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November 4, 2022

I wrote this on the Jewish Day of Love in 2021, in memory of my parents, who had both died on that fateful day, one year apart.


July 25, 2021

I took my 4×6 card with my Aliyah on it and walked up to the front of the synagogue. The Torah was taken out of the ark but the rabbi said that due to recent increases in Covid cases in Michigan, the medical team had advised him that the Torah would no longer be paraded around the synagogue and touched by its members. I just stood there, waiting for the Torah service to begin.

          I had asked and received the Kohen Aliyah which is the first blessing to be read at the beginning of the Torah service for Parshat Va’etchanan on July 24, 2021. Parashat Vaetchanan tells how Moses asked to see the Land of Israel, made arguments to obey the law, recounted setting up the Cities of Refuge, recited the Ten Commandments and the Shema, and gave instructions for the Israelites’ conquest of the Land. Since I was a Kohen (Kohen is the Hebrew word for “priest”, used in reference to the Aaronic priesthood, also called Aaronides. Levitical priests or kohanim are traditionally believed and halakhically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the biblical Aaron, brother of Moses,) I could get the honor.

          I was told I was a Kohen when I was young, as my father was also a Kohen and of course, his father, my Zadeh. I never asked how they knew for sure since my grandfather traveled on a ship from Russia when he was ten years old, to escape the pogroms in Russia, which were violent and designed to eliminate the Jewish people. My Zadeh was never religious, unlike my grandmother, Anna, whose parents were Orthodox Jews. I just simply accepted that my dad and his father were Kohens since that was listed on their gravestones.

          A decade ago, when my sister, parents and I went to my cousin’s twins’ bar mitzvahs, we got into a discussion with my oldest cousin Harvey and my cousin Scott on whether we were actually Kohens. Harvey said he was a Kohen since his father said he was. Scott argued that we weren’t and that it was a fictional story designed by my grandfather. I will never know now but on the word of my father and grandfather, I am sticking with this: I am a Kohen.

          I stood by the steps leading up to where the Torah would be read, waiting for my name to be called. I walked up the designated area, where Aliyahs were to be read. Since the pandemic of Covid-19 had begun, no one was allowed to touch the Torah scrolls. In fact, for most of the year and a half since March 2020, the vast majority of services had been done on Zoom, where everyone prayed remotely but together on screen. However, in the last months leading up to July 2021, as Covid cases declined and most restrictions were removed, in-person services were held on Shabbat, which also included those participating remotely on Zoom.

          I had never been the designated Kohen on Shabbat services before and the only reason I had asked for that honor was because it was my parents’ Yahrzeit on that exact day, the 15th of Av, called Tu B’Av, which the rabbi explained was the designated day of love for the Jewish people.  Seven years earlier, my father had died in Beaumont Hospital and exactly a year after, on the same day in the Jewish calendar, my mother died in her room at Regent Street in West Bloomfield, with my wife, Judy, my sister, Leslie, and Rabbi Shere by her side.

          My wife and I have believed since my mom died, that my dad came for my mom on this day, his Yahrtzeit, TuB’Av, the Jewish Day of Love. There are many who believe that there are no accidents. Well, in this case, I am in agreement. My parents dying one year apart on the Jewish Day of Love was no accident.

          I thought of my mom and dad when I stood up on the Bimah, semi-frozen, watching and listening to the Rabbi give his commentary. I just stood there, not knowing exactly where I was supposed to stand. I knew that once it was my turn, it would be easy to read the blessings as I had read them so many times at Bnai Moshe Synagogue in the small chapel on Mondays and Thursday mornings, when the Torah was taken out during the week. I waited for my turn and then was called on to read the first blessing. As I stood there and listened, I realized that this was the Torah reading when the Ten Commandments were read. Everyone in the synagogue was called on to stand up while Rabbi Pachter, the Rabbi Emeritus, read all ten.

          I understood that this was a great moment to be able to stand and deliver the Aliyah blessings. The Ten Commandments were read once a year, the same date as my parents’ Yahrtzeit. I stood there, wondering if my mom and dad were high above me, listening. I read the blessings as I had done so many times before and walked off the bimah stage, a little unsure what I was supposed to do next.

          My dad would have turned 90 if he were still alive. His birthday was August 14th. He died on August 11th, 2014, seven years earlier, three days before his birthday. He died as the rains came pouring down, flooding much of Beaumont Hospital and so much of Metro Detroit, the same day that Robin Williams took his own life. I later found out that Robin’s birthday was July 21st, the same day that Kenny died, and I couldn’t help wondering if my mom and dad had been able to meet what in my opinion is greatest comedian in the spirit world. (My other told me through a medium three years exactly after she died that she was searching for movie stars but hadn’t found any yet.

          The summer of 2021 was a summer of rain and flooding. We faced a small flood in our basement a few times and ended up replacing the gutters which had contributed to the flooding. We also found out we had lots of mold in our basement, discovered by a mold company, which we decided to have removed. We knew of so many others who had power outages and flooding as well over the summer, including my sister in Columbus. The medium who told me in a group reading that Milton and Rochelle and Kenny were there with me (she listed their names) had two major floods during the summer and had to get rid of so much of what was in her basement.

          There are times we have to clear out all the clutter we have accumulated in our lives, our possessions, and in our minds. How do we know what to get rid of? How do we know when there are sudden connections between events, between people? We don’t know when they reach us out of nowhere and give us chills. I can imagine the medium saying the word, “chills,” she utters when she feels the presence of ghosts who connect with her.

          I think of the ghosts before me. I remember Scott, who believed that the Goldman men weren’t Kohens and tragically died on May 28, 2019, at 58 years of age, just weeks after Judy’s brother, Joel, 61, died of a sudden heart attack. Scott and Joel died before the global pandemic had killed hundreds of thousands in the US and millions more around the world. Why then did two relatively young people die?

Today, I can’t help but thinking that Scott knows more than I do, that he has become wiser and now knows the truth about my grandfather, my father, and so many others who have left our world. If Scott cares any more about something that doesn’t matter much, he can discover the truth from our Zadeh, if my dad, Harvey, and I are really Kohens. Were we descendants of Moses or are these just stories we like to tell ourselves?

There are so many people who I grew up with and knew who have left our world. I started writing the book, Little Mitzvahs, after I turned 50 and I can hardly believe that 15 years have passed so quickly. I am now 65 and remember when my dad turned 65, when he told me how fast his 40 years of work descended on him. I have worked 44 years and understand.

I turn to prayer almost every morning. I dream and remember my loved ones and I quietly grieve for them and for so many more who leave us every day. I listen to the recent podcasts of comedians Louie Anderson, age 68, and Bob Saget, age 66, and know that each moment, each breath, is fleeting, is temporary, is a path to an end. But I am thankful nonetheless for everyone, for every memory, for each Aliyah, for each new moment.

I thank You,

living and enduring King,

for You have graciously returned my soul within me.

Great is Your faithfulness.

(from Modeh Ani prayer, translated from Hebrew)

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