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Fortunately, school was over. I hadn't had a complete night of sleep since the funeral. I kept thinking about my grandfather. It was wonderful for a person to have so much faith, but what had made him have it? Whatcaused him to believe there is a purpose for everything? How could he accept the death of his three children? I
elt that perhaps I could learn some answers from Rabbi Isaacs.
It was a brutally hot Monday when I
decided to drive over to his synagogue. Broadway looked like a street that had tried very hard to stay awake but finally had to close its' eyes at 4:00 p.m. Most of the stores were shuttered and the barricades were up. The heat of the day kept customers in their air-conditioned homes and few would venture outdoors.
I parked the car near the synagogue. From my safe sanctuary, I viewed the building. There was writing in Hebrew on a sign over the door. I had never been inside a "shul." The windows were opaque with the dust of the summer. They seemed like eyes that looked at me with half-shut lids.
Across the street, a grossly obese woman was sitting on the stoop. Her bleached red hair was streaked with gray. Even from this distance, I was able to see the sweat stains under her armpits. She was drinking something out of a can. Two children were tossing a ball to each other. It was so quiet that the bounce of the ball cut the silence like a knife. I seemed to be standing in front
of the building for hours, but it was only seconds. When I looked across the street, the redheaded woman was still drinking from the can.
Rabbi Isaacs startled me. Come in, child," he said. "I'm glad you came."
Rabbi Isaacs was an old man. I realized he must be as old as my grandfather, but he didn't look as old. His beard still had streaks of black in it, and his hair under the black skullcap he always wore also had touches of black.
I walked the two steps down to what looked like an office. There were some people in the outer room. I closed the door to his office. The air conditioner made an undercurrent of noises but they were muted. Rabbi Isaacs stood up from his seat and opened it a few inches. I wondered why.
I looked around the room. The whitewashed walls were lined with thick, heavy books.
"What can I
do for you, Malkala?" Rabbi Isaacs asked.
wondered why he called me that. I'm sure he knew my name was Marian. Malka was my grandmother's name. I
wondered whether he was growing senile. I
had an urge to get up and leave, but something kept me glued to my seat.
"Rabbi Isaacs," I said. "I'm here because I want to know how my grandfather kept steadfast in his beliefs after witnessing the deaths of members of his family."
"Did you ever ask your father?" Rabbi Isaacs asked me.
"My father said that belief in the Lord is only for old people who need straws to cling to. 'Religion,' he said, 'is a crutch for cripples!' My grandfather and father were on two different sides. How could people of the same flesh be so different? I
need to understand my grandfather, and I want to understand my father."
"That's understandable," Rabbi Isaacs said. "There was a famous American saying during the Second World War. 'In the foxholes, there are no atheists.' During war, when shooting and death constantly surround a person, it is then we all cry out to the Lord. Inside ourselves, we know that there is a greater Being, but when life is secure, we want to continue with our own life styles. It is then that many people forget the Lord. They make Him a convenience. It is only when you have faith that you can have compassion for one who thinks he has no faith.
"Malkala, in order to appreciate your grandfather, you must understand his very soul. You must learn the history of our people. Your people. You must learn of your heritage. I would like to be your teacher, but my words do not come easily. I am used to thinking and speaking in Yiddish. How old are you?"
"Eighteen," I answered.
"I have a granddaughter close to you in age," he said. "Her name is Maomi. Should I
make an appointment for you to meet her?"
His hand reached for the telephone. I quickly shook my head in the negative. Rabbi Isaacs looked at me. I felt as if his eyes pierced me, as if he understood my every thought. He didn't say anything. He just gave me a slip of paper with her name, address and telephone number. His eyes glistened.
"You are your grandfather's granddaughter, Malkala," he said softly. "You are. You'll see."
The brightness of the sun hit me as I opened the door to the street. I
cupped my hand over my eyes against the sun. The redheaded lady was gone. The children playing ball were gone. The only thing in sight were the tears on my cupped hand as I left Rabbi Isaacs and his synagogue.
It was a glorious day. I knew I
would want to hold on to the warmth for the bitter cold winter months ahead. Neal, Janet, Joe, Carol, Kurt and I found room in the crowded park for a game of dodge ball.
"Throw the ball, Marian," Janet said. "Throw it to me."
"Okay," I said. "That's enough for me."
"I'll get the franks," Neal said. "Want to come, Marian?"
"No, I'm lazy," I replied. "I'll sunbathe a little."
"Lazybones," Janet said.
I watched Neal's progress through the crowd. When he disappeared from sight, I shifted my eyes to the group playing ball. They frolicked like seals at play.
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