For a moment, during the past Shabbat, while I was finally reciting Kadish for my father’s second Iortzait (Iosef ben Pinchas Z’L) at the Wimbledon Synagogue in London, I thought the circle was closing right there, in that surrounding, at the same time a little alien but so familiar. It is paradoxical that while in Israel, on the exact day of his passing according to the Hebrew calendar, I could not find neither the place nor the moment for this ritual that our millenary tradition proposes every year. May be it was because Israel devours you with its frenetic rhythm, its thousands of small and large synagogues, and the overwhelming lack of liberal options. Be as it may, the day came and went. Between my obligations to the living and my bad timing, in addition to the secrecy of most Jews keeping their synagogue as the last fortress of our faith, my good intentions came to nothing. Since I was never an observant Jew, I left it at that.
Once arrived in London, with my first grandson born and the Brit coming up, there was nothing much to do but to quarantine and wait to meet him, while also getting ready for the ceremony. Quietly, according to the idiosyncratic British pace and educated whispering, in contrast to the hectic and noisy Levant, we decided to dedicate the Shabbat before the Brit to attend services at the Reform synagogue in Wimbledon. As masorti as we are at NCI Montevideo, we can´t deny the familiarity with the ritual, the timing, and the values that came from the Bima; we felt quite at home. By the end of the service the Rabbi, before Kadish, asked for anyone to name who one wanted to honour that day. Suddenly, I found myself saying my father’s Hebrew name loud in a congregation that was meeting me at that same moment; immediately, surrounded by that congregation, I was saying Kadish in his memory. I thought, and actually felt, that the circle was closing then and there.
As it happens, symbolism occurs spontaneously, and only later we are capable of “reading” into it, thus rendering it meaningful. Man can produce symbolic facts, that’s certainly one of our traits; but even so, some facts escape our control and actually impose themselves upon us in all its symbolism. Our tradition includes a ritual almost no Jew dares to skip: circumcision. It has been there for generations and most surely it will be there for generations to come, even in spite of “humanitarian” campaigns that have become so popular lately. The ritual is there for us to transit it as well as we can.
As a grandfather I had the honour to be the “sandek”, he who holds the baby while the mohel performs the ritual in the name of the boy’s father. It is said, and I knew it, that those who act as “sandek” are rewarded with a halo of sanctity for the rest of the day, and therefore we can bless everyone around us. I must admit I felt it wasn’t my role to impart blessings to others, but rather to feel and share the privilege of holding my grandchild. Nevertheless, it was I who pronounced Birkat Kohanim, the blessing of the children and grandchildren, when the ritual was over.
The circle closed at some point during the lapse that transpired between the performance of the act and the traditional blessings. May be it was while I held my grandchild, by then already named in Israel as Eliahu ben Pinchas Irmiahu, or may be during the recitation of the blessings; in either case, I was certain that it had not been the previous day, during Shabbat, but precisely at that moment. The memory of my father, who had had the privilege to attend his granddaughter’s chupah, was stronger in this moment than when I recited Kadish for his Iortzait. Shabbat, a time of increased sensitivity, predisposes and prepares us for moments like these. Two years ago I mourned my father, now I was welcoming a grandson. It turned out to be a meaningful equation.
My grandson Elías Fremd Silberstein was born nineteen minutes before Shabbat Vayera, when thousands of Jewish women in London were about to lit the candles; his introduction into the covenant of Abraham was a few hours after Shabbat Mevarchim (blessings), the portion of the Torah being Chayiei Sarah (the lives of Sarah). There’s not much else to be said. All is said, all is written, all is there to be interpreted and re-signified. It only needs for one to let go and get carried away by the current of life and the covenant we renew at every opportunity we have: a loss, memory, a birth. We close the circle of life only to open it again as soon as we can. This is what we are, even if for some of us it takes a life-time to realize it.
- My grandson’s name is the same as his great granduncle Elías Z’L, the first to arrive in Uruguay of the Silberstein family.
- The name of his great grandfather was Pinchas Z’L
- The name of his great grandmother was Sara Z’L
- The name of two cousins once removed is also Elías
- All this is plain, true data. It is I who make the associations.
- This is my own translation of my original text in Spanish at www.tumeser.com