Darkness Can Enlighten
It was exceedingly difficult not to love Morris and Eva Grossman.
The parents of my mother’s second husband, Harold Grossman, Morris and Eva were a tiny twosome, a quaint couple of old-fashioned dignity, each crowned with snow white hair, their language-a comic blend of Yiddish and English, that Leo Rosten dubbed “Yinglish”. They spoke like comic Myron Cohen who appeared often on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” If you remember that, you’re one step ahead of the game.
Certain childhood experiences are like good teachers. To paraphrase Charles Francis Adams, they affect eternity because we never know where or when their influence stops.
I grew up Jewishly but not religiously. The net result of my upbringing was I knew myself to be a Jew who knew nothing about his Judaism. Sound paradoxical? Not really as long as one knows there are Jews for whom the cultural components of Jewish life are at least as important as traditional Torah learning.
When the sun sets on Friday afternoon Erev Shabbos, the eve of the Sabbath, begins. For observant Jews, the "Shabbos" is "kadosh", separate and holy, a reminder of the Creation.To me, an eight-year old Jewish boy living outside the observant Jewish community, it was just Friday night. I had no idea there is a parallel dimension, another state of being called “Shabbos”, the Sabbath.
Harold, my mom and I stopped by to visit his parents in their apartment on Briscoe Court on the western edge of University City, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb with a sizeable observant Jewish community. Already after sundown when we arrived, Harold’s parents would not have answered the phone had we called them, and even had they wanted to invite us over, they could not have because their apartment was, we discovered, enveloped in pitch darkness. After our eyes adjusted,we saw Mr. and Mrs. Grossman,whose feet barely touched the floor (actually Mrs. Grossman's did not) sitting quite properly on their plastic cover-fitted sofa as if nothing were amiss. Not one ray of light shown.
"Pa," said Harold 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?! Just lemme tur ..."
"Zol zein shtil, Herschele! 'Don' touch!” barked Zayde who did not pronounce the 't' in ‘don't’.
"But, but ... " Harold blurted out.
"But, but 'nuting'! Shah!" Zayde thundered.
"Ma!?" pled the son.
"It'll be fine tatele. Listen to your father," Bubbie (a Yiddish term of endearment for "grandmother") counseled.
"Mom, why are we sitting in the dark?" I asked, really very intrigued by this most bizarre of circumstances.
"Shah! Listen to Bubbie."
If only Mel Brooks had seen this!
To this day some forty-seven years later, I do not know if the Grossmans’ lights were on timers but had neglected to set them in time before sundown or simply forgotten to turn on their Sabbath lights. It remains a fond albeit befuddled memory to this very day!
We did not stay much longer. Leaving behind the magical, albeit dark wonderment of Erev Shabbos, the Sabbath Eve, we returned home to Friday night, a dimension in time far more illumined but much less interesting than the mystery of Erev Shabbos in the apartment of Morris and Eva Grossman.
Alan D. Busch