Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Where authors and readers come together!
Alan D. Busch is an independent writer in Skokie, Illinois. He has published poetry and articles in
Living With Loss, Bereavement Publications, the Chicago Jewish United Fund News Magazine,
Passing, An Anthology of Poems by Poetworks.com, Skyline Productions and Aish.com. He is the
author of Snapshots In Memory of Ben, reviewed professionally in the Jewish Press, the Chicago
JUF News Magazine and Poetica Magazine. He is a contributing writer in Everyone’s Got A
Story, edited by Ruchama King Feuerman and published by Judaica Press.
Please read a short story for Tisha b'Av, entitled "Lamentations", newly revised.
by Alan D. Busch
His clothing caught my attention. Wearing wrinkled casual slacks, having
only the faintest hint of a crease, a pale yellow knit, perspiration-stained golf shirt and beige cap,
he bore the appearance of not being well cared for.
“Good evening, Sir,” I greeted him cheerfully. An elderly man, sitting alone in
the shul’s social hall, he looked troubled and sad.
"Good evening," he said, his mood perking up a bit, a faint smile overtaking his noticeably drawn
face and chapped lips.
“I was worried we would not have a minyan. It's nearly 8:00 o’clock now, and I've yahrzeit for
"Oh," I quickly reassured him. "We'll have a minyan. Please don’t worry about that.” I paused
for a moment. “Your name is, Sir?” He seemed to focus on my mouth when I spoke as if lip
reading. “He’s probably a bit hard of hearing,” I thought.
"Talisman, Irving Talisman.”
He had begun to say "Yitzhak” instead of “Irving” but stopped short. Maybe he thought I
wouldn’t understand or perhaps he felt uncomfortable referring to himself by his Hebrew name.
I really don’t know. In either case, I gave him my undivided attention.
“Reb Talisman, perhaps for your wife or your parents you have yahrzeit?” I asked.
He twisted his left arm a quarter turn with his right hand, revealing six subcutaneous green
numerals. He looked up at me from bloodshot eyes. Their dark shadows seemed as indelible as
"My parents.” he tearfully whispered, removing a soiled handkerchief from his pants pocket.
I wanted to take care of this man. If I could just help to comfort one grief-stricken Jew, isn’t that
what it’s all about?
"This way, Reb Talisman,” I invited him to accompany him down the hallway to the Rabbi Aron
& Rebbitzen Ella Soloveitchik Beis Ha Medrash. We both grasped hold of the door handle. He
"Should we enter? Looks like a bar mitzvah lesson going on." He was right.
It was an especially busy evening at shul. The sisterhood was hosting a speaker from the Skokie
Park District who spoke about local conservation efforts. The junior minyan was learning
mishnayos with the Rabbi’s son. Rabbi Louis, though ordinarily of good cheer, looked grumpy
after a long day of meetings, as if he were about ready to explode. And
to add insult to injury, I learned later his younger son had told him moments before we entered
the beis medrash that an electrical ballast had blown out in the shul’s high ceiling.
Reb Talisman and I quietly entered. When Rabbi Louis saw that I was escorting an elderly
gentleman to minyan, he reserved his upset for the next hapless fellows who followed us in after
we had shut the door. It turned out to be the talmidim of junior minyan.
"Close it!” Rabbi barked.
"Abba, it’s 8:05, time for Mincha. We have a minyan," announced Rabbi’s older son whose four
mishnayos talmidim cowered behind him.
I escorted Reb Talisman to a special chair I thought he’d like. Unlike the several hundreds of
stackable chairs we have in shul, this chair was more comfortably cushioned, distinctively but
peculiarly pink in color, and always placed by itself adjacent to the book shelves. It had been the
favorite of Reb Helman, the late father of the Rebbitzen. When I turned to check on Reb
Talisman, I saw he had chosen one of the regular seats by the “omed”.
"No problem,” I thought, “as long as he’s comfortable.”
"Ashrei yoshvei v'secha,” the minyan intoned, marking the start of the afternoon service. I
looked over to see how he was doing. He seemed fine.
“Yisgadal veyiskadash shmey raba … “.
Rabbi Louis learned the halachos of the “nine days” with the minyan during the brief interval
between Mincha and Ma’ariv. Tisha b'Av was just around the corner. After several minutes, he
designated one of the younger fellows to daven Ma’ariv, but by which time my focus had begun
to wane. I closed my siddur.
I thought of “kallah”, my bride of fifteen months. We had recently separated. "Maybe
she'll drive by and come to see me," I mused, while staring out the back window in the corner of
the beis medrash where I customarily sit. I heard what I thought to be a feminine voice. I
turned to the doorway.
“Oh … just one of the younger guys,” I dejectedly muttered to myself.
"Oseh shalom bimromav …”
The beis medrash emptied.
I escorted Reb Talisman to his car. I wondered what I'd say if anything on our way out."Good
night, Sir," I smiled.
"Good night," he said.
I touched his arm comfortingly and watched as he got in his car and drove off.
I fumbled for my keys. "If only she'd be home when I pull into the driveway …" Her car wasn't
there. I wasn't surprised. I sat there for several moments.
“How nice it would have been to tell her about Reb Talisman … maybe tomorrow.”
I opened the car door.
“There must be a lesson in all of this."
It soon became clear to me that The One Above had sent Reb Talisman to remind me that
others are grieving too and for reasons far more serious than mine. I could do a lot of good for
them if I could step out of my own "tsorris".
An act of chesed brought some comfort, friendship and the faintest of smiles to an elderly Jew. It
had been a "yom tov".
Alan D. Busch