Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dear Readers,

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[1],

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[2] 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[3] to the yahrzeit[4] 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.[5] 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[6] or the trepidation of Yom Kippur,[7]

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.

[1] One who challenges tenets of religious belief.
[2] Repentance; atonement
[3] Partition in an orthodox synagogue separating women’s from men’s section.
[4] The anniversary of a death
[5] set place where one sits
[6] holiday celebrating the “joy of Torah”.
[7] Day of Atonement

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Kallah Has Come Home ...

I needed some time

while she was gone before

I understood.

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

Chapter 1-First Signs

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.
Coherent Ramblings from An Early-Onset Parkinson's Patient

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.

Kallah and Chossen in Jerusalem

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dear Friends,

Kallah came home!


Friday, August 17, 2007

A Few Thoughts about Kallah This Erev Shabbos ....

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

Alan Busch

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dear Readers,

This post is an especially important one. It'll be to the point.

First off, I wish to thank the two persons in my life, dearest to me, outside of my blood relatives to advise me in these matters: my Kallah and Rabbi Louis. Both advised me, independently of the other, to dispose of the remains of Ben's motorscooter he had been driving on November 22, 2000 when he was struck and killed, run over by a truck. Before I do that, I have taken some photos of the remains of the motorscooter that I show above. Remember the adage about a picture speaking a thousand words? Well, These photos really do speak for themselves.

There was a time-not too long ago-when I very must resisted the idea of getting rid of the scooter, but I see its merit now.

Thank you Kallah!

Thank you Rabbi Louis!

Alan D. Busch


p.s. Please find below the first chapter of my book In Memory of Ben that will be published in the September High Holidays edition of the news magazine of the Jewish Federation of Chicago that tells the story of that dark day.
The Last Time

“Got firt da velt,”[1] a profoundly simple adage, asserts the

primal emes[2] 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

surgical intervention.”

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

the phone.

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

emergency department.

“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

and running.

“Dr. Joseph, Dr. Joseph,” she shouted down the corridor upon

spotting him.

“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

immediate intervention.

“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

this yourself.

“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[3] 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 …”[4] I repeatedly sang the

23rd Psalm whisperingly. We spent about fifteen minutes


“Mr. Busch,” the nurse announced her presence, drawing the

curtain open.

“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

security guard.

“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

but firmly.

“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.
[1]Yiddish: God runs the world.
[2] Hebrew: truth
[3] Skullcap signifying God overhead
[4]I fear no evil because You are with me.
[5] Jewish tradition forbids this practice.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dear Readers,

These are the Lives that Touched Mine ...

Mr. Berenbaum

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.

Alan Busch

"Around My House"

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 now and saw I did come

my Kallah

for whose love

my heartbeat



Poet Unknown

Revised 8/12/07

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dear Readers,

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

Alan Busch

The Skokie, Illinois Holocaust Monument unveiled in May of 1987 and defiled by Jew-hating cowards with spray paint that night while the village slept. Outraged I wrote this poem since revised. I also wrote a letter/invitation to the thugs printed in the Skokie Review inviting them to meet me by the memorial with baseball bats. Alas they seemed to have ignored my offer. Then again given who they are, they probably couldn't read the letter anyway.

"Dignity Restored"by Alan D. Busch Holy martyrs … kedoshim

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

this spot




Alan D. Busch copyright@2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dear Readers,
What you are seeing are two adjacent wall panels from Ben's room where his mother and I marked his growth in height. The first one is not so clear: it says, well ... frankly I cannot see it very clearly myself but the year is 1988, but the second is clear enough, Ben was 5'11" on February 28, 1993.
Measurement … Memory (excerpted from my book In Memory of Ben)

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

some answers.

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
tears in people’s hearts!

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.
“So, how is Ben doing?” he asked me, obviously unaware of

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
Alam D. Busch

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dear Readers,

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: tree

Etz Chaim: Tree of Life

Megilat Ester: Scroll of Esther

Nissim: miracles

Mesorah: heritage

Simchas ha yom: joy of the day

Veshinantam levanecha v’dibarta bam: Thou shalt teach them (commandments) to thy children and speak of them …

Shul: synagogue

Fleishig: having to do with meat

Daven: pray

Minyan: a prayer quorem of at least ten men

Chazzen: cantor

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

Neshuma: soul

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

Dear Readers,

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,

silently bewildered.)

“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

his dilemma.

“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

to 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

Rabbi’s sukkah.

‘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

These Are the Lives that Have Touched Mine

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.”[1]

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[2]. 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

at once!

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[3]

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.[4]

“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[5] afloat in the breeze of

his eager gait, tzitsis[6] flying, heading toward me invitingly.

“Come in. Come in. Bruchim Habayim,”[7] 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

[1] Wear them as a sign upon thy hand and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes.
[2] Holy martyrs who died sanctifying His name.
[3] The third and last meal of the Sabbath; Hebrew: Seudat Shlishit.
[4] Beth Ha Medrosh Kesser Maariv Anshe Luknik
[5] prayer shawl
[6] ritual fringes looped through the four corners of the tallis
[7] Welcome!
Dear Readers,

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!

Alan Busch


(to be continued ...)