A Time to Rejoice
A boundless mass of wild colors and waving limbs screamed and laughed
and talked on the grim, dark expanse of the synagogue parking lot.
Jonathan Schlom, a carpenter, watched the congregation as he headed
toward the building. He seemed to be the only one wearing plain, black
trousers, a white, buttoned down shirt, neatly tucked in at the
circumference of his waist and a conservative solid, brown tie that
choked his neck. A frizzy mess of gray and light brown hair stuck out of
his leather cap. His wife of thirty seven years, Leah, walked slowly
beside him mocking him, it seemed, with stark contradictions of colors.
The dark blue blouse and green dress, a red scarf draped over her
shoulders. It was a crazy, wild cult to Mr. Schlom though they all
waited for him. Stiffly, he mixed into the sweaty crowd inside the
synagogue. He had to bend his head foreword when he entered the
coatroom. Jonathan peered over yellow hats with long feathers sticking
out, and black slicked hair as they flowed into the sanctuary. He passed
a table with two, sickly paper plates that begged him for money. Two
heavy coins dropped in each one, upsetting the silence of the bills that
were now supporting them. A large, white rabbit followed by a one-eyed
pirate passed by as Jonathan Schlom stepped onto the large Bimah.
A loud, annoyed voice broke through the roar of voices. As the room
quieted it changed, subtly to a pleading tone. The Rabbi addressed the
"If we could have your attention we are ready to start reading the
Magileh. Please keep in mind that you are obligated to hear every word."
Jonathan took out the yellowing scroll that was in a tube on the brown
wooden pulpit in front of him. The Rabbi helped unroll it and fold it
into six column sheets. It was the same scroll his father gave him on
his bar mitzvah and he learned to read it shortly after. And for forty
nine years he had read it, someplace or another, on Purim. His voice had
lost its agility over the years. As if a frog from his child hood
crawled in his throat; but Mr. Schlom welcomed such physical reminders
of his youth. The scars and stiffness, staining his body in various
places, a sacred weariness and realization that he had done much in his
life. These memories came teeming back in an unorganized flutter as
everyone stood up and he started the preliminary blessings.
Along with his voice, the uneasiness and fear that was once associated
with reading publicly, faded. Now there was only the empty mechanical
memory of the sounds and a slight twinge of pain for his wife. Jonathan
knew she was the only one who was not listening; who couldn't. His eyes
wearily scanned the words, the bags tugging at the lids and blinking
uncontrollably. Trying to remove the transparent mist of a budding tear.
None of its brothers followed. That is what made his voice slacken and
the tune to die and shrink into a shrill cry; a prayer.
Jonathan's callused palms filled with puddles of sweat and longed to
hold onto something. But there was nothing now, not even a silver
pointer shaped like a hand. Now he was to follow with his eyes and keep
all the rows straight and clear in his mind. He succeeded with much
"Va'yehi b'mai achashverosh hoo achashverosh ..."
There was silence except for some muffled sniffles or coughs. He rested
his arms on the thin plastic that covered the brown, silk cloth. Beneath
the fancy layers was an emaciated wooden incline held up by a thick
column. It was not even gold covered, as if the traveling was over and
it was in its final place. There were shiny pestilent blotches reflected
from the lights. He ran his hand across the smooth surface. His thought
flew behind the words he said and almost with a tune. Leah is not well
..must get help for her ...or ...not good to think about it ...not
today ...it's ...a joyous time ...everyone else happy ...so ...I must be
also ...a joyous time. The tune that carried his voice grew stronger.
Even I shall rejoice ...not good ...to be sad so much ...anymore ...I
..I'll be happy now ...Leah! ...maybe she's hurting again ...a ...needs
a doctor maybe ...too many doctors ...no one happy with doctors ...only
sick ...only sad. Mr. Schlom reached the end of a column and forced his
eyes to look up they dragged his thoughts with him.
In the second that his eyes averted and detached themselves from the
page he looked for his wife. As he wiped around he was thrust into the
stares of many strange, drunken faces. Painted with makeup or wearing
strange hats, they glared at him angrily. The ladies section was
quarantined behind him. Jonathan saw the myriad of faces, oval and
sagging; looking mysteriously back at him. Over their heads now ...up to
their combed down, styled hair. In his eyes they were all erratic blobs
of flesh and color. Only one face sat, staring dumbly back at him,
startled. That was Leah, her black wig a little lopsided and uncombed. A
piece of wiggley flesh hanging below her chin. And the deep wrinkles of
her face, reverberating waves of sunlight; all leading up, to her ears.
But there was no sound for Leah anymore, just a jumbled hiss or murmur.
She was still getting use to the feeling. The doctors told her that this
loss was only a symptom ...of some disease she couldn't make out; not
even with Jonathan trying desperately to translate. It didn't matter
that much. She stopped listening to people and things long ago. Now she
appreciated their sight, the way the colorful object curved everything
around it; how everything was bland and ugly in comparison. And now she
was sitting; unable to fulfill one commandment out of many she never
really believed in. Oh she pretended to! But only with her friends and
her parents. Only Jonathan knew how she felt although he tried to become
deaf when he admitted it to him. Leah looked straight ahead of her in
The two men who stood next to Mr. Schlom were, at times, his good
friends. They stood, one at each side, and listened. Occasionally, when
he got confused they would whisper the tune or the correct pronunciation
of a word. He would give a hidden smile to thank them and they would
never say anything afterwards, only shake his hand rigorously and
congratulate him. And they would motion him to stop whenever there was
too much noise. He'd catch his breath in the tense silence and refill
his mouth with moisture between reprimands. The two men, the Rabbi,
Mordicai Sofman, and sexton, Shalom Rangel, always had their heads bowed
into a holy book, following each word he uttered carefully. Then their
eyes would flare up and they'd scream the correction, stopping
everything. And they would demand that he read more perfectly and that
what he read was better and more important than the read. Jonathan would
say the word over again, slowly, and wait for the angry stares to wear
Jonathan Schlom had been a happy man. That was before ...when he was the
chief carpenter in Molson Building Co. He was the tallest man there and
everyone needed his help when setting the foundation or putting up the
roof. He liked to build things; to see each nail go perfectly straight
into a piece of wood; to smooth out cement and tile a floor. He only
wondered why Leah was so hard to control and unlike his tools. He kept
telling himself that all she needs is a little grease and some time, but
all he got was a giant oily stain. When he came home, to his one story
red bricked house on Rodchester Street, he was tired. Leah would wait up
for him but would always forget dinner.
"I was so worried about you I guess I forgot."
"That's okay I wasn't really hungry anyway. I can make something for
And she would let him. And he would let her keep forgetting. So there
were no children! They were just screaming house breaking nuisances. And
yet he remembered waking up and longing for someone to teach. He wanted
someone to admire him, or to criticize, someone to watch.
"V'ayikbitzu es kol na'arah b'sulah tovas mareh el shushan ha'birah ..."
He made up his mind long ago he would stay with her anyway. That is what
everyone else did and what everyone else said was right. He thought to
himself "I will be happy" and that was it.
The task was not as easy now. Now, he examined everything he said and
observed carefully if it effectuated anything. That was Mr. Schlom's
pain in his budding old age. He became a scholar somewhere along and was
never the same since. As if some crazy man walked into a bar and
convinced him. Only this is real ...I must see what is real ...there are
no lies in heaven. But all there is in heaven is lies; big beautiful
palaces; mountains of diamonds; singing, one legged angels. And the
people Jonathan Schlom read the Megilah to believed them all. They are
not lies, they demanded in a harsh tone, simultaneously behind his back,
only the purest truth. Here is lies, exaggerated and murky (don't you
feel that something is wrong when you see these) ... young, pleading
Rabbis, brown, writhing trees, and deaf wives. The truth lays beyond
them, lurking behind at the edges of their being. Often he had listened
to them ...before ... and looked beyond what he saw. But he came back
with a dark, red clipping of indentations when he closed his eyes. No
white light, no salvation. And he knew they were lying. The answer was
in the ancient scroll and in the tune he imitated.
In those black, fiery letters and the crowning, splotches there was the
answer. They shined brightly as if newly anointed and Mr. Schlom could
see space he could fit into. Somewhere in between paragraphs or columns
there was room. The faint, mystic pencil tracings identifying to the
scribe the page still remained. And large curves of darkness and gray on
both sides. The uncurling strings that tied everything together. His
wife would be faithfully mending it and trying to keep it from falling
apart. The stiffness of the animal hide, the sacred, backwards letters.
And his mouth singing over each word and the infinite affects as the
sound pulsated through the synagogue. Jonathan was over them all now.
Where his eyes read and his mouth uttered but thought were flying wildly
and carried him away. He was in front of the ark again, pleading for
forgiveness and for his wife. To hear the rustle of leaves or the scream
of birds or the Megilah in all its life and power. It was all he wanted.
Then he stumbled pass a three letter word and it brought him back.
One loud shout with infinite origins branched out. Sweeping forward and
shaking the building. Feet stamped, horns blew, wild red faced men
screamed with fury. The puncturing sound of metal clicking and whistles.
All was pointed savagely at Mr. Schlom and none relented with pity. The
sound grew louder and it scared the reader. So much noise ...a happy day
even ...to whom do they shout? ...No ...she will never hear this ...even
this she cannot hear ...even the taunting ...like gentiles. Must join
them ...even in noise ...to be happy again. He wondered if his heart was
upright anymore. Jonathan glanced again at his wife and at her ignorant
smile. She could not know ...never again ...when will the noise end.
Then the harsh waves of fury withdrew, leaving an old man, eroded and
atrophied. In an instant he was reading again and the dark spot of blood
flowed farther away.
"Mee hoo zeh v'aizeah hoo ..."
And each time he came to the stumbling block and tried to pass it
quickly, they attacked him from all sides. The whaling began again
boring a hole deep within his head. And the howling and noise making,
the rage and screaming became a praise; and the silence a taunting jeer
of Ester the slut and Mordicai the wicked. After he had finished reading
and rolled and hidden the scroll and myriad of hand thrust themselves
upon him. There was no sound now, only the cruel, sweaty hands and
sadistic faces. And, as Jonathan Schlom exited the sanctuary and joined
his bewildered wife a smile drew itself on his face.
By Samuel Saks
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Copyright © Samuel Saks