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

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