Then God decreed: Now make for Me a home
where I, among the Israelites, will dwell.
And bring My tabernacle when you roam
so I may join you on the path as well.
Each tribe brought offerings as they were told.
Fine jewels, the hair of goats and purple thread.
They built God’s house with silver, bronze and gold.
Acacia wood and skin of rams dyed red.
But why must space for God be so ornate?
May I not say Sh'ma among the trees?
May I not worship as I wash a plate
or dance my Hallelujah by the seas?
We build God’s tabernacles at great cost.
Yet pay no heed when holiness is lost.
My father’s first pulpit was in Kurkliai, an off-the beaten-path shtetl in Lithuania. The year was 1919, and the little wooden shul - with its small tower, peaked roof and stairs that led to the women’s gallery - resembled 18th century Polish wooden synagogues, none of which remain. The modest sanctuary served the few Jews who lived in Kurkliai. Poor villagers lacking gold, silver, bronze or onyx stones with which to grace their house of prayer. The scraps of blue, purple and scarlet linen in the Kurkliai shul - tallis bags, Torah covers, a curtain for the Ark - were lovingly woven by Basha Freydeh, the wife of Yudel the tailor, and clumsily embroidered by their daughter, Mereleh, who was, according to my Poppa, by then a spinster without charm or skill.
Eligible suitors did not visit remote Kurkliai, and my Poppa, the rabbi, was the only single man for miles around. The tailor and his wife often invited him to their home for Sabbath meals, where Mereleh spilled Kiddush wine, served challah, dry and burnt. By candlelight, my Poppa read the message in the spinster’s glance. You are my only chance, come lay with me. Wisely, he packed his bag and escaped temptation before the village yentas could wag their tongues.
She was a widow with a new-born child.
His wife had died. He had two sons to raise.
She was a beauty, obstinate and wild
who measured grief in cubits, set ablaze.
He wooed her with the passion of his youth.
He offered Song of Songs and David’s psalms.
Did she return his love? I have no proof.
’Twas his two boys who soothed her breast like balm.
But who can say where we will find our bliss?
We build our houses, praying they will last.
The widower, who craved a morning kiss.
The widow, sleeping, dwelling in the past.
Both needed what the other could not give.
They wore their masks not to deceive, but live.
copyright 2017 Ozzie Nogg