Michel M.J. Shore

The Salon and ‘My Road to Jerusalem’

(In memory of my Mother, Dr. Lena Allen-Shore,  (Thérèse Shore), my Father, Sigmond Shore, and my grandparents, Dr.Jakub Herzig and Lusia (Leah Herzig, née Goldman)

I woke up to the Piaf-like voice, rising to my bedroom from the living- room downstairs. Although it resounded more melodious and less full, the accent in English was a mixture of Paris and Jaslo, heavier on the Paris, yet, charmingly soft. The piano vibrations held a resonance of treble, and I did not feel the deep lull of a bass. The lateness of the hour and the seemingly acute awareness which appears after tranquil sleep and tends, suddenly, to make of the child in us, a philosopher, combined itself with the richness of the melody to nudge an overflow of emotions, into an all-encompassing imagery. Suddenly, all the pieces of the life of the person of whom I had been thinking came together, as if I had been intoxicated by an embrace of intuitive comprehension. I sat at the top of the stairs and envisioned the scene.

My mother sat on a small, square, gold, four-legged, Louis XVI stool. The upholstered seat was flatly pillowed, sky -blue, the same colour as the rest of the living room, including the curtains, except for the gold rim on the moldings, just below the ceilings.

Being a child, it took me a while to realize that this living room was actually a salon and that all the other living rooms, I had seen in Montreal were not large dens without books. The furniture, paintings, sculpture, in the salon, like the inhabitants of the home, except for my one and only Canadian-born brother, had immigrated according to my mother’s wishes, from our 7 rue Raynouyard, 16th arrondissement, Paris apartment, across the street from the park from which the Trocadero and the Champs de Mars appeared. The large ornate gold -framed, rococo mirror, at the end of the wide, double- sized room, reflected the large chandelier and a white sculpture of the head of a smiling, little girl adorned in her braids. One of the two Persian, blue -motif carpets which covered the floor was visible in the middle of the room, from its far side.

A small, yet tall, circular beige marble table, also gold-legged with a golden ledge, was centered so, as to allow room for a large Louis XVI chair, now noticeably empty, where my father often sat, listened to my mother singing her songs, and frequently accompanying her by his harmonious whistling.

In the mirror, a barely visible sofa stood in the corner nook. All the material on the seats and on the backs of the chairs, as on the rest of the furniture, depicted colourful pastoral scenes inhabited by angels or young, regal, handsome men with their hair in buns and by dainty, painted pretty maidens. On the immediate, top left of the mirror hung a portrait of a fair lass, embracing and being embraced by two cherubic children. The top- right corner of the mirror exhibited a painting of guests in in a similar salon, although larger, which one would expect to find in a French palace; and a little further, the finest painting of all, from a museum, also, in a gilded frame, like all the others, of a dark haired, voluptuous gypsy, wearing a red bonnet and a black dress, adorned with crimson, holding in her hands handiwork of flax. The profusion of red in the painting combined with the brown dancing eyes, to give life, echoing a carefree, gypsy melody to the girl’s expression.

The room streamed with light which burst into a dazzling radiance in the mirror, beaming from the wall lamps on either side of a large fireplace which was never used, but was preceded by a regal, break-front of material, similar to the furniture, standing on four curved, gold legs.

On the mantle of the fireplace stood an antique gold clock with a white face. The time piece was centered between two, rather plump, reclining angels; Ever since I could remember, I had heard it chime only a few times.

To the right of the mantle, another large, Aubusson armchair, and in the corner- nook of the front portion of the double- roomed salon, a brown wood inlaid, finely- polished vitrine with curved, bay windows, displayed tiny porcelain, silver, gold and semi -precious stone- wears on brown silk- lined shelves. On the left of the mirror which could be seen upon entering the room, from either the regal window, double doors of the front of the living room,  or the single wooden door at the end of the room, where previously there hung a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, was a portrait of my gentle, but strong, handsome, expressive, sad blue- eyed father, who had passed away two years earlier.

Below the portrait, a rectangular, light grey, marbled table, edged to the wall with a few mezuzahs, some in a tiny, white mother of pearl, gold -encased jewelry box with a Magen David and a few small prayer books with metal covers, of the type which are brought as gifts from Israel.

It is here that my mother would pray before she ate breakfast in the morning and before retiring at night. The mezuzahs were lip-stick stained red, stained from being kissed; and, thus, each family member was blessed and prayed for, along, with the world, around a central prayer for peace in Israel. It was beside this table that my mother sat on the stool, playing the piano immediately to the left of a round, blue cushioned hassock, where I often sat listening to her sing.

The small hands at the gold – painted piano were smooth, only slightly lined with red fingernails, cut short. A loose gold- braided bracelet and occasional ring were put aside on the music- sheet ledge, to avoid clanking the keys. The short, but not tiny, figure of the brown haired, round -faced woman and the small, finely sculpted nose seemed to be one with the piano. Playing it was her way of relaxing, of entering another world, a world of yesterday, bringing it into her present; and, subconsciously, perhaps, trying to figure out what the next steps in the future of her two sons would be.

She was left with them on the passing of my father, her husband, when the present void in the house, suddenly, set in, on the night of the 29th of September, 1967, the 24th of Elul.  Within a matter of hours, on the 30th of September, the 25th of Elul, my grandmother, my mother’s kindly, also round faced, smiling, tiny mother passed away. It was my grandmother who brought from her large estate home of twelve children, with governesses, Hebrew language tutors and piano specialist, from within a tiny village of the Poland before the Holocaust, classical music and the accompaniment of the piano to my grandfather’s deep, melodious voice.

The autumn night had somehow linked itself, tragically, with the Second World War in Poland; and, perhaps, even more so, with the fact that during the war, my mother had been able to save her immediate family – father, mother and younger brother – and here, without a war, that had not been possible.

I remember the stillness of the house during the year of mourning, when that piano was never touched. Yet my mother was determined to give us as pleasant and happy life as possible, while providing all she could materially, by frequently taking the arduous, business trips which my father had so often taken.

She was determined to maintain her healthy, positive outlook on life and to heed the order, given to her, by my eleven year old brother, who had been closest to my father, upon our return to our lower -Westmount, Montreal house, from the hospital, where my father had passed away: “I forbid you to look like a poor widow who needs pity”.

I realized, only now, that from that moment on, resolve was in my mother, the same resolve which carried her and her family through the war. Looking back and now, I see the easy smile, the bursts of laughter, the more youthful attitude to life than mine to which I had grown accustomed, the optimism, the innocence, bordering on naïveté, the fresh, spring-like creativity of character, and the selflessness.

The calamity left much sadness but not a trace of bitterness. Her creative spontaneity, had  flowered into seventeen published books of poetry, over 100 songs, music and lyrics in Polish, French and English, and an M.A.,  in comparative education, a PhD in philosophy, and a meaningful philosophy of purpose which she taught in one of her profoundly significant courses to five thousand, graduate students, during her more thirty-five years of teaching at Gratz College in Philadelphia, in a course entitled, “Ten Steps the Land of Life” while being attached to an Ivy League University, University of Pennsylvania during a fellowship.

The radiant expression of awe,  the illumination on her face, the sudden short silence which you knew to be a prayer or a Psalm of thankfulness to God for something, had always remained. The youthful enthusiasm had not become the least bit, tainted by her graduate education. She never dissected that without which there would be no poetry in life. A sunset had remained the same marvel for her that it was when her father, my grandfather, a writer, human rights lawyer, poet , and poet of life, first pointed out to her, when she was a little girl traveling on a train to a vacation on the Baltic Sea.

She always pointed out sunsets, flowers, oceans and trees to us, with, I am sure, the same child-like expression, she showed her father on that train ride prior to the war, years ago. The child had remained in her; and, it is this, that she brought out in us and others. Whatever is unblemished, fresh, spontaneous, disarming, continually surprising, touching the noble emotions, allowing the sentiments to be released, appealing to the finest of instincts, her being evoked.

I recall a lecture which we both attended as fellow students in a Ph.D. program, given by Dr. Israel Efros, a philosopher- poet professor from Israel, a scholar well over eighty, a giant of a kind, gracious man. He spoke of Saadya Gaon’s commentary on Breishit, (Genesis), the creation. While every one was taking notes, my mother had tears in her eyes, thanking God for being able to participate in such a lecture, appreciating the miracle of creation.

Education kindled her poetic nature as it quenches that of others. In her travels to distant cities with my daughter, her grandchild, she stepped into the historical, regal images of the furniture of the salon; she entered palaces, gardens, sprinkled with fountains, recounting tales of those, who had once lived in these surroundings, sharing with my daughter the classical, background music of that era; and, even, occasionally, springing up for a quick dance. She held my daughter in those hands, which I, so often recall on the piano and particularly playing that song which accompanies me on my continuous journey to Jerusalem: “I Walked, I Walked, through Life on My Road to Jerusalem”.


My road to Jerusalem


I walked, I walked through life

On my road to Jerusalem.

I walked, I walked through life

On my road to Jerusalem;

Through Paris, Moscow and Rome

Through New York and thousands of towns

Through the mountains, forests and streets

Right and left, up and down.


From far away I came

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

I came here to pray

Jerusalem, Jerusalem.


They walked, they walked through life

On their road to Jerusalem.

They walked, they walked through life,

Through Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, and camps,

Warsaw ghetto, Treblinka and War

When they whispered “Shema Israel”

On their road to Jerusalem.


They will never be forgotten

Those who whispered your name,

Who were dreaming about you

But who never came.

They live in the morning dew,

In the clouds so gray or blue

And at dawn

They touch my hands with millions of hands.


From far away I came

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

I came here to pray

Jerusalem, blessed be your name.


I prayed in Jerusalem at the Wall

I prayed in Jerusalemt at the Wall;

I prayed for the peace of the world

I prayed for the peace of the world;

I repeated my old Hebrew prayer

Which my mother taught me one day;

And I wondered if the choir of angels

Prayed with me for every man on earth.


I prayed in Jerusalem at the Wall,

I prayed in Jerusalem at the Wall.

I prayed for the peace of the world;

I prayed for the peace of the world.

I was praying for Jews and for Muslims,

For all Christians,  and Buddhists, all persons;

I was praying for those who were forbidden to pray;

And my voice went up to heaven

At the Wall of Jerusalem;

My old prayer, so eternal for all my fellow men

At the sunset, the sun was smiling

Waving to me through the clouds;

For a while, I closed my eyes

Waiting for the stars.


I was dreaming about people

Joining hands across the seas;

Building bridges through the mountains,

Over hate and enemies.

And the flowers whispered softly;

Peace had come into the world;

G-d was happy, G-d was singing

In Jerusalem at the Wall.


I prayed in Jerusalem at the Wall

I prayed in Jerusalem at the Wall;

I prayed for peace in the world;

I prayed for peace in the world;

And one day when my dream will come true,

Men will never kill other men

All the children will live without fear;

And enjoy the daily bread of peace.

All the rivers in the West, in the East;

All the mountains in the South, in the North,

They will listen to God who will sing

In Jerusalem at the Wall.

About the Author
Michel M.J. Shore is a retired judge of the Federal Court of Canada and recently made a home in Israel. He is the writer of several published books and poetry collections.