By Keith Bloomfield
In the year following my father's death, I traveled the United States on business for a large multinational corporation. Saying kaddish on the road was always a challenge. I normally arrived in a new town late Sunday. When I reached the hotel and settled in for the evening, I searched the information packet in the room or the menu board in the lobby for a list of "Houses of Worship." While the church directory was usually extensive, it was more difficult to find a synagogue with a daily minyan.
One time in the midwest, I was staying in a comfortable hotel on the town's main strip with a large coliseum attached to it for conventions and concerts. I actually had my choice of two synagogues and selected the one closer to the hotel.
The temple parking lot was empty when I arrived. Maariv was scheduled for eight o'clock and it was already a quarter to eight. Had I made a mistake? Suddendly, a parade of cars entered the lot and the Rabbi, key in hand, rushed to open the temple's doors. I followed the daveners into a small, cozy chapel and took an aisle seat in a row near the back of the room.
As more and more people entered the room and found seats, a small knot of men, including the rabbi, remained at the front of the chapel, their heads close together in conversation. Once in a while one or more of them would look in my direction and then quickly turn away.
Eight o'clock came and went and the service had not started. Suddenly a group of men began walking toward me. They stood in the aisle in front of me. I slowly stood up.
"I'm Rabbi Ginzberg," said the man who had opened the doors for the others. "Is there something we can do for you?" His companions leaned forward waiting for my reply.
I quickly introduced myself and explained that: "I'm in town on business for a few days and my dad died last Passover and I need somewhere to say kaddish." I could sense everyone in the chapel take a deep breath and relax. The stranger was only there to pray with them and nothing more. The service began.
I said kaddish for my dad with several of the other members and quickly found myself on a reception line being introduced by the Rabbi to everyone in the room.
"Have you had dinner yet?" asked one older couple. I explained that I was meeting some business colleagues, but thanked them for the offer.
As the parking lot emptied, the Rabbi asked if I would be back the next evening?
"Yes Rabbi, I'll be back and thank you."
When I returned the next evening, the chapel was nearly filled. My presence had attracted dozens of members who wanted nothing more than to meet me. On the second day I was offered an alliyah which I humbly accepted. After services, I graciously turned down several dinner invitations and an opportunity to meet several nieces; all of them "just a few years out of college."
"I'll see you tomorrow night Rabbi."
"I'm counting on it!" he replied as we left the building together.
The sun rose on a clear bright Wednesday. I had one more full day in town and I would be returning home on Thursday afternoon. After work, there was plenty of time before I needed to drive to the Temple and I stopped at the hotel bar for a drink. The parking lot was filled and I suspected that something was happening that evening in the coliseum.
It was still early and only a few people stood at the bar, drinking and chatting while a newsmen on the television overhead silently recounted the day's events. I ordered a beer and brought it back to a table far from the bar.
At a nearby table sat several men and women sipping their drinks and laughing loudly. At the center of the group sat a man with a broad smile, wearing shoes the color of a cloudless sky in August. It was difficult not to listen in as he spoke of his life touring the country and the people he had met along the way names of people whose music I had heard throughout my life. I found myself leaning on one elbow in an effort not to miss a single word.
"Hey you at the next table!" I had been caught. "Why don't you just join us. You're already halfway into the conversation."
I couldn't resist and slid my chair across the carpet. He introduced me to his entourage, but I never quite caught his name.
Lost in the moment, was a portly man in bluejeans and a teeshirt that snapped me back to the present. "They wanna open the doors Carl and we ain't done a sound check yet."
"We'll be right in."
The crowd surrounding my host retreated into the coliseum leaving Carl and me alone in the bar. "You coming in to watch the show - my guest," he smiled.
"I'd love to, but I have another commitment," and I explained as best as I could where I had to go and what I had to do."
"I like that. Respect for your dad. You don't see enough of that these days. If I'm every playing in your neck of the woods, you come back and see me. Ya promise?" He thrust out his hand for me to shake and I grasped it firmly. "Not too hard now, I have to play two sets tonight," he chuckled.
As he followed his band into the coliseum, all I could think about were his bright blue shoes. I had just enough time to get to services and I stepped out of the bar and into the parking lot. There on the illuminated sign was Carl's name in two foot high letters. I had traded the opportunity to be the guest of a man whose music had inspired everyone from Elvis to the Beatles for a chance to honor my dad. I think it was the right choice.
from the April 2008 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine