June 13, 1896, Prague a warm day, old stone schul you stood before the minyon wearing the skullcap repeating ancient words that lay on paper, rehearsed sounding false on a tongue swollen in anxiety. Your tallit, white woven with blue threads hung at your knees fringe fingered, rolled and unrolled, twisted until touched to skin words inscribed, etched into collective memory. Seventeen years later sitting with Buber did words come back and stick on your tongue and later still when you studied under Bentovim, did words take form, shape, dredging up a past kept suppressed walking in desert heat knowing salvation was down a hill, entry forbidden. Lying in your bed in Hoffman’s Sanitorium, the trees of Kierling blooming did you recite Kaddish as endless night engulfed you.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 32, No. 1 (2008)
For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
On our first visit to Prague it was almost hard to imagine that this bridge was built to ferry people and traffic across the River. Now it is jammed with tourists and those for whom tourists are a ubiquitous market, and anyone needing to expeditiously cross the cranky water that every now and again must indulge the bridge, or use the less interesting bridges adjacent. There is a veneer of age about this ancient the statuary darkened by time and weather replaced when the waters get truly petulant and carry off statues they deem an affront. Motion on the bridge is slow and can tend toward gridlock, to the joy of those selling art and tchotchkes, and tchotchke arts that won’t be truly regretted by the buyer until it is hung on the wall next to the waterglobe miniatures of St. Matthias church and the parliament buildings Budapest.
This is how we mourn: we don’t berate the clouds for gathering, nor begrudge the rain’s ultimate descent. Our tears fall to the earth as well, and there are moments when we need the gray, moments when the sun would be an unwelcomed interloper. This is how we mourn: we wipe the walls clean of history, we whitewash them for they, too, must be a tachrichim* and when done we add the names, each lettered carefully, this a plaster scroll of those we dare not forget requiring the perfection they were denied. This is how we mourn: by walking out into the sunfilled sky, having given them the grave once denied them freshly dug into our souls and memory.
*tachrichim is the traditional white linen Jewish burial shroud.
Written following a visit to the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, where the 80,000 names of Czech and Moravian Jews who perished under the Nazis were hand-written on the walls of the synagogue.
Cities should abut rivers. The better of them do, and the best still have rivers running through them. That is the nature of a great city, it allows you to look at a river from both of its banks, and still be in the heart of the city. In Europe, this is an expectation, it is how cities were born, how they grew, outward from their heart and soul. So no one is surprised when wandering a great city, say Prague, Paris, or Budapest, to find a river carving its way through. Cities abutting oceans can only look outward, the water seeming infinite, as though the part of the city that ought to be on the other side has been washed away. Oceans imprison cities, and carry their dreams off to drown.