Missing one’s parents in Mequon: A Beth Israel tale from another century’s Rosh Hashanah 

 

I joined the Beth Israel High Holiday Choir after my bar mitzvah. The rules were simple, or so I thought. Come to practice twice a week and be there for each of the services. I soon found out that there was no written music to the prayers, and we learned the melodies by listening to them over and over again. My friend Rod Eglash joined soon after. The Marcus boys, Mel and Jack, also became my friends, as we were the only four boys in the choir, the rest being adults. The rabbi offered me $65 for the holidays. 

The Rosh Hashanah service was long and very tiring for a 13-year-old boy. It was the Yom Kippur service that was even more challenging. From morning till evening with several breaks in between. I remember that there was a small room off to the side of the bimah in the sanctuary and the rabbi instructed us that at the beginning of the Yizkor service we were to leave the sanctuary and remain in the room, and we were not to listen or look in on the prayers! 

This was a challenge I could not let pass, and the rabbi told the congregation that those members who had not lost one or both parents were to exit the sanctuary and neither listen nor look on during the service. As soon as the service began with the cantor singing a most mournful prayer, I slowly walked to the door of the room we went to, opened it slowly and peered out. What I saw astonished me! There were “old” people praying and chanting and wiping their noses and eyes from the tears being shed. 

I quietly closed the door and walked to the far corner of the room and could not understand what I saw. Old people crying for their deceased parents? 

I got a ride home that night from a member of the choir and when I walked in the door my parents could tell I was tired and stressed. My mother suggested I have a snack and we could talk the next day at dinner. 

As she planned, the next dinner we shared a wonderful meal of meat loaf, corn, mashed potatoes and a slice of blueberry pie. My dad saw me slowly making the “mixture” I learned from him: ketchup and mustard. He asked what was bothering me.  

“Well, I did what we were told not to do and looked in on the Yizkor Service.” 

 “And,” he said.  

“We saw people, lots of old people chanting and crying and wiping their noses and eyes. Why were they doing that?”   

He asked what I thought about it, and I told them that it didn’t make any sense to me. What else, he asked. That’s it. 

He quietly responded, “It is because we miss our parents no matter how old we are! Mom and I miss our parents and will miss them every day of our lives just as our parents missed their parents.” 

“But they are old, why do they still miss them?” 

“Because we do, and as you and David and Jerry will miss us when we are gone as old as you get.” 

“But you never said you missed your parents.” 

“Well, we guessed you would figure that out.” 

I hadn’t.