting loose." He pointed to the Hebrew books on his shelves. "When I started
studying this wisdom, I saw that that's no way to grow up, or raise a family, or
live in a community." Barry reached out and put his hand shoulder. "David,
Jerry was wrong. Freedom is not the ultimate goal. Total freedom
David was silent for a minute. "I'm
surprised, Barry, how much it still hurts to hear Jerry's name."
"It's OK", David said. "I understand what you're saying to
some extent. I can see how the religious families I've met are held together
more. That's attractive. But right or wrong, I love my freedom."
"Freedom and discipline", Barry answered, "are not opposites, they work
together. To be free to play the trumpet, you need the discipline to practice.
You need a balance. It's like energy and structure. Too much structure
suffocates energy, but too my energy burns up the structure."
"As nice as
that sounds, Barry, I have a basic problem with religion. I don't believe. I
don't believe in God."
"Look David, I'm not trying to convert you. You're
a friend, and I've done a lot of thinking." Barry took another sip of brandy.
"Do you remember the concept of entropy from physics?"
"Entropy is disorder. It's the second law of
thermodynamics. When a plate breaks, its entropy increases. Things from
containers to paper clips to traffic lights reduce our entropy." Barry looked at
David with a tear in his eye. "When we love someone, we want to reduce their
entropy." Barry got up, as if he couldn't contain his emotions sitting down.
"David, just like gravity holds matter together, I sense a force in the universe
that wants to reduce our entropy. A cosmic glue, a cosmic love. And I want to be
in tune with that force. For lack of a better word, let's call that force
"You can't just go making up definitions of God",
"It's better than seeing God as a man with a white
beard. Seeing him as a king used to work when people respected kings, but no one
respects kings anymore. Those images just get in the way for 'modern' people
like you and me."
Barry sat down again. "It's funny, for
years, science was my religion. But there are things that science can't seem to
explain. Like why people love one another, or why babies who aren't touched die.
Or why we love music, or why we dream. Science can only measure the tangible
world, but not what I call the world of harmonics. That's the realm of
relationships, emotions - and religion."
Barry smiled. "Remember when we
read Kurt Vonnegut's 'The Sirens of Titan' together in college. How the
Harmoniums lived on the cave walls of Mercury, living off the humming vibrations
of the planet?"
David nodded and smiled.
"Our universe hums with
vibrations. We're best living in families and communities in harmony with those
vibrations." Barry paused. "Haven't you seen how the faces of religious people
look younger and less worn. They're in better harmony with each other and with
the Source - with God."
Barry got up and opened a book from his shelves.
"David, there's a brocha we say in the morning: 'Please, God, let me see the
difference between light and darkness.' Our popular culture - with idols from
popular magazines - doesn't teach the difference between light and darkness.
Starting a family out there - with all the divorces, infidelity, drugs, disorder
- is like building something on quicksand. Sure, you can drive all your life
without a seatbelt and never have an accident, but wearing one reduces your risk
of injury. The farther we get from Torah, the greater our risk."
finished off his brandy. It was late, and they were both tired. "The world needs
the Jews to be a holy people", Barry concluded, "to set an example, to teach the
difference between light and darkness. Hashem needs us to do it."
It was after midnight when they finished talking. They
got up and at the door Barry handed David his coat. "It's so great to see you
again," Barry said and hugged David tight. "In Jerusalem, where Hashem is
gathering our exiled people after 2,000 years. I only wish Jerry was here to
share our joy."
David bit his lip to fight back the tears and hugged
Barry. "With all the changes you've been through, you're the same Barry I
"We still have so much to catch up on," Barry said. "Come again
tomorrow for lunch. I can show you my Yeshiva in the afternoon."
sure the Levy's wouldn't mind," David answered. "They'd want me to see my long
lost friend. Sure".
"Great. About noon, after davening."
They looked into each other’s eyes, and smiled. Resuming a deep friendship is
like riding a bike, David thought. It comes back quickly after many years.
David heard the door close as he walked down the stairs and stepped into the
brisk Jerusalem night air. The streets were empty and quiet, and the peace of
Shabbos lay gently on the neighborhood like a soft blanket. He let himself in
the house where he and Isaac's family were staying and walked upstairs to his
room. After he slipped under the covers, he lay in bed thinking about college,
about Jerry, about that fateful night in their senior year.
From the time they met early in their Freshman year, David, Barry, and Jerry
had done almost everything together. In their Junior year they got an apartment
together four blocks from Harvard Square. David smiled as he remembered the fun
they had there.
One evening in the spring of their Senior year, David and
Barry were sitting in their living room studying and listening to Vivaldi. The
door flew open, and Jerry jumped into the room. He was wearing a sports jacket,
jeans, and sneakers, his hair was uncombed, and he had a wild speedy look in his
eyes. He turned the stereo off, stood in the middle of the room, and announced,
"You're looking at someone who is free!" David and Barry sat up in their chairs
and looked at each other puzzled. Jerry normally had a lot of energy, but this
dynamism was a lot even for him.
He lifted his hands up, threw his
head back, and laughed. "What fools we are. We keep our beautiful spirit chained
and crying in a dungeon with our rules, when all we have to do is let it go and
be free. I'm free, free, free." He looked at David and Barry, who remained
motionless. "You don't understand, David, Barry, take your blinders off.
Society keeps us bottled up and blind so we're more manageable and well behaved.
It's so clear to me I wonder how I haven't seen it before. Our parents and
teachers withold love until we put our straightjackets on, and we live our whole
lives tied up and forsake the lifeforce in us that just wants to be free - to
sing, to fly, to soar to the sun."
He started dancing and twirling
around, and came over to David and stared in his eyes. Jerry's eyes seemed to be
speeding a thousand miles an hour. "David, the girl I started seeing last week
gave me this beautiful acid, LSD, and I'm tripping. Oh, it's great, it's so
beautiful. To think the truth is always in front of our eyes, as plain as day,
so easy to see. If we only let ourselves be free and throw off the straight
jacket, our spirit would rejoice." He started singing and laughing again.
Suddenly he stopped as if an idea hit him. "What are we doing cooped up in this
little apartment?" he exclaimed. "Let's go outside. It's beautiful outside.
Let's breath fresh air." He pulled David and Barry out of their chairs.
"Come on, you sluggards, put on your jackets, the night is young. Maybe outside
I can explain to you what freedom is." When they got outside, it was about 11:30
at night and the street was quiet. Several times Jerry shouted or sang too loud
and David and Barry tried to get him to be quiet and Jerry just giggled in
response, putting his hand over his mouth.
Jerry led them the few blocks
to Harvard Square, where there was more activity, more people. Jerry put his
arms around David and Barry. They didn't know what to make of Jerry's tripping.
This was the first any of them had dropped acid though they had smoked grass
quite a bit. The initial shock had worn off, and they were beginning to enjoy
it. "Look at these uptight people," Jerry told them as if in confidence,
speaking as softly as he could. "They all take themselves so seriously, they
think they know so much, when they know nothing, they're blind. Their spirit is
crying inside them and they don't even know it. If their spirit cries too loud,
they chain it up with more rules, rules, rules."
He broke away from them,
and started dancing. "Wake up everybody. You have nothing to lose but your
chains." Suddenly he went off the curb and started twirling in the street. He
didn't notice the light was against him. A car coming around the corner didn't
see him and hit him head on, and he was thrown about 10 feet.
Barry ran over to him. David gathered Jerry in his arms and shouted to Barry,
"Call an ambulance, quick." A crowd started gathering. Jerry was still smiling,
though the smile was a little crooked and blood was trickling out the side of
his mouth. David stroked Jerry's hair and forehead, saying, "It's going to be
alright," as tears welled up in David's eyes.
"What could not be
alright?" Jerry answered, clutching David's arm.
The ambulance got there
5 minutes later, and screamed its way to the hospital. David and Barry stood by
his bed as Jerry mumbled, "Freedom, Freedom," and then passed into a coma and
died an hour later as dawn broke.
David woke up to the sound of a crowd of people talking downstairs. As his
mind cleared, he remembered that it was Shabbos and he was in Jerusalem with the
Levy's. He put on his suit and went downstairs where about fifteen people were
Isaac saw David and came over to him. "Good Shabbos, David. I
was about to wake you up. How was dinner with your friend?"
a great time. Who are all these people?" David asked.
"Friends and relatives getting ready for the Aufruf. On the Shabbos before
his wedding a husband to be - called a chosson - reads from the Torah and we
throw candy at him to wish him a sweet marriage." The people started to
leave, and David joined Isaac as they walked to Shul.
a Kohane," Isaac said on their way, "you'll be duchaning today in Shul."
"What's duchaning?" David asked, ready to hear about yet another strange
"In the time of the Temple," Isaac began, "the Kohanim - the
Priests - blessed the people every day. In Israel, the Kohanim still bless the
others in Shul every day, but outside of Israel they do it only on
"What is it that they do?" David asked.
Kohanim remove their shoes," Isaac answered, "have their hands washed by a
person who is a Levy - like me - stand in front of the Shul with a talis over
their head, extend their hands with their fingers seperated, and repeat the
words of the blessings."
"Why should I
bless these people?" David asked incredulously. "They're
religious and I'm not."
Isaac smiled. "That's the rules," he said.
"You're a descendent of the priests, and you've got the job of transmitting
Hashem's blessings to us."
They arrived at the Shul, a medium sized
building crowded with people smiling and saying 'Mazel Tov' to each other. David
found his trusty ArtScroll prayerbook, sat next to Isaac, and followed the
davening. Isaac's brother Moshe read from the Torah. After the Torah reading,
Moshe put a talis over his head, and everyone threw candy at him. The children
had fun gathering the candy.
Towards the end of davening, Isaac stuck his
elbow in David's ribs and said, "Time for duchaning." David followed Isaac and a
number of other people into the hall. David took off his shoes and put them near
the wall. They went to a basin where Isaac poured water over David's hands,
similar to washing before bread. Isaac lent David his talis and said, "Follow
the other Kohanim and do what they do."
David went with the others to the
front of the Shul, and arched the talis over his head. He extended his hands in
front of him like the man next to him. They said a brocha that David tried to
say along with them. Then the man who had just been davening in front of the
Shul said about a dozen words and the Kohanim - and David - repeated each word.
Three times the congregation said, "Amen". David was puzzled as a chill ran
through him. "Am I really blessing these people?" he asked himself. "What is a
David followed the others as they retrieved their shoes
and returned to their seats. "Mazel Tov, well done," Isaac said as he shook
After davening everyone gathered in a large room for wine
and cake. "My friend invited me for Shabbos lunch," David mentioned as they
"By all means, go," Isaac responded. "Make the most of the
time to be with your friend."
David looked around and asked, "Where's the
"The chosson and the bride-to-be - we call her the kallah -
don't see each other for a week before the wedding."
Rabbi Levy came over
to David. "David, Good Shabbos, Mazel Tov. Forgive me for not saying hello all
morning, I've been so busy."
As the crowd broke up, David said Good
Shabbos and made his way to Barry's house. The streets were filled with families
coming home from shul, all dressed in their Shabbos best. "A few months ago,"
David mused, "I barely knew the religious world existed, and now I'm surrounded
Barry greeted David enthusiastically, and after Kiddush and
washing for bread, they sat down to eat. David and Barry talked about old times,
remembering and laughing about their years together in college. At the end of
the meal, Barry reached out and pressed David's hand. "David, it's so great
seeing you again. Let's make sure we stay in touch."
David looked into
Barry's eyes. "I've missed you, Barry. You've got a nice thing going here, with
your little family. I'm happy for you"
"It's just a shame," Barry
responded, "that Jerry couldn't be here too, poor guy."
Barry's hand hard, feeling a little dizzy, and then little sobs erupted from him
involuntarily as he started crying. They got up and hugged.
David confessed, "I've never said this to anyone, but the thought has
circled in my mind countless times - maybe we could have prevented what happened
to Jerry, somehow protected him. "
Barry sighed. "David, I've played the
movie of that night over and over in my head, too. I think Jerry was just too
intoxicated with his freedom idea, and he wouldn't have let us restrain
After a few minutes of silence, they sat and benched. "Usually on
Shabbos afternoon," Barry said, "after napping I go to my Yeshiva and learn.
How would you like to join me?"
"Sure," David answered.
showed David the guest room, where David lay down and slept. When he woke up,
they walked together through the quiet streets to the Yeshiva.
Yeshiva was a group of three small buildings. They went into a large room where
the walls were lined with books, and a handful of young men were reading at long
Barry walked to one of the shelves. "This is the Talmud, also
called the Gemorah," Barry said pointing to a set of about 30 large books,
pulling one out and setting it down on a table. "I've been learning the volume
called Yuma, dealing with what happened on Yom Kippur, the day of
He opened the book and they sat down next to each other. In
the center of the page," Barry indicated, "is the Gemorah itself, discussions
about laws and traditions. The columns to the right and left of the Gemorah
have commentaries by Rabbis from France named Rashi and Tosfos. The section I'm
up to describes the four levels of sins a person can do."
reading in Hebrew and translating. "The lightest sin is when we don't do
something the Torah tells us to do, like not eating Matzoh on Pesach. If we feel
sorry, forgiveness is granted immediately. The next level is if we sin doing
someting prohibited. Then if we're sorry, we're forgiven on next Yom Kippur. For
the third level, Hashem punishes us with bad times before He forgives us. But
for the fourth level a person isn't forgiven until he dies."
"What's that for? Murder?" David asked.
"It's only for one
sin, called Chillul Hashem," Barry answered.
"That's when a religious person acts in a way that causes
others to respect Hashem less." Barry turned the page. "The Gemorah gives as an
example a learned Jew who does not talk gently or seems dishonest in
"That's the worst sin possible?" David asked, surprised.
"I guess the Jew is needed to be an advertisement for Hashem," Barry
aswered, "and when he does the opposite Hashem finds it practically
Barry closed the book and said, "It's time for Mincha."
David noticed that several dozen young men had entered the room. Barry went to
the shelves and came back with an ArtScroll prayer book, and he was accompanied
by an older man with a long beard.
"David," Barry said, "this is Rabbi
Ginsberg, our Rosh Yeshiva, our head Rabbi. David is a close friend from
"Good Shabbos, David," Rabbi Ginsberg said shaking his hand
warmly, "I hope you enjoy your stay here."
After reading from the Torah
and putting it away, they prayed silently. After Mincha they set out a table of
food, David talked to some of Barry's friends, and Rabbi Ginsberg talked about
the laws of Purim, a holiday that was coming the following week. Then came
Maariv and Havdallah.
"I often think," Barry whispered to David as
they looked at the faces reflecting the flickering candle, "that as
ends, Jews all around the world are saying Havdallah like a chorus to
On the walk back to Barry's house, the cars and weekday sounds
began to fill the streets. "When you were reading from the Gemorah," David said,
"I'll admit I was impressed with how much you've learned."
harder than nuclear physics," Barry laughed. "None of the people in our Yeshiva
were brought up religious. We're called Baal Tshuvas, returners. It's a growing
movement in Israel, America, and all over the world. As the popular culture
sinks, it's wonderful to have such a wholesome island to wim
The people I introduced you to are doctors, lawyers, and
professors. There's a branch of our Yeshiva, Ohr Someach,
about one hour north of New York in Monsey. You might want to check it out
when you get back."
They arrived at Barry's house. They looked in each
other’s eyes and hugged. "Barry," David said, "I've always loved your sincerity
and energy. It's been great seeing you again...and remembering Jerry. I admire
what you're doing, but I couldn't do it. I'd have to give up too many
restaurants and women."
"All of us at the Yeshiva went through that
struggle. But as the Bible says, 'choose life'. And you'll be surprised that the
biggest magnet is the peace and togetherness of Shabbos." They hugged again,
this time for a few minutes. David felt swirls of emotion eddy through him.
"Enjoy Israel and have a good trip back," Barry said as they parted. "Keep in
It was 8:30 at night and David stood_on the corner feeling an
urge to explore Jerusalem. Instead of walking back to the Levy's, he started
wandering through whatever streets looked most interesting. He was exhilerated
by a sense of not knowing where he would end up, of watching the various types
of Israelis on their Saturday night, of seeing the houses, the neighborhoods,
the signs, the stores. He also needed the time to be alone to think. He thought
about what his reaction was to recent events, to Barry, the Levy's, Jerusalem,
Judiasm, Shabbos, G-d.
He realized as he walked that there had developed
within him two viewpoints that he could turn on and off alternatively. On one
hand, he loved bachelorhood, dancing, women, money. His career was right on
track, and he had only more success and fun to look forward to. He'd be crazy
to derail that path.
But another viewpoint was growing partly against his
will. He felt a yearning for bonds that society, in its rush for freedom, had
loosened. He liked the warmth of the Levy family, feeling part of a 4000 year
old Jewish tradition, the peace of Shabbos. This viewpoint felt repelled by the
tumeh of modern society.
They were opposite viewpoints living side by
side in his mind. But it wasn't really conflict, he realized. He couldn't really
imagine giving up meeting new women at the disco Friday night, of trading in all
the restaraunts in New York for the few Kosher ones. Whether it was inertia or
complacency, he was enjoying his lifestyle too much to see it restricted.
He was walking for over an hour, taking in the atmosphere of the city, when
he found himself next to the wall surrounding the old city of Jerusalem. Walking
alongside the wall he came to a large gate where people were entering and
leaving. He went in the gate and recognized the courtyard he had been in with
Esther the previous afternoon. At the far end he saw the remaining wall of the
Temple. In front of it were crowds of people, many of them dancing.
David stood there quite a while looking at this scene, as his mood
became more serious and peaceful. "It's hard to believe," he thought, "that for
1000 years my ancestors were Jewish priests in a giant Temple standing here."
Questions rose to the surface in his mind. "Is there really a G-d? Do the Jews
really have a mission?"
Just then one of the dancers broke out of the
crowd and grabbed his arm. David snapped out of his reverie and recognized it
was Isaac Levy. "David, dance with us. This is a Malave Malka, to celebrate that
Shabbos the Queen just visited us." David joined the crowd, and saw Rabbi Levy
and others he had met recently. The lively singing, the lights on the Temple
Wall, and the spirit of the dancers overtook him and he danced feeling free and
happy. David loved to dance, and he mused how different this was from dancing at
the disco. They danced into the night, and then took cabs back home.
When David woke the next morning, he
joined the others eating breakfast. "David, we've been in such a rush since we
got here," Isaac said, "that I haven't formally introduced you to our host, my
cousin Aaron Levy. His father and my father are brothers. After the war, when my
father came to America, his father settled in Israel. And this is his wife
Miriam, and their four children."
David shook Aaron's hand and sat down
at the table. "We all have errands to do today for the wedding", Isaac
continued. "Aaron mentioned he has a friend who gives a tour of Jerusalem you
"Sounds good to me," David assented.
Aaron made a
phone call, and after they finished eating, Aaron's friend Naftali picked up
David in a tour bus and they drove downtown where the other tourists, mostly
Americans, got on. It was a busy day. They saw the Israeli Parliament building
called the Knesset, the museum housing the Dead Sea scrolls, the Hadassah
medical complex, and then took a walking tour of all four quarters of the old
city of Jerusalem.
While visiting a restored synagogue in the Jewish
quarter, David learned two things. First, that most of Jerusalem, including the
old city, was in Jordanian hands until 1967. And that while the Temple was
standing almost all Jews gathered in Jerusalem for three festivals every year.
This happened each Passover, that David knew a little about, and on other
festivals called Shavuos and Succos that David never heard of before. During
Passover and Succos the people stayed in Jerusalem for a whole week.
After the tour, David thanked Naftali as they got back in time for David to
shower and dress. "Did you have a good day?" Isaac asked David as they drove to
the wedding hall.
"The city has a special energy, and history shines from
its walls," David answered.
Excitement was in the air when they arrived
at the wedding hall. They went into a large room where a smorgasbord was layed
out, and Isaac and Sarah introduced David to relatives and friends. Then David
watched as Isaac and his family took part in the family pictures. After that,
they congratulated the bride-to-be, sitting on a large wicker chair, looking
beautiful in her white gown.
Isaac then took David to another room that
Isaac called the Chossen's Tish - the groom's table - where Moshe was sitting
with Rabbi Levy and the bride's father. The men then formed a singing procession
to the room where the Kallah was. Moshe lifted the veil covering the face of his
bride-to-be. "This is the first time they've seen each other in a week," Isaac
said. They then found seats in the hall where the wedding was about to take
place, the men sitting on one side and the women on the other. In the front was
a large wooden canopy decorated with flowers, that Isaac called the Chupah.
As people became quiet, David turned and saw Moshe with his parents, one on
either side of him, walk slowly down the aisle to under the Chupah. Then came
the Kallah flanked by her parents. When she got to the Chupah, she walked around
Moshe seven times and then stood by his side. "This symbolizes that she is going
to run circles around him," Isaac whispered jokingly. Then a prominent looking
Rabbi took out a small scroll and read from it. "That's the Ketubah," Isaac
explained, "the document where Moshe agrees to provide his wife with what she
Then a glass of wine was passed to several Rabbis who said
brochas over it. Moshe then put a ring on his Kallah's finger, said a phrase in
Hebrew, and stepped on a glass and broke it. The mood turned from quiet to joy
as everyone exclaimed Mazel Tov and the couple walked out quickly down the
aisle. "The couple is now spending a few minutes alone," Isaac explained,
"symbolizing the consummation of their marriage. May they have a long life of
happiness together, with many fine children living a life of Torah".
crowd filed into the banquet room, where the meal was served. The men and women
sat on opposite sides of the room, and danced in separate circles. "Why are the
men and the women separate?" David asked.
"To avoid the type of mixing,"
Isaac answered, "where men and women not married to each other may become
attracted to each other. Because of fences such as these that guard us, adultery
is virtually unknown in the Orthodox world."
When Moshe and his Kallah
entered the room, the men and women formed two circles around them and danced up
a storm. David found the dances easy to learn and the joy contagious. There was
nothing tentative about marriage here, David thought, and the happiness it held
in store. After several hours of eating and dancing, the crowd - full, smiling,
and exhausted -left for home.
For the next three days David saw Israel
with the Levys, touring sights and visiting relatives and friends. They saw Tel
Aviv, Israel's largest and most commercial city. They drove north to the Golan
Heights, from where Syria used to shell Israel before Israel captured it in
1967. They visited the old town of Tzfat. where Jewish mystics had resided and
Rabbi Joseph Caro wrote a summary of Jewish Law. They saw ruins of Solomon's
stables, Roman aqueducts and amphitheaters, and Moslem castles.
felt a sense of the sweep of world history with Israel at its crossroads.
Standing on the Golan Heights, David pictures how this little country of Israel
- a haven for Jews fleeing from all over the world - was surrounded by half a
billion hostile Arabs.
On Tuesday they had a big meal with relatives in
Bnei Brak to celebrate the holiday of Purim. The children dressed in costumes,
and people made up small packages of food that they sent to their friends. "On
Purim we remember," Isaac explained, "that after the destruction of the First
Temple, the King of Babylonia, listening to his adviser Haman, decreed the
destruction of the Jews. We celebrate that we were saved at the last
On Wednesday night, they returned to Jerusalem, packed, and then
drove to the airport where they boarded the night flight back to New York. On
the plane, after dinner everyone went to sleep. Just before morning , David
woke up and saw Isaac reading next to him, an overhead light shining on a Hebrew
book. The rest of the plane was dark and quiet. David sat up and stretched his
"Good morning," Isaac whispered softly.
"Good morning. What
are you reading?" David whispered back.
"The daily Daf, or page, in the
Gemorah, the Talmud. Jews all over the world read the same page of the Gemora
every day, finishing the whole Gemorah together every seven and a half
David looked at Isaac, and felt close. "Isacc,
I want to thank you and your family for inviting me."
the book and smiled at David. "We feel you're part of our family.
I'm glad you liked the trip."
"I'm struck by the many levels of
meaning there are to Judaism and Israel," David said. "And I enjoyed feeling
close to your warm family. I'll probably go through withdrawal symptoms back in
"You're always welcome for Shabbos," Isaac offered
David feld his muscles tighten. "Thanks for the offer,
but at the same time I'm looking forward to my own space."
understand," Isaac whispered, "we all need the quiet and privacy of being alone
"I also feel some ambivalence towards Shabbos," David
admitted. "A part of me likes it, and another part feels restricted by
"That's natural," Isaac answered. "By the way, a good friend of
mine, a Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, lives near you. Just in case you wake up
Saturday wanting a piece of Shabbos, he runs a service for beginners - called a
beginners minyan - at Lincoln Square Synagogue at 69th and Amsterdam. If you
stop by, give him my regards. He's a great guy."
David answered. He noticed the sun had risen and more people were
"I'm glad we're getting to be closer friends," Isaac
said. He got up and took a small bag out of the overhead compartment. "I'm going
to the back where they'll be davening soon."
After breakfast, the plane
landed. While waiting for the luggage, David thanked the Levy family. "It was a
wonderful trip, thanks for inviting me."
"It was our pleasure," Rabbi
Levy said. Friends met the Levys and drove them back to Flatbush. In his cab
ride home, David was surprised how alone he felt.
As the cab drove in the
Thursday afternoon traffic through Queens and then Manhattan to his West Side
apartment, he could feel the distinctive pulse of New York, and how different it
felt from Jerusalem. New York was modern, with a style and energy based on
business. In contrast David remembered the sun shining off Jerusalem's golden
brick buildings, the city emanating an eternal ancient feeling, the home of the
SOON - Chapter 8
The apartment looked the
same, David thought as he unpacked, except for little signs of his sister
Sharon's presence. "I hope she's pulling through her crisis OK," he thought. He
made himself dinner, and exhausted from the trip, went to sleep early. When he
awoke the next morning and dressed for work, he noticed Sharon hadn't slept
there and wondered where she was.
At work he answered his phone messages,
read his mail, and since it was Friday, set up next week's schedule. It was good
to see Steve, his co-worker, who he told a little about the trip.
When David came home after work, Sharon had her suitcase open on the couch
and it looked as if she was packing. "Sharon," David exclaimed and then hugged
her, "it's so good to see you. How was your week?"
"I had a great
time, David," she said. "I love the West Side. Thanks for letting me stay here.
How was Israel?"
"I had a great time too," he said. "I learned a lot, and
it was nice feeling a part of a large warm family." David looked at his
sister. She seemed a little stiff, and her smile looked a little
"Where are you going?" he said pointing to her suitcase.
"Oh, I met a guy yesterday at a movie," she said casually, "and I think I'm
going to move in with him. I was there last night, and he's OK. It's better than
"You're welcome here," David said, hoping she didn't
think she had to leave.
"I know, and I appreciate your generosity, but
it's not necessary." She started walking around the room, picking up her things
and throwing them in her suitcase. "You know, David," she said, "being infertile
has a bright side to it, it's really pretty good. I don't have to worry about
birth control pills or diaghrams any more. I just do it when I feel like it. Not
worrying about getting pregnant makes me feel liberated." She zipped up her bag
and turned to David. "Well, thanks for letting me stay here. Thanks for being
here for me when I needed someone to turn to." They hugged and David could feel
her body tremble a bit.
"Sharon, I love you. I would do anything for you.
We're the little family we've got." He helped Sharon on with her coat, carried
her bag down the stairs, and and hailed a cab. "Call me and let me know
how you're doing," he said. "Remember, you can always stay here."
David. You're the best brother a sister could want. I'll keep in touch."
As she got in the cab and it drove away, David felt a tinge of emptiness.
David walked around the corner to the Nancy Rose Restaurant to eat dinner.
On the way to the restaurant he bought a copy of New York Magazine to decide
what to do on his Friday night back in the Big Apple. He sat by the window and
looked out at the people on Columbus Avenue coming home from work and going out
to movies, concerts, restaurants, parties, and discos. Yuppies, he mused, on the
Yupper West Side. Most of them looked happy and well to do.
As he ate, an
image flashed through his mind of Isaac back in Flatbush at that moment, coming
home from Shul and sitting down with his family for the Shabbos meal. "Two
completely different lifestyles and views of the world," he thought. "It's both
Friday night and Shabbos."
To his amusement he alternated between the two
viewpoints. Through his 'secular glasses' the religious way of life looked
out-of-date and ridiculously restrictive. Life was for being free and having
fun. He felt invigorated by the pulse of the West Side, and looked forward to
going to a movie or dancing at a disco and meeting a new woman.
put on his 'Orthodox' glasses, and everything looked different. The smiles of
the people who walked by his window looked superficial, their laughter seemed
hollow. Images filled his mind. Sharon holding her belly, and riding off in a
cab to a stranger; the feeling of peace around the Shabbos table; Rabbi Levy
standing by his window talking about the tumeh of our society; the joy and awe
of dancing by the Western Wall in Jerusalem. As he snapped himself out of his
reverie, and put on his 'secular' glasses again, he remembered a term he had
learned in Psychology: cognitive dissonance - having two opposite viewpoints at
the same time.
David finished eating and thumbed through the New York
magazine. A wave of tiredness washed over him. "Jet lag," he thought. "I'll get
some rest and have fun tomorrow." He went back home, and as he opened the door
he felt the quiet of his apartment. To his surprise he felt reluctant to turn on
the light and destroy the peace....of Shabbos. "This is going too far," he
thought and turned the light on. He got undressed, and as he was about to turn
the light off, the same reluctance rose in him. He turned the light off anyway
in what felt like a violent act, and went to bed feeling partly amused and
David woke early the next morning full of energy, ready
to enjoy the weekend in the city. He ate breakfast, dressed in a sports jacket
and slacks, and went for a walk in the brisk early spring air. He passed by the
windows of the closed boutiques and restaurants on Columbus Avenue, and then
went into Central Park where the trees were budding. Spring was arriving and
David was invigorated by the smells and sights of nature renewing itself.
On his way home David remembered he was low on food, so he bought
groceries at a health food store on Amsterdam Avenue. Near the store, carrying
his bag of food, he passed by Lincoln Square Synagogue that Isaac had mentioned.
He paused to read the sign describing the synagogue's activities, when a person
next to him said, "Interested?"
David turned and saw a young man wearing
a grey raincoat. "Somewhat," David answered.
"I started coming four weeks
ago to the beginners minyan and I love it," the young man volunteered. "They
don't expect anything of you - in fact I went to the movies last night and I'm
going shopping this afternoon. You can ask Rabbi Buchwald any questions you
want. I have lots of questions about Judiasm."
"So have I," David
"It's after 10 already so it won't last long. Why don't you join me
and check it out?" David pointed to his groceries. "Oh, we'll put it in the
coatroom, they won't mind."
David shrugged his shoulders and said, "OK,
why not, I've got an hour or two and some questions."
The young man, who
introduced himself as Eddie, opened the glass door and they went inside and put
David's bag in the coatroom. David felt a quiet and peace in the building as he
looked back out through the glass doors and was struck by the thought "Its
Saturday out there and Shabbos in here." Eddie took two yarmulkas from a box by
the door, handed one to David, and they walked up a flight of stairs. They
picked up prayer books and went into a small room where about 40 men and women,
seperated by a plywood board, were in a heated discussion, led by a slim man in
the front with a short beard and wearing a tapered grey suit.
Rabbi Buchwald," Eddie whispered. As David listened to the discussion, he looked
around. The people were young and old, some in suits, some in jeans. They asked
and talked about a wide range of questions. "How do you know G-d exists?" "Isn't
being a good person enough?" "Why do we pray in Hebrew if G-d understands
English too?" "Doesn't Judiasm discriminate against women?" The discussion was
lively, and Rabbi Buchwald fielded the questions deftly. In addition, he led an
abreviated service, translating and explaining the prayers.
percolated in David's mind and after a while he felt impelled to raise his hand.
"Yes?" Rabbi Buchwald said.
David asked, "If there is a G-d, why would He
care if I observed Shabbos or not?"
The Rabbi rested his arms on the
podium and said gently, "I think you're new here?" David nodded. "What's your
"Welcome, David. If you gave a friend a
nice present, would you expect anything in return?"
answered, "except maybe a thank you".
"If they threw the present away,
without opening it," the Rabbi continued, "How would you feel about it?"
"Put off," David answered.
"I would feel the same way," Rabbi Buchwald
replied. "I have four children. I give them love and presents and I don't want
anything back - except a little gratitude."
David understood why
the beginners liked Fabbi Buchwald. He was funny and sincere, and had a twinkle
in his eye.
The Rabbi continued, "Hashem showers us with presents,
such as life and sustanance. Normally we may be too busy to say thank you. So
the peace and enjoyment of Shabbos, with food and rest and talk, helps us feel
the gratitude that strengthens our relationship with G-d."
adjusted the talis on his shoulders and leaned closer. "Let me tell you a
story," he continued. "The founder of this synagogue - Rabbi Piskin, who now
lives in Israel - once told an audience about how a young man was to be thrown
out of a Yeshiva in Europe because he was caught smoking on Shabbos. The head of
the Yeshiva, the greatest Rabbi of his day, the Chofetz Chaim, spoke to him for
a minute in private and the young man shaped up and went on to become a Rabbi. A
man came up to Rabbi Riskin after the talk and said, "I was that young man."
Taken by surprise, Rabbi Riskin asked, "I've always wondered...what did the
Chofetz Chaim say to you?" The man answered, "He held my hands in his and
cried. I can still feel his hot tears burning my skin. He just repeated one word
crying, "Shabbos, Shabbos."
After telling the story, Rabbi Buchwald
concluded the service with some prayers. Then everyone moved their chairs to the
sides of the room and Rabbi Buchwald said Kiddush over a cup of grape juice.
David talked to some of the others as he ate some cake. Rabbi Buchwald came over
to him and said, "Welcome to the beginner's minyan."
Rabbi. Isaac Levy asked me to give you his regards," David said.
Rabbi Buchwald smiled. "Sure, I know Isaac and his father well. Say
hello from me. Do you have a place for Shabbos lunch?"
taken aback. He had planned to clean his apartment and go shopping.
After a pause, David answered "No."
Rabbi Buchwald turned to a young man
who had just walked in and asked him "Danny, do you have room for one more at
"Sure," Danny answered.
Rabbi Buchwald asked David, "Would
you accept an invitation for Shabbos lunch at Danny Goldstein's house?"
David hesitated, but feeling the sincerity of the offer said "Sure, why
"Great," Rabbi Buchwald said. "Danny, this is David Kahn, your
Shabbos guest. This is David's first time here."
David put on his coat
and followed Danny down the stairs to the lobby filled with people talking. "The
Main Minyan just got out," Danny explained as they pushed past the people, "and
this is a big time to socialize." They opened the glass doors and went into the
crowd in front of the shul. Danny introduced David to a number of friends and
then said, "Normally I'd talk here a while but I promised Mindy my wife, who is
waiting home with the kids, that I'd come home right after shul." They walked up
to 72nd Street, and then over to West End Avenue where they continued uptown.
"West End is quieter and more Shabbosdik," Danny explained.
amazing," David said as they walked up West End Avenue.
amazing?" Danny asked.
"Earlier this morning I was carrying groceries on
an ordinarry Saturday morning and now the groceries are in the Shul's coatroom
and it's become Shabbos. I'm surrounded by the same cars and noise, but now I
feel the peace of Shabbos."
"How did you get to the beginner's minyan?"
"Another beginner pulled me off the street," David
"Is this your first Shabbos?"
"No, it's my
fourth. An Orthodox friend from work invited for Shabbos me a few
"What kind of work do you do?" Danny inquired.
a lawyer," David answered.
"So am I," Danny said, "or at least I was. I
even practiced a while, but then a client and I started a software company that
I now run. Well, here we are," he said as they entered a big apartment house.
They walked up the stairs to the third floor and knocked on the door. A pretty
and vivacious young woman opened the door.
"Danny, I'm so surprised,
you're on time" she said laughing.
"Good Shabbos Mindy," he said as they
entered. "I have a guest for lunch, David Kahn. It was his first beginner's
"A very good Shabbos to you," Minday said to David.
was then rushed by three little girls shouting "Abba, Abba". As Mindy took their
coats, Danny said, "David, I'd like you to meet my three jewels, Miriam, Sarah,
and Rachael, ages 8, 6, and 4."
David looked at the apartment. The rooms
were large, sunny, and nicely decorated. David noticed several large modern
paintings on the wall, and said, "These paintings look like they were done by
the same artist."
Danny gave Mindy a little hug. "My wife is a talented
artist," he said. "In fact, she's getting ready for another show next
"Danny," Mindy said "let's go eat."
They moved into the
large dining room where Mindy arranged a setting for David. "I hope I'm not
putting you out" David said.
"Don't be silly", Mindy said, "we always
have Shabbos guests, very often from the beginner's minyan. It's our
"David was yanked off the street this morning to go to the
beginner's minyan," Danny said to Mindy, smiling.
"I didn't know Effie
was recruitting so actively," Mindy answered.
"Effie?" David asked.
"Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald," Danny explained.
"It wasn't totally against
my will," David said. "I've been getting close to a religious family, and I must
admit I feel tugged in both directions."
"Who's the family? Maybe
we know them," Mindy asked.
"Isaac Levy, a friend from work, and his
father Rabbi Eliyahu Levy. They live in Flatbush." David answered.
heard of Rabbi Levy" Danny said. "He's a big posek."
that mean?" David asked.
"A posek is Rabbi knowledgable enough that he
answers questions of Jewish Law for others. So they've been macaraving you?"
"Macaraving?" David asked.
"Talk in English, Danny," Mindy
"That means bringing you closer to religion," Danny
"Well, I've spent Shabbos with them a couple of times, and I
just came back from their son's wedding in Jerusalem."
Danny said, rubbing his chin. "Do you have any religious background?"
"None at all, though I vaguely remember being Bar Mitzvah'd in a ceremony I
"So how are you responding to all this?" Danny
"I must admit I like the wholesomeness and togetherness almost
against my will. But I don't want to give up my lifestyle."
smiled and said, "We understand. We've had beginners from Effie's minyan for
Shabbos meals for almost ten years. Many are now our good friends. The main
advice we have is, whatever you do, do slowly."
"Let me show you
something," Danny said as he left the room and came back with a book.
"Don't scare David away," Mindy laughed when she saw it.
"David is a
fellow lawyer," Danny answered, "and he deserves this professional courtesy." He
fanned the pages of the book. "This is called the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch - an
abbreviated list of laws we Orthodox Jews follow. The English translation is
over 600 pages long."
"You follow it all?" David asked.
perfect, but we try," Danny answered. "Once you're into it, it flows
easier than you think. But the point is, a beginner can take as long as he wants
to get into it - years if he likes. He can start off following one
Mindy smiled and said, "We know people who only take on Effie's
minyan and Shabbos lunch with everyone in our community. Some don't go further
and that's fine. What do you like best so far?"
"I guess there's a peace and community about Shabbos I like. But
honestly," he said pointing to the
book near Danny, "don't you feel
constrained and burdened by all these rules?"
Mindy answered. "But I'd say a setter description is enveloped and protected,
wouldn't you Danny? I agree with the beginners who talk about distancing
themselves from the lack of meaning in society."
David thought for a
minute and said quietly, "Rabbi Levy said Torah is a Mikvah protecting people
from the Tumeh of society."
"That's beautiful!" Mindy exclaimed. "Maybe
we can get Rabbi Levy to talk at one of our Wednsday night lectures."
don't know," David said. "I can't see giving up my lifestyle."
just here to be of assistance," Mindy reassured.
Danny took off his
yarmulka and showed it to David. "There's less giving up of lifestyle than you
might think. The men in our shul wear knitted yarmulkas like this. What do the
men in Rabbi Levy's shul wear?"
David looked at it. "I think they
wear black yarmulkas," he said.
"Exactly," Danny said. "The Orthodox
world is not monolithic. Your friends in Flatbush are called Yeshivish. They
wear black hats and shun movies and television. Their organization is called
Agudah and their Harvard is Lakewood Yeshiva. They feel the further they get
from the decadent society the better." He put his yarmulka back on his head.
"We're called Modern Orthodox. We believe society has a lot to offer culturally
and intelectually. We have TV's and go to movies, selectively." He smiled at
Mindy, "We even go dancing now and then. Our organization is the Orthodox Union,
and our Harvard is Yeshiva University. Many beginners choose Modern Orthodox
Because it means less of a change in lifestyle. And both groups are
"Where," David asked, "do the Hasidim fit in?"
were started," Danny answered, "250 years ago by a Rabbi called the Baal Shem
Tov. He added more spirit and feeling that the common Jew could relate to. They
divided into dozens of groups, each run by a Rabinnic dynasty. The only one
that's really open to outsiders is the Lubavitch based in Crown Heights
"The Lubavitch are beautiful," Mindy added, "in how they're
spreading Torah to non-religious Jews all over the world. They call themselves
the Army of Hashem."
"How about Reform and Conservative?" David asked
"Where do they fit in?"
"The Reform started about 150 years ago in
Germany," Danny answered. "They wanted to get away from all the ritual rules.
Then the Conservative broke away from the Reform saying they threw too much
away. In fact, my father is a Conservative Rabbi."
They had finished
eating, and Mindy and David cleared the table and brought out cake and coffee.
Danny called to the girls who were playing in the living room, "It's time for
desert and zmiros."
"Zmiros means singing,", Mindy translated as
she handed out little books with the songs and benching. They sang five
Hebrew songs, and thens ang the benching. "Now off to bed for your Sahbbos
nap," Mindy said to the girls. Mindy cleared the table while Danny went
with David to the living room where David noticed th entire wall was filled with
Jewish books in Hebrew and English. As David was looking through a few
books in English, Danny said, "Buying jewish books is my weakness.
After the girls were put to bed and the kitchen was clean, Danny said, "We loved
having you and you're alwasy welcome for any Shabbos meal," he said to David.
"Now we're taking our Shabbos beauty sleep, and you're welcome to look through
my book collection. If you leave before we're up, let us say Good Shabbos now,
and may your investigation of Judiasm be rewarding." He shook David's hand. "By
the way," he said as he pointed to some books, "I recommend these for the
beginner: the Hersh or Hertz Bible, both having a very good commentary, and the
Metzuda linear prayer book for learning Hebrew."
"Thanks for a wonderful
Shabbos meal," David said, "and for the advice." They shook hands
again and Mindy and Danny left the living room as David looked through a few
books, intending to stay for only a few minutes.
next thing David was aware of was someone tapping his shoulder. He looked up and
saw Danny saying, "David, I guess you took a Shabbos nap too. I just thought I'd
let you know I'm going off to Mincha."
David got up and stretched. "I
think I needed the sleep to shake off the jet lag. I'm going in your direction."
They put on their coats and walked down West End Avenue at a brisk pace. At 72nd
Street David heard someone call his name. He turned and saw Steve from work,
wearing jeans and a denim jacket. David introduced Danny and Steve, and they
"I'm going to a great Woody Allen movie festival at
the Embassy," Steve said. "Care to join me?"
David thought, and the
choice was stark. Saturday with Steve or Shabbos with Danny. He felt himself
make the decision instinctively. The peace of Shabbos felt too beautiful to
shatter. "Thanks Steve," he said, "but I have other plans."
at Danny's yarmulka and said, "David, you haven't fallen for this Shabbos
business, have you?"
"A little bit," David answered.
drag," Steve said. "Don't say I didn't warn you. Anyway, have fun," he said as
he walked away.
David and Danny walked the three blocks to Lincoln Square
Synagogue and entered the large circular room where Mincha was beginning. After
Mincha they walked upstairs to a large room and ate rolls, nuts, raisins, and
gefilte fish. The people sang and listened to the main Rabbi of the shul, Rabbi
Berman, talk. They then went downstairs and said Maariv. At the end, the lights
were turned off and a child stood on a chair holding a big lit braided candle as
everyone sang a song called 'Eliyahu'.
"That song," Danny whispered, "is
about our hope that the Messiah will come soon." Then a man with a resonant
voice held up a cup of wine and said Havdalah. The lights were turned on, and
Shabbos was over.
David got his groceries from the coat room and walked
out to the noisy street and thanked Danny. David stood there still feeling a bit
of the fading glow of Shabbos, when Rabbi Buchwald came up to him. "David Kahn,"
he said, "we hope you enjoyed Shabbos."
'I did, thank you," David
"We loved having you," the Rabbi said, "and feel welcome
to come again."
- Chapter 9
On Monday morning David
plunged back into the work that had piled up the week he was gone. For the next
few weeks he worked late most evenings, and looked forward to partying Friday
and Saturday nights. But on Saturday mornings he liked the idea of observing a
bit or Shabbos, and wandered over to the beginner's service. He enjoyed the
verbal tusseling with Rabbi Buchwald, who arranged a Shabbos lunch for him each
week. He liked the people he met, and liked the slowing down for what one host
called "an island in time."
One day at work, Isaac and David ordered a
pizza for lunch and ate it in David's office. "Starting next Wednesday," Isaac
said, "no pizza for a week. Passover is coming. What are
your plans for Passover?"
"I'm not sure," David answered.
Passover is a family holiday," Isaac said, "and you're an honorary member of our
family, why not spend it with us? We're having all the meals at my father's
David liked the idea of seeing the Levy's again. "Thanks, I'd
love to," David said. "When I was young I saw relatives for Passover. But it was
like Thanksgiving, nothing religious. What do you do on Passover?"
night we read the Haggadah - the story of the Jews' liberation from Egypt 4000
years ago." Isaac said. "And we eat Matzah. For seven days we don't eat chometz
such as bread or crackers. We've been cleaning our house for two months already,
getting rid of the chometz. It's like spring cleaning for the house and
David arranged for the time off, and next Wednesday afternoon
David and Isaac left work together and took the train to Flatbush. They got
ready, went to shul, and walked after Shul with Rabbi Levy and a few other
relatives to the Rabbi's house. Isaac's family had already arrived and there was
an air of excitement. "The house sparkles," David said to Esther who took their
coats as they entered.
"We've cleaned every nook and cranny," she
Waiting for the meal to begin, the people chatted in the living
room. David enjoyed talking with members of the Levy family he hadn't seen for
several weeks. He noticed a photograph on the wall, and walked over to it. It
was an old photograph of about 50 people all dressed up.
"That was a
happy time," a voice said. David turned and saw Rabbi Levy's wife standing next
to him. "It was my older sister's wedding," she said, "in our little town in
Poland. That was in 1935, my how time flies. She had a little boy the nexty
ear." David looked at the smiling faces of the people in
"Did I meet any of them at Moshe's wedding in
Jerusalem?" David asked.
Mrs. Levy's smile faded, and her eyes turned
distant. "All of them were murdered by the Nazis," she said.
"Everyone but me. Just before the war I visited some relatives in America and
never get home." She bit her lip as David saw her fight the back
"I'm sorry," David said. She nodded her head as Rabbi Levy called
from the dinning room to begin the Passover Seder.
Everyone sat down and
picked up the Haggadah that was on their plate. David's had an English
translation that he followed as they read the story together. Rabbi Levy began
by picking up the matzah and saying "This is our bread of affliction. We were
once slaves in Egypt." Then they read aloud, often pausing to comment, about the
slavery, the ten plagues, and crossing the Red Sea to freedom. Isaac's son Tzvi
sang the four questions, asking why this night is different from all other
Rabbi Levy answered one of the four questions saying they drank
wine and ate matzoh leaning on their left side because that was the manner of
free men. Toward the end of the Hagaddah Rabbi Levy said, "That year the Jewish
People became a nation. Every year since then our families have come together to
tell this story." Then the meal was served and they talked and sang until after
Shul the next morning lasted a little longer than on Snabbos,
and included duchaning where David and the other Kohanim stood in front and
blessed the congregation. After lunch, David asked Rabbi Levy, "Can I ask you a
question in private?"
"By all means," Rabbi Levy said, "I like your
questions." They went into the Rabbi's study and sat down.
bothered me since last night," David began. "Your wife told me what happened to
her family. How could Hashem have permitted the destruction of six million
Rabbi Levy's face grew solemn, and his eyes looked down. When he
raised his eyes, they were red and piercing. "The Jews have suffered for a long
time," he began slowly. "During the first Temple, Northern Israel with most of
our people was conquered by Assyria, and they were never heard from again. Have
you read Jeremiah describe the descruction of the First Temple?" David shook his
"Women ate their babies," Rabbi Levy said with fire in eyes. "And
the destruction of the Second Temple was worse, entire country was destroyed. In
the 1600's the Chelminski msassacre killed one third of the Jews.
Indeed, we have suffered greatly."
They were both quiet. Then David
said, "Why has Hashem let us suffer so much?"
"Our sages have
wrestled with this qusetion. The prophets say the First Temple was
destroyed because we turned away from Hashem's ways. The Talmud says the
Scond Temple was dsetroyed because we talked badly about each other and hated
each other without cause. Since then," the Rabbi pause, "we have no
properts to tell us why." Rabbi Levey continued softly. "David, when
something had happens to me, I respond with a Heshbon Hanefesh."
that?" David asked.
"An accounting of the soul. I ask myself
how I can improve. I see where I fall short of Hashem's wishes."
"But," David said, "does Hashem punish us for our faults?"
can't understand Hashem's accounting system, but He does nave one. Have you ever
heard of the Tochacha?" David shook his head.
Rabbi Levy stood slowly and
opened a book from the shelves. "At the end of Leviticus, and the middle of
Deuteronomy, Hashem promises us wonderful rewards - prosperity and protection -
by following His laws. But if we don't follow His path He says others will
conquer us, throw us out of Israel, and we will suffer greatly."
Levy closed the book and looked at David. "David, as a lawyer, you know what a
"It's a contract binding on both parties," David
"We Jews have a covenant with Hashem. He gave us a bountiful
and safe land if we advertise Kedushah by following His laws. But if we break
the agreement, we are left without Hashem's protection. There's even an
expression in the Bible 'nakeme brith', meaning revenge of the covenant."
"But are we that bad?" David asked.
"We are not half of what we
should be. How many of those who call themselves religious are models of
holiness? We fight with each other too much. Are we teachers by example to the
world of Hashem's ways? And 90% of Jews are not religious, who knows what sins
they're committing. Considering all this, Hashem has been merciful. And we have
survived as a people for 4000 years, a blessing He has given to no other
Rabbi Levy sat down and David could see tears in his eyes.
"We don't usually know why we suffer, but we must learn from it, and better
"Do you think it will it ever get better?" David asked.
"We always hope. We must strive to get closer to Hashem. 'tie hope that
Moshiach - the Messiah - will come and guide us. Oh Hashem, we pray it will be
soon. We've borne so much for so long."
They sat in silence for a minute,
and then got up and left the room. The house was quiet, with the others asleep
or having gone home. David got his coat and Rabbi Levy walked him to the door.
"There's something I don't understand." David said. "If Hashem wants something
from us, why doesn't He tell us more directly?"
Rabbi Levy smiled and his
eyes twinkled again. "If Hashem revealed Himself in His full glory," he
answered, "we would be awed into submission. So He must hide Himself
from us. He loves us and wants us to be free to choose according to our
own free will. And hopefully we will choose to do good."
thanked Rabbi Levy and stepped into the spring afternoon sun. As David took a
walk, he smelled the fresh air, listened to the birds having returned from the
winter, and thought about what Pabbi Levy said.
The rest of Passover and the next several weeks passed quickly. David
worked hard, continued dancing and dating on the weekends, and enjoyed Saturday
mornings and at times the afternoons with the Lincoln Square community, and
sometimes with the Levy's in Flatbush. One Shabbos his host invited him
for a meal the next Friday night, and David accepted. Shabbos was like a
glow of light that slowly expanded and David found he liked gradually spending
more Friday nights as Shabbos. He bought some books at a Jewish bookstore,
including some that Danny Goldstein had recommended. He read the second of
the Torah before Shabbos, and used the Metzudah Prayer book to learn some
There were many things he enjoyed about Shabbos. He liked
feeling part of two warm communities - the West Side and Flatbush - and getting
to know many friendly families. He enjoyed reading the Bible - or
'Chumash' as it was called - chapter by chapter, and hearing Rabbi Buchwald and
others give insidghts into it. He felt warmed by the Kedushah of Shabbos,
and though he didn't yet really believe in Hashem, he could almost associate the
Kedushah he felt with what might be an aspect of Hashem. And as his Hebrew
got better, he found he sometimes liked praying, asking for what he wanted and
saying thank you. He was happily surprised how little it affected his
lifestyle. He still had Saturday nights and Sundays to play hard, and the
rest of the week to work hard.
About six weeks after Passover David heard
about Shavous, a holiday that celebrated the receiving of the Torah. He was told
people assembled in Shul at midnight and listened to lectures until morning,
symbolizing their receiving the Torah. David spent it on the West Side with
friends from the beginner's minyan and listened to Rabbi Buchwald and others
talk through the night. The next day, after getting some sleep, he had a late
lunch with Danny and Mindy Goldstein.
After the meal, their girls took a
nap and Mindy served coffee and cake. "How have you been enjoying our
community?" Danny asked.
"Very much," David answered. "By the way,
my sister asked me last week if I'm Orthodox. What defines a person as
"If you observe Shabbos and are Kosher, then you're Orthodox,"
David sipped his coffee. "What's there to
"Eating only Kosher food," Danny replied.
"So," David continued, "what makes food Kosher?"
"There are three rules,"
Mindy answered. "You can eat only animals killed in a certain humane way. Some
animals, like pig and lobster, are off limits. And you can't eat meat and milk
together. At a supermarket Kosher foods have a special symbol on them, like a K
or a U with a circle around them. And there are about twenty Kosher restaurants
in New York."
"Of the thousands of restaurants in New York?" David
exclaimed. "I don't think I'm ready for this. What's the reason for these
"They're in the Bible," Danny answered, "so we follow them. It's
assumed they add to a certain internal purity."
"They're also good for
self discipline," Mindy added. "Learning to say no to yourself."
smiled and said, "Like when you see a beautiful secretary at the water
"Oh Danny," Mindy laughed.
"Also," Danny continued,
"it limits our socializing with non-Jews, to reduce assimilation."
A few weeks later, David had lunch with Isaac in a Kosher Chinese
Restaurant near work called Moshe Peking.
"You look tired," David said to
"I was up all night packing. Sunday we're moving up to a bungalo
colony for the summer. Half of Boro Park and Flatbush go up to the Catskills for
the hot weather. I'm in the same bungalo colony as my father, where he's Rabbi.
If you want to join us for Shabbos this summer, you'll have to join us in the
"I just may take you up on that during a heat wave,"
Isaac's face got serious. "Did you know that
the middle of the summer is considered a sad time for Jews?"
Is this going to be another holiday I've never heard of?"
"Probably. On Tisha B'Av, that falls in the middle of the summer, many tragedies
occured to the Jewish people. On that day, both Temples were destroyed, the Jews
were expelled from Spain, and World War I started."
"What do you do on
that day?" David asked.
"We fast and mourn for the loss of our Temples,"
Isaac answered. "For the three weeks preceding that day, we refrain from
celebrating, and also from doing anything dangerous."
"I'll play it
safe." David said.
The summer was very hot, but David didn't get around to visiting the Levy's
in the mountains. He missed Rabbi Levy and the talks they had. The West Side
also was not as bustling as usual.
On the Friday afternoon before Tish
B'Av, Mr. Teller's secretary called David saying he wanted to talk to him. When
David got to the executive suite, the secretary told him to go in. Mr. Teller,
sporting a tan, stood from behind his desk and shook David's hand. "David, my
boy, it's been a while. How have you been doing lately?"
answered as they both sat down.
Mr. Teller continued:
"David, the trial is approaching, where your old girlfriend is on the
other side. How have you done in fanning those old flames?"
thought he saw Mr. Teller wink.
"We went on a date, Mr.
Teller, but it didn't work out. Besides," David swallowed hard, "I didn't
feel right doing it."
Mr. Teller put down the pen he was toying with, and
his body stiffened. "I'm sorry to hear that, David. We could have used that
information. I was hoping you felt more part of our team." Mr. Teller got up,
walked to the window and looked out, and then looked back at David. "David,
you've been with our firm about two years now. You've excelled, and were on a
fast track to the top. But, now I'm not sure." He paused. "I see your lack of
cooperation here as part of a change we don't entirely look favorably on. I
think Isaac Levy has had a bad effect on you. By the way, if you say I said
this, I'll deny it. First there was leaving work early on some Fridays, then all
the holidays, now this holy attitude. I could change my mind, but I'm
disappointed. I think if these changes stick, you'll find it more difficult to
become partner at this firm." He looked out the window and said, "That'll be all
David got up and found his way back to his office. He sat at
his desk stunned. He wanted to talk with Isaac, but it was Friday and Isaac had
left early for the mountains. David went to the water cooler where he ran into
Steve. "Are you OK?" Steve asked, "you look like a wall fell on you."
"I'll be OK," David answered as he drank a cup of cold water. "Mr. Teller was
just playing hardball with me."
"You look like you need to blow off some
steam," Steve said. "Why don't you join me at the Citylights for a drink?"
"I'm sorry," David said looking at his watch, "I'm invited for a
Shabbos dinner tonight and Shabbos starts at 7:30." Rabbi Buchwald had invited
him for dinner.
"David, it's only a quarter to 5, you've got plenty of
time. You need a drink." The offer sounded good and David said "OK".
went down to the Citylights on the corner. The disco music had started, marking
the beginning of the Friday afternoon Happy Hour, and a few people were dancing.
David downed his first drink quickly, started a second, and felt himself
loosening up. As he watched the dancers wriggling to the pulsating beat, he
ruminated about the last six months, and Mr. Teller's words rang in his ears:
"You were on the fast track to the top...now this holy attitude...if these
"What's happening?" he thought.
Just after he
started his third drink, a beautiful woman walked over to Steve and kissed him
on his cheek. "Gail!" Steve exclaimed, "How are you doing? How's married life
treating you? I haven't seen you since your wedding a few months ago."
"We're separated," Gail answered, glancing at David. "Rick had a monstrous
temper, and flew off the handle too much. I just couldn't take it anymore,
and I told him to get out three weeks ago."
"I'm sure it's all for the
best. Say, this is my friend David from work."
"Hi, Dave," she said
Steve put his hand on David's shoulder. "Our boss has been
giving David a hard time. Can you think of anything to cheer him up?"
Gail moved her shoulders and said, "Wanna dance?"
David finished off his
drink and said, "I've got to leave soon, but sure, I'd love to dance."
David and Gail moved to the beat of the music, David felt a feeling of freedom
that soothed his tension. Gail danced well, and he loved how their bodies were
in sync with the rhythm and each other. When at times white flashing strobe
lights replaced the dark colored lights, his mind became mesmerized by the
series of still images of Gail dancing.
He looked at his watch and saw it
was 6:30. What a contrast, he thought, that the peace of Shabbos starts in an
hour. He loved Shabbos, but now it was hard to tear himself away.
to go," he shouted to Gail over the music as they danced.
"What, I can't
hear you," Gail shouted back. The events of the day, the drinks, the pounding
rhythm and the flashing lights started swimming together in David's mind and he
began to feel dizzy. He alternated between feeling the thrill and power of the
beat, and feeling trapped by it. All of a sudden, the world turned black.
As from a distance, David heard a commotion and felt someone tugging on his
arm. Though groggy he opened his eyes and saw Gail in a strange apartment
shaking him and saying, "Wake up, wake up!" She looked terrified, and he heard
shouting and banging in the next room.
"Where am I?" he said as he
sat up. Gail, standing over him, looked relieved that he had woken up, but
her eyes were filled with fear.
"You passed out at the bar," she said as
she sat next to him. "Since I live near you, Steve asked me to take you to your
house by cab. But once we were in the cab, I forgot your address, so I took you
to my house. You were really out."
"What's that knocking and shouting?"
Gail took a tense deep breath. "That's my husband Rick, who
moved out a few weeks ago. He's here unexpectedly, who knows for what, and he
can't get in because I've changed the locks and bolted the door. I don't know
what he's going to do if he sees you here."
David looked at his
watch and said, "My goodness, it's Shabbos already."
that mean?" Gail asked, and then touched his arm. "What should we do?"
The banging continued and the voice behind the door kept shouting, "Gail, open
David stood and looked at the door. "If I ever want to leave," he
said, "we'll have to let Rick in and explain what happened. I'll use my verbal
and legal skills."
Gail looked hesitant, "Are you sure? Rick has a
temper, and he sounds a little drunk."
"I think we can explain what
happened," David said trying to sound reassuring. "Besides, he's got us
surrounded and under siege, and I can't see climbing out the window."
"I'm not sure, but OK," Gail said as she walked slowly to the door and opened
Rick pushed the door open shouting, "So you changed the locks
on me?" His eyes quickly turned to David. "I thought I heard talking. Who are
you? What are you doing here with my wife?" David tried to stand tall, but he
was shorther than Rick who was a muscular 6 feet 2 with thick black hair and
moustache, and a face that was red with anger.
"I passed out at the bar,"
David said, "and Gail helped me recover. There's nothing going on."
bet," Rick bellowed as he grabbed Gail's hair and started slapping her face.
"I'm gone a few weeks and you're already doing it with every Tom, Dick, and
Harry. I'll teach you."
"I wasn't, Rick, stop," Gail screamed as he
kept hitting her.
"Hold on," David said as he moved
closer. "I said nothing was going on."
Rick dropped Gail to the
floor and turned to David. "Oh so you mess with my wife and now you want
to mess with me. I'll teach you." Rick ran to the kitchen and came
out with a large knife.
"What are you doing?" David said as he saw the
knife flashing through the air. "I'm telling you nothing happened."
teach you not to mess with my wife," Rick screamed as he lunged and stabbed
David in the belly. David felt a burst of excruciating pain, and for the second
time that night, he passed out.
Time passed as if in a dream. David sensed people and heard muffled sounds
around him that didn't quite coalesce. In between darts of pain, images floated
through David's mind.
He saw Jerry Fisher, his college roommate, jumping
around Harvard Square and lying in his arms bleeding. He saw his sister Sharon
clutching her empty belly. There was Rabbi Levy smiling at his desk, surrounded
by books, and Barry, his other college roommate, reading from the Talmud. Images
came and went, of his father finding his childhood prayer book, Mr. Teller
standing stonefaced by the window, Gail being beaten by her husband, and crowds
dancing in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. And there was the Chofetz
Chaim holding a young man's hands crying, "Shabbos, Shabbos."
SOON - Chapter
Still feeling pain,
after what seemed like a long dream, David opened his eyes. Light
was streaming through a window, there was a tube attached to his arm, and
he was in a bed with white crisp sheets. He sensed people sitting
by his bed. He turned his head to the right, and saw his
father, mother, and his sister Sharon. They were smiling, and he
tried to smile back. He turned his head to the left and he saw Rabbi
Levy, Isaac, and Esther.
"What happened? Where am I?" he managed to say
slowly, feeling a terrible pain in his gut. David's mother put her hand on the
bed and said, "It's Sunday morning, David. You're in Roosevelt Hospital, and
you've been in a coma since you were stabbed Friday night. We were so worried
about you, and are now so relieved." She paused. "We talked a long time with
Rabbi Levy, Isaac, and Esther. You've made fine friends."
you're all here," David said clenching his body as pain shot again through his
insides. He turned to Rabbi Levy. "How did you find out I was here?"
friend of yours from the beginners minyan," Rabbi Levy answered, "happened to
see you taken into the ambulance Friday night. Our friend Rabbi Buchwald
called us in the mountains after Shabbos."
Isaac added, "We heard the
whole beginners minyan was here Shabbos afternoon, but you were still
David looked at Esther and thought her eyes looked red, as
if she had beed crying. He was struck by how soft and pretty she looked in the
Sunday morning sunlight.
Just then the doctor walked in. "Well, well,
the nurse told me our patient has revived," he said standing at the foot of the
bed. "David, you lost a lot of blood and were torn up inside, and its going to
take a long time to heal. We're all lucky you're still with us." He turned to
the others. "Now let's give David a little rest." They all got up, and one by
one wished David good health. As they stood around his bed, David felt lucky to
feel a member of two such nice families.
During the next several days,
David slept a lot and during visiting hours received a stream of visitors from
the West Side, Flatbush, and work. Friends from the beginner's minyan brought
him books on Judiasm to read. The intense pain slowly subsided.
Wednesday evening David looked up from a book he was reading and saw Steve from
work slowly enter the room. Steve looked embarrassed. "I almost didn't have the
courage to come," he said as he walked to the side of the bed. "David, I'm
sorry. I was sure Gail would be able to get you home from the Citylights, but I
should have taken you myself. I'm sorry."
David put his book down.
"Steve, I forgive you under two conditions. That you don't let it happen again,
and that you have a Shabbos meal with me when I'm better."
"That's an appropriate punishment," Steve said. "I accept. By the way, I have
news from the office." he continued as he sat down. "Mr. Teller had a stroke
"What? I'm sorry to hear that."
"He's out of commission,
and John Silverman is replacing him. John has always liked you, and he told me
to say you have a good job waiting when you get back."
After chatting a
bit more, Steve left saying, "Again, I'm sorry. "
Late Friday morning
David woke from a nap and saw Rabbi Levy sitting next to his bed. "Rabbi Levy,"
David said. "How long have you been here?"
"Not long, David.
How are you feeling?"
David tried sitting up. "Better, but it still
hurts a lot."
Rabbi Levy took David's hand. "Our family has been praying
that you have a refuah shlemah, a complete recovery. We brought you these to
wish you a good Shabbos," he said pointing to a large vase of flowers on the
Rabbi Levy released David's hand, and they sat quietly. Then
David said, "Rabbi, you once suggested it's good to do a Cheshbon Hanefesh, an
accounting of the soul, when something bad happens. I've been trying." David
paused. "The doctor say's it'll be six months before I'm healthy enough to go
back to work. That's a long time," he sighed. "I could take a vacation, and rest
and read. Or I've been thinking about another option. My friend Barry in
Jerusalem told me about a beginners Yeshiva in Monsey, called Ohr Someach. Have
you heard of it?"
"Sure," Rabbi Levy answered, "I know Rabbi
Rokowsky, the Rosh Yeshiva, well. I hear very good things about it."
"I figured," David continued, "I could use this time to
investigate Judiasm a little more."
Rabbi Levy smiled. "Sounds like a
splendid idea." They talked for a while and then Rabbi Levy got up, and took
David's hand again. "David, you've become like a member of our family. We love
you. We're praying that you feel well."
They looked into each
other's eyes and David felt so much warmth that tears came to his eyes.
"Thank you, Rabbi."
Pabbi Levy smiled, pressed David's hand and slowly
walked to the door. He stood there for a minute, touched his hat, said "Good
Shabbos", and left.
David rested in the hospital for the next two weeks,
and found he could walk a bit more each day. He enjoyed how visiting hours gave
him an opportunity to get closer to his family and friends. One day the bandage
around his belly came off, revealing thick scars. A week later the doctor said
David could leave if he took it easy. When the day came to leave, Sharon and
Isaac helped him take his things by cab back to his apartment. Sharon offered to
stay for the next few weeks, buying groceries and cooking. She even went along
and observed Shabbos with David, preparing Shabbos meals for his friends. She
admitted she enjoyed it, but not enough to 'convert', as she put it.
weeks after the stabbing, David felt well enough to begin his 'vacation' at Ohr
Someach. So on a Sunday morning at the end of August, David packed his suitcase,
and walked slowly with Sharon down the stairs to his car.
"I've got a
present for you," Sharon said, handing him a small gift-wrapped box as they
stood by the car. David opened it and took out a black yarmulka. He put it on
and said, "It fits perfectly, thanks Sharon." They hugged. "Sharon," David said,
"thanks for helping me through this. Why don't you stay in the apartment while
"I guess it's kind of over with my last boyfriend, so thanks,
I may take you up on it. Now David," she said, touching his yarmulka, "don't
come back a religious fanatic."
"I'm not the type," David laughed. "It's
just a good opportunity to explore my roots." They hugged again. Together they
put his bag in the trunk, and David drove off looking in the rear view mirror at
Sharon waving goodbye.
David had called Ohr Someach two weeks before, and
was told there was room in the Yeshiva for him. He set a day to start, and got
directions. Rabbi Rokowsky was expecting to see him at noon. David drove up the
West Side Highway, crossed the George Washington Bridge, and went up the
Palisades Parkway. The trees were full with the lushness of summer, though a
sprinkle of gold and red leaves anticipated fall. David appreciated the beauty
after spending so much of the summer indoors. He got off Exit 10A and drove to
Poute 306 to the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva had a half a dozen small wooden buildings
nestled in the woods.
Someone showed David to Rabbi Rokowsky's
office, where the Rabbi was writing at his desk.
The Rabbi, large and
fair with a red beard, stood and shook David's hand and then sat next to him.
"David, welcome to Ohr Someach," The Rabbi said. "Describe yourself, so I can
select a chevrusa, a study partner, for you."
David thought and then
began, "I'm a lawyer, 28, and a New Yorker. Eight months ago, a friend from work
invited me for my first Shabbos. I liked talking with his father, Rabbi Eliyahu
Rabbi Rokowsky smiled. "A wonderful Rabbi, and a wonderful
"I went with them to a wedding in Israel," David continued,
"and started going to a beginner's minyan at Lincoln Square Synagogue. I'm
The Rabbi asked warmly, "And what brings you
David touched his belly. "I have to take time to recover from
a stab wound, and a friend in Jerusalem recommended your Yeshiva."
Rabbi got up. "I know a good chevrusa for you. Wait here." A few minutes later
the Rabbi returned with a tall young man with a beard. "David this is Moshe
Singer. Moshe's chevrusah got married last week and moved to Baltimore. If it's
to your liking, you'll be learning together and sharing a room." David stood and
they shook hands. "David," the Rabbi said extending his hand, "I'm glad you're
here. Enjoy our Yeshiva, and I hope, with Hashem's help. you'll learn a great
deal of Torah"
"Thank you, Rabbi," David said.
bring your things to our room," Moshe said as they left the Rabbi's office.
At the car David said, "I'm recovering from a stab wound and can't
lift a thing."
"No problem," Moshe said and carried the suitcase to their
room. The next stop was the cafeteria where about 40 young men were eating
lunch. Moshe ntroduced David to a number of them as they got food, washed for
bread, and sat down.
"Rabbi Rokowsky told me you're a lawyer. So am I,"
Moshe said. "I was practicing a few years in Chicago, where I'm from, when I
came here to visit a good friend who became religious. That was a year ago, and
I stayed, getting a leave from my job. He's the one who got married last week.
It's amazing how much I've learned here."
"What's the schedule like?"
"We daven in the morning at 7:30, and breakfast is at 8,"
Moshe began. "9 to 10 is a Gemorah class and 11 to 12 is a Chumash class, each
followed by an hour of review with your chevrusa, me. Then comes lunch, a
break, and Mincha. In the afternoon we have a second Gemorrah class, review with
chevrusa, and dinner. In the evening is a class on hallacha, review with
chevrusa, Maariv, and then a choice of classes, or more chavrusa review."
"It sounds like we spend a lot of time with our chavrusa," David said.
"At least four hours a day," Moshe smiled. "How much we learn depends on how
much we push each other. Let's bench and I'll show you around."
seeing the other buildings they went to the 'Bais Medrash', the main building
for classes, studying, and davening. They sat in a large room with long tables
and walls filled with books, and Moshe told David where they were up to in each
of the classes. "Vocabulary is crucial," Moshe said. "Keep a notebook of the
Hebrew and Aramaic words you learn, and review it every day."
rest of the day, David learned and davened with the others in the Bais Medrash.
In the evening Hallacha class, Rabbi Rokowsky discussed the holidays that were
"The current month of Elul," the Rabbi began, "is preceded
by Tisha B'Av, when we went into exile, our Temple having been destroyed. During
Elul itself, we focus on Tschuva - repentance - examining our soul and
improving our ways. Elul is followed by the climax of Teshuva during Rosh
Hashonah and the fasting of Yom Kipper. Then during Succos right afterwards, we
celebrate Hashem's forgiveness, and build and spend time in a Succah - a special
house representing Hashem's protection. Through the power of our Tschuva, we go
from a house destroyed to a house rebuilt, from separation from Hashem to
reunification with Hashem."
The next morning in the Bais Medrash before
davening, Moshe strapped black boxes on his arm and head. "So, you don't have
any Tefillin," Moshe observed. "I'll help you put on the Yeshiva's extra pair,"
and he showed David how to put them on. "Parchment sections of the Chumash,"
Moshe explained, "are put in the boxes, so we're wearing the Torah when we
daven." That afternoon David decided to get his own pair, and went with Moshe to
a house in Monsey that sold them.
During the next few weeks before the
holidays David studied hard, enjoyed classes, and got to know the other people
in the Yeshiva. Then came Rosh Hashonna, Yom Kippur, and Succos, with a mixture
of davening, learning, big meals, and fasting. He had fun helping the others
build the Succah, a large wooden structure with an open roof covered with
They ate all the meals in the Succah, and one afternoon Moshe
and David brought some food to the Succah for a snack. Moshe said a brocha
before eating each piece of food. "What did you say?" David asked.
you don't eat a meal that includes bread," Moshe explained/ "you say a brocha
thanking Hashem before and after eating each kind of food. Vegetables, fruit,
cake, juice all have their own brochas. I have a book in the room that explains
them. It's gratitude," Moshe said eating an apple. "Hashem created the food, and
we thank Hashem for it."
Fall and winter came as David recovered his
health and immersed himself in learning. He found his and Moshe's legal training
helpful in the long hours they grappled with the complex discussions in the
David's Hebrew improved so that he started understanding what
he said when he davened and read the Chumash. The only holidays during the
winter were Chanukah in December and Purim in February, both celebrating the
Jews' victory over their enemies.
Shabbos was always wonderful, getting
closer to friends in Yeshiva, visiting families in Monsey who invited them for
meals, and sometimes going to the Levy's in Brooklyn. David talked with his
parents and sister often, and while visiting during Chanukah, they heard Rabbi
Rokowsky speak after lighting the Menorah.
"These lights recall
how we lit the Menorah in our Holy Temple after driving out the Greeks - and
their philosophy that worshipped the worshipped the physical - from our land
2200 years ago. We love the physical too, but not as an end in itself, but as a
vehicle to raise our Kedushah. This oil or candle is physical, but it's purpose
is to support the beautiful flame. Likewise mitzvas - our commandments - are
physical, such as Tefillin, Succah, and the Shabbos meal, and through them we
strive to experience the spirituality - the Kidushah - of Hashem."
As spring approached, David felt he had gone through a transformation. He
felt closer to his roots and felt a greater understanding of Kedushah.
April David went to the Levy's for his second Passover there. During Passover
night, when everyone read in Hebrew about the Exodus from Egypt, David was
pleased he could read along and understand the Hebrew. Coming home from shul
with the Levy family the next morning, David found himself walking next to
"How's your wound?" Esther asked.
"I'm almost completely
recovered," David answered.
"And how do you like Yeshiva?"
learning a lot and love it," David said looking into Esther's warm eyes.
"In fact, there's so much to learn, I'm thinking of staying another six months
before returning to work. What have you been doing?"
"I'm teaching third
grade at Bais Yaakov Academy near here," Esther said smiling. "David, you've
come a long way, and you should be proud of it."
"To a great extent,
thanks to your family," David said.
"Thanks to Hashem," Esther
During lunch David talked to Isaac about what he was learning
at Yeshiva. Towards the end of the meal, Rabbi Levy announced "One should never
eat a meal without saying words of Torah, and today we are honored to hear a
Dvar Torah from David Kahn." Everyone was quiet and looked at David as he began
"The Shema, one of our central prayers, says 'You shall love the
L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.'
Each of the next three sentences in the Shema explains that our heart, our soul,
and our might form three concentric circles of devotion to Hashem.
sentence says 'and these words... shall be upon your heart' That's the inner,
meditative circle of our being, where we pray quietly, with our hearts, to
Hashem. The next sentence describes the social, family aspects of our lives:
"Teach them to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your home and
walk on your way." David extended his hand. "These holiday meals are an example
of this larger second circle."
"The third and last sentence says, 'Bind
them as a sign upon your arm...and write them on the doorposts of your house and
city gates.' This is our 'might', the outermost circle of building and commerce.
The Shema is telling us that we should love Hashem completely, in all three
circles of our lives - when we're praying quietly, with family and friends, or
Everyone congratulated David on his talk. After Passover
David returned to the Yeshiva for another six months of learning. His Gemorah
skills increased and he felt a growing sense of inner peace. In the fall, after
Succos, the Yeshiva had a big meal on Shabbos for David where he said goodbye
for now to Moshe, the Rabbis, and his friends. The next day they waved as he
drove off to New York, and on Monday Isaac welcomed David back to work.
Though David enjoyed returning to the city, he felt he had made contact with
something more permanent over the last year - and he didn't feel as caught up in
the fast pace. He continued learning some evenings at a small Yeshiva on the
West Side, and every day at lunch he learned with Isaac the Daf Yomi - the daily
page from the Gemorah.
SOON - Chapter 11
"It's amazing what you've
learned," Isaac said as they closed their Gemorahs one day. "I'd think you've
been religious for ten years."
"But there's so much I don't know," David
said as they took out lunch. "For example, I'm not clear about your customs of
"I'll tell you about the Yeshivish way, while the Modern
Orthodox are a bit more flexible. Usually friends or relatives who think people
are right for each other arrange a date. I met Sarah through my chavrusa's
"And what do you do on a date?"
"You go to a public
place, like a park, talk, and look for good vibes, good family chemistry, and
common goals. If the vibes are good after a number of dates, why wait? Building
a beautiful Jewish family is one of the biggest mitzvah's." Isaac paused. "So,
should I look around for you?"
"I'm game to start looking, why
not?" David said as they cleaned up. "Why, do you know anyone?"
a matter of fact," Isaac smiled, "since Passover our family has been discussing
this issue. We know someone who likes you very much."
"Who's that?" David
"My sister, Esther."
David felt the blood rush
to his face. "You're kidding. Esther's the loveliest woman I've ever known. She
could marry any Rabbi's son, why would she want me?"
Isaac shook his
head. "Maybe you should ask her that question yourself. You know our number.
I'll tell her you might call."
When David got home that evening, he sat
on his couch and dialed the Levy house. Esther's younger sister answered the
phone. "Hello," David said. "This is David Kahn. Can I speak to Esther?"
A minute later Esther got on the phone, "David, how nice to hear from
David took a deep breath. "Esther, I hear there's a
wonderful park in lower Manhattan near the World Financial Center. How would you
like to go there with me on Sunday?"
"It sounds wonderful," Esther
answered. "I'd love to."
"How about if I pick you up at noon?"
"Fine, I'll look forward to seeing you then."
On Sunday morning,
David put on a suit, bought some roses, and drove to Flatbush.
David" Mrs. Levy said, smiling as she opened the door and welcomed David in.
"Can I offer you some coffee and cake?"
"That would be nice, thank you,"
David said as he sat in the living room. Drinking the coffee, David looked
around at the neat house and realized he hadn't gone on a date like this for
many years. He stood when Esther came down the stairs, beaming and beautiful in
a white dress. "Hello Esther, you look stunning," David said handing her the
"Thanks," Esther answered, blushing slightly.
wished them a good day as David and Esther left the house and got into the car.
Driving along Ocean Parkway and through the tunnel to lower Manhattan, they
talked about what they had been doing lately. After parking, they took walked to
the park, and stood by the railing by the Hudson River.
watching the boats going up and down the river, when David said, "Remember when
we walked to Boro Park together when Isaac's son was born?"
two now," Esther smiled. "You've changed a lot since then. You've grown
tremendously in Torah."
David paused, and asked, "Does it bother
you, Esther, that I'm a Baal Tschuva?"
Esther looked into David's
eyes. "You've chosen your commitment, I was just born into it. David, there's a
growing flame in you that I love."
"How do your parents feel about this?"
"They love that flame, too," Esther answered.
"Esther," David said softly as he felt his heart beating loudly, "there's a fire
and beauty in you that I love, too." They were silent for a minute, and then
David asked, "What do we do now?"
"Do you you feel we're right together?"
"Esther, I feel very lucky."
"So," Esther beamed,
"let's tell our parents we're engaged."
David felt like hugging Esther,
but he knew he wouldn't be touching her until they were married. Going down the
elevator and driving back to Brooklyn, David's heart was pounding and he felt
David and Esther told their parents and friends, who all
responded with an excited, 'Mazel Tov.' David started spending a lot of time
with Esther and talking to her on the phone, discussing the wedding and where
they would live, and enjoying feeling like a celebrated couple.
Shabbos David stayed with Isaac's family and after davening in the morning, the
Levy's hosted a big kiddush in shul where the community came to congratulate the
couple and have cake, fruit, and wine. During the kiddush Pabbi Levy quieted the
group and said that David, his future son-in-law, wanted to say a few words.
David stood before the smiling group. "Less than two years ago I
entered your community as a stranger to the laws and lifestyle that I now
love. As a way of thanking you, I want to share with you the five reasons
I became religious.
"First, there's kedushah. So much of the world I came
from has forgotten the importance of kedushah - holiness - and how it uplifts
our lives with every mitzvah we do and every brocha we say."
context. I now feel connected to so much - to my people, my tradition, to the
land of Israel, and to Hashem."
"Third is gratitude. Life is a wonderful
gift, and I feel a great need to say 'Thank you' to the Giver of life."
"Fourth is the people... you. I value your friendship, warmth, and community,
and how we strive together for kedushah."
"And last, there's Shabbos. Ah
Shabbos," David could feel tears in his eye. "Shabbos, the day that ties it all
together, a day devoted to generating kedushah, feeling context, expressing
gratitude, and being with people."
David paused. "You all have given me
so much, and I want to thank you. And I especially want to thank the Levy
family, for serving as my guide, and for having raised Esther, the most
wonderful woman I have ever known."
The rest of Shabbos and the following
weeks were filled with plans for the wedding, scheduled for a Sunday evening at
the end of November. Meeting several evenings a week, David and Esther selected
a hall, a band, a florist, printed invitations, and found an apartment in
Flatbush they would live in. There were many discussions, often including
David's parents, about who to invite, and the list grew to about 400 people,
mainly relatives and friends of the Levys. David felt happy spending time with
Esther, working, and learning with Isaac at lunch.
Two weeks before the
wedding, Isaac asked David after lunch, "How's my future brother-in-law
"Good, but a little nervous," David admitted.
natural, it's a big change," Isaac reassured David. "That's probably why couples
don't meet the week before the wedding, when the tension is the highest. You'll
see," he said putting his hand on David's shoulder," in no time I'll be an uncle
of your umteen children."
"With Hashem's help," David smiled.
the way," Isaac added, "the Shabbos before the wedding Esther is staying at our
uncle's house in Boro Park, so you can be with us. That's the day of your
Aufruf, when we throw candy on you in Shul to wish you a sweet marriage."
Just then Steve stuck his head in the door and said, "David, we want to take
you and Isaac out to lunch the Friday before your wedding. We reserved the back
room of the Citylight's Bar and we are ordering in Kosher food. Is it a
"Sure, thanks," David answered.
The week before the wedding, David talked on the phone with Esther every
day, making final arrangements. "I love you Esther," David said. "It's tough not
"I know, David," Esther agreed, "but soon we'll have a
lifetime to be together."
"I was thinking today," David added, "how all
your relatives will soon be my relatives too".
"Going to all their
bris's, bar mitzvah's, and weddings," Esther said, "will take up a lot of our
Lunchtime on Friday, a dozen of David's friends from work took him
to the Citylights to celebrate the upcoming wedding. Spirits were high, and some
toasts were moving and others joked about David losing his freedom.
Towards the end of the meal, Steve returned with drinks from the bar and
motioned David aside. "I just saw someone at the bar you know," Steve whispered,
"and she told me something you ought to know. I hate to be the bearer of bad
David excused himself from the group and followed Steve to the
bar. Sitting on a stool was a gaunt young woman. "I think you know each other,"
Steve said and went back to the others.
"I hear you get congratulations,"
said the woman quietly. David looked hard trying to place her, and then he
"Suzy!" he exclaimed. "You're the stewardess I went
roller skating with in Central Park about two years ago. I meant to call you
after you fell, and I apologize."
"Don't let it bother you," Suzy said
sipping her drink. "I wish you a long and happy marriage. Too bad I'll never get
"It's never too late," Davod assired. "you could
meet Mr. Right tonight."
"Not me," Suzy said, a tear rolling down
her cheek. "A month ago I found out I have AIDS. It probably won't even be alive
a year from now." David was speechless and drew back involuntarily.
"Nobody knows what to say," Suzy laughed bitterly, so I don't tell
many people. Just the guys I slept with." Suzy turned and
looked straight at David. "Have yourself tested. I'm sorry if I gave it to you,
but I didn't know. I wonder what creep gave it to me. Now go back to your party
and good luck." Suzy turned to her drink as David said goodbye and walked back
to the party.
Dessert was being served when David returned.
"David", someone who had drunk too much called out, "Kosher food is pretty
good, maybe I'll become religious." David looked at Steve, who looked
down at his plate. When the meal ws over, the group waited for Isaac
and David to bench, and then returned to the office. For the rest of
the afternoon and on the train to Flatbush with Isaac, David tried to appear
calm and happy thought a thousand thoughts raced through his mind: How could he
find out by Sunday if he had been exposed to the AIDS virus, how could he avoid
calling off the wedding, when should he talk to Rabbi Levy?
Friday night, David responded to the Mazel Tov's by smiling and saying thank
you. "If my feelings show," David thought, "they'll assume I'm nervous about
During dinner at Isaac's, David watched Isaac's
children and stared at the Shabbos candles. "I've come so close," he thought,
"and is this now beyond my reach?"
Towards the end of the meal Sarah
said, "David, you seem pensive. You'll look back and laugh at any nervousness
you feel now. You're marrying a wonderful woman."
"Thanks, I know," David
In Shul the next morning, David smiled as best he could through
the throwing of the candy and the Kiddush in honor of the wedding. Shabbos lunch
at the Levy house was brimming with guests sharing in the joyous occasion. After
lunch, David asked Rabbi Levy if they could talk in private, and they went to
the Rabbi's study.
"David, my son-in-law to be," Rabbi Levy beamed as
they sat down, "I have some things to say first. I ordered a complete set of
Gemorahs for you, and may the light of their wisdom fill your new home. Tomorrow
I'll be giving you a new talis, and may your davening in it be pure. And last,"
Rabbi Levy's face got serious, "we say that at the moment of marriage one
becomes a new person, so at that moment one should do tschuva for any past
sins." Rabbi Levy looked warmly at David and said, "Now David, what did you want
to talk about?"
David took a deep breath and sighed, "Rabbi, I'm
not sure we can go on with the wedding."
feet?" Rabbi Levy smiled, "Have you discovered some dark secret about
David looked down. "No, Rabbi, about myself." Rabbi Levy leaned
forward, and said, "Continue".
"Rabbi, yesterday afternoon I found out
that a woman I slept with two years ago has AIDS. She may have infected me - I
don't know" David paused. "I know there's a test," he continued, "but I don't
know much about it. If I don't find out by tomorrow night if I've been infected,
we have to tell 400 people not to come to the wedding. Oh Rabbi Levy, I'm
Rabbi Levy was silent for several minutes, looking deep in
thought. He then looked up and said, "A former student of mine, Dr. Avram Katz,
lives near here and may know about this test. He can be trusted to keep our
confidence. Are you willing to tell him your story?"
"Whatever can help,
Rabbi," David agreed. Rabbi Levy got up. "Let's walk there now."
They left the room, told the others they were going for a walk, and after
putting on their coats, stepped into the cold air. Halfway through the six block
walk, Rabbi Levy put his hand on David's shoulder.
When they got to the
house, Rabbi Levy knocked on the door. The man who opened the door exclaimed,
"Rabbi Levy, what a happy surprise. Come in, let me take your coats."
"Good Shabbos, Avram," Rabbi Levy said, "this is David Kahn, my future
"Mazel Tov, David," Dr. Katz said. They went into the
dining room where a teenage boy was sitting at the table in front of some open
books. "Rabbi," Dr. Katz said, "you know my son Eliezer. We were learning while
everyone else is asleep upstairs. Sit while I get some tea." In a minute he
brought out a tray of tea, cake, and fruit.
"We have a personal medical
question," Rabbi Levy began, "that is very confidential." Dr. Katz nodded to his
son, who put the books away and went upstairs. "Avram," Rabbi Levy said softly,
"David just learned that a woman he slept with two years ago has AIDS. How can
we find out if he's been infected?"
"I'm sorry to hear that," Dr. Katz
answered quietly. "First, I have to say, as a cardiologist, I have no practical
experience with AIDS. I only know what I read in the literature and hear from my
colleagues." He paused for a sip of tea and then continued. "Since the AIDS
virus is transmitted by blood and semen, it is less likely for a woman to give
it to a man than vice versa. How likely, we don't know."
there's a test," Rabbi Levy ventured.
"Yes," Dr. Katz responded, "It
tests for the presence of antibodies that are produced after the virus enters
the body. A person with these antibodies is called 'serapositive'. Whether that
person will gets AIDS is unknown, and even if they do, it's only after an
incubation period of 5 to 10 years."
"Where can one take the test?"
Rabbi Levi asked.
"There are clinics, but where they are I don't
After some silence, Rabbi Levy said "It's extremely important the
test be done tonight."
Dr. Katz flinched, and then stroked his chin,
thinking. "I work at Belleview and have a colleague in the AIDS wing there. He
should know about this test. We can call him after Shabbos."
stood and shook Dr. Katz's hand. "Thank you, Avram. Shabbos ends at 6:05, let's
meet in my study at 6:30." David and the Rabbi put on their coats, and said good
Shabbos to Dr. Katz, and walked back. When they got to Rabbi Levy's house, the
Rabbi put his hand on David's shoulder and said, "We're going to need our
Shabbos nap. I'll meet you in Shul for Minchah."
After some fitfull sleep
David went with Isaac to Shul, where he was met by a steady stream of smiles and
Mazel Tov's. David tried to daven with as much concentration as he could muster,
and aferwards he walked with Rabbi Levy to the Rabbi's house for havdallah. At
6:30 sharp, Dr. Katz arrive and they went into the study.
Dr. Rubin's home," Dr. Katz said as they sat down, "but his wife said he had
just left for the hospital. She said he has several patients who may not last
the night. I suggest we go to the hospital and meet him there."
Levy looked at David. "Go with Dr. Katz, and call me as soon as you find out
anything. I'll be staying up to daven and say Tehillim. Now hurry."
and Dr. Katz said goodbye and jumped into the doctor's car, and sped to the
Brooklyn Bridge, over to Manhattan's East Side Highway and up to Belleview
hospital at 31st street. It was starting to drizzle when they arrived, and they
ran from the car into the hospital lobby where Dr. Katz flashed his badge, and
they took the elevator to the third floor. "Most of the AIDS patients are in
this wing," Dr. Katz told David.
At the nurses station Dr. Katz asked for
Dr. Rubin, and a nurse said, "Dr. Rubin is with a patient in room 319," and
pointed to the end of the hall.
They walked quickly down the hall, and in
room 319 found Dr. Rubin sitting next to a patient's bed. When Dr. Rubin saw
them, he slowly got up and walked with them into the waiting room next door.
Looking weary, he said as they sat down, "Avram, it's hard. So much
suffering, and they're so young. What brings you here tonight?"
"Michael," Dr. Katz said, "this is David, a friend of mine from Flatbush, and we
need some advice."
"Good to meet you, David. How can I help?"
"David is getting married tomorrow night, to a prominent Rabbi's
"Mazel Tov," Dr Rubin smiled.
Dr. Katz continued,
"David just found out that a woman he slept with two years ago has AIDS. How can
he find out by tomorrow if he's been exposed to the virus?"
looked at David and whispered, "I'm sorry". He clasped his hands together and
thought. "The closest lab we use for the AIDS test is in Vineland, New Jersey,
over a three and half hour drive." He looked at his watch. "Of course it's
closed now, at 8 o'clock on a Saturday night. But the owner is a friend of mine,
in fact he happens to be Orthodox, they have a little Orthodox community down
there. Let me call him."
He turned to David. "Chances are,
David, you weren't infected, but only the test can tell for sure."
got up and walked together to the nurses station, and Dr. Rubin picked up the
phone. "Operator, can I have the home number of a Dr. Albert Schwartz in
Vineland?" He tapped his fingers on the desk and then said, "Thank you."
He dialed the number. "Hi, Al, this is Michael Bubin in New York. So glad to
catch you in. How was your Shabbos? Good. I need a favor. I have a friend here
who is supposed to get married tomorrow and he needs the test to see if he's
serapositive. Any chance you could do the test tonight? Thanks so much. His name
is David, I'll put him on the phone and you can give him directions."
gave David the phone, who said "Hello, this is David, thanks," and he wrote down
the directions on a pad. "I appreciate this," David said into the phone. "I'm
leaving now, and I'll meet you at your home hopefully by midnight."
David hung up and turned to the doctors. "Dr. Rubin, I can't thank you
"Glad to help," Dr. Rubin answered, "and good luck".
"Avram," David said turning to Dr. Katz, "my car's in a garage on the West
"I'll take you there right away," Dr. Katz said. The three of them
walked to the elevator and shook hands.
When David and Dr. Katz got
outside it was raining quite hard. They ran to the car, sped across 34th Street,
and then up 8th Avenue to the garage. "I'll call Rabbi Levy," Dr. Katz said,
"and tell him what happened. I'll pray that tomorrow we hear good news."
"Me too", David said shaking Dr. Katz's hand and getting out of the car. "Thanks
When David got into his car and headed down Ninth
Avenue, he looked at his watch. "8:30", he thought. "I wonder if tomorrow at
this time I'll be married to Esther." As he left the Lincoln Tunnel and started
south on the New Jersey Turnpike, the rain got heavier, slowing traffic and
reducing visibility. He peered down the road as the windshield wipers
rhythmically pushed away the rain, and he remembered a sentence from the Torah
that Barry had quoted. "I lay before you a choice between life and death. Choose
He recalled events of the past two years and thought, "I've tried
to choose life. But maybe I chose it too late." He saw before him a crossroads,
and what path his life would take was no longer up to him, but up to a test in
Vineland, New Jersey. On one path he would marry a wonderful woman and build a
family as a link in his 4000 year heritage, trying to be a good Jew and living a
life with as much kedushah as possible. On the other path, he wouldn't be able
to marry, and hanging over him like a sword would be if and when he'd come down
with this dreaded disease.
He thought he had chosen life, to reduce the
entropy and tumeh in his life. But now like a collosal wave it seems as if the
tumeh and entropy was trying to overtake him.
The driving rain made the
trip long, and it was 1AM when David left the turnpike for the local roads to
Vineland. David followed the directions to a country road. A few miles from Dr.
Schwartz's house he had to stop the car because the road was flooded.
was drizzling now, and David got out of the car and looked around at the empty
farmland without a house or car in sight. Looking up at the night sky he
whispered imploringly, "Hashem, Hashem."
Five minutes later David waved
down the first approaching car, and the driver showed David a detour. It was 2
AM when David reached Dr. Schwartz's house and knocked on the door.
a little wait the living room light went on and a middle aged man, wearing a
sports jacket and a knitted yarmulka, opened the door. "I'm David," David said.
"Sorry I woke you up, but the rain slowed me down."
"That's OK," Dr.
Schwartz answered, "glad to do a favor". He noticed David's yarmulka. "An
Orthodox boy, no less. Let's not waste time, hop in my car, we'll drive to the
They arrived after a five minute drive, and Dr. Schwartz unlocked
the doors to the building, turned on the lights, and entered his office. "Roll
up your sleeve," he said as he took out a bag of medical equipment and drew
blood from David's arm. "Wait here while I start the test." He came back in a
few minutes and said, "We won't know until the morning. You can sleep in my
guest room and I'll wake you for minyan. I have an extra pair of tfillin you can
They drove back, and Dr. Schwartz showed David a small room where
he slept uneasily in his clothes for a few hours. The doctor woke him at seven,
and they drove to a small shul nearby. David got a prayer book, and slowly put
on the tfillin Dr. Schwartz lent him.
The davening began, and David found
himself praying with more emotion than ever before. Certain parts of the prayers
had special meaning for him this morning:
"Hashem is close to all you
call upon Him - to all who call upon Him sincerely."
"Do not follow the
desires of your heart and your eyes that lead you astray."
Hashem - then we will be healed; save us - then we will be saved."
our voice, Hashem our God, pity and be compassionate to us, and accept - with
compassion and favor - our prayer."
When the davening was over, David
took off the tfillin and drove with Dr. Schwartz back to the lab. "I'll check
the results of the test," Dr. Schwartz said as David waited in Dr. Schwartz's
office. Two minutes later Dr. Schwartz came back smiling. "Mazel Tov, David," he
said shaking David's hand, "there's no sign of your being exposed to the AIDS
virus. Now go and get married, and keep out of trouble."
you, Dr. Scwartz," David said, tears coming to his eyes. "May
I use your phone?"
"By all means."
David dialed and said,
"Rabbi Levy, thank God, I'm OK, no AIDS exposure. Thank you Rabbi for your
prayers. I'll see you tonight, with God's help, at the wedding. I'll try my best
to be a good son-in-law."
They drove to David's car, and David thanked
Dr. Schwartz again. As David started driving home, he looked at his watch. It
was 9AM. The rain had stopped, and the sun shone clearly over the fields. David
felt worn out, but exhilarated, as he sped back to New York.
When David got back to his apartment in Manhattan around
one o'clock, the phone was ringing. It was Moshe Singer, his chevrusa from Ohr
Someach, who David had made plans to go to the hall with. "Hi Moshe. It's a
long story. Be here in an hour." He took a shower, put on his tuxedo, and sat on
the couch to relax.
After Moshe arrived, they drove to the wedding hall
in Flatbush. Photographs were taken with David's parents, Sharon, the Levy's,
and other relatives. Then David, his father, and Rabbi Levy went to the
'Chosson's tish', the groom's table, where a stream of men came to say Mazel
Tov. David felt moved as he said hello to Rabbi Buchwald, Rabbi Rokowsky,
relatives he hadn't seen for a long time, relatives of the Levy's, and friends
from Flatbush, the West Side, and Monsey. David got up and hugged Barry Shine
who had flown in from Israel.
The Tanaim and Ketubah were signed,
documents describing his responsibilities as a husband. Then David's mother and
Mrs. Levy came in to break a plate together symbolizing the union of their
families. All the men gathered to say Minchah, and then singing and clapping
they followed David to the Smorgasbord room where Esther, surrounded by the
women, was sitting on a large wicker chair.
David's heart was pounding
as he lifted the white veil from her face. David hadn't seen Esther all week,
and she looked beautiful.
The crowds filed into the synagogue, and were
silent as David, flanked by his parents, walked down the aisle amidst slow music
to the Chupah. Then Esther with Rabbi and Mrs. Levy on either side of her,
walked down the aisle. Under the Chupah, Esther circled David seven times, and
then stood next to David.
As the Ketubah was read and the seven brochas
were said, David looked at Esther and they smiled at each other.
that point, Rabbi Levy whispered into David's ear "Concentrate on doing Tschuva
now, because once you are married you become a new person."
the past two years, culminating in last night, ran through David's mind, and he
felt a little dizzy. "Please forgive me, Hashem," he concentrated, "for any past
He took the gold ring and placed it on Esther's finger saying,
"Haray At Mekudeshet Li", the phrase that made Esther his wife. He then stepped
on and broke a glass - symbolizing remembering the destruction of the Temple -
and the people broke out into a loud 'Mazel Tov', clapping and singing to the
David took Esther's hand, and as they walked down the aisle
together, David felt waves of powerful emotions surge through him, and tears
came to his eyes. "So, Hashem let me choose life," he cried to
himself. Smiling, laughing, he couldn't fight back the tears, and he
cried, and he cried, and he cried.