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Alan D Busch

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Member Since: Feb, 2008

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Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life
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The piece will be newly entitled "Our Future Began In Our Past".

Our Future Began In Our Past

Certain childhood experiences are like good teachers.

And good teachers are like road maps. They show you

the several ways to travel from point “a” to point “b”.

The route you choose, well… that’s left up to you.

There are always, as everyone knows, certain stopping

points along the way. Whether it is to rest, eat or

appreciate the beauty of the scenery, we come away

feeling that we are qualitatively better off than

before, perhaps even indelibly impressed, reinvigorated,

ready to go on until such time when we need we pull off

the road again.

Unlike the certainty and convenience of small towns

 strung along the interstate-there is no map we can

consult to find the next rest area while cruising

life’s spiritual highways, The time and distance  interval

between any two points may be brief or it may happen,

as it did in my case, that years pass before we reach the next

point on the map.

What we do know, however, is-no matter how bizarre

or pedestrian the stopping off points may seem at

the time of their occurrence, their great value lies in the

life-long impressions they imprint upon our memories

and values. Only when we retrace our steps do we

realize how very fortunate, albeit unaware, we were to

have experienced what we did at the time.


“v’al titosh Toras imecha” (adhere to your mother's instruction)

The year was 1959. Everything about my parents’

divorce happened quickly. Just days before we had

been a “regular” family: father, mother, children.

Suddenly, my brother and I found ourselves living with

our mother and maternal grandmother in Olivette,

Missouri. My father remained in Chicago.

For reasons not entirely clear either then or now, my

mother enrolled us in the Epstein Hebrew Academy,

the first Orthodox Hebrew day school in Missouri, soon

after we arrived in St. Louis. It was, in retrospect, a good

beginning. My mother told me she “had grown up in a

fine home” that my grandmother Jean worked hard to

provide for herself and her two daughters, my mom and

her sister Iris. “But without any Jewish atmosphere except

on the high holidays,” she added.

“I thought it would be good for you boys,” my mother

explained when I asked her about her decision to enroll

us in the Epstein Academy. And looking back, my

mother was right. It was a good idea. Problem was we

felt like fish out of water. My brother and I hadn’t

received any prior Jewish training either in school or at

home, and I don’t recall having any personal Jewish

awareness at the time. To me (and Ron) it seemed a

scary, unfamiliar world of which neither of us wanted

any part. My sole memory of the Epstein Academy was

of the alphabet chart on our classroom walls about

which I complained to my mother. The letters were

unrecognizable, looking nothing at all like the “abc (s)”

I had learned before we moved to St Louis. Naturally

but unbeknownst to us at the time, we had been

looking at the aleph-beis, the Hebrew Alphabet. 

We complained so bitterly that within a week our mother

enrolled us in public school.

As a result of my “close encounter” with Torah

Judaism, I grew up a Jew who knew virtually nothing

about his Judaism-its richness eluding me and countless

other Jewish children whose attachment to Jewish life

was and would remain cultural rather than Torah-based.

My life would probably have been different had I

not disliked the Epstein Academy so passionately and

pressured my mother to withdraw our registration.

But I learned later-when I embraced my faith as

an adult-things happen as they do for the best. There is

no second guessing the ways of The One Above, despite

the many cynically “rational” voices to the contrary.

My upbringing didn’t lack the threads of Jewish life

(although there were many we were missing) as much

as we lacked its fabric. We celebrated the holidays in the

dining room of Aunt Iris and Uncle Marvin’s house.

Our one annual Passover seder, always replete with

ample supplies of machine matzah and a fabulous meal,

was the most memorable. Aunt Iris (whom we

nicknamed Aunt “I”) was a great cook. Uncle Marvin

led us through the redemption of our people, according

to the Haggadah from Maxwell House.

Shavuos and Sukkos were unknown to us. We

celebrated Rosh Ha Shana and broke the fast of Yom

Kippur with festive meals. We did not light candles, but

my mother did plug in an electric menorah each of the

eight days of Chanukkah.

My First  Shabbos

It was exceedingly difficult not to love Reb Moishe and

Chava Grossman. The parents of Harold Grossman,

my mother’s second husband, Reb Moishe and Chava

became Morris and Eve upon their passage  through

Ellis Island. A tiny twosome who lived fifty yards from

their synagogue Nusach Ari B’nai Zion, they were a

quaint, picture-perfect couple of old-fashioned dignity,

each crowned with snow white hair. I felt drawn to Reb

Moishe and Chava who spoke the blend of Yiddish and

English that author Leo Rosten dubbed “Yinglish”.

There was something about them I found so …

charming, I guess.

When the sun sets on Friday afternoon, Erev Shabbos

begins. For observant Jews, the Shabbos is kadosh,

separate and holy, a reminder of the Creation.

To me, an eight-year old Jewish boy attending public

school and living outside the observant Jewish

community, it was Friday night. I had no idea that

another state of being, Shabbos, existed on a parallel

but higher plane than our own.

Harold, my mom and I stopped in one Friday night to

visit his parents. Already several minutes after sundown

when we arrived, we found Harold’s parents sitting

quite properly on their plastic cover-fitted sofa, in total

darkness, as if nothing were amiss. Except for what little

remained of the Shabbos nerot, Sabbath candles,there was

no other light to be had.

We sat down with them in a state of virtual

for several moments until Harold, his
patience exhausted,

rose from his seat..

"Pa,” he pled incredulously, always the dutiful son but

who had forsworn Jewish religious observance when he

enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor, "You're ‘gonna’

sit here in the dark?! Lemme tur ..."

"Zol zein shtil, Herschele! 'Don' touch!” barked Zaide , but

who did not pronounce the 't' in ‘don't’.

"But, but ... " Harold blurted out.

"But, but 'nuting'! Shah!" Zaide thundered.

"Ma!?" pled the son.

"It'll be fine tatele. Listen to your father," Bubbie

"Mom, why are we sitting in the dark?" I asked,

absolutely intrigued by this most bizarre circumstance.

"Shah! Listen to Bubbie."

If only Mel Brooks could have seen this!

To this day some forty-seven years later, I do not know

if the Grossmans had failed to set their timers or simply

forgotten to switch on their Sabbath lights. It remains

nonetheless a fond albeit befuddled memory to this very day.

After a half hour, we drove back home to
Friday night

leaving behind the fascination of Erev Shabbos. Though

I was only eight years old at the time, its mystery had

definatelypiqued my interest.

A Lifetime Later

The return road to explore that mystery upset many lives:

those of my family, my children, my job, my marriage.I could

not have imagined the danger that lay ahead

“I feel this emptiness in my gut,” I confessed to my

We were out one summer evening and had stopped to

pick up some ice cream. The kids were home. There

wasn’t much time to talk things over. It was nearly

sundown. I noticed several cars hurriedly pulling

into the parking lot of the shul just across the way from

where we had parked the car.

“I want to be part of that,” I said, pointing to the shul.

“But we’ve not lived that way. It’s too much. We didn’t

raise the kids in a kosher home. I just don’t get why you

cannot be happy with where we are.”

“Jan,” I turned and looked at her, “I don’t understand it

myself, but I know in my heart it’s real.”

We headed back home. “You’re sure about this?” she

turned to me, “because I can’t go with you.”

“I know that, I really do,” I smiled understandingly.

“What about the kids?" she wondered. 

 “Tonight, we’ll tell them tonight.”

 “Your mother and I love you unconditionally,” I

began with our youngest. I looked at her, the mother

of my children and wife of twenty-four years, as if to

get the final go-ahead. She nodded approvingly. “But

Mom and I have decided … “

Zac, our youngest, wept a little boy’s tears. Ben, our

oldest, was incredulous at the announcement but had

known something was not right between us for a long

time. Kimberly, our middle child, had just completed her

freshman year at the university. Her mother drove

down and told her on the way home.

I moved out of my house soon thereafter to a nearby

apartment. Our children remained at home with their

mom, but I tended my bonds with them unfailingly.

I navigated the path of Jewish observance, at times very

clumsily, I feared. Unaware of its many gaping potholes

 which surely lay ahead, I felt uncertain I understood the

road map before me.

Alan D. Busch









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Reviewed by Inspire Hope 7/17/2009
Alan this story is very compelling!!
thank you for sharing, some of it
moved my heart to tears, what deep
convictions!!! Be encouraged!

Love And Prayers
Reviewed by walter wolf 7/17/2009
a fine memoir...there is a divine spark of our Judaism in all of us.

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