A friend sent me an interesting tale just now about being recruited, as a teenager in Israel, by some aggressive yeshiva types. After he caught a ride with a young, slightly hipsterish rabbi while hitchhiking back home, a carful of rabbis arrived at the kibbutz where he lived to try to convince him to join up with them. There was a nice plot twist, when his communist father, also a traditional Jew in some sense, learned of the session in the car and got very worked up that his son would even give those bearded crackpots a hearing. He issued a stern warning about not letting them into his head.
Which reminded me of this story about my mother, and prayers.
My mother hated going to synagogue, which she found to be an empty exercise in conformity. Her funeral, which I conducted, was in a chapel at the Jewish Center in Peekskill, NY, the small town where my poor father was raised. So it was natural to point out, to those assembled, (we were in that sanctuary because of my late father’s burial decisions ) the irony of ths memorial to my mother taking place in a setting she always avoided. I told them about the last time my mother was in shul, a place I’d seen her maybe five times (if that) in my life, always for a bar mitzvah or wedding.
There was a liberal firebrand rabbi in her area in Florida. She was in a fairly liberal voting county but there were still plenty of jackasses who at that time supported Cheney and Bush, a “kinder gentler” (Bush’s father’s sales pitch for the new American Nazis) version of these outright klansman that run the Republican party now, and she was always pissed off about it and had no tolerance for her bigoted, shit-talking neighbors. This rabbi wrote a column in the local paper that ripped Florida and national Republicans a couple of new assholes every week. She loved the guy, he was witty and fierce and told it like it was, a clever, angry, intelligent breath of fresh air in a nation that was increasingly embracing jingoistic stupidity — and Florida seems to have a higher percentage of reactionary morons than most places she’d been.
A neighbor, a hateful old hag and fellow widow, knew of my mother’s admiration for this rabbi and showed her an item in the local paper that announced he was going to be speaking at the local synagogue at Friday night services. So they went to the nearby synagogue on Friday night. I hadn’t heard any follow up on her rabbi’s speech so I asked her about it.
“Oh, God, it was terrible! They introduced him, he waved, and he just sat on the bima the whole time, never said a word. There was no speech. It was sickening, false advertising just to get people to go on Friday night, and, of course, they did every fucking prayer in that goddamned prayer book!”
At which point there was a loud collective guffaw from those assembled in the solemn First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill chapel. It was Evelyn to a tee.
My father, raised orthodox by a religious fanatic psychopath mother, gradually saw the religious aspect of his life fall away. In the end he tasted pork in a Chinese restaurant (Szechuan shredded pork, a one time favorite of mine) and he liked it (though I think it was a one off) and as he was dying told me, when I asked him, that he didn’t care if I said kaddish for him or not. I actually mumbled that solemn Aramaic poem for 30 days, though not in a minyan (the ten who constitute a quorum for traditional Jewish prayer), usually just standing around with Sekhnet who said it in unison with me.
Life ain’t nothing but a funny, funny riddle. Thank God I’m a country boy!