Friday, June 8, 2012

Fish and Water

One of the most pleasant things about not being overly bright is that it permits one's mind to wander and roam unencumbered from one thought to the next. It is sort of like entrusting your television remote to Ten Second Tom. Retention? What retention?

This time last week I spent the afternoon in the company of several law enforcement officers who I am defending in a Civil Rights action - an action so specious by the way that had Rosa Parks suspected that such a claim could be filed under the federal and state statutes governing the protection of one's civil rights - she would have given up her seat on the bus, flagged down a cab and lived out the rest of her life in splendid isolation. By the time the meeting wrapped up, I opted against channeling my inner salmon and migrating upstream towards my office in Morris County. Instead I made the relatively quick and painless trek home from Union County.

Understand of course that a "relatively quick and painless" commute in New Jersey should evoke memories of the installment of the great Gary Larson cartoon The Far Side when Satan asks one of Hell's new arrivals, "Inferno or no inferno?" and before the poor bastard can answer adds, "Just kidding! They're all inferno!" Such is life in rush hour in the State of Concrete Gardens. [Apropos of absolutely nothing if you are a fan of The Far Side as am I then accept my gift of these additional gems set in the Home of Eternal Damnation including this one, and this one....and this one.]

My route home took me through Westfield, a town in which I have never lived but in which I spent a fair amount of time as a kid by virtue of the number of my friends and classmates at W-H who lived there. As an older, much grayer man I make it a point to spend at least one Wednesday night there every July. The Downtown Westfield 5K & Pizza Extravaganza has become one of the staples of my summer racing season....even if after running as hard as I can in 90+ degree heat about the last thing I have any interest in consuming is a slice of hot pizza. Westfield is now and has long been on my list of favorite places so even in unbearably hot and humid conditions, I opt in for the chance to participate in what has become one of its signature events.

As I was driving through Westfield last Friday afternoon I drove past Temple Emanu-El. I had a number of friends at W-H who upon turning thirteen years old made a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah. To my recollection, the first such celebration I ever attended was my friend Jill's. I do remember quite well that Jill's Bat Mitzvah was held at Temple Emanu-El as that marked the first time in my life up to that point that I had ever been inside a temple or a synagogue.

One of the reasons that I have such a vivid recollection of Jill's service is that since it was my initial Mitzvah I was both entirely fascinated by and utterly unfamiliar with the various component parts of the ceremony. Fortunately at the temple I sat next to my equally clueless friend Marty Lane. At the point of the ceremony at which the prayer scrolls (I did not know the name then and now still not so much) are being brought through the temple for the entire congregation to see them, both Marty and I (falling back on our separate yet similar Gentile religious backgrounds) presumed the the Rabbi was simply walking around with the collection plate....although neither of us had the first idea where the hell one would put one's contribution.

For what seemed like a lifetime but was much more likely to have been an eye blink, he and I were locked in a state of panic since neither of us had any money on us. We were in the midst of cursing our own stupidity ("It is a religious service - why would we not think there would be a collection?") when the Rabbi and Jill (and I think her parents) passed right by us, having done what they had set out to do, which was to share this particular moment with all those in attendance. Never in the august history of Temple Emanu-El has there been a congregant at a Mitzvah as elated as Marty and I each were at that particular moment.

And more than three decades later, the mere sight of Temple Emanu-El evokes a memory that brings a smile to my face and laughter to my throat. I am not a spiritual man. Not in the least. But I am a simple man. And that for me is enough....

....and more often than not it is quite a bit more.


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