Friday, May 29, 2015

In Silent Hours?

Gele Shveyd Fishman’s collection of Yiddish verse, In Shtile Shoen (In Silent Hours?), is not a translated collection, but transcribed into Roman characters.  Therefore, unless your Yiddish is extremely good, this collection of poems is only truly helpful for beginners trying to learn how Yiddish is pronounced (at least in a poetic register). The author explains at the conclusion of this work why she made this exclusionary move:

“A translation of a poem is a new poem based on the original text and creatively interpreted by the translator within the linguistic and cultural parameters of a different language.  A translation of my poetry is not my voice.  It is the voice of the translator.  I write my poetry only in Yiddish and I would like readers who cannot, as yet, read Yiddish to see, hear and read authentic lines, metaphors and imagery, the sound and sense that I have created in my beloved language.”

Well, I believe Ms. Fishman is a bit off in this regard.  Certainly a translation can never carry the complete sense of a text from one language to another.  Translation always involves innovative creativity.   But no translator would ever agree that a translation is “the voice of the translator.”  More likely, it is collaboration between the translator and the original work, in the original language.  What is created is not new, but a bridge between two worlds. 

And certainly, as Yiddish becomes a language exclusively of the ultra-frum community, translation is now a paramount exercise. Very few people will learn Yiddish.  If not translated, we consign secular Yiddish literature to its grave.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Avengers: a Jewish War Story

Rob Cohen’s The Avengers: a Jewish War Story holds a great deal of promise.  The story of Abba Kovner and his band of Lithuanian Jewish partisans fighting the German in World War II is intrinsically fascinating; a David and Goliath tale which generates perennial interest.

But Cohen’s book falls flat.  Cohen’s prose is uninspiring, and this translates to the story.  Cohen had great materials here, but did not capitalize on them.  The net loss is unfortunate.  The story of Jewish Partisans needs to be told, but by an author marshaling all his or her talents and resources; this book, unfortunately, fails to do just this. 

Cohen does not know what kind of book he is writing.  Memoir, history, or well meaning (and deserved) biased yearbook.  From all this what we get at the end is not history, but lukewarm hagiography.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I Want To Fall Like This

David Ben Gurion said that Yiddish could never be the language of the Jewish state.  Only Hebrew, which sprang from the Holy Land, could catch its cadences, and fully express the stridency of a people returning to their home, reborn.  How could Yiddish, a language of exile, express the desires and landscapes and dreams the New Jews in the Holy Land?

I Want To Fall Like This,the selected poems of Rukhl Fishman, illustrates just how.  Fishman was born in America, wrote in Yiddish, and came from a Bundist, socialist background.  Despite this, she joined the Zionist Hashomer Hatzair, The Youth Guard movement, and lived in an Israeli kibbutz beginning in 1954. 

So, she is an odd hybrid.  In a new state adopting Hebrew as its native tongue, and rapidly shedding its diaspora languages and customs, her choice of Yiddish as a poetic medium set her at odds with her contemporaries (although later in life, she did publish bi-lingual, Yiddish / Hebrew poems).

Yet in content her work is strongly oriented toward the “land of Israel.”  Her Zionism, in Yiddish, is of the decidedly Romantic type.  Her God is the land, and the land her muse; most of the poems speak of this dedicated connection to the dry landscapes which seem, at first blush, unsuited for Yiddish. 

But she proves everyone wrong.  Her Yiddish is strident and clear and NATIVE, a perfect medium for the creation of a new person in a new land.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

1861: The Civil War Awakening

1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart holds a great many surprises for readers, especially those who have read many popular history books of the War Between the States.  Goodheart hardly notices Lincoln, who had yet to earn his chops as President-Elect, or Grant, who was still struggling to make a subsistence living, or Sherman, working in an under inspiring trolley office.  Instead he focuses on characters who were key players before the war and just after its start; men, and something women, who have all but been forgotten.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters

Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters, by Elie Wiesel, starts off with promise enough, but the book lacks the passion and life blood necessary to deal with the topic.  The men Wiesel portrays are the early heroes of Hasidism, but Wiesel’s presentation and style resembles very flat newspaper reporting.  This book just falls flat. With the material Wiesel had about these extraordinary figures, the results should have been superior. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

One Pleasure: a story, iv


              When Levi awoke he was being lifted by a round, squat man with a loosely wrapped bandage about his head which formed a conical crest at the crown of his scalp. Levi thought the man looked not unlike the pictures of the Levites in the Temple he had seen as a boy in the Illustrated History of the Jews, written by his famous uncle Aarone Levi.  Then Lieutenant Levi realized he was at an aid station, and the priest hauling him over his shoulder was that Sicilian Carducci.        
            “What is it?” Lieutenant Levi gasped.  “Stop doing that, it hurts…”
            “They’ve abroken through,” Carducci stammered.  “We’rea heading south.”
            “Who?  Who broke through?  Stop, you are killing me!”
            “The Austrians, and they say theya say Germans too,” Carducci panted, carrying the Lieutenant down a steep embankment to a road clogged with gray, wet figures, like some queue of souls in limbo. 
            “You’ll kill me!” Lieutenant Levi moaned.  “I’m wounded.”
            “Sorry Lieutenant!  It is either thisa or you die…” and Carducci found a spot on his shoulder where the Piedomentese Jew was more or less balanced, where his center of gravity pooled about his waist, and began the retreat which became a rout at Caporetto, the nearest town.  Carducci and Levy were two among the scores of thousands of ragged men scuffling listlessly south; most had discarded their weapons.  Officers had removed their insignia in disgrace.
            All that time moving south, out of the mountains and into the Veneto Plain, Carducci whispered in Levi’s ear.  He regaled him with all the stories he had heard of Jews as a boy in Giuliana, a land which had not seen a Jew in four-hundred years.  He told tales of the Jew who refused Christ a drink on the road to Calvary and was forced to forever wander the earth, never to die.  He told the tale of the Jew who defiled a Christian girl, and when she gave birth, the infant had horns and cloven hooves.  He told the tale the rabbis who lured the Christian boys into their chamber on Good Friday, with candy and endearments, only to butcher them in a parody of the crucifixion, and render their flesh into Passover bread.  He told these stories in a monotone, as if repeating a catechism, as numb and devoid of meaning as the muttering of the rosary.
            Immanuel Levi tried to speak, to refute, to order the Sicilian to put him down in the mud to die, but no voice formed in his throat.  Words lodged in his lips and then fell still born into the world, not spoken.
            Only when Carducci put Levi down on the banks of the Piave River, where the Italians had finally halted the rout and turned to make a stand, did Levi’s words congeal to make a sentence:
            “I should have shot you on that ridge… Sicilian bastard…”
            “It was my pleasure to save the Lieutenant, a respectable son of Italy,” Carducci answered unsteadily.  His face was gray.  His eyes were dull and glossy.  Yet a smile crossed his ashen lips.  “This was my one pleasure, Sir… asa we say, ina war, hunting, and a…”

            And Carducci fell down and died.

Friday, May 8, 2015

One Pleasure: a story, III


              The Austrians began shelling that night, and by morning’s first dim light, Lieutenant Levi could see through his telescope the Austrian infantry snipping their own line and their sappers detonating their own mines.  Then columns of Teutons marched forward and disappeared into the morning haze and the slow column of snow which was rising rather incongruously from the valley below, as if the laws of gravity had been rendered null. 
            “Is it an offensive, Lieutenant Levi?” a man asked.

            “How could it be?” Levi answered, twirling the ends of his mustache like a nervous twitch.  “The bombardment was not long enough, they must be scouts… Leondardi, run and give this message to Headquarters immediately…”  But Lieutenant Levi did not finish his words.  An Austrian mortar landed in the ditch, a few meters from his perch on the lip of the parapet.  Leonardi was standing their one moment and gone the next, rendered to smoke and cinder.  There was the sound not unlike that of a gong, or the percussive volley of ceremonial ordinance, or a hammer repeatedly pounding an anvil, and then Lieutenant Levi was unconscious.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

One Pleasure: a story II


           That evening an Austrian bi-plane flew low and growling over the Italian lines.  Carducci was out cleaning the pots and pans using the  snow which lay about the exposed rocks in random clumps, like dirty cotton which had fallen from a bag suspended in the gray sky, to scour.  He boiled snow in a cauldron to rinse the pots, pans, cups, folks and knives from the mess. 
            From somewhere below him, along a string of fortifications at least fifty feet beneath the scrubbing Sicilian, men popped their heads out of dugouts to catch a glimpse of the Teutonic bird and then quickly pulled their heads back into the shelter of the rock.  Only Carducci remained out in the open, scouring his pots.  A few moments before the plane arrived, a man in the dugouts began to sing a Neapolitan song, about love lost and found only, sadly, to be lost again. Cardducci was so enraptured by the tune’s bittersweet words, its elongated, almost Arabic cadences, that he failed to see or hear the plane.  He sang the song of the girl with skin like ivory and lips far redder than the reddest of roses.
            A reconnaissance plane was a rare occasion in this part of the Italian front lines, and the plane, coated a dull metallic green, kept swaying and looping over the Italian front, following the contours of the trenches, wires, pillboxes, sentry posts, and supply lines which descended into the valley like frayed edges of a worn out garment.  Then it gradually made the ascent up the foothills of the Julian Alps to the peaks.  The plane appeared as a creature from another world, its methodical and painstaking progression a tacit acknowledgement of the wonders of man:  here, in 1917, these creatures had devised ingenious stratagems to kill each other on the very summit of Europe, nearly 10,000 feet in the sky, at the very lowest arch of the skipping alpine clouds.
            “Carducci, you Sicilian bastard, get down here!”  A voice called out above the drone of the plane.  This was Lieutenant Levi, now pulling Carducci’s fat ankle where his puttee met his shoe in an irregular crease.  The touch woke Carducci from his Neapolitan revelry, as if the voice came from that infernal machine swooping and buzzing over his head like a witch’s elfin minion.
             This all happened quickly:  Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi, enraged at Carducci, emerged from the dugout and stood on the ridge, his blue Alpini uniform silhouetted against the gray, fading light, like a cardboard target of a man.  Carducci gazed up from a pot.  The plane, seeing the cockled hat of an officer exposed on a peak, made a turn to strafe:  a sharp, angular banking motion, pointing toward the Lieutenant like a scowling bird of prey.
            “LIEUTENANT!” Carducci lunged forward and screamed, grasping Levi by the waist.  The Sicilian pivoted and twisted the Piedmontese Jew backward so in the span of a second Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi was riding the Sicilian Carducci down the steep, snow blanketed embankment at such a rapid speed that all the men heard was the snow swirling passed their ears, and not the violent splintering of rock as the plane staffed an empty peak.

            When Carducci came to a sliding halt against a rock at the floor of the ravine, he did not move.  Lieutenant Levi rolled off the Sicilian.  He held his fingers under the man’s prodigious moustaches to feel for breath but it was not necessary.   Levi knew Carducci was alive from the deep inhalation of his barrel shaped chest, as if the long ride with Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi had lulled him into a sleep only enjoyed by infants on a carriage ride.  Then Levi turned the Sicilians head:  a gash turned the snow a deep crimson.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

One Pleasure: a story

            Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi had the Austrian guard in his crosshairs, and held his breath, a began the gentle, almost erotic squeezing of the trigger, the suppressed prelude of the shot, when that fat Sicilian Carducci was suddenly in his sights.  That peasant was running a wire in the ditch beyond the rise, blocking the view to the Austrian outpost with his girth.  The sparkling snow blinded Levi as he opened his left eye and removed his right eye from the sight.
            “Fat-jackass-Sicilian-bastard,” Levi muttered.  He slithered down the slope to the dugout.  In the time he had been laying on the hill, gazing through the sights of his rifle, snow had trickled methodically down, coating his shoulders with a fine, dry down.  He took out a dung colored towel and cleaned his uniform and then removed a chamois from his kit bag and gently wiped the sight’s glass lens.
            He then called to the orderly.
            “Tell Carducci to get in here.”
            “Yes Sir,” the orderly answered, saluting crisply, and turning on his heels, sped away.  
               Lieutenant Emmanuel Levi was suddenly chilled.  The wind had been blowing from the south all day, from the direction of Italy, and carried with it a tang of warmth, a hint of more clement weather.  But now the wind had shifted from behind the Austrian lines, and was cold, with a sweet odor like an overripe fruit, hinting at inevitable decay, filled the dugout with its unsettling promise of the destiny of guns and flesh.
            Across the lines an Austrian shell fell with a metallic thud, landing on some rocks at the base of the ridge, making an amplified sound like a divine hammer hitting an Olympian anvil.  Lieutenant Levi waited for another round, his shoulders tense with the expectation of a barrage, but it was just a stray round.  All was quiet.  Instead of a bombardment Private Carducci was standing before him.  The Sicilian did not salute.
            “Carducci, you idiot, I almost shot your ass out there.”
            “Don’t you salute, Private Carducci?”  Lieutenant Levi's body was as taut as a wire, his voice quivering with contempt.  The Sicilian raised his hand limply.  Levi shook his head.  “Oh, put that down, you half-wit, it looks like you have palsy.  Who gave you an order to go and run a line along that ridge?”  
            Carducci, who spoke High Italian improperly, with many words and expressions from Sicilian dialect, shrugged his shoulders.
            “A Captain say so, Lieutenant Levi,” he drawled.  “Butta I didn’t catchya the man’s name.  As we say in Giuliana, Accatta caru e vinni mircatu, Every dog barks atta poor man.”
            “Don’t talk gibberish, Cardducci.  No officer in the Army of His Majesty Victor Emmanuel would send a man on that ridge.  You didn’t understand what was being said to you because you can’t speak properly… one day your lack of comprehension will kill men.”  Carducci, on hearing this, shrugged once more, but with greater inflection.  Then he added:
            “Ammunccia lu latinu ‘gnuranza di parrinu, as we say, Latin hides the stupidity of the priest.
            “Sir…” Lieutenant Levi cried.
            “SIR!”   Lieutenant Levi roared. “When you are done saying your so-called sentences to me, you say Sir, damn your bones!”
            “Ah, excuse me, Sir…”
            “And what do you mean, Latin hides the stupidity of the priest?  Are you saying that an officer in the Italian Amry, any officer, is stupid?”
            “No Sir,” Carducci stammered.  “All I meant… you see… well maybe being a Jew you don't understand oura priests… howa cruel they cann be…”
            “Never call me a Jew, Carducci.  I’m an Italian.  My family has lived in Piedmonte for over a thousand years…”
            “I meanta no disrespect… ah, Sir.   Asa we say: Cui scerri cerca, scerri trova, He would looks for a quarrel, finds a quarrel.  I’m not look for a quarrel.”
            “Ah, Sir… excuse,” Carducci said, smiling benightedly.
            “Well, you’ve found a quarrel, Carducci.  You’re off the wire and scrubbing pots and pans for a week…
            “Di guerra, caccia e amuri, pri un gusta milli dulrri…”
            “What?” Lieutenant Levi sputtered, his eyes bugling with ire.  “What are you spewing now?”
            “Ina war, hunting, anda love, you suffer a thousand pains for one pleasure.

Friday, May 1, 2015

King David's Trees

King David’s Trees
Originally published in Per Contra Spring 2012

No one remembers when Rabinowitz began to tell his students tales about the Angel of Death.  It was sometime at the beginning of the term, but he started slowly, sparsely, as if prepping the ground for the seed he would eventually plant.  Between lessons he would tell the class legends he had culled from various old books he had read as a young man in Europe.   Between algebra and geometry he wove a fabric of words that was crowded with holy men who refused to die.  Little did the children know what his stories were to presage.  But I knew.  And I kept a special eye on Rabinowitz and his fixations.

“We’ve all heard of King David, children,” Rabinowitz one day began.  His rimless glasses were perched on the edge of his nose and his pudgy fingers were crossed over his round belly.  “He was a brave man, a cunning warrior, a wise king.  But like every mortal, he was afraid to die.  One day, he asked God to tell him the day of his death.  God told David that this knowledge was forbidden to humans.  But when David pressed God, and asked Him at least to reveal the day of the week, God told David that he would die on the Sabbath.  So every Sabbath afterward King David studied the Torah nonstop, because he knew that the Angel of Death could not take the soul of a person while he was studying the Torah.

“Well, during Sabbath on which David was ordained to die, the Angel of Death came down to take David’s soul.  But the king was so immersed in the study of the Torah that the Angel of Death could not approach him.  So the Angel of Death went outside to the grove of trees outside David’s window and to distract him, he violently shook the trees as if a great storm was brewing.  
“David saw the terrible movement and went out to investigate.  But the Angel of Death still could not approach him, for in his mind he continued to study the Torah.  So the Angel of Death shook the crown of one tree with particular violence and the King climbed up a ladder to see what was the matter --- but all the time, he was engrossed in the study.  Then the Angel of Death played a trick.  He weakened the highest rung of the ladder, and when David stepped on it, he fell to the ground.  He was so stunned by the fall that he forgot the Torah and sat with his mouth open in wonder.  In the end, children, the Angel of Death stands over each us with a sword dripping with poison.  When David stopped his study and opened his mouth, the Angel of Death allowed the drop to fall into the King’s mouth.  And in this way, he took King David’s soul.”     
The class was silent, unsure what to make of this strange, beguiling story.  Rabinowitz smiled warmly.  There was a soft glimmer in his dull gray eyes.     

“What does it mean, boys and girls?  Never let down your guard, for no one knows the day of one’s death.  And as you can see in this story, even if you do, well… Now go outside and play.”

And as the years went on, his tales became even stranger.  It was as if Rabinowitz was rehearsing some role he planned to play, and these storytelling sessions with us reflected him his narrowing options --- winnowing his possibilities and honing them against an invisible whetstone.

One day in the winter, he paced about the room.   The class should have been studying history, but Rabinowitz’s mind was elsewhere.  He kept gazing out the window at the gray winter drizzle and the blowing trees, building himself up for a story.

“The tale of Adam and Eve is very familiar,” he started. “But we don’t know the whole story.  Before leaving the Garden of Eden, Eve was met by the Angel of Death.  Death approached Eve and asked if she would watch his son for a short while.  Eve agreed, but as soon as Death left, the boy began to scream. 

“Well, Adam came to Eve and the boy, and insisted that the boy stop crying.  But the more Adam complained, the more the boy cried.  Adam grew angry, grabbed the boy, and struck him dead.  But even dead, the boy continued to scream.  Adam was now worked up with irrational anger, so he chopped up the boy’s body into small pieces --- and even that did not quiet him.  Now Adam began to grow fearful, so he cooked up the pieces and he and Eve ate them.  When they had finished eating, the Angel of Death returned and asked for his son.  Both Adam and Even denied knowing his location.

“Then the voice of the child spoke from within the hearts of Adam and Eve.  It said: ‘There is nothing you can do father, so leave.  I have entered the hearts of these humans, and will remain here and with their children until the end of time.’”

Rabinowitz stopped and examined each child to see if they saw the meaning of the story.  But they were silent, for in the face of this gruesome tale of eating death, little children could have no appropriate response.  He then looked at me then, and I at him --- and I smiled at Rabinowitz, and peered into the eye of his secret.

Word of the story must have reached the school administrator, because for several weeks, Rabinowitz stuck to Hebrew and Geography.  But nothing could stop his compulsion.

“This is the last day of the year,” Rabinowitz said while standing.   He was formal like that, addressing children as if he was making a speech at a Zionist conference.  “So, I have saved a special story for you.  A story so you can remember me.... 

“Well, we all know that Moses was an obedient man of God.  But when it was his turn to die, God had difficulty collecting his soul.  He first asked the angel Gabriel to fetch it, but the angel refused.  Then he asked the angel Michael, and he too refused.  And so on; God went through all the heavenly hosts but none of the angels felt they were worthy enough to collect the soul of this holy man.  Finally, God came to the Angel of Death, who boasted that he had taken the souls of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so surely he could snatch the soul of Moses. 

“But God cautioned Death.  He told him, if you take his soul through his face, you will fail, because you cannot look upon his face any more than you can look upon my face.  If you take it from his hands, you will fail, because those hands held the Torah.  If you take it through his feet you will fail, for those feet have walked the paths of the World to Come.

“The Angel of Death told God that he would find a way, and went to find Moses, who was sitting writing the name of God.   Death took out his sword to frighten Moses, and so by fear take his soul.  But when Moses saw Death flying toward him, he looked him in the eye, and Death went blind.  He fell and cried out in pain.  Moses admonished him to leave or he would cut off his head.   Death pleaded with Moses, telling him that God had mandated that he take his soul.  Moses refused, and the Angel of Death went back to God in terror.  God was angry with Death for not fetching the soul of Moses.  Death tried to plead with God, proclaiming Moses too strong.  But God restored Death’s eyesight and commanded him to return and try again. 

“The Angel of Death grew angry, and again rushed at Moses with his sword.  But Moses had a staff engraved with God’s name, and he tripped Death and was about to kill him, when God spoke to Moses: ‘Do not kill Death,’ God said.  ‘The world still needs his services.’

“Then God continued, asking Moses why he struggled when his death was at hand. Moses told God that he did not want his soul to be handed to just anyone, and asked that God Himself take his soul.  So God agreed.  He came to the earth and laid Moses on a bed.  Then God spoke to the soul of Moses and told her that the years allotted to this body were over.  But the soul of Moses pleaded with God.  She had grown to love this man, and would not leave.  So God promised her a place beneath his throne.  But his soul continued to quibble.  When Moses realized that his soul was arguing with God, he asked her to leave with the Almighty, and his soul obeyed.  Then God bent down and kissed Moses on the mouth and inhaled the breath of life from him, and he died.”

That was the last day of school, and no one for long remembered Rabinowitz’ s strange story of an angry Moses who made the angels weak and nearly killed Death.  The children had other concerns.  For children, death is a remote rumor.  The idea is such a shadow entity that I often watch them play dead, laying their bodies out on the ground as if they had given up their souls.  You won’t see the old performing this mock ritual.  For them, death is as real as the next breath they take, or do not take; it is as accessible as their own thoughts and fears.

I departed from the school and from Rabinowitz and his stories, and moved on to other tasks.  But I kept Rabinowitz in my thoughts, of course, for I knew the secret course he had set himself upon.  Years passed, perhaps decades (for when one is busy, the years blur into one monochrome trail of things taken away never to return). 

Then one day I received word that it was Rabinowitz’s turn.  And I found him shut into an apartment in Jerusalem, alone among a mountain of religious books,  a stand of old eucalyptus trees swaying in the wind outside.  His beard was long, and he wore a skull cap.  He had grown observant, and his lips were constantly moving. 

“Do you remember me, Mr. Rabinowitz?” I asked as I stood across from him.  He looked at me wearily.  He was mumbling.  I knew that he was studying the Torah in his mind.

“You can speak to me, Mr. Rabinowitz.  I’ve never forgotten you and your stories about the Angel of Death.  But there are some things I can’t understand.  Maybe you can help me?  If King David was so carefully studying the Torah on the Sabbath, how did he let himself be distracted by a little wind in the trees?  The Sabbath was the day of his ordained death.  God told him so.  Why was he not more careful?  

“And when Adam and Eve ate the son of Death, and thereby brought death into the world, was that before or after they ate of the fruit of good and evil?  If before, then eating the fruit was pointless.  If after, then eating Death’s son was useless, for according to the Torah, death was already in the world. 

“And the story of Moses: here is God’s great prophet acting like a petulant boy, refusing to be taken to death by anyone but God.  When did this take place?  Hadn’t his rebellion with the rock already been punished by God?  And then he was even more rebellious, refusing to die!  Would God really put up with that?  I tell you, Rabinowitz, your stories are grist for the mill.  Is any of it possible?  And even if so, and a man or woman can forestall death, then else can people do?  If someone has that power, then he should die.  Otherwise, he will truly become like God.  The exercise of this power is the very reason it must be crushed.”

“You try to distract me,” Rabinowitz finally said.  “But you won’t.  My life is dedicated to the Torah.  I study even in my dreams.”

He was swaying over a page of Mishnah, mumbling the words.  He did not look at me.  Holiness seeped through his pores; it was as if the holes in his skin, the channels in his body, his nose, his eyes, the portals of his ears, were overflowing with divine effulgence.   And it was a beautiful thing to behold.  It was a rare, lovely sight!  Not every day does one sees such devotion that everything falls away and is opened, revealing a great jewel hidden out in the open.  I knew that Rabinowitz had penetrated profound mysteries. 

So I sat and watched the spectacle of a man living past his term of life.  His body was worn out --- a mere heap of bones, loose gray skin, and dull, faint eyes.  But the spark of his soul shown bright.  I could see no flaw in the flow of his actions.  His devotion was as seamless and strong as a great and mighty river streaming down to a glistening sea.

I waited for Rabinowitz.  After all, how long did he expect to continue?  No matter how real his devotion and love of God, his real impulse was the fear of death.  And he was human, and therefore not without flaw. I waited for Rabinowitz to snooze, to cough, or to flick his eyes.  But his concentration was cut from one piece of sturdy cloth.  I looked at my watch; I had people to see, and I couldn’t wait for an old man to shirk out of his mortal duty.

So I left for a day, and returned the next.  I found Rabinowtiz still studying, as if he had not moved.   So I left once again, and once more returned.  This time he was not at his desk.  Outside the window, the old eucalyptus trees were dangling like flags on a windless day.  Rabinowitz was sitting in a chair.  His face was slack, but his mind clung to the thread of the Torah, and I did not have the will to rouse him.  So I left once more, knowing that when I came back, I would have to confront him about his delusion.  But for now, I had lost my heart.  Rabinowitz had taken it and held it hostage and bound it with the cords of Torah.  And for this I loved him.