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One Hundred

My great-uncle Dave turned 100 Friday, and Saturday morning his synagogue threw him a large party to celebrate.

In the extremely off chance that anyone reading this was also there and saw me have to leave the sanctuary to compose myself not once, not twice, but three times, I would like to briefly offer the following reassurances:

  • I am not insane. At least, not dangerously so.
  • I am not pregnant. (Yes, I’m sure.)
  • I am not menopausal. (Yet)

What I am—or more accurately was—is unprepared for what the day would hold. Saturday was organized around a Shabbat service. Shabbat services have many parts, and my Uncle led the morning service. Various family members read or were honored during the Torah reading service. And there were yet more honors during the mid-day service.

Punctuated in between were vignettes from Uncle Dave’s life, which included the story of his sleeping above a fireplace to remain hidden in his Ukrainian home during a period of pogroms, of checking to see if the family’s visas came through when they lived in Bucharest, and of celebrating his Bar Mitzvah shortly after arriving in US on July 3rd, 1922.

The combination of sitting in the sanctuary where I grew up, of being among 200 or so people and realizing that I knew or was related to the vast majority of them, of hearing my uncle daven in his high, distinctive voice, and of seeing his face in that of so many cousins, brought a tsunami of emotion crashing over me. Specifically, I thought about my Bubbie (my Uncle Dave’s kid sister) a lot yesterday and felt her loss in a way I rarely have since she died. She’s the reason I had to leave the sanctuary three times to compose myself.

Which is crazy, because she died nearly seven years ago, just shy of turning 90, and she lived a full and happy life. I had her for 32 years. She was old, her body was failing her, and it was a blessing when she went. But she would have loved yesterday. She would have loved getting everyone together; she would have loved the service and the traditional cantorial program my friend Sharon put together; she would have loved seeing all the kids run around; she would have loved the food; and she would have loved gossiping about what everyone was wearing. (Bubbie, Sheryl’s dress was the best by a mile.)

And then, after the service and the Kiddush luncheon, my immediate family would have all gone back to her and my Zadie’s house on Woodbourne Avenue, sat in her kitchen, and waited a respectable three hours before digging into macaroni and cheese and tuna fish for dinner. She would have made a fuss over all the girls, and I’d be able to grab some M&Ms for a treat.

Which I’d eat at the table.

From a dish on a place mat.

And no, I’m not kidding about that.

That’s the kind of day I can remember, and it’s the kind of day I mourned. The other thing going on is that I was angry she never had a day like this in her honor. If my Uncle Dave is the oldest and most active in the synagogue of the brood and the eventual patriarch of the clan, then let the record show that my Bubbie was equally pious, was the matriarch of the clan, and hosted countless family get-togethers. It’s not that I begrudge Uncle Dave his party; I was delighted to be included. It’s that it seems unjust that my Bubbie didn’t live long enough to have the whole congregation turn out for a party in her honor and make a giant fuss over her.

What’s more, every time the rabbi or a family member mentioned my uncle’s dedication to scholarship, I’d think about how deeply religious my Bubbie was and how unfair it is that no one ever hired a private tutor for her (as they did my uncle) to nurture her abilities. Her genes and her gender cheated her out of that kind of recognition.

My head was still churning with this toxic mix of grief, nostalgia, and righteous indignation when I heard a story about Simon that broke the spell and made me howl with laughter. This would be funnier if I could name names, but I really shouldn’t. Let’s just say that a certain person of my acquaintance was talking to another person of my acquaintance at the party. Person A likes Person B very much, but the feelings are not reciprocated in full and Person A’s affect can be awkward and discomfiting. Simon was talking to Person B, and enjoying the attention, when Person A came over to strike up a conversation.

“What’s your name?” Person A asked Simon after a spell.

“Simon Wolfson Riff-ruff” came the response.

Person A, now finished talking to Simon, attempts to resume the conversation with Person B. Simon, meanwhile, is having none of this interruption. So he looks at Person B and declares loudly and clearly:

“I can’t like this people.”

How awesomely rude…. and just plain awesome.

One Response to “One Hundred”

  1. blg says:

    1. Wicked Simon. I am still grinning.
    2. Point well taken about your Bubbie’s gender (at the time) keeping her from the fullest of education.
    3. Having spent the weekend at my Aunt’s funeral, spending time with all of my family — this simply resonated with me.

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