Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In Memory of the Kedoshim

Wearily trod up heaven's slope,
fatigued, in pain, forlorn
awaiting freedom desperately
that soon it might be born.

Prayerful hopes shoes be found
for souls bereft and torn,
a moment to rest, a breath to breathe
for spirits dulled and worn.

A moment's time in dark travail
mockingly Goliathan was the fight,
that even David who had stood so well
soon stumbled in the night.

Why was there no known way
to bring them back home?
O'er hills and fields whence they came
while dreaming did thus roam.

Marched back and forth thin and wane
their figures stooped and grey,
next day ere long gathered clouds again
for fewer who remain.

Should there not have been
the one for whom faith
steadfast but rare,
that his would be enobled by Thee
to seek his just and fair?

Who glimpsed the light but touched it not
whose spark had become so dim,
for them we say such a day,
Never Again! Never Again!

Bowed under lash by day,
by night a storm did rage
Ha Shem might have shown
a war He would have waged.

Still in death's kingdom reigned
a way, a light, a day,
when dawn rising would eyes see
of whom did faith sustain.

Aside bodies on planks they lie
whose heat what little remain,
dreaded welcome soon might bring
next to whom they had just lain.

The world we choose can point the way
down paths long sought by peace,
in whose gardens we plant the seeds
lest memories tragically cease.

Alan D. Busch

copyright 2007

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dear Readers and for Ashleen in particular,

Thank you in advance for your time. In these times, given the atrocity at Virginia Tech, much piffle has again been circulating about what its proponents regard as this nation's panacea. If only it could be legislated past the opposition of the Second Amendment's most intrepid adherents. Yes, I am talking about "gun control"-a much tauted solution, great and promissory, that only the criminals will be able to effectively negate it. It would in all likelihood disarm law-abiding citizens as they are not likely to break the law even if they disagree with one of its mandates. Criminals, however, have no such civic compunction. I guess the most reassuring thing about "gun control" is that it would be about as effective as this nation's "War on Poverty" and its cousin the "War on Drugs".

During the Shoah, if only the nazi murderers would have lain their guns down! Wouldn't that have been grand?! Oh, by the way, hitler was a "gun control" proponent too who effectively disarmed the whole of German civil society. But arm the politicized criminals, his most ardent followers, now that he did all too well.

A reminder or revelation (whichever better applies) to those cretins who wonder why it was that the Jews did not "fight back", I'll point out three relevant facts: 1) when asked politely the nazis simply would not give up their machine guns, Luger pistols and Mauser rifles. They just wouldn't! Go figure. 2) It is very difficult for unarmed civilians who have been systematically terrorized to fight organized bands of trained killers. 3) When they managed to arm themselves with a few pistols and molotov cocktails, the Jews-as those in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising-ably demonstrated-and like their forebearers- the Jews of the Hanukkah "al ha nissim" (see any orthodox siddur) they were more than able to redeem their much maligned and misrepresented honor.

I dedicate the following verses to Professor Liviu Librescu, Z'L who chose to die that his students might live.

Remember this tale about which you'll hear
of those fighting Jews who fell without fear,
who chose to die as men rather than cattle,
but fate had determined they first do battle
with the Hun at whom they did courageously fling
all of the might of young David's sling.

Their foe, a Goliath, of a thousand times size
from whom they refused to submit to the lies:
that they were weak and unworthy, unable to rise,
though blinded by hate, they aimed straight for his eyes.
Never before had there been seen such daring
from young women and men all of whom caring
for the dignity of those for whom they fought,
such were the lessons that history had taught
that the Jew stood alone, friendless against foe,
counting his days, tormented by woe.
His task to prove that though troubled by pain,
the odds at Masada had not been in vain.
For three months, the struggle did not cease,
neither side desiring peace.
For that meant 'surrender', an unthinkable word,
from the sewers of Warsaw could there still be heard:
the cries, the anguish, the torture within
ferreting out captives the Nazis whose grin
was evidence they had acted with glee
when stifling the attempt of people to be free.

Cords of log bodies, stacked just the same,
secular and religious none to blame.
For there was NO difference before the Hun,
the Jews for him were decidedly ONE!
whether armed or with prayer,
they met their end,
futile struggle, Kiddush HaShem.

Our duty to those whose fate we survived
is working to keep their memory alive.
I ask ...
Why a people whose destiny has been
to enlighten a world through darkness and din,
whose lives are as many as they have been few,
why so despised has been the Jew?
For what 'good' reason is he chosen to die?
Why gone unnoticed the tear in his eye?
Has he not suffered so while the world stands by,
Why have we not ever heeded his cry?
Is there really a difference that makes him seem strange,
as if the same blood did not course through his veins?
Does he not laugh, cry, and feel just as you?
How such a threat when he numbers so few?
Threatened with death should he adhere to his ways,
terrorized by chimneys above which rose haze,
searchingly hopeful ... in whose starry gaze
reflected faggots whose fires roar ablaze.

Why did none act to stop it once known?
Enough indifference haven't we sown?
Praying to the heavens as they did every day,
that soon they'd see planes flying their way,
so bombardment, please god, might take them
ere the chambers would
but, the Allies, one and all, denied they could
destroy the rails leading straight into Hell,
from which precious few reemerged to tell
of the horrors awaiting them, so hard to believe,
that neither kindness nor life did the arrivals receive.

The children, too, thrust into the pit,
enraged blood lust, its infernal fit
that even the babes whose potential so great
should have felt the steel of this magnificent hate.
Whose cries were heard, but listened to none,
whose heads fell limp with the snap of a gun.
Whose parents, God forbid! They saw as naked as they,
for it was like this they suffered that day.

There are those who challenge what we have to say,
"Does such a retelling remains relevent today?"
"That, somehow, It's past, gone. Let it be!"
"Why do you make us suffer to see:
the killings, the children, the mountains of bone,
the chambers transformed so many to stone!
Who dropped like logs when the doors thrown wide,
there simply had been no place to hide.
Mothers whose skirts offered refuge at least
little ones uncovered thrown to the beast.
"Of what use" it was queried, "could they possibly be
in a stench wherein no one was happy or free?"
Ne'er a glimmer of hope would the murderers give
to those whose sole wish was only to live.
Mothers from children, families asunder,
might others have withstood this fury and thunder?
Slave labor was needed to further the cause,
to build V-2 rockets, to sharpen the claws.
For such, 'noble' men, doctors by fame
were employed to brutalize, murder and maim.
So that science could learn when life was so cheap,
discarded mankind onto the heap.
Great governments had met in order to be
as pious as possible, but deaf to the plea
of the wandering Jew whose torment to see
how unwelcome he was in the Land of the Free.
The ship onto which so many had stormed
could not find refuge for opinion had formed
that the Jew was expendable, a nuisance, a thorn
upon whom fate abandoned its contemptuous scorn.

They made it to America these tired and poor
to discover Liberty's spark shone little more
that, for them, there was not room enough to remain,
what hopes they had cherished were all now in vain!
Dejectedly they limped back to the place
which had expelled them at first for the same lack of space.
Stripped naked and paraded for the world to see,
what sickness had afflicted modern Germany?
Once active and vigorous this citizenry
now wandering about quite aimlessly.
It didn't take the nazis long to see
the world could care less for these Jews to be free.
A 'final solution' would quicken the pace
guarenteed mastery to the Aryan race.
No longer at issue either sufferance or claim,
onto Jewry was placed the burden and blame.

To repair the world, there first must needs be
a point at which we accept responsibility
for right against wrong, fiction from fact,
a basis upon which we can responsibly act.
But why even bother, so distant from then,
what more do we gain, what message we send?
For the sake of' the children, if not then our own

Alan D. Busch
copyright 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

Elu devarim … ulvayas ha mes[1]

When a Jew dies, it is a genuine kindness to assist in his burial-the last act of decency anyone of us can do. He can be the simplest of Jews, an ordinary man and maybe not the most outwardly pious, but who among us can peer into the heart of man, of this man, of any man?

When a Jew dies, we have an opportunity to do for him that which we would want others to do for us when our last day comes. When we examine his deeds, we are sure to find that he did many kindnesses in his day: perhaps he was known for his kind words, his volunteer work at the hospital … how many patients might he have helped to feel better by a smile or a few kind words of encouragement? Or perhaps he was a habitual minyon man, the much sought after tsenter?[2]

We gather at the graveside to say Kaddish[3] for this Jew just as he enabled others before him to do the same. We say tehilim[4] so that his soul ascends and from which we too are invariably reminded that his life, our lives are as blades of grass, fragile and fleeting.

We escort him to his final resting place. His passing brings forth His abundant mercy. Friends and family gather in an act of remembrance, putting any and all controversy aside while focusing on the positive. Is there a Jew about whom there cannot be remembered any good?

Yes, I suppose it would be better if we gathered only for smachot[5], that a bris[6] is much preferable to a burial, but we must tend to life at both ends.

The other day, a long-time friend of my shul passed away. He had been very sickly for quite a while, and his physical condition was worsened by a variety of family problems. There was some reasonable concern that, given the horendous weather of the morning, there might not be a minyan at the graveside service. Thankfully, as it happened, there was, but he seemed to be a marginalized individual about whom there could be some reasonable doubt.

I joined with several members of our shul to attend the funeral and make the minyon should that have become necessary. I had the time, I was available, but well beyond these simple facts, I very much believe in the obligatory nature of Jewish burial as a chesed shel emes[7]-that no Jew should suffer the tragedy of dying alone, as Rabbi Louis says, or the indignity of one's body being treated shabbily in death.

We arrived at the graveside. A moderate gathering of thirty mourners assembled though it was very apparent that well over half had left after the chapel service ended.

It was an inclement day. A tent over the grave site had been erected as the weather was a slushy mixture of rain and snow. Together with Rabbi Louis, his sons, and two other men-one of whom was a good friend of the deceased-we stood at the back of the tent while the family and close friends gathered closer to the edge to witness the lowering of the casket.

Something though did not seem right. Turning to Rabbi Louis, I wondered:

“Rabbi, where is the dirt?”

Typically the mound of dirt sits atop a few sheets of plywood close to the edge of the grave but on the opposite side from where the mourners are seated.

“I don’t know,” he responded looking somewhat perplexed.

He looked about in and out of the tent but couldn’t spot it. Though the several rows of mourners obscured our view we were reasonably certain the dirt, wherever it might be, was not inside the tent.

When the sarcophagus was secured, the funeral director invited the mourners, should they wish to participate, to sprinkle a few particles of earth from the Holy Land into the grave.

As I suspected, there was not to be a full closure of the grave by the mourners as is customary. In its place, there were two buckets of sand with hand garden shovels thrust inside. Before their final goodbyes, some mourners took hold of the hand shovel, thrust it into the bucket and tossed the sand atop the aron. At the very most, this act though well-intended, seemed a pitiably weak gesture of kindness. When the last mourner finished, the funeral director, having already informed the mourners about the time and place of shiva[8], directed folks back to their cars.

Rabbi Louis approached him.

“Would you mind if we filled the grave? He was a friend of ours,” intoned Rabbi Louis who, when a situation required diplomacy, was quite the diplomat.

“No. Fine. Please,” blurted out the young funeral director who, it seemed, hid rather well the tiniest bit of embarrassment that he should have taken care of this matter with the family of the deceased.

Now came the hard part. How to fill the grave when there was no mound of dirt! We hadn’t noticed, but there it sat heaped into the back of a cemetery flat truck about thirty feet from the tent. The flatbed, attached to a tractor shovel, inched the mound toward the grave and dropped its load. Grabbing five shovels, one for each of us, we began the chesed[9] we felt we owed the departed.

All in all, it took us about twenty minutes. It just feels so right, an easy choice to make when you consider the alternative of having the heap dumped ignominiously onto the aron from the flatbed.

It happens all too often.

Why do we walk away from the grave? A loved one lies therein. The damp, dark finality of burial … it is a difficult reality, isn’t it? For the mes[10], no longer an issue of his pain, his suffering, it becomes rather one of our anguish.

Would it be better if we left the closure of the grave to the cemetery workers? Like the old saying: “Out of sight. Out of mind!” Is it somehow better, perhaps less painful if mourners leave after the casket has been lowered and allow the balance of the open grave to be filled in from the back of the cemetery truck as if pouring a concrete foundation. It’s no wonder so many mourners leave before the grave is filled? Who could bare to witness such an indignity?

What more can we do? What one last gesture can we make that says: “Thank you” or “We love you”? How does one extend a hand to another who cannot reciprocate? How do we hug him who cannot hug us back?

The answer is we blanket him with earth until the void is filled to the top. And who better to do this than those who knew and loved him? The effect of that act benefits us too. We experience genuine closure , I think, when we assist in closing the grave. It isn’t enough to sprinkle a few specks of soil from the Holy Land or toss in a few handfuls of sand from a bucket.

Let all Jewish mourners stay and witness the process whereby the work of refilling the grave becomes a mitzvah[11] infused with loving-kindness.

After all, is not the mes[12] owed at least that much?

Alan D. Busch
Copyright @2007

[1] Taken from the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book: “These are the precepts … escorting the dead.”
[2] Yiddish: the tenth man to make a minyan, a prayer quorem.
[3] Prayer reaffirming life
[4] Psalms of King David
[5] Hebrew: joyous occasions
[6] Hebrew: covenant. Ritual circumcision performed on the eighth day.
[7] An act of true kindness
[8] the first seven days of mourning
[9] An act of kindness
[10] The deceased.
[11] Yiddish: a good deed. Hebrew: commandment
[12] the deceased

Thursday, April 12, 2007

(Revised 4/11/07)
“Musings From Down the Road by a Bereaved Father”

“Why the Death of a Child?”
How should we respond when all we have is the language of poetry and prose?
Our memory’s perspective narrows as the years pass.
Awaiting us is a grave danger …
We each grieve differently when a child dies. Citing this truism to a recently bereaved mother, she responded to me angrily as if to ask:

“Is that the very best you can do?” Now I wish to disclaim any professional expertise in matters of death, dying or grief management. On the contrary, together with other bereaved parents, the only common relevant credential is membership in the club to which nobody wishes to belong. I became bereaved on Wednesday, November 22, 2000 when my son Ben died.
It is a wonder how well most parents hold up in the aftermath of their tragedies and successfully recast their lives into stronger, more productive and creative shapes. By infusing universal pathos into love and loss, we glean meaning from our children’s shortened lives, allowing us to discover insights like never before while healing ourselves.Yet, despite all we did, our unconditional love, our willing sacrifices, we could not save their lives.

Though we must return their bodies to the dust, we vow to sustain the lives of their spirits, of their souls if you like. It’s somehow right and fair, isn’t it? And it is for this reason and none other that we build shrines to their memories.
I wonder if I will glimpse Ben’s countenance after the passage of 2,190 days?

Why do we affix a memorial leaf to a “Tree of Life?" Though the leaf serves as a poignant reminder of the end of Ben’s life, its purpose is to remind us to celebrate the time of his life-no matter that it ended prematurely, abruptly and painfully.
Eternally optimistic, even at the darkest moments, we say … “L’Chaim!” each time we lift a glass together whether in remembrance or celebration.

Jewish custom holds that a mourner recite the Mourner’s Kaddish” when, at and following the burial of his loved one, he is most vulnerable at a time when the immediacy of death may lead him to choose apostasy as an understandable but ultimately misguided approach to grief.

Neither a lamentation nor a dirge, the Mourner’s Kaddish is a reaffirmation of life and makes no mention of death whatsoever. Still the very worst part remains the attending paramedic’s deposition that Ben was both conscious and able to speak for a brief while before finally and permanently losing consciousness, and that he understood what had happened, while he suffered horrendous pain and bespoke his fear that he was dying.

As Ben’s dad, the certain knowledge that my son’s last waking moments were consumed by such trauma and fear leaves me cold and quiet, my thoughts inchoate. As a Jew, I am thankful my faith is one of eternal optimism and which teaches us that life is inherently miraculous and therefore holy. We serve as guardians of its sanctity. This belief sustains me when all that tangibly remains are a white shirt, suit, some old boots, a bicycle in need of repair and the unexpected discovery of his boyish signature while turning the page of a scrapbook.

The absolute enormity of a child’s death leaves one feeling so insignificant, so powerlessly tiny. To have to navigate these treacherous waters daily is no simple task as we are invariably reminded of how vast is God’s ocean while we remain adrift in such a small boat! The only antidote to the pain of our loss is the tenacity with which we remember our children. It is incumbent upon us that we simply refuse to allow their memories to die. Though their bodies are gone, their physicality ended, our linkage to them becomes one of remembrance, of dedication and rededication-all of which remind us of how fortunate we were to have enjoyed our time with them for as long as we did.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

These Are the Lives that Have Touched Mine...

Isser ben Avrum, Z’L, was a gibor, a lion of a man though small of stature and slight of frame.

I met Mr. Parker in his second lifetime.

He became my first formative teacher in the ways of Yiddishkeit. At the time, I was around forty years old and, Mr. Parker, my teacher in his late seventies or early eighties. For reasons I really do not know, he took me under his wing and taught me the basics of siddur, tallis and t’philin.

"ukshartam l'os al yadecha v'hayu letotafos bane einecha.” (wear the phylacteries as a sign on your hand and for frontlets between your eyes)

Thus reads the leaf I dedicated to his memory on the Etz Chaim in my synagogue.

Isser ben Avrum, who had been trained as a pharmacist in Poland in the years pre-dating WW2, was not, I suppose, an untypical Jew of his day-not a yeshiva bocher by education, no great chochem of Gemara-but as a boy had gone to cheder and graduated a mensch.

A prototype of chesed and menshlichkeit, there were few in number who did not like him, many who loved him, but most indisputably of all, there was no one who did not respect him.

He carried moral weight and was the living proof of the ageless truism that a new pharaoh arises in each generation to destroy us.

How does one dispute such a man or turn away from his invitation to impart something from the old world, of which he had been part in a previous lifetime?

Like others of his generation, his life as a Polish Jew changed irreverseably when-in the weeks following the first day of September 1939-the Polish cavalry, as gallant as I am sure it was, proved no match for the German blitzkrieg!

Mr. Parker immigrated to America after the Second World War in the early 1950s. Although he survived Mauthausen, his wife and children did not, but a handful of souls among the incalculable kedoshim.

Beginning his life anew once resettled in America, Mr. Parker remarried and raised a second family.


It was just before Shabbes mincha.

Mr. Parker and I were downstairs in the shul kitchen preparing shalosh seudos. I had begun to feel close to him by then.

He would have the answer. I felt reassured about that.

We chatted while preparing the several plates of tuna fish, left over cake and other assorted left-overs and fishballs. The occasional use of that blasted industrial-sized hand crank can opener, bolted to the counter, and the barely tolerable untidiness made working in that kitchen challenging at times.

It was as good a time as any, I reasoned, to seek out his sympathetic ear.

I told him a summary version of the whole story. I figured he could fill in the rest. Lending a polite ear for several minutes, he sho back without any equivocation: "Go home to your wife!" in thickly-accented "yinglish" which reminded me of Myron Cohen. Hecould not have said it more plainly. I should have deferred to the advice of an older man. Guess I had been hoping for a different opinion.

I did not acknowledge her growing exasperation. I balked at the patently obvious truth. They were no empty threats to file for divorce. Her feelings had was only a matter of time before she became desensitized, her feelings hardened into an irreversable resentment.

She wondered aloud pleadingly: “Why … tell me why are you doing this?" I recall that clearly.

“So I’ll have something to do when I’m an old man,” I responded, having Mr. Parker in mind.

Later, when I reminded her, she could not recall my having said that.

A tougher yet gentler soul I had never met at whose strength and sheer grit I marveled. Assisted by the One Above whose ways-though mostly unfathomable-are sometimes clearly manifest in certain individuals such as Mr. Parker.

Otherwise, the amazing stories of seemingly ordinary people like Isser ben Avrum-whose perilous survival and reincarnation should leave us dumbstruck-would be utterly inexplicable unless reliance on "blind luck" appeals to your sense of inquiry.

How often do we think about where the other person was just yesterday? What may have happened, what amalgam of forces, circumstances combined to bring that person into our lives today and tomorrow?


My family and I were in St. Louis for the bar mitzvah of my cousin’s son Jeffrey, the grandson of my Aunt Iris and Uncle Marvin. Taking place at the same shul I had attended as a boy when my brother and I expressed great unhappiness after our mother had enrolled us in an orthodox school, the Epstein Hebrew Academy, my mother, at Uncle Marvin’s urging, transferred us to his shul, Anshes Sholem Knesses Israel, where I attended its religious school for several years.

I recall with fondness Rabbi Benzion Skoff, the first rabbi I ever met-a short, stocky man whose physical shape always reminded me of a boulder and whose voice was as startlingly powerful as a thunder clap that awakens you on those stormy, sultry summer nights.

We arrived at the shul that morning about thirty minutes before the start of Shabbat morning services. It was nice returning to this place of which I had such fond memories of religious school and Rabbi Benzion ‘the boulder’ Skoff who, as it happened, was there that morning. Amazingly he had not changed at all, the same tzur gadol of a man whose thundering voice was tempered by his pleasant and sweet tone when you had his attention one on one, but get him angry and look out!

One morning, many years before, he became angry with us kids and I tell you, the roof beams quaked. Whatever I may have learned that day in class, I frankly do not recall but indelibly engraved in my memory was the wisdom of not angering Rabbi Skoff!

My cousin Jeffrey did incredibly well. I was even honored with hagbah but the highlight of the morning was his ending brachot over the haftorah when his voice reached a high melodic pitch " ... mekadesh ha Shabbat."

It seemed so perfectly executed that everyone was b’simcha upon hearing his final boyishly sweet note. It was the last taste of the morning that endured throughout the day-not unlike the matzah of the afikomen which, when eaten, should endure as the last taste of the meal.

Looking back, it was as if the combination of heavenly forces, Jeffrey’s bar mitzvah and the melodic and
sweet chazzanus of the cantor’s tenor were converging to steer me along a particular path.

If yiddishkeit were a train, it was speeding right past me lest I fail to leap aboard, grabbing hold of the caboose. I resolved to find a like shul back home where the sounds would be the same as those I had heard that Shabbat morning.


I walked into B’nai Emunah, Mr. Parker’s shul, for the first time after we returned home from St. Louis.

As a newcomer, I attracted the attention of several members of the minyan, as did every new face-but especially starved for youth as the minyan was. I bought a membership and stayed two pleasant and invaluble years.

The first contact was with Harold Stern. We chatted for a few minutes before I mentioned I had attended Rabbi Skoff’s school in St Louis. I had a feeling he’d know Rabbi Skoff, a prominent member of the conservative rabbinate.

As it happened, he did.

What a relief! To have made a connection with no one less than the Rabbi Emeritus of the synagogue!

I sat in the back row inconspicuously for as long as I could, but I soon realized anonymity was not only impossible but ill-advised for someone who had come to learn.

Other than the few shelves containing finger-worn siddurim and chumashim, there were no other books in the chapel. It was not a beis medrash, but a simple cozy room adjacent to the rabbi’s office.

We sat on benches rather than individual seats. Near the stained glass but facing the benches was a reading table for the Torah services and which served as an omed for the ba’al t’filos. The aron kodesh was plainly-fashioned and set into the northeast corner of the chapel housing one Sefer Torah.

We had no mechitzah though moot ordinarily because few women came to services. It was a warm, cozy place wherein I made many new friends-most of whom were old enough to be my grandfather.

That was its selling point. I had always related easily to older folks from whom I recognized there was so much to learn.

Without sounding boastful, I had derech eretz toward elderly folk well before I even knew what it meant. It just seemed to come naturally to me.

A tiny group, the minyan was comprised mostly of elderly “minyonaires” several of whom were Holocaust survivors. The three services were held daily in this small chapel separate from the main sanctuary. As closely-knit as were its friendships, the minyan offered me the haimish learning environment I sought that helped me along the path to a higher level of observance. I knew I could not have gotten that from the culture of the main sanctuary.

Were you fortunate enough to spend some great times in your childhood with your grandpa? Well, this is what this minyan meant to me, an opportunity to learn the basics from ten “grandpas” at once! The minhag of the chapel minyan tended away from conservative practice but was still quite distant from orthodox rite although many of its regulars had grown up in orthodox homes.

Though we did have to make calls sometimes when short a man or two, helping out on the phones afforded me the opportunity to earn my stripes from Mr. Parker. “Making a minyan” was a necessity every day. It was that simple.

I gravitated toward Mr. Parker.

He took a liking to me. Perhaps he saw in me a fledgling having fallen from the nest or I may have reminded him of someone he had lost in his first life. Frankly, I do not know, but I remain grateful to this man and his memory.

He bore an uncanny resemblance to my maternal grandfather, Harry Austin, a man I dearly loved but who had left my grandmother to raise my mom and Aunt Iris by herself. Aunt Iris never forgave him whereas my mom did to a certain extent.

I loved him in part because I felt bad for him. He had made it very hard on my grandma, aunt and mom in their earlier years, but he was always good to me as well as to his other grandsons. I know he sensed that I loved him. Of his five grandsons, he bequeathed his diamond ring to me.


My friendship with Mr. Parker may have seemed odd to some, I suppose. I brought him home one afternoon to meet my family with such great excitement it was as if I were bringing home a new school chum.

While sipping tea in the kitchen, I showed him a photo of my grandpa Austin whose uncanny resemblance to himself stunned him.

Like my grandfather, Mr. Parker placed a sugar cube or two, which I happened to have in the pantry that afternoon, in his mouth between his lower lip and gum where it functioned as a filter through which the tea passed on its way down. I was more than amused by this custom because I knew it represented nothing less than a sweet fragment of an old world, that of our grandfathers and grandmothers.

As the gabbai of the traditional minyon, it was he who chose the baal t’filos for which ever service it was at the time. If he gave you the nod, off you went to the omed. There was no second guessing or arguing with Mr. Parker.

He spoke with authority.

We speak of the school of hard knocks. Mr. Parker not only attended and graduated but survived to tell about it. An elderly man when we became friends, his posture was bent over more than what seemed typical even for a man his age due to the beatings he suffered at the hands of the thugs at Mauthausen during the war. His broken nose, apparently never reset properly, became permanently misshapen by the same perpetrators. The tip of his nose was out of alignment with its bridge somewhat. His left eye appeared as if he were looking at someone else when, in fact, he was looking at you-a condition which made it necessary to focus on his straight eye.

A broken man?

By no means.

The gentlest lion you would ever enjoy the privilege of knowing.

Isser ben Avrum, Z'L passed away on the eve of Rosh Ha Shanah, 2000.