Small Talk in a Sacred Space

Some things in the shul were foreign to the visitors: an Israeli flag, a transliterated program and the Hebrew writing on the wall  צדק צדק שאתה פארסא; other items offered comfort and familiarity like a magnificent ebony piano or the two floral arrangements at the bimah. But for today, in this sacred space, all were made to feel at home with the Eternal, Adonai.

The distinguished Rabbi Einstein, with his silver hair partially covered by a decorative kippah offered a greeting to the half filled temple. He reminded the friends (who happened to be men and women suffering from a form of memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease) and their caregivers that in this place, all are welcome.

Six or seven ladies in the front row chattered a bit. There eyes were fixed on the lovely young woman with blond hair. Martha comforted her friend Jane and said, “Oh I do hope she will play the piano today!” They giggled uncomfortably when the Rabbi introduced the woman as (the other) Rabbi Schorr who had spent 13 years studying piano, who admitted that she really was not an accompanist.  Soon their soft laughter turned to sweet smiles as the most melodic sounds flowed from the Rabbi’s mouth like sweet harvest wine. There was a bit of confusion as the guests tried to follow along with the Ma Tovu and the Esa Einai.  But soon the crowd was engaged with the rhythmic, repetitive sounds of “Lai, la lai lai” throughout the chorus.

Even the most frail of the elderly in the temple searched the heavens as the Rabbi read these comforting words: “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?”  Frozen in time, we waited for an answer from up above. The words of assurance came from Psalm 86,  the “Gates of Healing” for In my time of trouble I call You, for You will answer me.

All eyes turned to the ark as the Torah, covered in white, was raised high and carried throughout the congregation. “Oh,” Lily remarked joyfully, “these are the words of the Lord given just for me!”

How do you follow that remarkable moment? Fittingly, Rabbi Einstein  was able to stir something in each of us as he lifted the shofar to his lips and welcomed in the New Year!

And how will I remember this morning that was different than any other days? I will remember John who said to the Rabbi, “Can I pick out a yahlmulke? Can I take any color I want? Does it come with velcro?” I will remember that as I escorted Sally to the social hall for a marvelously prepared lunch by loving, generous temple volunteers, she said, “Oh, I cannot eat there. I have no money.” When she was assured that she was a guest for lunch, she said that “God makes lovely people in all kinds of religions!” I will remember that Geri and I had a lengthy conversation about mandarin orange waldorf jello. She blushed as she asked for three helpings and made me promise not to tell anyone jello always reminds her of kids in the kitchen during the depression. “What a luxury jello is!” I will remember that small talk can be a big deal to gentle souls who feel safe and loved in a very sacred space.

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