Kaddish de Rabbanan
Originally published in Southwest Review
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;
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