Monday, August 27, 2007
I type this post no more than fifty feet from where I dropped Ben off to catch the train the morning of November 22, 2000. The old train station is now a bustling Starbucks where Kallah and I hang out, and the entrance way to the train has moved immediately southwest about one hundred yards up.
I'm presently working on two projects: 1) a compilation of essays about the mere handful of folks who have left a deep and indelible impression on me. 2) the other is a collection of ramblings of a man stricken with early onset Parkinson's Disease which-as the kids these days say: "SUX!"
As the Days of Awe approach, I invariably find myself making cheshbonos in the hopes that after fifty three years, my most nagging preoccupaton is whether or not I merit to be called a "decent human being."
Toward that hope, I submit the following Chapter from In Memory of Ben, revised.
“ … in the draft of God’s exhalation …”
It’s almost invariable that melancholia overtakes
me whenever I am there. I don’t think it debilitating, short-
lived as each instance is, but it remains a constant in the
equation of my grief.
Yet, I know this is where a grieving Jew should be
because it is a "makom kodesh," a holy place, wherein I feel the
presence of my son Ben in its most intense manifestation.
I’ll even venture a remark that may seem odd to some. As
strong a pull as it is to stand before Ben’s grave, I struggle to
sense his presence. Oh yes. I know his body is beneath my
feet, but that’s just it. Ben’s body remains, but his neshuma,
his soul, is elsewhere Where it is, well … that’s anyone’s
guess; it’s in the Olam Haba, floating-as it were-like a feather
caught up in the draft of God’s exhalation-or somewhere in
shamayim waiting for another aliyah that’ll bring him closer to
But such is the paltriness of our conception, as if it were
possible to approach Him, The Infinite Holy One. For that
would imply physicality, finiteness of which He has none. Even
the “He of Him” implies a ring of closure around our
conception of what God is and where. You know what? Never
mind the theological gymnastics. I’m satisfied with that
explanation however much it might make me an apikoros,
just as long as Ben “returns” on a regular basis. I’ve few if
any other choices.
And return he does, a sort of tshuva in reverse in that he
returns to us from God whereas we seek, in doing tshuva, to
near Him, to approach Him. We may even cross each other’s
paths on occasion. A heavenly intersection, a cosmic
crossroads-if you will-where the souls and prayers of those
who love(d) him may barely escape collision.
I believe Ben’s soul hovers in synagogue when I am there. He spends time
with me in that way, I suppose. It is his way of making up for the time when I sit in our row by
I felt it (him) recently on Purim-a feeling unlike that of any other
experience, anywhere else, including the time I spend writing
in Ben’s room. Though I fully expect this grief, I am thankful
to take my seat in the row behind my dear friend, Rabbi Louis
and his two sons. It affords me the opportunity to look over
the mechitza to the yahrzeit panels on the south wall and
see Ben’s name, the eleventh one in the first column on the
first panel. We have a tradition in shul life that one’s seat
becomes his makom kavua. His seat is next to mine though I
should tell you Ben was not a regular shul-goer. Nobody else
sits there however, except my father on Erev Yontif Rosh
Whether it happens to be the thanksgiving of Purim, the
revelry of Simchas Torah or the trepidation of Yom Kippur,
my son remains by my side. Other fathers have their sons
sitting next to them. I miss that but I possess something they
do not-the certainty my son lived a life abundant in loving-
Time moves forward inexorably. It pauses for no one. That
Purim morning I lamented how much time has passed without
Ben. I am reminded daily his absence is forever. No matter
how many years have gone by or however many are yet to
come, Ben’s death for me will always remain in the present
tense. I will never say: “Once upon a time I had a son named
Ben.” I won't tell you I'm not glad to be alive because I know I
am a better person for having known and loved him. He taught
me so much.
Still ... know there are moments when I am filled with guilt it was he and not I.
 One who challenges tenets of religious belief.
 Repentance; atonement
 Partition in an orthodox synagogue separating women’s from men’s section.
 The anniversary of a death
 set place where one sits
 holiday celebrating the “joy of Torah”.
 Day of Atonement
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I needed some time
while she was gone before
Tortuous days, sleepless nights.
That a woman loves her husband
by reconciling her higher sense with ...
a man's baser nature.
I had to discover ...
the key to her love
was to search out her soul.
That when she loves you,
it is first with her mind and ...
only after with her body.
If and when a man
understands this ...
has he finally grown up.
Alan D. Busch
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
It is hard to believe at first-no less accept!
“How could this be happening to me?”But it was ... signs that a strange disease had not only begun to afflict me but at an uncommonly early age- having become part of who I was and how I carried myself.
We do not give much thought, if any, to how we move our bodies. It’s something we just do, but when all that begins to change, when you progressively can no longer control how you carry yourself, it begins to become an almost all-consuming preoccupation.
I was 46 years old.My friend Kathy, a nurse by training, made the first diagnosis that my internist later confirmed-manifesting “Parkinsonian symptoms,” as I saw he had scribbled on my chart. So … what were they, these signs?
My Left Hand and Arm ...
Have you ever looked carefully at how you walk? Well, if you haven’t, you really should! One characteristic of a normal gait is that your arms swing freely and involuntarily at your sides. Again, this is something we don’t notice ordinarily until it stops. Walking with Parkinson's became a conscious and often frustratingly futile effort to restore what had simply been an almost instinctual ability. Yes, of course, we learn to walk around the time we pass through the "terrible twos," but after so much time, it's something we just do like ... breathing for example.
But what do you do when your left arm not only does not swing freely but becomes “glued” to your side? Well, I tried on innumerable occasions to force it to swing by commanding it, in effect, to swing!
Have you ever seen a grown man talking to his arm?"Swing! Damn you. Swing!"
And at times it worked, but despite my best efforts, it has never returned to its earlier normalcy. My continuing efforts to remedy this were at once both futile and, I fear, farcical at best. However, had I not tried, my arm “would have done as it wanted” which it did do in any case most of the time.The practical effects of this are that it affects the rhythm of your gait; in other words, your walk becomes a limp. Additionally, self-conscious awareness and worriment about how others see you become constant concerns, I have always thought, worse than the affliction itself. When I am not walking, my arm positions itself involuntarily across my chest as if cradled by an invisible sling.
"It sux!" as the kids say these days.
As a boy, I remember having read Johnny Tremain, a revolutionary war story of a teenage apprentice silversmith who burned and disfigured his hand when a mischievous younger assistant purposely handed Johnny a cracked crucible of molten silver. Predictably, the crucible broke, spilling its infernal contents onto the furnace and floor.
As a consequence, Johnny slipped and burned his hand that became permanently disfigured after a midwife, called in to treat his injury, erred in treating it properly, fusing his thumb to the palm of his hand.
Whenever I put my left hand into my pants pocket in the hope of appearing normal, I think of Johnny Tremain who practiced the same subterfuge. It offers only temporary relief at best and truthfully does little, if anything, to restore the appearance of normalcy.
Left Hand Tremor ...
For quite a while, the problem was confined to my left hand and arm. It has gradually spread to my right hand although it remains not as badly affected as my left.One important consequence of the spread of this disability to my right hand has been its effect on my handwriting.Not that my penmanship ever won any awards for artistic calligraphy, but there is another manifestation of Parkinson's called “micrographia." What happens is that the lettering of one’s penmanship becomes very small to the extent that it is not only difficult to see, but becomes illegible as well. Parkinson’s affects many of our motor skills, especially the fine motor skills we have taken for granted since childhood.
A while back, my doctor, a noted PD specialist, asked me how I was doing to which I rather flippantly responded: “Would you like to watch me button my shirt?” Mind you, I am not in the habit of responding sarcastically to sincerely asked questions, but Parkinson's is an especially frustrating malady as you witness little things like buttoning one's shirt fall by the wayside.
Point being that though I do take medication that tends to ameliorate these symptoms, the reality is that the medications are variably effective. Also true is that when I have been late taking my prescribed dosages or that I have run out of a particular medication, the consequences are severe. All of my movements slow down as if I were suspended in slow motion. It becomes exceedingly difficult to do what otherwise are the simplest things. Under these circumstances, try taking change out of your pocket or writing a check.
I illustrated it once by telling a friend:"Put both of your hands behind your back. Now pick up that box in front of you!"
Remember the last time you felt normal? Sounds like a strange question, but it really is not! I have not felt good for six years. Yes, there have been times when I felt happy, when I was joyous, but I don't mean that. I do not think there has been a moment in these six years when I haven’t been embarrassingly aware of how misshapen my movements have become at times.
When the symptomology reaches a certain point, there is no more hiding the effects of Parkinson's. If you have ever seen your reflection in a window as you walk along the sidewalk, then you know what I mean. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that about one year ago while at work, I reexperienced the joy of normal movement. It lasted for about an hour. I do not know why it happened. Maybe the chemistry of the "meds"' came together in perfect fashion for that brief time. Whatever it was, I do know that I was smiling gleefully. It was as if some unidentifiable force had overtaken me, and oh how I welcomed it!
And there are occasions when I can swagger with the best of them! More to follow.
Re: Parkinson's Disease and Other Related Machinations
You have heard this before, I'm sure.
Probably from your mother and father. I know I did.
Remember ... ? "If you have your good health, you have everything!"
Now, if that is true, and I think it is, when you don't have your good health, well ... you may not have "nothing" right away, but you will have less than everything right from the beginning.
There is a ritual custom in Judaism on the days when the Torah is read. A member of the minyan is chosen to lift the Torah upon completion of the reading. He approaches the bimah, grasps the handles of the etz chaim around which the Parchment of the scroll is wrapped, unrolls both halves to expose as many columns as he feels comfortable supporting (it becomes more unwieldy the more columns are exposed) slides the scroll down to the edge of the reading table, and depending how experienced and bold he is and may feel, combined with the varying distribution of the two halves of the text scroll, crouches down as if he were about to perform a dead lift, then stands up straight raising the Torah over his head as high as he can, turns around so that all can see the columns of script-and upon one complete turn, sits down on a pre-prepositioned chair whereupon another person rolls the two halves of the scroll together.
That act of ritual is called "hagbahah."It requires strength, balance and poise., especially when lifting the larger, heavier sifrei Torah.There was a time when I could do that quite well-when after my divorce I worked out bicycling and lifting weights so that I was able to achieve a level of fitness unlike any I had experienced since my high school years when my brother Ron and I used to lift weights at the local JCC.
One of my favorite exercises was the fly rep.Here's how that works: one can either stretch himself backward on an exercise ball or, as I used to do, suspend myself on a chair, my heals hooked on the top edge of its back, lean back toward the floor, grasp the weights evenly spaced on either side of one's head, lifting them over the chest and repeat.
One day I heard and felt something snap in my left shoulder while doing a set of fly reps.It's never been the same.Since that time, I've lost a lot of mobility and strength in that shoulder but gained a great deal of chronic pain and so much discomfort that I became anxious about my physical ability to raise the Torah. It wasn't long before I told Rabbi Louis that I would no longer accept the honor lest I falter and drop it! It was, I determined, a weight lifting injury, I supposed at the time. It would heal, in time.What I didn't and could not have known at the time was that I had already begun to experience signs of the early onset of Parkinson's Disease.
More to follow. Stay tuned.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007
Kallah ... the bride. She's likened to the Sabbath Queen and immortalized in the Erev Shabbos hymn "Lecha Dodi".
Chossen (Chattan) ... the groom; I know it's stretching the point somewhat, so it's kind of tongue in cheek, but if you remove one of the "s" from "chossen" a word that is the "ashkenazified yiddishfied" adaptation of the Hebrew "chattan" ... what remains is the English word "chosen."
May all "banot Yisroel" regard their spouses as especially chosen for them, each and everyone!
Related, a more serious thought: a woman's presence, that of Kallah, transforms the apartment, condo, the house, into a home! When she is there, so too dwells the "shechinah". Should she leave, everything returns to its previous status; the home that it had been regresses to its earlier status, that of an apartment, condo, house.The "Kedusha of the home," I believe, follows on the heals of the Kallah; so do we welcome on the seventh day the arrival of the Sabbath Queen-not a Sabbath King-but Queen whose beauty of soul and self ignites the Friday night "nerot" bringing light wherein otherwise there would be darkness ... (and I bet you thought it was the matchbook that sparked that flame.)
"Bo-ee Kallah, Bo-ee Kallah" pages 318-319, Artscroll siddur
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
“Got firt da velt,” a profoundly simple adage, asserts the
primal emes that God has never nor will He ever abandon
His Creation and, in fact, creates the intricate and seemingly
bizarre circumstances in which we often find ourselves.
“Happenstance”- some might call it-but it was for me an act of
divine kindness that became the last time I’d ever spend with
my son Benjamin, Wednesday morning, November 22, 2000.
Forgetting to set his alarm the night before, Ben woke up
late for work, got dressed hurriedly and ran to catch the
Chicago/Metra bus that would ferry him to the Skokie Swift
train line. As fortune would have it, he spotted my car parked
at the dry cleaners opposite his house on the other side of the
alley and caught up with me just in time. Had I not dropped
my laundry off that morning, I might not have seen
him again. As I turned to leave, there he was waiting behind
me with a broad smile of anticipation, his rather robust figure
well insulated from the cold winter winds. Ben was never one
to be fancily attired, but as a downtown bicycle courier working the Chicago winter shift, he always dressed himself,
as counseled by mothers, in layers.
“Dad, can you give me a lift to the train?” he greeted me.
“Hey! Good Morning, Ben. Sure. No problem.”
His mom and I had divorced in January of 2000. Since
moving out of the house in August of 1999, there were times
when I did not see him as often as I would have liked. As a
matter of fact, I missed all three of my children, but Ben …
well, Ben was special-not that Kimmy and Zac, his younger
siblings, aren’t special too, but for Ben’s sake especially I
lived in constant dread. You see, Ben had been a diabetic
since 1988 prone to hypoglycemic insulin shock in the early
morning hours. I had always tended to Ben in moments of
diabetic crisis, but now that I was no longer at home, the
worriment shadowed me. Always regretful whenever I had not
seen him for several days, any opportunity to be with him
delighted me even if only for a few minutes.
“Door’s unlocked son.” I said over the top of my truck while
fiddling with my keys. It was a five- minute drive to the train.
"How are you, Ben?" I asked, as I made a left turn from the lot.
"Fine, Dad. You?" he responded almost perfunctorily.
"Okay. How are you?"
"You feeling good?"
I turned into the parking lot of Chaim’s Kosher Bakery and
Deli across from the train station.
Ben was checking the latch on his messenger bag.
“Ya got it?” I asked.
“Yea,” he quipped.
‘"Do you have money on you?" I badgered him.
"Yes, Dad,” he humored me with patient intonation. “Seeya
He got out. Traffic was heavy. I watched him cross the street
as I had always done, as if he were still a little boy.
"Be safe!" and off he went my little boy turned twenty-two, all
six feet, two inches, two hundred twenty five pounds of him.
Later at the office that same morning, business was brisk!
The phones were ringing off the hook, just another busy day at
work like any other. If only it had been!
It was just before noon when I answered the next call. I
heard the voice of a stranger.
“Mr. Busch,” he queried.
“Speaking.” I reluctantly admitted for I knew he was not the
bearer of good news. Parents just know these things.
“Mr. Busch. My name is Dr. Ibrahim Yosef, chief of emergency
surgery at Cook County Hospital.”
“Yes, doctor,” I said quiveringly.
“Are you the father of Benjamin Busch?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” girding myself for the worst.
“Your son has just arrived here in the emergency department,
the victim of a nearly fatal traffic accident. He has
sustained massive and critical injuries that require immediate
I tried to speak but could not.
“Mr. Busch,” his voice slightly louder but noticeably more
strident, “I suggest you come to the hospital right away!” he
underscored, his tone now emphatically urgent.
“Suggest!” I mumbled to myself, having gleaned the ominous
meaning of his choice of words. I foresaw how this day would
end. Call it intuition, whatever you like.
“Doctor, yes … ah, ah, ah alright. I’m leaving now.” I hung up
A myriad of frightful thoughts filled my head in my state of
controlled desperation as I sped away to the hospital. The
grave tone of the doctor’s voice convinced me the dreaded day
I anticipated for years had arrived. Fortunate enough
though to find parking two blocks away, I raced to the
“I’m, I’m … Mr. Busch, my son Ben, doctor called me …” I
sputtered out to a nurse with whom I almost collided.
“Follow me!” she commanded, grabbing me by my shirtsleeve
“Dr. Joseph, Dr. Joseph,” she shouted down the corridor upon
“Mr. Busch, Ben must have immediate intervention. Do you
authorize …” he hurriedly asked.
“Yes! Yes! Anything. Do everything! Please!” I responded curtly.
The doctor turned and scurried away.
“Mr. Busch, do you wish to witness the procedures?” the
nurse calmly asked me. I remember that about her. I guess
such people have to be cool under fire.
“Yes, please!” I responded.
She escorted me to an observation area with nothing more
than a glass panel separating me from my son.
Standing by my father, together we witnessed a fiercely
desperate scene unfolding no more than ten feet from us.
I turned my head momentarily to check on my dad and beheld
a “stranger” praying fervently for the life of my son. While
holding his arms overhead with the palms of his hands
flattened against the glass partition, his body slightly angled
outward and feet spread apart, appearing as if he were about
to be searched by the police, he pled with The Almighty for His
“Hold on Ben! Fight back! Please fight back!” my father,
a sensitive though doggedly determined man, called out once,
twice, thrice during Ben’s waning seconds, while there was
yet aglow a spark of life.
Open heart massage ... failed! Oxygen mask … failed!
Encircling Ben around the operating table, the trauma team’s
pace quickened-their options and time running out.
“CLEAR! AGAIN! CLEAR!!” the surgeon commanded. Ben
convulsed. Electric shock ... failed!
A dark cloud smothered the din. The frenzied pace
quieted. The equipment was switched off. The surgeon turned
to face me. His wearied face bespoke what I already knew. He
shook his head. The embers of life had died within Ben. He
had come into this world only a short while before. I was there
then and here now.
Certain moments, seconds in time, seem to vanish.
Perhaps when the harshness of life numbs us, we “freeze” in
time for a brief while, You’ve seen this before when someone
blankly stares off into space-as it were-but invariably snaps
himself back to the present. Perhaps you have experienced
“Mr. Busch … do you wish to remain with Ben?” a nurse
quietly “awakened” me.
“Yes, of course, Miss” I muttered, surely dazed as if there
could possibly be any other response.
“Grandpa,” she addressed my father, gently taking hold of his
arm. “Only the dad may stay with Ben,” she motioned him
away and drew the curtain around the circumference of the
We were alone. I placed a kippah on his head.
“Thank you for being such a good son Ben, ” I spoke, barely
audibly, kissing his handsome nose.
With precious few minutes left before the attendants arrived,
Ben slept while I … I hovered over him:
“ … lo ira ra ki Ata imudi …” I repeatedly sang the
23rd Psalm whisperingly. We spent about fifteen minutes
“Mr. Busch,” the nurse announced her presence, drawing the
“The gentlemen are here, ” she informed me with no
uncertainty about whom she meant. I stepped aside
and away. I know they covered Ben’s face, but I couldn’t watch
I don’t think it was more than a minute after when Rabbi
Louis flew in by taxi and took charge. Frankly relieved, his
timely arrival assured me Ben would be interred in accordance
with Jewish tradition.
A nurse approached us. Seems that a group of Ben’s
friends had arrived moments before and was waiting at the
front desk. What I did not know was that they had picked up
Zac-Ben’s younger brother-on their way to the hospital.
Rabbi Louis and I went to receive them.
Cook County Hospital is frenetic. All manner of people:
ambulatory patients attached to mobile drips, trauma patients
being rushed to surgery strapped atop gurneys, doctors,
nurses, visitors, paramedics, police officers and sheriff’s
deputies jam its hallways. Upon reaching the front desk, we
were informed of hospital policy that forbad non-family
members from visitation. I thanked them, but we had to leave
Ben’s buddies behind.
Trudging through the corridors with Rabbi Louis and Zac
on our way back to the emergency department felt as if we
were changing classes in high school. Almost predictably, we
were stopped-not by the assistant principal-but by a burly
“Gentlemen, may I see your passes?” he requested, holding out
his rather considerable hand.
“Officer, we haven’t any. We were just returning from …”
“You’ll have to return to the front desk and get them,” the
officer-I think a sergeant in rank-interrupted Rabbi Louis.
“My friend’s son has just died!” pleadingly insisted Rabbi
Louis, who sought but could not find the guard’s better angels.
“Sir, you will need to return to the front desk!” the officer
repeated unequivocally. Despite Rabbi Louis’s vociferous
objections, his protestations, he wisely concluded, had fallen
on deaf ears. The guard refused to budge. Back we trod to
fetch the passes.
Meanwhile, Ben’s mom had arrived from a much farther
distance than I. This time, passes in hand, we did make it
back when came the time moments later to convey the
awful news. Rabbi Louis, in his goodness, generously offered
to stand in for me, but this was my duty. Accompanying me
together with my dad on either side, our arms linked, we
reluctantly crossed the hall to a small lounge wherein sat
Ben’s mom. Letting go of their arms, I approached her
haltingly. Lifting her eyes to mine, somehow knowingly, hope
yet unforsaken … well, just maybe here sat a mother
whose extremity merited a nes.
"Ben is gone!" … I cried out, placing my forehead atop her
head. Within a shadow of a moment came forth an utterance
of primal pain from Ben’s mom so horrifically terrifying I
suspect only a bereaved mother is capable of making it-a
sound that seemed to wed the frighteningly excruciating moan
of Ben’s hypoglycemic plunge to his mother’s pleadingly
gutteral groan that she could no longer push her soon to be
firstborn Ben into the world. I shall never forget the
sound of near matricide.
What more can one do in a moment like this? Though
Zac, my dad and Rabbi Louis were present in the room with
me, I recall nothing of their reactions to my grave
announcement to Ben’s mom. It was as if she and I were
alone in this sanitized lounge, the small sofa, chairs and
lighting of which were unremarkably sterile.
I left the room to tend an urgent matter. I found the
attending surgeon standing in the hallway just several steps
“Doctor, thank you for all you did trying to save my son. There
is something I have to tell you.”
“Yes?” he responded, seeming like he had more to say but
“My son is a Jew. I expressly forbid any autopsy,” I said softly
“Yes, of course, I understand,” he seemed to acknowledge
While we spoke, I discerned in him a genuinely heartfelt
sympathy for my family. Some time later, in a preliminary
deposition to a lawsuit my family had filed against the
company whose driver struck Ben, the surgeon testified that
he had been worried about my dad while the latter bore
witness to the desperate futility of those several minutes.
After six hours, there remained nothing more we could do.
Zac and his mom had left already with my father. With Rabbi
Louis whose companionship insulated me from the icy winds, I
walked back to my truck. How thankful I was to not have to go
home alone! While the engine warmed, Rabbi Louis contacted
a mutual friend, Reb Moshe, a chaplain in the Chicago Police
Department, to inquire whether he could expedite Ben’s
transfer to the mortuary. After several minutes had passed, I
drove Rabbi Louis home.
That Wednesday, the eve of Thanksgiving 2000, ended
quietly together with my world as I had known it just hours
A drink or two later, I fell asleep that night in my
apartment. Tomorrow would be a busy day.
Yiddish: God runs the world.
 Hebrew: truth
 Skullcap signifying God overhead
I fear no evil because You are with me.
 Jewish tradition forbids this practice.
Monday, August 13, 2007
These are the Lives that Touched Mine ...
It needn't leave a scar, but it does have to leave a little bruise.
Certain souls enter our lives for just moments; they show their concern, they express their love and, before you know it, they have gone.
I am very fortunate to have had many fine caring teachers in my life. And what is special about such persons does not lie so much in the content area that she/he tried to teach you. In Mr. Berenbaum's case, it was "fractions" ... you know "numerators, denominators, proper and improper fractions," and yes, as a result of his special effort, I did finally get it.
Rather these teachers teach what can only be taught by some teachers, not all. Let's face it ... anyone who has ever cut an apple pie into wedges can teach fractions. Mr. Berenbaum's real strength lie in his showing me what it means to be a mentsh, to be a teacher who teaches "children." You see ... teachers like Mr. Berenbaum do not teach math per se; it just so happens that part of their job is to teach math, but what they do so incredibly well is teach "children."
I'll always remember Mr. Berenbaum, my 6th grade teacher, who was very concerned about me on a few different levels. He held me after class on perhaps three occasions with my mother's consent and went over the lessons with me. On another level -which reflected his concern for me as a parent himself- but even more so as a caring Jewish man, Mr. Berenbaum did not like the friends I chose for myself at school whom he felt were not right for me.
We had tried to put a small band together and Mr. Berenbaum thought this was somehow inappropriate, almost as if it were "schmutzik." He was my friend, caretaker, uncle and parental substitute in addition to being my sixth grade classroom teacher.
In other words, he cared about me and I perceived that unmistakingly. For that reason, I recall him fondly these 40 years later.
Dedicated to Hadar who asked me if I would ever ... this is my answer.
Around my house ere dusk fell,
my Kallah I await these words would tell.
Then awoke memories of moments recall
the evergreen stands and Ben so small.
I stand and marvel at how it has grown!
Twenty years hence many seeds have sewn!
The old basketball hoop ...there once a time
when I could beat Ben, a moment sublime.
In memory's flight, I see only me,
in this house once lived my children three.
Under Ben's window standing,
wouldst I not know
that wherein I now sit,a few tears did flow.
I stepped back ...to now and saw I did come
for whose love
Sunday, August 12, 2007
This photo is just offshore from the Dead Sea. The colors were beyond magnificent-nothing any human artist could have created. Sublime and upon seeing this one ought to utter:
"Mah rabu maasecha, HaShem!" (How magnificent are Your works, Master of the Universe!)
A few "Kodak" moments from my wedding to Kallah, Sunday night, April 2, 2006. In the upper photo, my son Zac is being flipped by a reveler who in his enthusiasm to please chossen and kallah could well have injured Zac. Happily he was not hurt, my then Kallah's beautiful dress can be seen to the right in the foreground.
The lower photo features my dad and me
For whom monument tall
Shouts defiantly: “NEVER AGAIN!”at last and for all.
Thus hatred's reminder,its insatiable, implacable aim,
weighing heavily as it should upon humanity’s unforgivable shame.
Atop the bronze mount does stand there remain
Remnants of countless savagely slain:
a mother whose babe has cried its last,
an elderly Jew to whom a boy clings fast.
A partisan fighter whose gestures ignite …
one spark of the hope that flickered by night.
Amidst the rubble of days …That which had been...
through the ages a beacon for men ...the Torah commanding
“Thou Shalt Not Kill ...”albeit in ruins though applicable still!
to our lives which came after,relatively free, of terror's ability to blind us who see.
Now tearful, silently stoic first gazewhile vigilance slept, its fires not ablaze ...
why desecrate this monument, a tribute to those
in whose memory we recall
so few of their woes?
Nary a night did pass ere an evil befell,
and reminded, were we all, of heaven and hell.
Now gone were the tears that had welcomed its sight,
but ready were the many to stand and fight
an ugly reminder whose obscenities told …of times long since and graves since cold.
Aroused and awakened this community alert,whose monument remained defiled as such,
to remember one and all, incredulous and carefree,
that history was not over …as they had hoped it might be.
A garden became this memorial soon, and erased were the lies
that had blackened the truth.Dignity restored its shiny gloss to words read anew
…of six million lost.
Toward heaven it points in neither doubt nor shame,
history reminding our memories lame.
That even those departed …must struggle to hone
the spade that will dig out
Alan D. Busch copyright@2007
Friday, August 10, 2007
Three feet equal one yard. This equivalency eludes many
people. I suspect they were asleep during that lesson. We
measure length, area and volume differently by using diverse
measuring devices and units of measure-all of which
metaphorically mirror the reality of our personal choices,
varying attitudes and alternate approaches to life.
I mention a height chart someone scrawled on the exit
doorway of a local business. My son Zac remarked that it
reminded him of the lines his mom and I had drawn years
before with which to record Ben’s growth in height on the wall
in his room.
I marveled at how our minds store many memories
requiring little more than a tiny stimulus to reawaken them.
The very phenomenon of memory seems utterly inexplicable-
its chemistry, its mechanics baffling. As mysterious as the
phenomenon of human memory is, it is equally awe-inspiring
allowing us to replay moments in our lives of our own
choosing. Imagine how regrettably one-dimensional life would
be without “recollection”. Like the “instant replay” to sports
television, “recollection” provides us with a chance to
experience a moment anew, to be able to relive our past
geometrically, revolving the sphere of life around in one’s
mind’s eye so that we can examine all of its angles.
When barely a toddler, dressed in a diaper and one of those
‘snap on’ button undershirts, Ben absconded with his
grandpa’s empty, unlit pipe and scurried away to the front
room. Some minutes later, having noticed his pipe missing,
my dad and I found Ben, pipe in mouth, comfortably situated
within the mouth of our fake fireplace! I still clearly see the
utter joy on my dad’s face when we discovered the
whereabouts of our little pipe thief. You see what I mean, but
what of unpleasant, “un-healable” memories? How do we
continue living with them?
We have all heard other people say: “Time heals all wounds.”
However, for parents who have lost a child, the great majority,
perhaps even all, would disagree. They would assert the
contrary, that the wound of losing a child is not healable. And
perhaps that is the way it should be! What if the reality of
parental bereavement could simply be forgotten? If
we could just put it behind us? You know … like the old
expression: ‘Out of site, out of mind.” Would we be better off
were the wound healable? The following story may provide
I dreamt of Ben one morning. He was wearing his knit cap
in a style I had shown him, rolled up so that it looked like a
kippah with a donut serving as a life preserver. The cap was
part of the uniform employees of the Turtle Wax car wash wore
where Ben worked. Frankly, I could not fathom the reason for
which he enjoyed working at the carwash, but I was thankful
nonetheless for his diligent work ethic. Kind and
unpretentious to a fault, Ben enjoyed the company of friends
whose lives he enriched. His death caused many irreparable
One such a person was Stuart whom I had met in
synagogue but who knew Ben from the carwash. He returned
to minyan after a lengthy hiatus. Following Shacharis, we
were busily putting away our tefillin away.
our loss. My friend David gasped and who was, as it
happened, standing alongside Stuart. The resultant hush
seemed to persist for ten minutes rather than its actual ten
seconds! I glanced furtively at Rabbi Louis who broke the
hapless silence. “Ben passed away two weeks ago!” he said,
appearing shaken and angry. Stuart, an emotionally
unpredictable man, broke down in such tears that I sought to
console him. He wept so.
I had anticipated Stuart’s inquiry but regrettably failed to
inform him before minyan began about what had befallen us.
Had I done that, this regrettable incident would have been
Thursday, August 09, 2007
These Are the Lives that Have Touched Mine ...
"Rabbi Louis: It Happened Again”
Reflections on Purim Past
I am torn.
We are to be joyful during the month of Adar. After all, isn’t it the month when we celebrate Purim, as an observance of national salvation, when good overcame evil and Haman and his sons died on the gallows he had built for Mordecai?
They hanged Haman and his sons al ha etz, on the gallows. Conversely, the Hebrew etz also means a tree, a symbol of the Jewish people itself, as is Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life.
And if you are wondering about God whose name does not appear in the Megilat Ester, the Scroll of Esther, He was there, just hidden but indisputably present, steering the helm of history through His masterfully skillful use of nissim, His vast, miraculous wonders.
The demise of Haman parallels that of Pharoah. The evildoers met their ends, each in a different manner of death, but which, in both cases, had been intended for the descendants of Jacob whom they despised. It worked out nicely for us. We survived and the would-be slayers were themselves slain.
However, there remains behind a problem for people who grieve insofar as the injunction to be joyful poses an emotional conundrum for them. While each joyous holiday in Judaism forges a link in the mesorah, the heritage, of our collective past, we need to remain mindful of our obligation to share the simchas ha yom with our children.
Veshinantam levanecha v’dibarta bam… but ... what if a child dies? what if tragedy of that magnitude befalls us? what then? How can the presence of grief be reconciled with the joy we are supposed to feel at holiday time? Can happiness be mandated? Are we capable of switching grief on and off and setting it aside until the holiday is over or does it even matter any more after a child dies?
The Fortune of Friendship
I am rich.
We all have, I hope, a quintessentially invaluable friend without whom we would have to redefine our lives. And no, I’m not talking about a spouse or, for that matter, anyone in your family. Though I suppose it possible such a friend can be a family member, I have found the bond to be paradoxically stronger when, in the absence of blood ties, there is no familial obligation.
I have such a friend. He and his family have been my lifeline and connection to my community.
It is an absolute prerequisite to be able to grieve healthily. To think we can grieve by ourselves is a mistaken and costly approach to grief management. Life and the pain of death are qualitatively better and more manageably experienced when we share them with caring people in a community. My shul is my community and its rabbi, my dearest friend.
Rabbi Louis, whose remarkable family, caring attitude and irrepressible good humor have lifted me up on countless occasions, has been there for me through times sad and joyous when, during these past ten years, I have faced a crumbling first marriage and divorce, my son Benjamin’s struggle with diabetes and epilepsy, his death, the onset of my Parkinson’s Disease and the joy of my wedding day to my Kallah at which Rabbi Louis officiated.
Certain moments become fixed in our memories, brief interactions yet leaving long trails behind.
It happened one morning after minyan years ago. We were chatting in the fleishig kitchen, just Rabbi Louis and I, about our children, naturally. We did this sort of thing almost daily but especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Friday mornings when we typically had a few extra minutes before each of us had to run off to work. On Mondays and Thursdays, we did not have the extra time due to the morning’s Torah reading. I listened intently while he spoke beamingly of his son, Benzie who was studying in Israel. Suddenly he stopped talking. It was not a mere pause.
“Rabbi, what? You were saying about Benzie?” hoping to encourage him on.
“No, I can’t,” he responded, determined to remain silent. “Your son is not here anymore. I don’t want you to feel bad!” This is the sort of person Rabbi Louis is.
In The Beginning
Two years before I met Rabbi Louis, I used to daven in a small chapel where gathered the daily traditional minyan of the conservative shul to which I belonged. Steamily hot one summer Shabbat morning, the heat of the morning’s sunshine pierced the brightly illumined stained glass. The chazzan droned on and on by Musaf. I was sitting in the front row. The stifling heat weighed heavily upon the silence of the room. I looked behind me. Comprised almost entirely of elderly gentlemen, including several Holocaust survivors, every one of them had fallen asleep.The whole minyan except the chazzan and me though I think I was more awake than he.
I looked around. There would be enough for a minyan if I left.
And so I did.
Happening by Rabbi Louis’s Shul
I needed fifteen minutes to arrive at my destination even at a feverish pace, but I knew happily where I was going as much as where I wanted to be. Having passed through a wooden archway just off to the right of his garage, there was nowhere else to go but down the steps leading to the basement where I hoped to find the shul.
“This has ‘gotta’ be it,” I muttered to myself.
As I soon discovered, I opened a door to a place oozing with haimishness. Peeking inside, I espied a red-bearded man with an infectious smile, his cape-like tallis afloat in the breeze of his eager gait, tzitsis flying, heading toward me invitingly.
“Come in. Come in. Bruchim Habaim!”
That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Before he undertook to build a synagogue adjacent to his house, Rabbi Louis had opened up his home to the congregation where it met in his converted basement.
Grieving in Shul
It seems invariable.
Melancholia overtakes me whenever I am there. I don’t think it debilitating, short-lived as each instance is, but it remains a constant in the equation of my grief. Yet, I know this is where a grieving Jew should be because it is a makom kodesh, a holy place, wherein I feel the presence of my son Ben in its most intense manifestation.
I’ll even venture a remark that may seem odd to some. As strong a pull as it is to stand before Ben’s grave, I struggle to sense his presence. Oh yes. I know his body is beneath my feet, but that’s just it. Ben’s body remains, but his neshuma is elsewhere. I believe that it hovers in shul when I am there. Ben spends time with me that way, I suppose. It is his way of making up for the time when I sit alone.
I felt it recently on Purim. It is different than any feeling I experience anywhere else including Ben’s room from which I write these words. You see, no sooner than I take my seat in the row behind my dear friend, Rabbi Louis, I look over the mechitza to the yahrzeit panels on the south wall and see Ben’s name, the eleventh one in the first column on the first panel. Though I fully expect this grief, I am thankful to take my seat each time. We have a tradition in shul life that one’s seat becomes his set place, a makom kavua.
I should tell you Ben was not a regular shul-goer. His seat is next to mine. Nobody else sits there. Whether it be the mystery of Purim, the revelry of Simchas Torah or the trepidation of Yom Kippur, my son remains by my side. Other fathers have their sons sitting next to them. I miss that but I possess something they do not-the certainty my son lived a life abundant in loving-kindness.
Time moves forward inexorably. It pauses for no one. That Purim morning I lamented how much time has passed without Ben.
I am reminded daily his absence is forever. No matter though how many years have already gone by or however many are yet to come, Ben’s death will always be for me in the present tense.
I will never say:
“Once upon a time I had a son named Ben.”
I won't tell you I'm not glad to be alive because I know I am a better person for having known and loved Ben.
He taught me so much.
Still ... know there are moments when I am filled with guilt that it was he and not I.
Alan D. Busch
Glossary of Italicized Terms
Adar: Hebrew month during which Purim is observed.
Al ha etz: on the gallows
Etz Chaim: Tree of Life
Megilat Ester: Scroll of Esther
Simchas ha yom: joy of the day
Veshinantam levanecha v’dibarta bam: Thou shalt teach them (commandments) to thy children and speak of them …
Fleishig: having to do with meat
Minyan: a prayer quorem of at least ten men
Musaf: additional service
Haimishness: social atmosphere characterized by warmth, togetherness and hospitality
Tallis: prayer shawl
Tzistis: wound and knotted ritual fringes looped through the four corners of the tallis
Bruchim Habaim: Welcome
Makom kodesh: holy place
Mechitza: partition dividing men’s from women’s section in an orthodox synagogue.
Yahrzeit: anniversary of a death
Makom kavua: a ser place
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
This is the piece I hope soon to be published.
"He Learns: A Story of Z'man Simchasenu"
An epiphany can arise from the most unlikely of circumstances.
I had never before lived among observant Jews and, for the first time in
my life, almost all of my immediate neighbors were Shomer Shabbos, an
experience that helped me to put a new face on Judaism, one which I
had never seen as a boy.
Hoping to gain their trust as both a neighbor and fellow Jew, I used
to read stories to the neighborhood children in front of my apartment
building. They sat “Indian style” on the sidewalk while I read of the
escapades of Winnie the Pooh or the fanciful prancings of Cassie and
Her Magic Flowers on Shabbos afternoons and warm summer evenings.
Our gathering became known as Street School.
One afternoon after finishing a story, I chatted with five-year-old
Sholem, Rabbi Twersky’s son:
“So, tell me, what does your father do?”
“He learns,” he said, as if there could be no other response.
“He does what?”
“He learns,” he repeated, as matter-of-factly as the first time.
“Such an odd expression,” I reflected, muttering words to myself that I
kept from reaching Sholem’s ears. Never had I heard the verb “learns”
used in that fashion, but it intrigued me. Ever an avid student of
language, I entered it into my lexicon of life experiences.
“He learns.” A two-word sentence, barely existing, a subject and verb
having no stated direct object. What I didn’t know was the direct
object needn’t have been articulated. Everyone knew what it was that he
learned, even five-year-old Sholem, everyone, that is, but me.
I would have loved to chat more with him. Having so many more
questions, I determined to find out more about these Jews who “learned.”
I suppose you could say I was curious in an intellectual sense. For
the present, I was content to dip into the very Jewish lives of my
neighbors: the Goldmeyers, the Hirschs, the Twerskys and the
The richness of Jewish life had somehow eluded me in my
childhood leaving me so unschooled that I could not even distinguish
between Shabbos and Shavuos or differentiate a siddur from a
chumash. Mind you, my youth had not been entirely barren of Jewish
experiences. We gathered at my Aunt Iris’s house for my family’s one
seder Erev Pesach, knew enough to eat matzoh, read the story of our
exodus in the “Haggadah shel Maxwell House,” feasted on Erev
Rosh Ha Shanah, broke the fast of Yom Kippur, and my mother lit
Hanukkah candles by plugging in an electric menorah My family did
not lack the threads so much as it did the fabric of Jewish life.
I felt pretty much at ease in my new neighborhood, but when the
Goldmeyers invited me to the bar mitzvah of their first-born son, I felt
excited but equally intimidated. The occasion would mark my first time
in an Orthodox synagogue. Shabbos morning arrived. I delighted in
walking to shul like everybody else and I remember feeling as if I
were part of something really important. That feeling changed when I
became lost in the seeming mayhem of orthodox shul dynamics.
Frankly, I did not have a clue what to do or what was going on. So I
took a seat in the back, opened the siddur I had found on my chair,
looked at it for an instant and realized it would do me no good (it was all
in Hebrew.) The seats on either side of me were occupied so I placed the
siddur on the floor under my chair. I think it was the gentleman to my
right who-before I even knew what he did- had reached under my chair
to retrieve the siddur. “This is yours?” he asked, waving it gently but a
bit too closely in front of my nose.
“Well, I … uh,” I stumbled inarticulately, sensing I had done
something wrong but not quite sure what.
“This book contains G-d’s name. We do not put it on the floor,” he
reproached me pleasantly but, I imagined, incredulously.
“Thank you,” I said, grateful he had been discreet enough that
nobody’s attention was diverted. Okay, no harm done, I thought. A
gentle slap on the wrist was all it was, and my slightly hurt feelings were
assuaged. I would learn the ropes in time, in the same way a historian
would peruse a primary document or an archeologist examining a
potsherd, enthusiastically but dispassionately. For the now, I was an
outsider looking in, simply and pleasantly curious. Nothing more.
It’s an old and frustrating truism that the tracks of progress
can be traced not so much in leaps and bounds but in the tiniest of
baby steps. The Shabbos of Chol HaMoed Succos--while reading on
my back porch--I happened to espy Rabbi Twersky walking in the alley.
I wondered where he was headed. I would never have imagined seeing
him walking in the alley, but there he was. Something was clearly amiss.
Donning a black kaftan and streimel, he appeared to me to be deeply
troubled by the way he was fiddling with his peyos.
“He’s coming over here,” I said to myself in disbelief.
I watched as he entered through my back gate. Frankly nonplussed,
but eager to lend a hand, I flew down the steps to greet him.
“Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi,” I said, extending my hand in Shabbos
courtesy, feeling slightly annoyed with myself for not even having
a baseball cap on. Then again, better this way, I supposed, for he
would know me for whom I was and wasn’t.
“Good Shabbos. Mr. Busch, I have a problem,” he confided.
(‘Rabbi Twersky has a problem and he coming to me,’ I uttered to myself,
“Uh, … how can I help you, rabbi?” I offered, still incredulous
how I could be of any assistance to a scion of a rabbinic
“Some sechach has fallen from the roof of my sukkah onto the
floor, and I am forbidden to touch it on Shabbos,” he said, tilting
his streimel back from his forehead.
“Some what?” I asked.
“Sechach, an evergreen branch,” he clarified.
“Oh, no problem rabbi. I’ll pick it up,” I said, thinking I understood
“No! he exclaimed. “You are a Jew. You may not touch it either.”
“Oh wow! Okay,” I backed off. I was a little taken aback by his
vehemence, though I couldn’t help but feel enormously flattered he had
acknowledged that I too was a Jew.
“But I do know someone who can. I’ll take care of the problem,
rabbi,” I assured him, my voice trailing off as I turned and ran up the
steps. Pausing momentarily on the first landing, I looked back to see
that his countenance had brightened noticeably. Secure in my promise,
he turned and left for home.
Unbeknownst to him was that in my apartment a young
man, a non-Jew, crouched in the bathtub reglazing its surface.
Summoning what few diplomatic skills I possessed, I went in to talk to
“Uh, Tom, d’ya have a minute?” I squatted down to see him eye
“Sure. What’s up?” He wiped away an errant bead of perspiration
with the back of his hand.
“Well …” I scratched my head, nearly at a total loss of words, “you see
I’ve a neighbor with a problem and of all people you can fix it.
“Sure, but …”
“It’s this way,” I interjected, before he changed his mind.
Without a great deal of time for thoughtful reflection, I tried to
concoct some explanation of the legalities of Shabbos that would sound
reasonable to Tom. It was a case of the blind leading the blind, the
existential absurdity of an “am ha aretz” leading a “shabbes goy”.
Based entirely and perhaps irrationally upon hope and, as nervous as I
was, I felt confident that everything would go well once inside the
“ …and so the rules forbid a Jew to touch it on the Sabbath,” I ended.
“So you can’t …?” he wondered, just to be sure.
“No problem,” he said. “I’m glad to help out.”
We strode through the alley to Rabbi Twersky’s sukkah. I couldn’t
help but marvel at the ridiculous irony of the situation. Here I was, a
secular Jew, unlearned in Yiddishkeit and halacha, employing a gentile
on the Sabbath day-an act which itself violated Jewish law-asking him to
perform this deed for the rabbi, forbidden to both him and myself.
“If Rabbi Twersky only knew how I happened to have easy access to this
agreeable non-Jew,” I thought, managing to make myself more than a
tiny bit nervous. To this day, I am curious as to what he might have said,
but at the time, it was the very last thing I wanted to know.
I was just about ready to push aside the blue plastic entranceway to
‘Well, are you ready? I checked in with myself. “And poor Tom, what
must he be thinking of all this?’ I took a deep breath, about to plunge
right into a world so strange, so foreign, even to me. I stepped in and
beckoned Tom to follow. As soon as we were inside, the slightest hint of
an esrog’s scent tickled one’s nose. Gourds and dried fruit dangled
overhead. Aged portraits of rabbinic sages aside child-like depictions of
the Kotel graced the four sides of the sukkah while caricatures of the
ushpizin beckoned us to feel at home. Amidst all the festive decorations,
sat Rabbi Twersky, bent slightly forward, his glasses slipped down to the
tip of his nose, his fingers pouring over an ancient Talmudic folio.
“Rabbi, this is my friend Tom.”
“Boruch Ha Shem,” he exclaimed with a broad smile, and, as I had
hoped, extended his hand.
“Bruchim habayim. Uh … welcome!” shot out the translation.
I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.
“Tom,” I said, indicating the errant sechach with my finger. “There it
is.” He picked it up. Watching Tom perform this simple act, I at once
admired and felt bad for him. I suspect he was more than just a tiny bit
nervous, as was I. Holding it as if it were an article of kedusha,
Tom stepped up cautiously on a folding card table chair lest it collapse,
reached up and replaced the branch atop the latticework.
“Okay, got it,” Tom announced proudly.
“Boruch Ha Shem! spouted Rabbi with a gleeful smile and tone that
made me think of five-year old Sholem, his son. Tom seemed genuinely
pleased to help out and enjoy a few minutes respite from the drudgery of
bathtub reglazing, but ultimately, I suspect, befuddled how something
so pedestrian could produce so much joy.
I watched him, trying not to teeter atop the chair, survey the
curiosity of this fanciful tabernacle. Below him two Jews, ready both to
catch him should his balance waver, but a more startling visual contrast
one could hardly imagine: one bearded per the Torah, having
left the corners of his beard unshorn whereas the other had simply
instructed the barber to make it short, clean and neat; one dressed in
the Shabbos finery of a chassidische rebbe, the other in cut off jeans and
tank top; one with the kesser of a black velvet kippah and streimel atop
his head whereas the other, well … the other bore no sign that The One
Above was the one above.
Although I don’t know what Tom was thinking, I imagined he must
have thought it all quite bizarre, and understandably so. As for me, as
soon as I stepped into Rabbi Twersky’s sukkah, it ceased being bizarre
because it was no longer unknown. The need for that one small act, of
restoring the sechach to its proper place which, to the undiscerning eye,
might have seemed trivial, revealed, in fact, how very complicated the
world can be at times. With that tiny tikkun, I felt the world was set
aright. Tom had done a good deed, Rabbi Twersky could resume the joy
of the Sabbath and I … I had peeked into his world and it was good. It
only became fully apparent to me years later that there in Rabbi
Twersky’s sukkah had I found my own pri etz hadar.
I thanked Tom for his generous assistance that had been like a
bridge enabling me to cross over into Rabbi Twersky’s world
for the snippet of time required to replace the branch. Though not a
religious Jew at the time, I had always felt a strong connection to
Jewish identity, but was neither ready nor able to move from my corner
of the un-Jewish Jewish world to his world. I instead took a rain check
that day I would redeem many years down the road.
From that day forward, Rabbi Twersky, when in need of a “tsenter,”
would call me to make his mincha/ma’ariv minyan. Though I did not
know how to daven and was too embarrassed to tell him, if and when he
called, I would race over to make myself really count as the tenth man!
Grabbing one of my favorite anthologies of Jewish writings-I did not have
a siddur-I could be in Rabbi Twersky’s front room in thirty seconds. The
shuckling I picked up on quickly and while nine davened “Ashrei,” I
read Chaim Nachman Bialik’s “The Fountain”-an incomparable poem.
What effect did Rabbi Twersky’s acknowledgement and act of
inclusion have on me? It fortified and added to my Jewish identity to the
extent that I no longer felt myself to be as much the outsider looking in
as I had been when new to the neighborhood.
But that next morning as the neighborhood hastened to Hoshana
Rabba, arba minim in hand, I thought about the path of my Jewish
future. Watching from my apartment’s front bay window, I wondered
how many more doors there would be left to open.
Alan D. Busch
NOTE: This is a focused look at my late friend and teacher whom i believe was one of "Lamed Vuvniks" of this generation. If life has blessed you with such a friend, teacher, spouse ... count your blessings. Remember that all three roles share one essential feature ... that to be truly a friend, teacher or spouse, one needs be a giver.
Mr. Parker, Isser ben Avrum, Z'L
How often do we consider where the other person was yesterday?
What may have happened, what amalgam of forces and circumstances
congealed to bring that person into our lives today and tomorrow?
I did not meet him that day, but within that minyan sat one Isser
ben Avrum whose acquaintance I was soon to make and
friendship I would forever cherish. Outside the tiny, at times picturesque
refuge of the minyan, he was called Mr. Irwin Parker. Though
small of stature and slight of frame, he was a "gibor," a lion of a man.
It warms one to be greeted by a smile and an extended hand. Such
"middos" were naturally characteristic of Mr. Parker, a man whom I met
in his second lifetime. He became my formative teacher in the ways
of Yiddishkeit when I was forty years old and he in his late seventies or
early eighties. For reasons he never explained, he took me under his wing
and taught me siddur, tallis and t’filin.
“ … ukshartam l'os al yadecha v'hayu letotafos bane einecha.”
So reads the leaf I dedicated to his memory on the Etz Chaim in my
shul. Though I would have preferred to be taught in private, what
he may have lacked in delicacy he more than made up in generosity.
One summer evening before Mincha, Mr. Parker reached into the
cabinet below the reading table and pulled out a small blue velvet bag
containing an aged pair of t’filin.
“Roll up your sleeve,” he nodded toward my left arm. “Slip your arm
through this loop and slide it up to your bicep.”
“Like this?’ I wondered, my legs shaking.
“No, no. You see this knot? It has to be on the inside facing your heart.”
“Oh, okay. Got it.”
We tightened and wound, recited the brocho and donned the rosh.
Since that day, I have felt altogether different about myself, as
though I had been shown the ways of our fathers by a guide genuine for
having survived their worst travails. Why was I fortunate enough to
receive this gift? Perhaps he saw in me a fledgling 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.
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. Neither a yeshiva bocher by education nor a great chochem of
Gemara, he did attend cheder and graduated … a mentch.
A prototype of chesed, there were a few in the congregation who did
not like him, many who loved him, but I dare say not a single soul who
did not respect him. Had you known him as I did and seen how he
interacted with other members of the shul, how he commanded their
respect-not by the arrogance of scholarship or the external, often
superficial signs of piety-but by the "kavod" they willingly accorded
him and which he characteristically rejected, you would have concurred
that his was a "yiddishe kop" but never a swollen head.
How does one dispute such a man or turn down his invitation to
impart treasures of the old world from his first lifetime? Like others of his
generation, his life changed irreversibly when the Polish cavalry proved
itself no match for the German blitzkrieg in the weeks following the first
day of September 1939. Although Mr. Parker survived Mauthausen, his
wife and children did not. They were but a handful of souls among the
incalculable kedoshim. Even the most cursory examination would reveal
that Mr. Parker bore the weight of moral authority-in whose person
resided indisputable proof of the ageless truism a new pharaoh arises to
destroy us in each generation. An elderly man when we became friends,
his posture was bent over more than what seemed typical even for a man
of his age due to the beatings he had suffered at the hands of the thugs
at Mauthausen. His broken nose, apparently never reset properly-
became permanently misshapen by the same perpetrators. The tip of his
nose was not aligned with its bridge. His left eye appeared as if he were
looking at someone else when, in fact, he was looking at you-a condition
that required that you look at his right eye.
He immigrated to America after the Second World War in the early
1950s. Beginning his life anew once resettled, Reb Isser-as he allowed me
to call him-remarried and raised a second family.
Though we had to make calls sometimes when short a man or two,
helping out afforded me the opportunity to "earn my stripes" from Mr.
Parker. “Making a minyan” was a necessity every night. It was that
simple. I gravitated toward Mr. Parker to whom I was drawn like an iron
filing in search of a magnet.
He was the handiwork of The One Above whose unfathomable ways
are sometimes revealed in certain individuals such as Reb Isser. Were it
otherwise, the amazing stories of seemingly ordinary people-whose tales
of perilous survival and reincarnation leave us dumbstruck-would be
Were you fortunate enough in your childhood to spend quality
time with your grandfather? Well, this is what Mr. Parker, the most
important of all and, by extension, the other gentlemen of the minyan
meant to me, an opportunity to learn the basics from ten grandfathers
That was its selling point. I had always recognized how much we
could and needed to learn from older folks. Without trying to sound
boastful, I had had “derech eretz” toward our grandfathers and mothers-
no matter whose they were- even before I knew what that expression
meant. To rise up before the “hoary head” was what one did.
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 must have seemed as if I were showing off a new
school chum. While we sipped tea in the kitchen, I showed Mr. Parker a
photo of my Grandpa Austin whose uncanny likeness to himself was
remarkable. 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. More than simply amused by this
quaint custom, I knew it represented nothing less than a sweet
fragment of an old world-that of our grandfathers and grandmothers.
It was right before Shabbes Mincha. I had been experiencing many
problems at home. My newly acquired “conservative observance” was
causing quite the stir in my family. My wife was furious at me for my
clumsy attempts to impose new rules on the family. She would have
none of it. Tension was high. Our difference of opinion became a yawning
chasm. The children sided largely with their mom. Shrimp salad was just
too good to give up. I had not acknowledged my wife’s growing
exasperation. I balked at the patently obvious truth. They weren’t empty
threats she had made to file for divorce. Her hurt feelings concretized
into resentment. I persisted in deludingly reassuring myself everything
would work out for the best.. My wife wondered aloud pleadingly:
“Why … tell me why are you doing this?” I recall that question clearly.
“So I’ll have something to do when I’m an old man,” I retorted, having in
mind Mr.Parker. Later, when I reminded her, she could not recall my having said that.
We were in the shul’s downstairs kitchen getting shalosh seudos
ready. I had begun to feel close to him by then. I decided I would ask
Reb Isser for his opinion and advice about my troubles at home.
“He’ll have the answer,” I reassured myself. We chatted while preparing
the several plates of tuna fish, left over cake from the main sanctuary’s
Shabbat service, other assorted leftovers and fishballs. Fishballs? You
know those quasi-spherical leftover bits and pieces from the gefilte fish
factory. Thankfully, we only occasionally needed to use the institutional
hand-cranked can opener, loosely bolted to the counter but when
combined with the barely tolerable general untidiness, made working in
that kitchen quite the challenge.
It was as good a time as any to seek out his sympathetic ear.
“Nu, Mr. Busch. What’s on your mind?” sensing something was up.
“Eh, trouble at home. My wife, … you know,” I responded, hoping he
“No, I don’t. You want to tell me?”
“My wife is very unhappy with me. I spend too much time in shul, she
thinks. By the time I get home Saturday night, now with spring and
summer, it’s too late.”
“For what?” he asked attentively.
“She wants to go out, you know, a movie, maybe something to eat.”
Mr. Parker reflected for several moments. Hoping for a sympathetic
ruling, I waited.
“Go home to your wife!” he rendered in his thick “Yinglish” accent
reminding me of Myron Cohen. He could not have said it more plainly,
and I should have deferred to the advice of an older, wiser friend.
Ignoring Mr. Parker’s advice, I stuck to my path distinguished as it was
by an appalling dearth of sechel. Guess I had been hoping for a different
As the gabbai, it was Mr. Parker who designated the "shleach tzibur"
for whichever service it was at the time. Among the "minyonaires" were
several fine voices. When they led the davening, one could hear the faint
echoes of history.
A tiny group, the minyan was comprised mostly of elderly gentlemen
several of whom were Holocaust survivors. Minyonim become
creatures of habit by the daily association of each individual with the
same cast of characters. Acceptance, as it were, by such an insular body
leaves one indelibly impressed. Its charm and secret lay in its
haimishness-the very environment I sought that would nurture me along
the path of observance. I knew I could not have gleaned that from the
culture of the main sanctuary.
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, only a simple, cozy room adjacent to the rabbi’s office. We sat
on benches rather than individual seats. Opposite the stained glass but
facing the benches was a reading table for the Torah services and which
served as an omed for the shleach tzibur. 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 ever came to services. It was a warm, intimate place wherein I
made many new friends.
Its minhag tended away from conservative practice but was still
quite distant from orthodox rite although many of its regulars had been
raised in orthodox homes. One of the minyan’s more learned members
was once asked by a concerned friend if he felt ill, an exchange I
“Mr. Begouin, are you okay?” inquired Mr. Goldberg, concerned that he
had seen Mr. Begoiun leaning forward resting his head on his left
forearm, as if dizzy or fatigued. Unresponsive to his inquiry, Mr. Goldberg
reiterated, his voice slightly louder and tone noticeably urgent:
“Mr. Begoiun, is everything alright?”
“ Yes, thank you. I’m fine. I was davening Tachanun,” raising his head
finally, looking slightly bemused.
One summer Shabbat morning by the time of mussaf I looked
around and saw that every member of the minyan had fallen asleep
except the chazzan and me although I think I was more awake than he. I
scanned the room and determined there would be enough men for a
minyan if I left. And so I did.
I needed fifteen minutes to arrive at my destination even at a feverish
pace, but I knew happily where I was going as much as where I wanted
to be. Past the white ranch house, up the driveway a few paces, I passed
though a wooden archway just to the right of the garage. There was no
place else to go but down the steps leading to the basement where I
hoped to find the shul.
“This has ‘gotta’ be it,” I muttered to myself.
As I soon discovered, I had entered upon a place oozing with
the hospitality of Avraham Avinu. Peeking inside, I espied a red-bearded
man with an infectious smile, his cape-like tallis afloat in the breeze of
his eager gait, tzitsis flying, heading toward me invitingly.
“Come in. Come in. Bruchim Habayim,” cajoled Rabbi Louis’s song of
greeting. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Mr. Parker would not leave his post at B’nai Emunah, but I had
decided it time for me to move on. We did go to Rabbi Louis’s shul
together on occasion, but I think we recognized our time together was
nearing its end. A tough, gentle soul, he was, I believe, one of His original
prototypes of which there have been few copies.
Isser ben Avrum, Z’L passed away on erev Rosh Ha Shanah, 2000.
Alan D. Busch, Revised 8/8/07
 Wear them as a sign upon thy hand and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes.
 Holy martyrs who died sanctifying His name.
 The third and last meal of the Sabbath; Hebrew: Seudat Shlishit.
 Beth Ha Medrosh Kesser Maariv Anshe Luknik
 prayer shawl
 ritual fringes looped through the four corners of the tallis
This is an incomplete draft of a slightly longer piece that I'll finish shortly. It is part of what I hope will be the core of my second book: "These Are the Lives that Have Touched Mine."
I entitle this chapter "Epiphany"
I find it rather interesting that some of my most vivid memories from boyhood are from the house of my Aunt Sally, my grandma Jean's younger sister, a lady who intrigued me from the first. Her house was a wonderous place, on the near south side of St. Louis. It was a classic all-brick bungaloo, in what at the time seemed to be a well-maintained neighborhood of single family homes. My Grandma Jean had a good many siblings of whom I only knew two: my Uncle Harry Pick and Aunt Sally Rose.
We say that children learn best by the example shown them by their parents or other family elders. This was certainly the case with my Aunt Sally, and you know it's perhaps even arguable that she overdid it somewhat if not altogether too much, but I can assure you that it left a life-long impression on me.
Aunt Sally's house, especially the front sitting room, was a virtual shrine to her late son, Clifford, who had died at the Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War. I never knew Clifford but through his mother's shine and his namesake, the second Clifford Rose, my second cousin and the first son of Aunt Sally's other son Eddie who named him after his fallen brother. Atop her fireplace mantle was a collection of photographs and mementos all recalling the first and very young Clifford Rose, a handsome Errol Flynn type, dashing in his U.S Army uniform.
Naturally, as a small child, I could not fully appreciate the depth of love and adoration a bereaved parent feels, but I would venture a pretty good guess that-though through no fault of their own-parents who are not bereaved-Thank God- and adults who are not parents, simply and quite understandably cannot fathom the depth of this pit. Oh, don't misunderstand. They can "imagine" it, they claim, as is ironically expressed in the oft-heard refrain: "I can't even begin to imagine the pain ..." or some such variant thereof.
Such manifest grief may even disrupt a marriage to the extent that an unbereaved spouse ends up wrestling with the ghost of a child lost. Now, mind you, I claim no authority or expertise in any of life's matters, but I am willng to go out on a limb and state something here so unequivocally that should you be a bereaved parent and not follow this advice ... well, what can I say? I told you so!
Do not ever forsake the living to memorialize the dead! The reason? Quite simple, actually. The dead can wait. The living are calling you now, at this moment. Do not wait, stall them or buy time. No more of the "I'll be there in five minutes." excuses. Most importantly, a bereaved parent must never presume that his spouse will "understand"! "How could she not? She loves me enough to let me do this. She's patient and sympathetic." Some big mistakes are being made here, but the foremost of which is: that it is not a question of the depth of your spouse's love or her capacity to fathom the horror of the loss of a child. It is simply a fact that the experience of life's most devastaing calamity is our only teacher. If a spouse lets you know that she/he is wrestling with a ghost, stop what you are doing and-like the old tag team wrestling matches-get your spouse out of the ring. Take over and take charge!
(to be continued ...)