Stuff My Father Won’t Tell Me, Part 8
My friend Harv walks to the Persian Shul as often as he can on
Unlike the majority of its congregants, Harv is not of Persian
descent; neither is he from Iran originally nor is he a Sephardic Jew.
“What is it about the Persian Shul, Harv that so strongly attracts
you?” I asked him many years ago. My curiosity stemmed from the
fact there is an Ashkenazic shul in our neighborhood within five
minutes walking distance of both of our houses.
“I go to receive the brochos of the Kohanim,” he replied, referring to
the Sephardic custom of “duchining” every Shabbos-a prayer recited
aloud by a kohein or kohanim who serve as conduits through whom
the blessings of Ha Shem pass to the larger congregation. They are a
source of spiritual enrichment, blessing and protection.
“Alan, do you want to walk with me to the Persian shul this Shabbos?”
“Truthfully, I really don’t Harv. It’s so far away. Maybe some other
time.” He always looks so dejected although he's known me long
enough to have expected it. Harv’s strength lies in his persistence.
As a matter of fact, a walk to the Persian shul takes about an hour or
so starting from our neighborhood. It’s not the walk itself that
disinclines me but the fact I’ve an Ashkenazic shul with which I am
very satisfied one block away.
However, I did go with Harv once several years back. I enjoyed the
Sephardic niggunim, the prayer melodies that differ from those one
hears in the Ashkenazic shuls.
“So, I’m trying to work out a deal with this guy Mel from the
Persian shul,” Harv informed me several weeks back as I escorted him
home after Friday night Shabbos services.
“Mel? Would that be Mel Yisraeli?"
“You know him?” Harv seemed incredulous.
“Sure do and for many years. I know his father Mayer and his Uncle
Rueven. They used to own a women's clothing business on the near
southwest side for years off Roosevelt Rd. My dad would recommend it
to all of his female patients. Oh Harv, if you only knew how hilarious
Mayer and Rueven were. They had ‘schtick’ Harv you wouldn’t believe.
They should have been playing the Jewish resort circuit in the
“I just saw Mel there last week with his father and Uncle Rueven. I’ m
sure they’d love to see you,” Harv remarked, unable to repress his
mischievous smile. It had given him away.
“Oh, okay Harv. You got me. I’ll go to the Persian shul with you this
We stood outside his front door chatting for several more minutes.
Harv has lived on this pretty, tree-lined canopied block for … God
knows, a lot of years. The double baby stroller for his young
granddaughters is ‘parked’ off to the side of the front door.
Our Shabbos morning walk to the Persian shul was pleasant. Cool
morning temperatures and a slight breeze made the hour pass easily.
Just before arriving, we stopped off and sat down in a nearby park.
Harv loves park benches.
“You know, when I was a boy,” Harv begins mostly every recollection
with this refrain, “there were benches everywhere. Everywhere,” he
emphasizes with both of his hands, as if he were encompassing the
“Harv, come on. We didn’t come all this way to sit and chat in this
The Persian Shul is an ‘exotic’ place. Its sanctuary is permeated by the
‘scent’ of the niggunim, prayerful melodies. Their middle-eastern
sing-song quality wafts through the air. The richness of the dark
woodwork provides a warmth that comforts. Were it not a makom
kodesh, a holy place of Jewish prayer, there would be incense
As it happened, neither Mel nor his father Mayer showed up for
services that morning.
“Psssst,” Harv whispered to me. “There is Uncle Rueven over there.” I
walked over to greet him.
“Mr. Mendelson,” I addressed him, tapping him gently on his shoulder.
He turned around. Before me that same distinctive face I had
remembered from years before. His nose was its most prominent feature,
of the sort about which anti-semites have always fixated. The gleam of
his eyes used to reflect so much joy and a good-natured playfulness, but
looked now as if they were asleep.
“Mr. Mendelson, do you remember me?” I asked with a broad smile.
“Alan Busch … my dad, Dr. Albert. Do you remember all the years we
came down by you?”
“Oh yea … I’m eighty three years old and I don’t remember too
well,” he said with a look of quiet confusion on his face.
“Well that’s okay,” I said, realizing the conversation was quite over.
“Shabbat shalom”. I extended my hand. “Be well.” He sat back down,
nodded off for several minutes, woke up and left.
“Huh, what a shame!” I muttered to Harv. “All those years without
even the faintest smile of recognition. Time does indeed take its toll.
If only you had seen and heard this man in his prime Harv. It’s all
rather sad.” I thought of my father for an instant.
I visited him the following Monday. I hoped the news I had at
least seen Mr Mendelson would brighten his day.
“Dad, guess who I saw on Shabbos morning,” I quizzed him with a
gleeful tone. I felt like such a kid.
“Who?’ he asked, looking perplexed. My dad has lost much
of his hearing. I have to remember to speak loudly and directly to
“Ruby!” he nearly shouted with joy. “How is he? Is he well? You spoke
with him, right? Did he remember you?”
I didn’t relish breaking the news to him.
“Well, Dad, not really. He just kinda looked at me blankly, told me he
was eighty-three and could not remember faces so well.”
“Oh …” his smile turned bottom side up.
“What about Mayer?’ he asked, trying to recover some of his initial
“Sorry Dad, but Mayer wasn’t there, but I learned from my friend Harv
that Mayer fell. Hurt himself really bad."
My father is the kind of man anyone would want as a friend. He is
forever loyal when others, often times, have forgotten. When you
speak to him on the phone-no matter how horrible he may feel – he
will not only never tell you that but his tone is deliberately upbeat..
It is, I feel, a reflection of his kind nature.
“What a fibber,” Bobbie said jokingly to me as my father was just
hanging up the phone. We sat together in the family room,
something the three of us had never done. My father’s illness has
redefined our interrelationships for the better.
“He never lets on,” she commented, but Dad heard it.
“Why should I worry them with my problems? They’ve got enough of
their own,” my dad quickly interjected. ”Bobbie, do we have Mayer’s
“I guess it’s in the book. Why do you want to call him? He never
returned any of your three calls. After that, I stopped thinking of him
as a friend.”
So he didn’t call me back. So what? Maybe he got sick, lost the
number. I don’t know,” he said in defense of his old friend. My father
always looks for a reason to justify the benefit of the doubt.
Bobbie returned from the kitchen with their personal phone
“Okay, Mayer, hmm ... Mayer Yisraeli. Ah here it is? Ready?”
“Yes, give it to me please.”
“847 87 … what? Slower please.”
“Okay, again … 847 …”
“I got that, just give me the number. 87 …?”
Dad dialed it, number by number, as Bobbie read it.
“It’s ringing,” he said with a trace of excitement in his voice.
Mayer? Mayer! he exclaimed, his tone exuberant. “Mayer, Al Busch.”
Bobbie and I could not hear Mayer. We had to surmise his words by my
dad’s responses. I watched as his facial expression turn downward and his
words become reduced to a series of “oh(s)” “uh-huh(s)” and “Gee,
awful(s)”. After five minutes, he hung up. Rueven and Mayer were in his
past, a reality with which my father struggles though he is certainly
aware he cannot obsess about the past and live his life.
“I have retired from the practice of dentistry,” he said matter of factly
to a friend over the phone. I feel good I was able to hear him say that.
“I’ve lived a long life, many years,” he added appreciatively.
I think my dad is a tzaddik, a righteous man. I’m awfully proud of
Shabbos: Jewish Sabbath
Sephardic-of the Sephardim: Jews from Spain, Portugal, north Africa, Arabic countries, Iran; non-Yiddish speaking Jews.
Ashkenazic-of the Ashkenazim: Jews from central, eastern or western Europe; Yiddish speaking.
brochos of the Kohanim: blessings of the priests (descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses.
Kohein: priest, singular of Kohanim
Ha Shem; literally, "The Name", reference to the Creator