Sruli’s Father passed away a couple of weeks ago and he didn’t want a shiva. He felt bad asking everyone to come and sit with him, trying to make small talk, trying to make him feel less sad.
I told him that I would add a no-obligation clause to the emails I sent out. He was still not convinced and still resisted. Strongly.
Wisely, Ilana wanted a shiva, so a shiva we had.
It wasn’t the most orthodox of memorials but it was wonderful. Lots of friends came. Lots of congregants from his shul where he is the High Holiday Cantor and Substitute Rabbi. A few from his “old” neighborhood, complete with black hats, wives with sheitels, and mumble-y cadences.
There was lots of cake.
I think it was healing but what do I know? Sruli is an inscrutable guy. He has a lingering love/hate with organized religion yet is seriously spiritual.
You should hear his sermons. Especially the one about God, the people of Israel and the Sabbath Queen. I bet in the history of sermons no Rabbi has ever said “ménage a trois” from the pulpit.
Once he told how his friends used to pass the ridiculously long hours in shul by playing the Chumash Game. You opened the book at a random page and tallied up the special notations. A rare cantillation mark was worth a certain amount. A large upside down letter Nun was worth a fortune ‘cos there were only two in the whole Torah and they appeared around only one verse.
Apparently his little friend Eliezer had a photographic memory and was unbeatable at the the bonus round of the Chumash Game. That’s when you declared a number of pages you would count from the originally opened page—counted and turned to that new page-- and took those points too. The kid had memorized the entire 5 books of Moses as well as that particular publisher’s pagination. Unbeatable. As Sruli told this story his congregation was howling with laughter. Of course right in that week’s parsha were the upside down Nuns.
It’s hard to run from all the stuff that’s inside you. Religion for him was endless—interminable days at shul, constant rules governing food, time, clothing, association, and thought.
A ménage of obligation, restriction, and boredom.
So he has plucked what is precious to him about religion—the kinder philosophies, the happier practices, and of course the magical mystical nigunim, the music-- and shoved them into his life.
The other day I was pushing the 3-year-old twins on the swings, practicing the Ma Nishtana (we will see how they do tonight!) —and, as the commandment commands, recounting the story of Passover, complete with musical interludes: “No no no, I will not let them go!” By the time I got to “Frogs here, Frogs there, Frogs just jumping everywhere” I was afraid Sruli would be annoyed that I was filling their head with narishkeit—myths, silliness. Charlie Re was enthralled. Tell it AGAIN Mommy!!!
I got home and told him, gingerly, that the kids loved the story of Passover.
Oh, he said. You must have told it better than I did. They didn’t like it so much last week.
Oy, do I love him. I don’t understand him, but I love him.
Maybe this is my shiva. Rest in peace, kind, and wonderful, Yosef Dresdner, HaCohen. I will take care of your son.