Kaddish de Rabbanan

Originally published in Southwest Review
Winter 1982

                                (The poem and photo depict Rabbi Herman Simon of St. Paul, Minnesota, born Shimon
                                           Chaim Kovarsky, 1861--to Nesya Sheskin, Vilna, and Leib Khonon Kovarsky of the
                                           Sventsiany Kovarsky family--and educated in the yeshivot of  Volozhin and Mir. )

                                 Grandfather Graybeard
                                 ate a three-minute egg each morning.
                                 Looking like a guest just come in
                                 with his hat on,
                                 he blessed breakfast;
                                 he blessed the bread,
                                 he blessed the egg,
                                 and the giver of eggs--God.
                                 Something always eluded him.
                                 On its way in
                                 the egg dripped and caught,
                                 shone viscous and yellow in the bristles of his beard,
                                 a bauble for children;
                                 while framed,
                                 the rabbis of every principal city in Russia--
                                 the Rabbi of Minsk and the Rabbi of Pinsk, for instance--
                                 sat on the wall like handwriting.

                                 Grandfather walked down the hall
                                 in his white underwear (with his head well covered)
                                 or wore black broadcloth.
                                 Sometimes he performed the penny-bestowing ceremony.
                                 This was private and confidential.
                                 Produced mysteriously from his pocket,
                                 the gift of dull, thumbed copper
                                 gleamed, winked at us from between fat fingers,
                                 left off being common coin,
                                 became a thing of value.

                                 My grandfather was a rabbi at sixteen,
                                 who had read Spinoza and discovered what was the matter with his mind,
                                 who had written a book on Genesis,
                                 who every Friday afternoon spent two hours in the bathroom
                                          tearing paper for the whole family
                                                   so that the work of hands
                                                            might not sully the Sabbath.

                                 In the evening
                                 we stayed on the porch late,
                                 watching the stars light up one by one
                                 till it was finally night.
                                 And we heard the breath of the house behind us,
                                 hushed and waiting,
                                 saw how, when he went in,
                                 it closed around him.

                                 They are all gone:
                                 the shtetls of Minsk and Pinsk, the Vilna yeshiva,
                                 even Chelm with its fools.
                                 There is no place now for old Jews.
                                 Grandfather, my childhood lives
                                 in that fragile, broken shell in front of you.

                                                                           Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld


Copyright © 2000 M S Rosenfeld