Monday, July 04, 2005
113. Time traveler
F.'s grandfather was the cantor at my synagogue for 40 years, in the days when women wore white gloves to services and the congregation was Conservative in all senses of the word. His family stuck around when there was barely a minyan and through a sea change of ideas, rabbis, and thousands of new members. F. is in his 50s, neither old nor gray, and has a high-tech job, a wife, and a shy, brilliant teenage daughter. He's lived on the Upper West Side for decades, probably in the same apartment, but doesn't quite seem to belong here, today, in the 21st century. I imagine him as a time traveler, carrying our Torah scrolls with utmost care across a windswept, wobbling bridge that spans the era from then to now. He reminds me of the uncles I knew when I was a child, formal and yet always in good humor, most at ease in a world where people nod hello instead of hugging and where everyone, not just the hasids in deepest Brooklyn, reads Hebrew the Ashkenazi way. I've seen him rushing down the street, eyes averted, as if he couldn't wait to leave the alien land and get back to his own. Whenever I chant, he comes over afterwards and shakes my hand and says something so kind and witty about how well I did, how I read just like people used to--people who were men only, an idea from the past which, unlike his suits, he's long discarded--that I smile for hours afterwards.