20 January 2008

10 degrees and getting colder

This Dunn Brothers is crowded today. Usually, during the semester there is much less noise and more open tables. But today, a day before school begins, everyone seems to be busy at work as if finals were upon us. Though there are more smiles here than finals week would suggest.

I don’t mind the beginning of the semester. Actually, I hate then end of it--the necessity of grades and grading.

The temperature—again, returning to the weather when there is nothing pressing to say, has presence but not substance. There are no degrees, but there is weather. I actually went running in it today--when the thermometer hovered about zero. I used to run regularly in this type of climate, but this seems to be the first time I’ve thought that perhaps it is too cold to attempt going out into the weather. When Gary is about, there is usually no issue, but alone I lack some courage. But I forced my way out, and though the sound track was not great, it was sufficient and I made the loop—between 6 and 6 ½ miles. There were a few other hardy runners out there, but little mutual acknowledgment. Just amazed to come upon another soul, she kept running.

Today this environment intrigues me. I like the mix. I'm glad I am here today.

15 January 2008


When I arose this morning and walked out of the house, I thought that perhaps it had been a mistake to take the afternoon flight to Vancouver. Anna Rose was away and not at breakfast with me, and Emma had been out late and stayed abed. I went to Brueggers and Caribou accompanied only by The New York Times, my thoughts and my luggage. I planned to leave shul at Kiddush and go to the airport. I would arrive in Vancouver at 7:00pm if all went well, and then go out to dinner with Bill. But if all didn’t proceed without delay, then the evening would not be as pleasant and smooth, and all would be rushed, and the pleasant meal and conversation in the luxury of a nice restaurant would remain a fantasy. Perhaps, I considered, I would have been wiser to take the earlier plane and thus, ensure, an earlier arrival and the surety of a relaxed dinner.

Izzy Berkovitz died this week. When we first started attending Beth Jacob we sat in the back row in which Izzy and his wife, Bea, Oscar and sometimes his wife, Lynette, and Harold and sometimes his wife sat. I think our regular attendance displaced Harold whose attendance was seasonal—he is retired and winters in Florida, and so abandons his need for a chapel seat for almost seven months of the year, but every week Izzy and Oscar occupied the back row benches of what came to be known as Section B. I think Izzy and Oscar were both in their eighties when we first joined them for Shabbat nine years ago, and over the years they have shared the growth of our children, and so when it came time first for Emma’s, and then for Anna Rose’s Bat Mitzvah, it was obvious that the Berkovitzes and the Steins would receive invitations. Izzy was a Kohan, and Oscar, a Levite, and so they were often honored in shul with aliyot, their status in the community’s hierarchy not shared by many. We requested that they receive aliyot for both Emma’s and Anna Rose’s bat mitzvah, and each stood on the bimah next to the girls as they read Torah. They were, for me, family.

Izzy died this week, and his loss left a huge gap in the last row of section B. Izzy’s wife, Bea, did not attend this morning,—she was dependent on Izzy for this participation—and Harold is in Florida. When I arrived the row was empty, except for Oscar. I went up to him as I always did when I first entered the chapel, shook his hand and wished him a Shabbat shalom. I would always do the same with Izzy and his wife. But no one was there this Shabbat except Oscar. Alone, he occupied the entire row. As I put on my tallit, I decided I would sit next to him this morning, to keep him company. He thanked me. Oscar again received an aliyah this morning, and when he returned to his seat he told me that he had told the Rabbi that I had sat next to him this morning to keep him company, and that he was very grateful. When he left right before musaf, he turned to me and shook my hand, and said, “I appreciated what you did for me this morning. Thank you. I know what you did.” And at that moment, I knew that being there, in shul, and not on the plane to Canada, had turned essential. I had knowingly and contingently done a mitzvah. And I didn’t care who knew it, except maybe Oscar. But I didn’t need him to know it; I just had to sit next to him this morning so that he would not be alone. That was all.

Posted 1/15, but composed 1/12