This blog wears a yarmulke. It observes the many and protracted Feasts and Appointed Times of the Jewish religious calendar. It reflects, repents, atones and fasts over the High Holydays and it prays and feasts and feasts over the endless Festival of Tabernacles. The blogger gets holier, purer and fatter but writes not, nor blogs.
I’ve brought a note to explain my absence. It reads:
I have been walking in the ways of my fathers. As a result I didn’t write blog posts. It wasn’t a case of ‘couldn’t be bloggered’, just that you aren’t allowed to write on the holy days: writing is working.
Now I am back.
I’ll tell you a story. It’s a true story: I saw it happen with my own eyes.
It was on Yom Kippur, around the year 1956, that a small girl stood in the row in front of mine in the great synagogue and read her prayers. Small, bony, freckle faced, auburn haired, she stood among the men, close to her father and her brothers, and read those endless prayers. In all the empty vastness, beneath the great vaulted roof, the girl stood and read the order of service, word by word, letter by painstaking letter, in the archaic Hebrew.
At intervals her small bony fist beat her left breast as she read the Musaph prayer, the long additional service.
After twenty minutes or so the few men standing either side of her completed their reading and sat down. The child did not notice. Head down, with her right forearm a horizontal pendulum, her fist rising and falling against her left breast in slow periodicity, she beat out her ‘sins’:
“For the sin we committed in thy sight without intent, (thump);
And for the sin we committed in thy sight by lustful behaviour (thump).”
The synagogue swiftly filled. The cantor began his sung repetition of the Musaph prayer. The child, nowhere near finished, read on, beat on:
“For the sin we committed in thy sight by oppressing a fellow man (thump);
And for the sin we committed in thy sight by lewd association (thump)…”
As the repetition continued the congregation lifted its voices in chanted responses to the Cantor. At intervals the choir burst into song. Red head bowed, slow sentence by audible thump, the dogged child continued her reading. She had commenced, with the field, thirty minutes earlier. At this rate I reckoned she’d still be standing there, reading and beating for another twenty minutes.
A latecomer, a man, arrived to take his usual seat in this all-male section of the synagogue. Shaking thrice-annual hands – Gut Yomtov, Gut Yomtov – he progressed along the row of seasonal faces towards his seat. Bonhomie, smiles, handshakes distracted him from the problem I could see coming. The man would be unable to reach his seat, let alone sit in it. A small red-headed child, a girl, oblivious of this world, stood in front of his seat reciting the Musaph Amidah, literally ‘the additional standing prayer.’
During an Amidah the worshipper stands in place, feet unmoving, until the end. Further, during this prayer speech is forbidden. I feared for the red-headed trespasser who would well know she should not yield place nor respond in speech to request or greeting or command until the grim end. What would she do?
Latecomer, standing in mutual discomfort between the feet of the incumbent in the penultimate seat, took in the sight of the obdurate breastbeater. His face registered incomprehension, then frustration, finally defeat. He backed out, apologizing, embarrassed, bonhomie eclipsed, hands not clasping friendly hands, back to the empty end of the now fully occupied row.
The man turned and left the synagogue.
“For the sin we committed in thy sight by haughty airs (thump);
And for the sin we committed against thee by scornful defiance (thump)…”
The child, all unwitting continued her reading to the end.
“I read it all, Daddy.”
Proud of herself, she trod lightly the much put-upon feet of the row of men, making her father’s seat. She climbed onto her father’s lap and settled there, sucking her thumb.
After a good while the usurped man returned to the synagogue. As he made his progress to his seat, he looked around. I saw, in addition to the normal prayer book and Tallith bag, he carried a small package. Arrived at his seat, he searched the rows for something or someone. At length he saw her, his trespasser. His face of serious purpose fell open into a wide smile. He waved to the child, caught her gaze. Uncertain, she smiled back. The man beckoned her to come to him. She looked at her father, who nodded.
Trampling again she slipped and wove her way along the row to the place of her earlier devotions. The man stood, waiting. He took her right hand and shook it. He said something to the girl and handed her the package. He pinched her cheek gently as his smile once again broke his face open.
The girl hurried back to her father. She opened her package and took out a miniature ladies’ handbag, elegantly crafted in parti-coloured leathers, an exquisite piece.
Whenever she attended synagogue I saw the child carrying that handbag, until maturity claimed her and she disappeared upstairs to the Ladies’ Gallery.