(Continued from here.)
Another moment from last Friday's service:
We always sing a soft niggun at the end of the silent Amidah to ease us away from personal reverie and back into the consciousness of the group. The rabbis lead the tune, and I always marvel at how it seems plucked from thin air (I'm pretty sure they don't choose in advance). This evening I finish the prayer, walk back to the bima, and listen for the rabbi. I don't recognize his melody at first, but then hear the refrain and the words he doesn't sing:
Oifn pripitchik, brente fayerel... (On the little hearth, a fire is burning and the school room is so warm, and the rabbi teaches small children the aleph beys [ABCs]. Pay attention children, think, you dear ones, on what you are learning here...)
We've used this tune before, although not for quite awhile. Everyone hums along, but I'm speechless for a few seconds. Tomorrow is my father's yahrzeit, and he sang this to me all the time when I was a very little kid--my mother, too. I never understood the words; my parents made a point of not teaching me Yiddish, whether because they wanted to be able speak to each other in private or believed I had no need for it as modern American, I'll never know. I always had a sense that they were embarrassed to know the language at all, as if it were horribly archaic and irrelevant. But they did use it, and those sounds always remind me of a simple and safe part of my life. And make me miss what's gone, but how can I be sad this evening as I stand surrounded by hearts warmer than any fireplace? I hear "Oifn pripitchek" and imagine my father humming along from somewhere, a little off-key, as always, proud and smiling and glad to be remembered.