When my mother was a child in Syracuse, New York
her parents couldn’t afford to have a car.
My grandfather, who I never met, picked out his tuxedos at the
Salvation Army Thrift Store to wear to work at the restaurant.
My uncle, the compassionate non-believer, didn’t care so much
they never went to Temple for the Holy Days,
but rather decried the hypocrisy that that’s the only day
everyone else went.
He delights in telling me religion is the worst thing that’s happened to the world.
The source of all conflict. This is usually immediately followed
by a barrage of his favorite Yiddish sayings, capped off by
a praise of a brisket on rye that can only be described as
Food is his religion.
A kugle his most sacred prophet.
A potato pancake his siddur.
If I could get him to go to services
I’m sure he would wear a bagel as a yarmulke.
And I have no doubt, by the time the Aleinu came long
that bagel would be gone.
My mother kept up the tradition of
not being able to afford a car.
In high school I spent more time on RTD buses
than I did chanting the Amidah.
When I first experienced ownership of a set of wheels.
I was 19 years old. It was a 1979 Saab my friend sold me
for five hundred dollars. He made up something about
it needing new tires to justify the low price. I paid him
a hundred dollars a month for about a year if you count
the months I skipped.
I didn’t realize the charity I was getting until much later.
The car only lasted a couple of years. I was putting the wrong kind of gas in it
and one day it exploded on the 210 Freeway.
What did I know from unleaded. We weren’t car people.
These days I drive my late model Honda to the synagogue
It’s complete with GPS and dead-animal seats. I paid for it the day I got it.
I leave boxes of clothing and other items I don’t need
on the front porch for the Salvation Army to take away.
When we go on a family outing our six year old gets to choose
if we go in mommy or daddy’s car. It’s a different world.
One in which I praise food almost as much as I do the Lord.
Who am I kidding…more.
Why do you always eat so fast, daddy, he asks.
I tell him, with all sincerity, because food always seemed like a luxury
when I was growing up. I never knew it was going to be there
and these days, when I see it, I just want to eat it all up.
Once I visited my grandparents grave in Syracuse.
I felt like the only family member who ever wanted to be in that spot.
I wanted to lay freshly tailored tuxedos at their headstones.
Coax my Uncle to join me by putting out a little nosh.
Tell them, under the ground, it all worked out okay.
We drive our car wherever we want now.
Sometimes go to synagogue even if it’s not Rosh Hashana.
They say my grandmother’s father was a rabbi, or
maybe just the first religious school teacher in town, no-one’s really sure.
And they can’t say where he’s buried either.
As I dip an apple in honey today.
As I feel the sweetness in my mouth.
I can feel him jiggling his link on the chain.
My wife and I have put the next one in place.
I don’t see this ending.