This weekend I was in a discount bookstore – you know, the places that purchase close-outs and overstocks and sell them for $2.99 each. And this place was having a 2-for-1 sale, so I got wild…I bought TWO books!
I came across a title that I just couldn’t pass up. I didn’t even care how well it was written – the title was so mesmerizing that I had to have it.
“My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith” by Benyamin Cohen
I’m happy to say that the book is just as entertaining and compelling as the title, so I feel that my $1.49-and-a-half was spent wisely. It’s also taking me back to some memories I haven’t visited in a while.
I grew up in a marginally-practicing Jewish home and quickly transitioned to non-practicing when I was on my own. I have a very deep spiritual belief, but the laws and practices of Judaism never spoke to me. Nevertheless, I still hold a lot of the cultural nuances in my psyche and in my heart.
The other thing that I carry are memories of my grandparents. They were definitely practicing – kosher kitchen, synagogue many times a week, a little box for donating dimes to plant trees in Israel.
We only saw them a few times a year and it was a foreign world to me. I could never quite keep straight which set of silverware was milk and which was meat. The services were in Hebrew and seemed to last forever, punctuated by awful moments of women who I didn’t know – doused in huge amounts of perfume – pinching my cheek and “making” over me and how much I had grown. And always the feeling that I lived on a slightly different planet from my grandparents. I knew they loved me, but I never felt a part of the life that they lived.
But one thing was constant – no matter how far apart we were, I was always “Poppy’s girl”. For reasons I can’t quite recall, we all called my grandfather Poppy. And I always wanted to be near him. He was my touchstone, my protector, my Big Man. When he looked at me and smiled, the whole world brightened. I was named after his mother and I think that created a special bond that I didn’t understand until much later. He was the only one who called me “Laikey” – an old derivative of his mother’s name – and it made me feel so special.
As he got older, his memory and his health started to fail. We lost my grandmother and most of his will to live went with her. He moved into an assisted living facility and he grew more cantankerous. He lost touch with the joy that Judaism brought him. In the last couple years of his life, he grew so unlike himself that I don’t like to think about him that way. And yet, they are the most prominent and easily accessed memories for me, which means that I hold memories of my grandfather at bay a lot of the time.
Tonight I was reading “My Jesus Year” and it sparked some earlier memories of my grandfather – memories of him as a younger, vital, joyful man. A man who I adored so much, I refused to admit one afternoon that I was sick because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to play mini-golf with him – just the two of us – until I was vomiting on the course and he was getting me soda to calm my stomach.
This was a man who loved his religion, loved his family, loved his community, loved his wife, loved his volunteer projects, loved his customers…he was so full of love. He was so full of passion. He was so full of life.
In a moment of unexpected glory, I remembered that part of him tonight. It fills me with joy to remember the younger Poppy. The one who would take my hand and hold me tight. The one who loved me, no matter how different I was, simply because I was his “Laikeleh”.