Shabbat & Aging Parents

A majesty all its own.

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Recapturing Splendor

In a Hasidic tale, the king of yesterday is lost and unknown, wandering in an unfamiliar kingdom--his former glory unheard of by local inhabitants. How did we land in this foreign place? Where is the white cloth, the silver, the family heirlooms, the warmth of home? We have no choice; we must recapture a remnant of that splendor here in our shared exile of Lucite and plastic trays.

Though it is surely an impossible task, a glint of hope is reflected in my father’s saintly deep-set green eyes as he gazes intently on the Shabbat candles. Could there be a suggestion of memory as the zemirot are sung, perhaps a faint trigger of Proust-like Madeleine-esque recognition with a taste of chicken soup?

We are only passing through, so we are told. And this is where we are passing today. We have no choice, Hashivenu elekha venashuvah, hadesh yameinu kekedem. The table begins to soar, its golden legs lifting itself upward as in yet another Hassidic tale. This is the very holy of holies: the place of truth and purity. Here we eat and here we daven in this, an unfamiliar land, occupied with sincerity and goodness--with those who dance before the ark of broken tablets.

New Roles On Shabbat

Once upon a time there was an imposing looming bima, an animated rousing sermon, a booming amen, yehei shemei rabbah--riveting the very walls of the sanctuary built brick by brick by a young, vibrant rabbi. Once there was a father who stood as a conductor, baton in hand, boldly directing the music of our prayers and the choreography of our stances: “Please rise, please be seated.” Conductor then, my father is but a violinist now, and I am a page turner. Is that the name for the person who stands by the side of the violinist, patiently turning the pages of the composition? “Page turner” sounds awfully mundane for so lofty a task. I stand with one foot in the men’s section coaching and guiding the hallowed words of prayers, turning pages, pointing to the place, sliding my finger beneath line, and line, and line.

The exquisiteness and purity of my father’s tefillot are l’ma’aleh min ha-teva; they transcend the bounds of this world. The litvish-accented words are enunciated with an austere, precise devotion transporting listeners back in time and place to an alter heim, a town named Velizhe. It was there that these words and their cadences were patiently learned Ofen Pripichik style. There is nowhere on earth, no synagogue known, where a Lekha Dodi greets our beloved as my father’s now does: “Hitna’ari me’afar kumi, lift me up from the ashes, come and shine.”

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Rivy  Poupko Kletenik

Rivy Poupko Kletenik is the head of school at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. She was awarded the 2002 Covenant Award for Outstanding Jewish Educators.