Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dear Readers,

Please go to the above site at, read my article and don't forget to leave a message in the bottom window of the article.

Many thanks,


p.s. there are seven comments there already. We can do better than that, can't we? :)

Monday, October 29, 2007

“Portrait of a Righteous Man”

In memory of my late friend and teacher Mr. Irwin Parker, Isser ben Avrum, Z'L whom I believe was one of the Lamed Vuvniks of this generation.

He stooped forward. The kapos at Mauthausen beat

him severely. The same perpetrators broke his nose

repeatedly. Never reset properly, his nose became

permanently misshapen, its tip out of alignment

with the bridge. Other beatings caused his left eye to

appear as if he were looking at someone else when, in

fact, he was looking at you, but for which one had to

look at his right eye.

Do we ever consider where the other person was

yesterday? What may have happened, what amalgam

of circumstances congealed to bring that person into

our lives today and tomorrow?

I did not meet him the first day I attended, but

within the minyan sat Isser ben Avrum whose

acquaintance I would soon make and friendship

I would cherish forever. Outside the tiny, picturesque

refuge of the minyan, he was called Mr. Irwin Parker,

but he allowed me to call him Reb Isser. Though small

of stature and slight of frame, he was a lion of a man.

Like others of his generation, his life changed

irreversibly when the German blitzkrieg overwhelmed

the Polish defense forces in the weeks following

September 1, 1939. Although Reb Isser survived

Mauthausen, his wife and children did not, but a

handful of souls among the incalculable kedoshim.

He immigrated to America in the early 1950s and

began life anew, remarrying and raising a second


Our friendship may have seemed odd to some, I

suppose, but as a boy, I had learned to rise up before

the hoary head. I brought Reb Isser home one day to

meet my family as if he were a new school chum.

While we sipped tea in the kitchen, I showed him a

photo of my Grandpa Austin to whom he bore an

uncanny likeness. Like my grandfather, he too placed

a sugar cube or two 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.

Reb Isser, who had been trained as a

pharmacist in Poland in the years before 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 mensch. 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

accorded him and which he characteristically

rejected, you would have concurred that his was a

yiddishe kop but never a swollen head.

His middot were such that he naturally greeted

everyone with a smile and an extended hand. I

gravitated toward him like an iron filing in search of a

magnet. He became my 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. Though I would have preferred

to learn in private, what he may have lacked in

delicacy he more than made up in generosity.

One summer evening before Mincha, Reb Isser

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. I got it.”

We tightened the slip knot to my bicep, wound the

black leather strap seven times around my forearm

and recited the brocho. In comparison, donning the

rosh was much easier.

How does one dispute such a man or turn down his

invitation to impart treasures from the old world?

I was being shown the ways of our fathers by a

righteous man who had survived their worst travails.

How did I merit this gift? Perhaps Reb Isser saw in me

a fledgling fallen from the nest or a reminder of

someone he had lost in his first life. Frankly, I do not

know, but I remain grateful to this man and his


Even the most cursory of examinations would

demonstrate that Reb Isser bore the weight of moral

authority-in whose person resided indisputable proof

that a new pharaoh arises to destroy us in each

generation. He was the handiwork of The One Above

whose unfathomable ways are revealed in individuals,

such as Reb Isser. His amazing life of courage and

survival would be otherwise inexplicable. A tough,

gentle soul, he was, I believe, one of His original

prototypes of which there have been few copies.

“ukshartam l'os al yadecha v'hayu letotafos bane einecha.”

So reads the memorial leaf I dedicated to his memory

on the Etz Chaim in my shul. Isser ben Avrum, Z’L

passed away on erev Rosh Ha Shanah, 2000.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Casket ...

Dear Friends ... I am currently revising the entire text of In Memory of Ben. I am thinking of renaming the book Snapshots of My Son, In Memory of Ben. We are just 13 days from the 7th yahrzeit of Ben's passing. The other day, I was looking for a pair of shoes in my closet. The shoes I did not find, but I did find a picture of Ben I had not seen in a while. He was probably around 20 years old when the photo was taken, and it was an especially good one of Ben. It may sound saccharine, but I sure do miss him.

It is unlike anything else you have ever purchased. When I

saw the same casket at the recent funeral of a friend, I was

reminded of the morning at Weinstein Family Services when its staff

accompanied me and my wife through its casket showroom. I

wondered what it must be like to have to sell a casket to

bereaved parents.

We chose one characterized by the dignity of its simplicity.

Beautifully lacquered and adorned with a Magen David, it

seemed to reflect the kind of person Ben himself had been-

neither too plain nor ostentatious. There was a variety of more

expensive choices but only one other casket caught my

attention. It was nothing more than a plain unfinished box.

One grade lower than the one we chose, it looked like the

caskets the town undertaker crafted in the old westerns we

watched as children. Ben’s mom and I looked at each other. Not

quite enough we agreed for our beloved Benjamin.

Thanksgiving Day was unlike any other my family had

ever experienced, surreal, frenzied though with an inexplicable calm

that enabled us to complete the many urgent tasks I feared we would not finish

before the funeral on Friday morning. Our many

friends lent their helping hands in the time of our greatest need and

experienced an ingathering of souls. Everyone huddled

together in an effort to mend the irreparable tear in the fabric of our

lives and heal the wound we had all sustained just hours before.

The angelic reflections of our souls shone brilliantly.

We sat opposite the funeral director and, together with

several of our closest friends, made the awful arrangements

to lay our son in his final resting place. Our world had ended

catastrophically the day before on the eve of Thanksgiving

when Ben was fatally struck by a truck. He died two hours

later in the emergency room at Cook County Hospital.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dear Readers,

I am currently in process of revising all of the chapters of In Memory of
Ben. My goal as always is to say things better with fewer words but more cleverly so that at the end you'll be nodding your head in agreement and muttering how right I am ... or, at least I hope that is what is going to happen.

There are those who say they are in a "Better Place …”

It is not easy to console a mourner. Consolers mean well. It’s

just this figure of speech-you know the one about being in a better place-is trite

and hackneyed however sincerely it may be uttered. If ever consolers have any doubt

about what to say or how to say it, I recommend they hug more and speak less. Never

fails. We could provide genuine comfort if only we remembered silence is

a better communicator of our sympathy than are poorly chosen words.

Though he had not suffered the loss of a child, I tried to comfort

my friend who had just lost his father.

“I knew your dad as a fine gentleman," I said softly, trying to

to sit comfortably on the floor.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“We shared many meals together over the course of ten years at the

Rabbi’s Shabbos tish,” I added, “but he used to say one thing that

distinguished him from everyone else in the congregation,” I related,

hoping to elicit a tiny smile.

“Oh … what was it?”

“Your father was the only one to call me by my Hebrew name Avrum

ben Avrum.” His son smiled appreciatively.

Time does not heal all wounds as many consolers claim. It is for

this reason Jewish law wisely restricts time spent in mourning.

Unlike its public nature, grief is a private matter and quite capable

of overwhelming parents who fail to fashion a cheshbon between

themselves and God.

Author and bereaved father John Gunther in his chronicle

Death Be Not Proud documents the heroic but futile struggle of his son against brain

cancer. In a provocative postscript, Frances, the author’s

estranged wife, expresses doubt about whether she loved her

son Johnny as much as she could have. Naturally, this led me

to wonder if I could have loved Ben more. The trust she had

placed in God strengthened her to resist the temptation to cast

blame for her son’s death at anyone’s doorstep. Instead,

Francis ponders two alternative approaches that might have saved

her son. She argues Johnny should not have been sent to boarding school

but kept at home where he would have been more comfortable.

Secondly, he might not have died from brain cancer had she and

her husband saved their marriage.

While it is understandable bereaved parents may feel guilty

about mistakes they may have made, is Johnny’s brain tumor

attributable to his parents’ failure to save their marriage? Is he his

parents’ victim? While we can sympathize with her mea culpa we

cannot truthfully attribute Johnny’s death to the poor choices she

and her husband may have made.

Although the Ribon shel Olam governs the occurrence of

human tragedy, we would commit spiritual suicide if we

believe that He denies life to children.

Whether our affliction is sickness, misfortune in business

or the premature death of a loved one, we can avoid the abyss of apostasy by

trusting in God’s attribute of rachomim . There is a limit to what we can do to

avoid bad tidings. Notwithstanding the precautions we take, tragedy may befall us.

Should I believe God chose Ben? Had that happened, how could I

believe in a vengeful and capricious god? Sure it's reasonable to look back and

say "I should have done this differently. If only I had been less concerned with 'a'

as opposed to ‘b’, things might have turned out more to my liking.”

However truthful this supposition, it does not follow that had

conditions been different, their outcomes would have been

better. I acknowledge Ben might have suffered a fatal injury

that day had he never suffered any chronic illness.

The heart of this matter is life will always be precious,

exceedingly delicate and precarious by its very nature! That when

we proclaim: “L'Chaim” we are not making a banal toast as some

may think. Rather do we remain obligated to be always

mindful of the sanctity of our lives and to live them b'simcha.

Alan D. Busch

Revised 10/14/07

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dear Readers,

The following is a revision of "Bais Shel Emes" excerpted from In Memory of Ben. I would ask my readers whom I appreciate and thank for their on-going readership to be aware today and tomorrow are Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan during which we will commemorate the seventh Yahrzeit of Benjamin Z'L on Cheshvan 24 corresponding to the 5th of November.
Bais Shel Emes

I had been feeling down for several days, and I did not know why.

“Maybe I’ll feel better,” I muttered to myself. “After all, he’s not too

far away.” So, I decided to gather up a few cleaning supplies with

which to wipe down the headstone and set out to visit Ben.

Man does not know when the morning of his final awakening will

be. His days are finite. This he understands. Before November 22,

2000, I was aware my son’s days were numbered. I somehow knew this,

that his mazal would run out. Over the course of these seven years,

I have learned to live without him. Despite the unfairness of losing a child, I

believe He governs the universe with rachomim and din.

The approach to the grave along the winding path fills me with a

mixture of dread, anticipation and slight physical symptoms. I stand

before his parcel of earth both assured and numbed by the irreversible

reality of his death. It is a curiosity of human behavior that people talk

to their loved ones when standing before their graves. I do it too. I

mean there is only so much one can do. What else is there that can be done?

If only I could come closer.

You can’t “listen” because the other does not actually speak to you.

So, try listening to your imagination ...

“Ah, Ben. It’s been a while. I apologize,” I begin.

“Oh, that’s okay, Dad. No problem,” characteristically generous

in letting me off the hook.

“You know Ben … while standing here, I think of some of my favorite

moments to tell you and picture you as you, as we, were.

“Like what? Oh, wait! I bet you’re thinking of the Radio Flyer red

wagon, right?” thinking he had gotten the best of me. “Yea, I

remember that too. Kimmy sat in front of me and I held on to her

from behind,” he recalls appreciatively.

“Yea, that was good. ‘Member’ how I used to fix Kimmy’s hair like

Pebbles on The Flintstones?” I relished that reminiscence particularly.

“Yea, that was funny. You really liked

"dragging" us around a lot, didn’t ya?”

“I sure did. I would purposely seek out clumps of people who would

tell me how beautiful my kids were.” Ben blushed quietly.

“Listen Ben, I gotta go. Talk again?”

“Sure, Dad,” he replied agreeably.

It feels like you’ve hung up the phone. I do not linger much

longer. I tidy up the area around the headstone and read three

chapters from Sefer Tehilim.

It may seem macabre, but it comforts me to know where

Ben is and has gone. 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 at times 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

God. 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.

His body lies under the headstone: "Avrum ben Avrum v' Yehudit, Benjamin, son

of Alan and Janine.”

Therein lies the essence of the bais shel emes. For as long

as the body is alive-though temporal in time and being-the soul

dwells therein. When the body dies, the soul departs, and with that,

the spark of life flickers out. The body itself becomes cold. We then

return it to the dust from which God fashioned Adom Ha Rishon.

His death has diminished us. Bridging the chasm between us has

become my futile challenge.I leave the cemetery feeling empty, desolate …


October 12, 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dear Readers,

This is a revision of a chapter excerpted from In Memory of Ben

Lessons Learned Late

I announced I would not eat the matzoh ball soup.

My wife had been preparing the seder meal in the

same manner she had always done. The tension

between us had been simmering for some time when

the pot boiled over the afternoon of Erev Pesach. I

could not have chosen a worse time to make such an

announcement had I tried.

At issue was a can of treif chicken broth, but that

alone was only the tip of the iceberg. Given the state of

our marital affairs, the last thing we needed was to be

arguing about kashrus.

“Must you use that particular broth?” I asked her,

wishing I had kept my mouth shut, but I kept on.

“Folks should be able to reasonably expect they will

enjoy a kosher meal on Passover at the very least.”

“What are you talking about?” she shot back. “It

makes no difference because our kitchen is not

kosher,” she reminded me-a fact that my daughter

would echo in several minutes.


I had been brought up in a Reform environment. My

wife and I chose it within which to raise our children.

My contentment with Reform, however, began to wane

when I began pursuing my religious agenda. I joined a

traditional minyan and began learning with the rabbi

as part of a Federation program to broaden Jewish

literacy. For the first time ever, I felt excited about

Jewish learning. Missing though was any guidance

about how to bring this new knowledge home without

disrupting my family.

Choosing to become observant requires changes

that reach to the deepest roots of family life.

It is a team undertaking and no one parent can impose it on his family.

Even under the most optimal ofcircumstances, additions to

home ritual observance are best approached gradually. Family members can

then learn the content of the new practice and enjoy

time enough to assimilate it into their routines. The

bottom line is family members can deepen their

observance only by taking manageable steps together.


My wife was opposed to kashering our kitchen

because she knew it would lead to a more observant

Jewish lifestyle she wanted neither for herself nor for

our family. I was so busy pursuing my personal

religious odyssey I failed to recognize the danger it

posed to my marriage. None of us was ready for a

religious makeover.

The worst part of this Erev Pesach arrived

when my daughter Kimberly confronted me on the

steps leading to her room.

“Dad!” I could see steam coming out of her ears!

“Uh, oh!” I knew that look on her face.

“You have ruined Passover for me and the family,” she

vehemently asserted. Her voice became louder but

then cracked a bit.

“Sweetheart, I am trying …” proclaiming my


“Oh, I know what you are `trying’ to do. I see the

groceries you bring home. All kosher. I see it.” I stood

in silence and listened to her rebuke. No one had ever

been so passionately angry with me. Always ready,

willing and able to express herself, Kimberly attacked

my insistence that only kosher food be served at seder-

labeling it “an absurd contradiction.” I could say

nothing in my defense. She and her mom were correct.

What was the point of pursuing a kosher agenda if not

done properly and without the assent of my family?

While true my family did not know the halachos of

Pesach, we had always enjoyed its spirit at our seders.

I poisoned that spirit. This regrettable incident should

have been a wake-up call for me. The truth is I

remained “asleep” on a path strewn with stumbling


Older eyes often need assistance to see things more

clearly. Mine certainly did. I sat with Kimberly one

afternoon in my mother’s kitchen not long after

her mother and I had divorced. I continued to struggle

with observance and my family’s exasperation with


“Alan,” my mother advised, “Please listen to your

daughter. She loves you and wants only the best for


“Dad, your clothes: that suit, that black hat: they

make you look like an old man! And shave your

scraggly beard! Your beliefs are your own. Your

observance may work for you, but it doesn’t for me.”

”Alan,” my mother chimed in. “Young girls want to be

proud of their dads, not embarrassed by their

appearance. You’re so nice-looking. Why do you have

to dress like an old man?” echoing a sentiment

Kimberly’s mom used to say all too often. I sat there in

silence as I had done on Erev Pesach. A few tears fell

from my daughter’s eyes.

This was such a confusing set of issues. There were

so many things I wanted. Kimberly showed me that I

could not have them all without making some

accommodations when my level of observance

was at odds with my family and children.

I would find a way to live observantly without jeopardizing their


Alan D. Busch


Figure 1. Alan Dear,
Please remember family first. Nothing else is as important. Love you, Mom. Be well.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The pain of a broken heart is reminiscent of bereavement.

My marriage to Kallah ended after a brief fifteen months, a mournful

experience not unlike the personal grief from which I have suffered since

November of 2000 when my first-born child Benjamin died.

The three weeks prior to Tisha B' Av is a period of time when we deny

ourselves many enjoyments and comforts culminating in this solemn

fast day characterized by the reading of the Book of Lamentations, a communal

mourning for the destruction of the Beis Ha Mikdash and a heightened awareness of

our Jewish national identity. Our tradition holds that many other historical

tragedies also befell the Jewish people on this joyless day.

It happened toward the end of the “Nine Days.” Minyan was scheduled

for 8:00 that evening. Arriving about fifteen minutes early, I saw an elderly

man sitting in the social hall. He appeared to be preoccupied though

patiently awaiting Mincha. He looked sad, so I approached him with a


"Good evening, Sir.”

"Good evening," he responded, seemingly happy someone had stopped

by to chat with him.

“I was worried we would not have a minyan. It's nearly 8:00 o’clock

now, and I've yahrzeit for Maariv.”

"Oh," I sought to quickly reassure him. "We'll have a minyan.

Guaranteed. Please do not worry about that. Your name is, Sir?”

"Talisman, Irving Talisman," he said. I saw he had almost said "Yitzhak," his

Hebrew name, but did not. I looked at him intently. He was dressed in casual slacks,

a pale yellow golf shirt and a perspiration stained cap. His focus on my words

suggested that he was a bit hard of hearing. "Reb Talisman, for your wife, your

parents you have yahrzeit?”

He twisted his left forearm over with the assistance of his right hand

revealing six green numbers. I was speechless. I had seen such tattoos before, but

the manner in which he exposed it staggered me. His quiet, dignity left me unsure

if he bore it as a badge of honor or shame. He looked up at me with glistening eyes

and whispered "my parents.” His eyes, sunken and sallow, were underscored by dark

rings, an image almost as indelible as his horrific tattoo. I wanted to take

care of this man.

"This way, Reb Talisman," inviting him toward the Rabbi Aron & Rebbitzen Ella

Soloveitchik Beis Ha Medrash. I accompanied him down the hallway. Together we

opened the door. Reb Talisman paused. "Should we enter? There seems to be a bar

mitzvah lesson going on." Indeed there was.

Looking quite grumpy after a typically long day of meetings, Rabbi Louis

was finishing up with the bar mitzvah bocher after learning that a ceiling ballast

had blown out. It was an especially busy night at shul. The sisterhood was holding a

program and the junior minyan was learning with the Rabbi’s son. Seeing that I was

escorting an elderly gentleman to minyan, Rabbi saved his upset for the next two

hapless fellows who followed us in after we had shut the door.

"Close it!” Rabbi barked.

"Abba, it’s 8:05, time for Mincha. We have a minyan," announced Rabbi’s older son

who, as it happened, was one of the two who came in after us.

I directed Reb Talisman toward the one chair unlike any other in the beis

medrash, a comfortable seat though not of the stackable variety, well-cushioned and

distinctively but peculiarly pink in color. It had been the favorite of Reb Helman,

the late father of Rabbi Louis's wife Saretta. When I turned to check on him

however, he had chosen to sit by the “omed” opposite the Ark.

“No problem,” I thought, "as long as he’s comfortable.”

Rabbi Louis gave a klop on his shtender. "Ashrei yoshvei v'secha,” we davened

Mincha after which he lectured about the laws of Tisha B’ Av. Several minutes

later, we prayed the Maariv service, but, by which time, I had lost all my

concentration. Now I know one should look to the heavens should he feel his devotion

waning, but I simply could not. I was thinking of Kallah. She filled my head, and I

knew she'd not be there when I arrived back home. I closed my siddur and stared out

the window.

"Maybe she'll pass by," I mused, "or drop in to see me." I turned to the doorway

thinking I had heard a feminine voice.

“Oh … just one of the younger guys,” I muttered to myself.

"Amen. Yehey shmey rabba …” The beis medrash emptied. I escorted Reb Talisman to his


"Good night, Sir," I smiled.

"Good night," he said.

I touched his arm comfortingly and watched as he got in his car and drove

away. I fumbled for my keys. "There surely has to be a lesson here," I reflected,

turning on the ignition. During the minute that it took me to drive home, I

fantasized about seeing her car in the driveway, but then realized

The One Above had sent Reb Talisman to remind me others are

grieving too. An act of chesed brought a smile to an elderly Jew.

How I would have liked to share this story with her … perhaps tomorrow.

Alan D. Busch

Revised 10/03/07