Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stories of Shul Life From Inside The Beis Medrash

"The Night the Mule Lost Its Load"

My shul is a special place to which all sorts of Jews from the arba kanfos gather to pray and commune with The One Above.

It never fails to amaze me how very much of a truism, a big emes it is that ... well, you have heard it before under a variety of other forms: some say 1) never judge a book by its cover or in this case perhaps a more appropriate aphorism is .... 2) greet each man with a smile and an open hand as if he were the Moshiach because at that moment when you are interacting with him, you really have no idea that it might not really be He!

I freely admit that this is an area of my own middos that needs a lot of improvement. In other words, I am prejudicial about which years ago Ben Z'L rebuked me many the time. Certain behaviors bother me-okay I admit it!-and from which I tend to draw rather harsh conclusions about the individual in question. I guess I should wonder how it is that other folks view me? How do they perceive me? Does it coincide with my self-perception? Then again, my self-perception, like that of everyone else, is continuously evolving as I experience more of life and a myriad of opportunities that often remind me how wrong I am about so many things, especially people.

Now it isn't that I do not intellectually understand the lesson that one should not judge others. I mean, after all, how difficult is it really? Furthermore, how many folks-outside of our closest relatives-do we really know? I mean really, deeply, on a level that penetrates? Yes, of course, its a rhetorical question; we may even not know our closest relatives as closely as we think! We all retain an inner privacy we may never share with anyone-not a parent, sibling, best friend-not even a spouse.

Still it remains a fact after countless many instances that people whom I have prejudged or toward whom shown coldness or displeasure so often turn out to be genuinely choshever menschen.

I "met" another one of these individuals in shul tonight-a man I have known for less than a year, perhaps ten months at the most. He is the kind of fellow who is naturally gregarious, a schmoozer, who involves himself in seemingly private conversations just because he's interested, I suppose. Not so much as a busybody, it's simply who he is. He wants to share the moment with as many as possible, a very successful person socially because he takes the time and trouble to introduce himself to complete strangers. There is no hand he does not shake. Scientifically speaking he is of the genus "homo sapien politicus."

I guess it was this about him, his conviviality, the ease with which he smiles ... that frankly annoyed me. It is not, however, a matter of happenstance, I think, this evening coincided with this week's parashat Mishpatim about which Reb Louis shared a splendid shtickl Torah from the Medrash Tanchuma.

Mishpatim reminds us that should we happen across our neighbor whom we dislike but find that his mule has dropped his load that the Torah obligates us to assist him to schlep it atop the mule once again-no matter that you may have more regard for the chamor than you have for its owner. Meanwhile something "magical" begins to happen while the two of them share the laboriousness of reloading the mule. A conversation invariably takes place with the result that one realizes that the other guy is not the schmendrik and perhaps even a menuval that he had thought him to be.

So it makes sense that The One Above created this particular mitzvah with the intent of fostering shalom between and among Jews who might otherwise have labored each under the misconception of the other and in this way lends credibility to what we say by maariv: "ahavas olam Beis Yisroel ..."

So you want to know what he said? Well, between mincha and maariv the other fellow whose "donkey had dropped its load" very touchingly related to me that my book had made a deep impression on him ... that it evoked memories of his mother's passing not long before and, as it happens, on the same date, November 22, as Ben. I was touched by his sincerity and his genuinely empathic mien, but the knockout punch came several moments later when he walked back to where I was sitting. I guess he had something more he wished to say.

I regard his latter comment as the most meaningful remark anyone has thus far said to me about the book, and I'll tell you ... thankfully there have been many kind words uttered to me and many fine folks have taken the time to utter and write many wonderful accolades, but this fellow's remarks tugged at my heart strings.

"I felt so good, so warm about how it was that you portrayed your ex-wife throughout the book. Your treatment of her was balanced, kind, fair-nothing that would suggest any crass opportunism to take a swipe. I really appreciated that. It really came through."

"Well, thank you, Moishele (not his name) thank you very much. Yes, she was my wife for twenty-four years and remains the mother of my three children." As I spoke, I noticed his eyes tearing up and saw his genuine sincerity and sensitivity as inherent middos of this large man, as big as a brown bear but as gentle as a cub.

After the last Kaddish, I scurried out with the intent to get this story down on paper, as it were. I am once again reminded that The One Above is the one and only "dayan ha emes."

It occurred that Moishele is very much like my late son Ben who also kept the softness of a teddy bear next to his heart.

Alan D. Busch

January 28, 2008
"Up Heaven's Slope: Dedicated to Our Kedoshim”

Why wrenched from hearth and home,

o'er hills and fields whence they came?...

Dreaming dreams didst thou freely roam,

awaken to morning cold and lame.

Wearily trod up heaven's slope

gray figures stooped, transparently thin,

recalling life from days before

while awaiting storms of Heavenly din.

Unlike Goliath in battle fell,

a travail, cold and dark, did numb

that David who had fought so well

would soon that night succumb.

Prayerful hopes shoes be found

for souls bereft and torn,

a moment to rest, a breath to breathe

for spirits dulled and worn.

Should not there have been one

for whom faith steadfast but rare,

that his would be ennobled by Thee

to seek his just and fair?

Who glimpsed the light but touched him not

whose spark had begun to wane

next day ere long gathered clouds again

for fewer who remain.

Bowed under lash by day,

by night a storm did rage.

Why had He not shown His way

a war He could have waged?

Aside bodies on planks they lie

precious heat what little remain.

Dreaded welcome soon might bring

next to whom they had just lain.

Still in death's kingdom shone

a light, a way, the day

when dawn’s rising would fewer eyes see

whose faith did them sustain.

The world we choose points us down

paths long sought by peace,

in the gardens of which we plant the seeds

lest memories tragically cease.

Alan D. Busch
Revised January 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

“Shacharis Musings" (revised 2/10/08)

As morning light little shines
in still wee hours before dawn’s rise
speak to Him before day begins
through visions of angels' eyes.

Praises of kindness and words proclaim
majestically soar o’er ocean sand
the majesty of Creator’s fame
know whom before doth thou stand.

Close thine eyes to worrisome day...
With shroud enwrapped o'er thee
bound both arm and head adorned
closer to Him a moloch be.

Ancient hopes on pages worn
in prayers long seen through tears,
awaken molochim early morn
to pray for length of years.

Examine each day ere too late,
In prayerful haste lest thou proceed
Secure a place at Heaven’s gate
Prey not upon man doth heed.

Alan Busch

Dear Readers,

Please see my other writings at

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dear Friends,

I am indeed fortunate to have the support of a good many fellow writers, family, friends and supporters-one of whom has written a splendid review of my book. The link below will take you to the Book Shelf feature of the current issue of Jewish Press. Please take note of the link at the bottom of the review to my dedicated website where you can purchase copies of the book.

Click here for review: Title: SNAPSHOTS In Memory of Ben

Please click on the following site Blessings for Dogs - Google Book Search to purchase some of the creative works of the reviewer.


Alan D. Busch

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dear Friends,

My book can now be purchaed at Target on line ...

snapshots in memory of ben : Books : Target Search Results

Monday, January 07, 2008

Dear Friends,

Here are a few more reader reactions to Snapshots. Please remember to continue to buy copies by visiting

It is a wonderful book, Alan. Clearly a work of love, and can be helpful to others on a similar journey. You touched well on something that others not in acute grief either forget, overlook or are uncomfortable with: grieving goes on, and on. Thank you for writing it and for sharing it with others


Hi Alan,

I finished reading Snapshots and just want to commend you on what a terrific job you did in many areas. By the time I finished reading it I felt like I knew Ben very well, in spite of the fact that I never met him. You also did a great job in describing the pain that continues long after the loss. As I read the book I got the sense that Ben affected the course of your life just as much as you affected the course of his, long before that tragic day in November. Snapshots gave me a good sense of your parenting experience, not just with Ben, but with the entire family. This book was very powerful on many levels.

My brother was killed in an accident involving a bicycle on June 15, 1957. He was 11 at the time and I was 7. Now, over a half century later, I still vividly remember all of the events of that day as though it happened yesterday. I'm sorry to say, the void that comes with the unexpected and untimely loss of a family member stays with you the rest of your life. The only thing that changes is your ability to move on as time goes by. As time goes by, also, you wonder what that family member would have been like today, and you feel that family member's absence when there are special events involving the family. I would bet my life you thought about Ben on your wedding day and envisioned what it would have been like had he been there with you to share the experience.

You are so right when you say the grieving process is very individualized for every different person. My mother was able to move on, albeit without a day having gone by where she doesn't think about her lost son and missing him. My father was a totally broken man who never recovered. He never wanted to go to bar mitzvahs because they were too painful and it filled him with sadness when he saw others enjoying themselves with their sons.

One of my most powerful memories came with the loss of a cousin in St. Louis. You might have known him -Sherman Bradley. He was a few years younger than me and I'm quite sure he graduated from high school at Ladue. He was in his late teens at the time he was killed in a traffic accident. It happened in an intersection where his truck was struck by a Greyhound bus. I'll never forget the way his grieving father, cousin Marvin, looked at me when I made my shiva call. He very sorrowfully uttered: "Now I know how your father felt." That says it all.

Alan, I hope the book is widely read and becomes a classic.

Anonymously Submitted
Dear Friends,

Please click on the link below to view and purchase copies of

SnapshotsInMemoryOfBen and note the link to a you-tube video

featuring yours truly.

Many thanks,


Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Morning 'Benji' Made Minyan

The "tsenter", the tenth man required to complete a minyan is much sought after, who enjoys an almost enviable position. It is he, after all, who makes it all come together, as it were. Without him, certain prayers, which require a minyan, a religious quorem of ten adult men, may not be said. Imagine holding in one's hands the power to prevent nine other Jews from hearing the Borechu, the repetition of the Shmoney Esrei, the Kedusha and all of the Kaddishim! That's quite a lot of prayer deprivation! And what is it that some cynics say about the inability of one person to make a difference?

To be the tenth man is, indeed, a weighty honor. At least nine other men await him eagerly. They welcome him to a degree unlike that accorded themselves. It's such an odd thing, in part because it represents a complete inversion of our usual cultural standard that takes a rather dim view of tardiness. Whereelse would you expect to find the accolades and adoration showered upon anyone else but the tsenter, a man who, by definition, is not only "last" but, in many instances, late?

Probably no where else but in an orthodox shul.

There are probably no more diametrically opposed character types within the world of orthodox minyonim than the "schlichim" and the "tsenter". As unfortunate as it may seem to say this, it has been my vastly limited experience that the typical schliach is a borderline nudnik; in most cases, he is a seemingly perfectly able man who-clutching his green plastic laminated cards-arrives at the shul in some instances driving very new and expensive cars, rentals I presume. He walks about the beis medrash during the recitation of morning prayers soliciting from each and every man contributions of tzedakah to his favorite cause-himself.

Often traveling in groups, outfitted in black caftans and a variety of styles of black hats, most of these schlichim are men who "learn", I imagine, in yeshiva-the majority of which I'd venture to say are in Eretz Yisroel, judging from the few words they utter-few seem to be American-born. It's an ancient Jewish custom to financially assist talmidei chachomim, the origin of which is with the commercially successful Tribe of Zebulun who supported the scholarly Tribe of Issachar. Not everyone is cut out to be a talmid chochem; it is nothing more than a simple fact of life. However, that fact alone obligates those of us who are not to support those who are. And I can deal with that. I guess it's their presumption of entitlement that annoys me. Perhaps if they brought in a dozen donuts or donated a bottle of good schnappes to the shul once in a while, I might warm up to them. Or even the radical idea of davening with the minyan on occasion might well benefit them.

Far fewer are those who arrive in shul looking somewhat disheveled, downcast and genuinely needy although there is one young man, named "Benji" who shows up every now and then who certainly is in need of assistance from his fellow Jews-not to sit and learn, but clearly to make ends meet. He is a young man who is probably in his mid-twenties and clearly showing the signs of emotional disability.

With a look of mental disorderliness about him that may be due to a failure to adhere to his medication regimen, he unmistakingly is a genuinely needy soul. One needs only glance at such a person to come away thankful for all of life's blessings. Indeed it is a fortunate fact of Jewish communal life that there is such a strong institutionalized tradition of tzedaka in place-that a fellow such as Benji can come to shul in the morning, when there are typically more worshippers, and leave with at least a few extra dollars in pocket.

This is the way it is and most probably, will always be.

But just last Friday, when for reasons unknown, the count of the morning minyan had stopped at nine plus "Benji" who-on any other given morning-might well have left after his collections-given a plentitude of men comprising the minyan, but this last Friday morning was "schvach"-slow indeed. The redeeming element here was the fact that young Benji-not unmindful of the fact that had he left just then, the minyan, of which he was the un-official tzenter, would have been reduced to nine, unable to move forward.

"Should I stick around to help make the minyan?" Benji asked of the quiet gentleman next to whom he was standing, a Kohein as a matter of fact, who not only knew Benji but referred to him as his friend whom- he made it known-the members of the minyan should help out.

"Yes, that would be good," he advised. "Did you bring your t'filin?" he asked, smilingly, but only half jokingly because Benji was not inclined, perhaps even unable to "don" tefilin. Mind you, his friend, the Kohein, knew this of course but only sought to make Benji feel like one of "the guys", who just so happened to have "forgotten" his t'philin that morning. And so Benji stayed long enough in any case for the first two kaddishim to be pronounced, after which two additional men arrived.

I studied carefully the expression on Benji's face as the kaddishim were being read, and I espied a clearly discernible look of great self-satisfaction. He was, at least, for the while an exceedingly important man! With the arrival of the two additional men, Benji was, as it were, released. Should he have left then, there still would have been a minyan plus one. So he did, he left, but before he stepped outside the beis medrash, Benji stopped to count, just to make sure that ten there would at least be upon his leaving. He left, with some much needed money in pocket and, I hope, the satisfaction that on this morning, he was able to give back as well as receive.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Dear Friends,

Here are reviews and reactions to my book Snapshots In Memory of Ben by several readers:

The first reviewer asked to remain anonymous:

How can one describe a book as beautiful which tells the story of a child's brief life and death as seen through the eyes and windows of the soul of a father? Yet this book is beautiful. If you have lost a child---then you understand how impoverished and pathetic my words are. I picked it up and read it, standing still, transfixed. It is a quick read---only 20 minutes.

Once, long ago, I hiked through a thick forest and stumbled upon a quiet, serene pool---its waters, crystal clear. It was hidden by trees and I somehow knew that I could never find it again in a 1,000 years of searching. The day was very hot, and I was weary. I waded in and discovered that it was far, far deeper than I had imagined for such a tiny pond. This book is like that pool: it is a slim volume----but its pages are far deeper than I would have ever imagined. The author is a religious Jew, and the spectrum of his sorrow is seen through the prism of his Judaism. But it does not matter: the loss of a child is a universal, private hell from which none of us truly ever escape.

Review 2

Snapshots: In Memory Of Ben

It must be one of the hardest things in the world to lose a child, and it's something that I could never begin to imagine. I learned a lot from Alan Busch's memoir......I learned what a lovely son he has, and even though Ben had health obstacles to deal with most of his life, he was a happy and upbeat young man, someone anyone would be proud to call their friend. I learned much about the Jewish faith, and Alan's quest to go through the grieving stages and to also help others deal with the loss of a loved one.
The most important thing I learned was what to say and do for a bereaved person, how it's just not right to say things such as "I know how you feel", or "he/she is in a better place". How sometimes just being there for a person and giving them a loving hug can help the slow healing process of their souls.
I truly feel that Ben would be proud of this loving tribute to his life that his father has created.
This book is a must read for anyone who has ever lost someone in their life and is having a terrible time getting over the shock of not having that person in their lives anymore. Alan Busch has written a book born from his own tragedy that is sure to help many others.

Laura W.

Please continue to support Snapshots by visiting

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Dear Friends,

Please continue to buy copies of Snapshots In Memory of Ben

Churban ...

Whether in battle or prayer, they met their end,

futile struggle, Kiddush HaShem.

Their foe, a Goliath, of thousands times size,

from whom they refused to accept the lies:

that they were weak and unworthy, unable to rise.

Never before had there been such daring

from young women and men all of whom caring

for the dignity of those for whom they fought,

such were the lessons history had taught ...

that the Jew stood alone, friendless, against foe,

counting his days, tormented by woe.

His task ... to prove though troubled by pain,

the courage of Masada had not been in vain.

For three months, the struggle did not cease,

neither side desiring peace.

For 'surrender' was an unthinkable word,

from the sewers of Warsaw could still be heard:

the cries, the anguish, the torture within

ferreting out captives the nazis whose grin

was evidence they had acted with glee

when stifling yearnings of people to be free.

Cords of 'log-bodies', stacked just the same,

secular and religious none to blame.

For there was NO such difference before the Hun,

the Jews for him were decidedly one.

Why a people whose destiny has been

to enlighten a world through darkness and din,

whose numbers are as many as they are few,

why so despised has been the Jew?

Threatened with death should he adhere to his ways,

terrorized by chimneys' billowing haze.

Searchingly hopeful ... in whose starry gaze

reflected infernos' roaring blaze.

Why did none act to stop it once known?

Enough indifference haven't we sown?

Praying to the heavens as they did every day,

that soon they'd see planes flying their way,

so bombardment, please God, should take us

ere the chambers would,

but the Allies

denied they could ... destroy the railsleading straight into Hell,

from which precious few reemerged to tell

of the horrors awaiting them,

so hard to believe,

that neither kindness nor life did the arrivals receive.

The children, too, thrust into the pit,

enraged blood lust, into its infernal fit

that even the babes whose potential so great

should have felt the steel of this magnificent hate,

whose cries were heard, but listened to none,

whose heads fell limp with the snap of a gun,

whose parents, God forbid! they saw as naked as they,f

or it was like this ... they suffered that day.

There are those who challenge what we have to say,

"Does such a retelling remain relevant today?"

"That, somehow, It's past, gone. Let it be!"

"Why do you make us suffer to see:

the killings, the children, the mountains of bone,

the chambers transformed so many to stone!

who dropped like logs when the doors were thrown wide,

there simply had been ... no place to hide,

mothers whose skirts offered refuge at least

little ones uncovered ...thrown to the beast.

"Of what use" it was queried,"could they possibly be"

in a stench wherein no one was happy or free?"

Ne'er a glimmer of hope would the murderers give

to those whose sole wish ... was only to live.

Mothers from children, families asunder,

might others have withstood this fury and thunder?

Slave labor was needed to further the 'cause',

to build V-2 rockets, to sharpen the claws.

or such, 'noble' men, doctors by fame,

were employed to brutalize, murder, and maim

so that 'Science' could learn when life was so cheap,

discarded mankind onto the heap.

'Great' governments had met in order to be

as pious as possible, but deaf to the plea ...

of the wandering Jew whose torment to see

how unwelcome he was in the 'Land of the Free'.

The ship onto which so many had stormed

could not find refuge for opinion had formed

that the Jew was expendable, a nuisance, a thorn

upon whom fate had abandoned its contemptuous scorn.

They made it to America these "tired and poor"

to discover Liberty's spark shone little more

that, for them, there was not room enough to remain,

what hopes they had cherished were all now in vain!

Dejectedly they limped back to the place

which had expelled them at first for the same lack of space.

Stripped naked and paraded for the world to see

what sickness had afflicted modern Germany?

Once active and vigorous this citizenry

wandered about aimlessly.

It didn't take long for the nazis to see

that the world cared less for these Jews to be free.

A 'final solution' would quicken the pace

that guarenteed mastery to the 'Aryan' race.

No longer at issue either sufferance or claim,

onto Jewry was placed the burden and blame.

To repair the world, there must need be

a point at which we accept responsibility

for right against wrong, fiction from fact,

a basis upon which we can responsibly act,

but why even distant from then,

what more do we gain, what message we send?

For the sake of the children,

if not for our own ...

and for them whose lives ...






Alan D. Busch
revised 2008
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