In 1925 the famous American actor and singer, Eddie Cantor, introduced a new song called “If You Knew Susie”. Its words were simple and the melody was catchy. “If you knew Susie like I know Susie, oh, oh what a girl…..” I think of that tune every shabbat when I see Ezra in the synagogue. “If you knew Ezra like I know Ezra, oh, oh what a boy…..”
Ezra is a bright, charming young three-year old child, son of a young lawyer daddy and a beautiful mommy. When they bring him into the synagogue on Shabbat mornings, the sanctuary lights up. He runs directly to his loving grandpa, a well-known and respected ophthalmologist, who serves as a gabbai.
He jumps into grandpa’s open arms and the love between the two is highly contagious. Grandpa lets him sit on the central bima close to the table from which the Torah is read. At age three, Ezra is becoming indoctrinated into the beauties of the Jewish religion. Now he is beginning to sing En Kelohenu and Adon Olam by himself with, well….maybe just a wee bit of help from grandpa.
I first met Ezra shortly after the death of my beloved wife of fifty-six years. I was saying kaddish for her and while standing with tears streaming down my cheeks, I saw Ezra sitting with his daddy two rows in front of me. Somehow, he turned his head and saw me. And in one instant, his bright smile brought me momentary comfort. I cannot truly explain it. And if I could, I doubt that my readers would understand the emotions of an old man making eye contact with a beautiful young child.
One Shabbat morning I approached him and offered him a lollipop which he took gladly while his daddy asked him “what do you say?” and the response from a tiny voice was “thank you”. From that first meeting, Ezra and I have bonded with one another. I love him as if he were my own grandchild.
My own three grandchildren are now adults and they no longer rely upon me to be the supplier of lollipops. But each Shabbat, Ezra runs over to my seat and looks inside my tallit bag. He has a choice of chocolate M & M bits, two kinds of lollipops, and occasionally a mini-chocolate bar. I offer him two or three of the candies and he tells me “daddy says I cannot have more than three”. But he continues to look at the “treasures” in my tallit bag.
After my wife’s death from pancreatic cancer in September, one week before Rosh Hashanah, I have not yet fully recovered from the pain of loss. My life seems to have lost much of its meaning since the light of my life was extinguished and left me walking in darkness.I questioned why and how I could go on living without her. Until I met Ezra ! God had sent me a gift.
In our Hebrew bible, Ezra the scribe was a 5th century BCE religious reformer who was freed from Babylonian captivity by a Persian ruler and was permitted to return with other exiles to Jerusalem, there to begin the re-building of Jewish religious life. Ezra has rightly been called the “Father of the Jewish Religion”, for it was he, aided later by an associate, Nehemiah, who taught the Torah to the exiled Hebrews and enforced observance of Jewish festivals and Sabbaths.
The shoresh or root of the name Ezra comes from the Hebrew word “ezer” meaning help or support.Thus little Ezra is rightly named for he is, indeed, and has been for some months, my best medicine. No therapist could relieve my pain as much as my weekly “visit” with Ezra. He has helped me to control my tears and to begin smiling once again.
Often, after services, when congregants gather in the Kiddush room for a “bissel” herring or gefilte fish, washed down with a prime whiskey or vodka, Ezra walks to the cookie table to play the game of eenie-meenie-miney-mo, which cookie to take first, he does not know. So I “help” him to decide by bringing him a plate of assorted cookies but “daddy said I could only eat one”.
Sometimes I enjoy playing a game of tag with him. I run after him and he runs in the opposite direction, giggling all the way. I play peek-a-boo with him and try to hide so he can catch me. He, however, prefers to sit up tall in a chair munching on the cookies he has selected.
My son the doctor tells me I am acting childishly. I reply how glad I am to hear it. It helps me to recall earlier days of my childhood when my beloved zaideh and I played similar games. Ezra has been a help to me on my road to recovery. I don’t think recovery will ever return to me completely but Ezra’s beautiful smile, his giggle, his twinkling eyes, his affection for me make every Shabbat an oneg…a joyous day.
At age 97 I will not be able to attend Ezra’s Bar Mitzvah in thirteen more years. But somehow and in some way I must return to him the love which he gives to me.
Blessed be his parents and grandparents who have taught him love and respect for the Jewish religion. His exposure to the synagogue services to which he looks forward weekly will forever be his “gersa d’yankuta”… his childhood memories which he will retain for all the days of his long life.
I wish that everyone could have an Ezra to embrace, to love, to cherish. Eddie Cantor may have had his Susie. But I have, and I cherish, my three-year old Ezra. And I look forward to smiles and hugs for many more years. I’ll be sure to keep my tallit bag full of goodies.
This Shabbat will be animal crackers. Which one will he prefer… the elephant or the tiger?