Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sometimes it is about money and sometimes it isn’t.

This business with Sebastian Kornhauser has been taking up a lot of my thinking time lately. At the core though this all has to be about money. I know I am being redundant in saying how similar our situations were but even in this, that they are both completely from “human greed” as Peotr Molga put it has me wondering if things are ever going to change. My thinking is at the moment that someone used the Poles and their egregiously corrupt system to get to Kornhauser. I say this not from hard facts I will admit but it is rather an impression I have from reading a lot of the material he has sent me. The man had enemies. This is not to distract from how repulsive the Polish judicial system can be, it is just that I can’t help thinking that the man was set up and that the reason someone did this to him was because of arguments over money. I don’t know that we will ever see a true answer to all of this, I have a theory or two, but we may.

But then came the end of the week. It was Friday and these days this means three trips to the synagogue. I am still holding firm on the spirituality thing but I am enjoying the obligations if that is a reasonable way to describe it. My friend Eli, previously mentioned as being the object that should not be passed from the outside to the inside, returned from a trip home to England with the gift of an English language siddur, a prayer book, which has been to me like a new hub for an old cranky bicycle. I am working on the Hebrew but that the English is right there to remind me of what I am saying allows for a little more insidedness, which to me at least makes my going there a bit more real. And it also provides a subtext for our Rabbis, whose gentle argument as to how to offer prayers is creating some of the most beautiful music I have heard in a long time. And as Moishe Fhima demands and needs to live his life like a London businessman, temple services have taken on a rare quality of a bull fight or an Elvis concert in that you feel as though there is urgency to be there because in only a moment, it might all be gone.

So understanding that the approaching Shabbos meant that all business needed to be in the can before sundown, I spent a little more time than usual trying to get things in order. That modem problem hadn’t helped things here because I was backlogged from all of the last week as well. But I did my all night sessions and went where I needed to go and even took the time to buy half a new hub from a friend here in the bike business for my Red Schwinn. Yes, this is the same bike from May 15th 2002. It is no longer a fixed gear machine but rather has now been transformed because of economic need into a normal Belarusian, communist era, single speed with a coaster brake. And you know, there is something to be said for this sort of bike because the cost of the half hub was all of $4 and the fix required all of five minutes. I agree that this is no good for business, but it is great for an un-moneyed retired bike messenger who needs to get around town and out to the farm.

In fact, I was on my daily constitutional ride at the end of the day Friday when I noticed a huge orange red sun descending beautifully to the east as I was riding by the future home of the Jewish boy’s school. A magnificent sunset regardless of all of the rusted metal and rough edges, those ever-present monuments to what once was a worker’s paradise. And it was at that moment that I realized that I had forgotten that the clocks had been turned back and that services at the temple would be starting presently.

So I went forward off the saddle and stepped up the pace and made the ride over to the temple to verify my mistake. Sure enough our minion, our collection of retirees who make up the normal bulk of our congregation were already out in front of the temple doors, gabbing as usual. I flew in behind the crowd and was greeted with handshakes and shaking heads at my riding clothes. “You are late already. Why are you always late?” I know, I know. I forgot about the clocks. So I detached and raced the 150 meters to our apartment and quickly changed clothes and grabbed my papers. I have made a habit of translating the weekly torah readings so I can follow a bit closer. This week is the story of Noah but as I grabbed the pages I noticed that I had forgotten to mark the alias. It never ends. I grabbed a pen, quickly made the appropriate marks as to where the breaks occur, grabbed my yarmulke and hat and left.

I hate being late, but had only missed the first few minutes and the first thing I heard was a that the rabbis were in fine form as I mentioned. The argument between them I was speaking of comes about because Moishe is Karlin Hasid and David is Chabad and therefore there is an inherent difference in the interpretation of the service. David explained it to me last Sunday after I had mentioned a dislike for the overt broadness of the Chabad “mitzvah mobiles”. He argued back that Chabadniks don’t like all of the extra emotions the Karliners like to put into the services and think that there is less room for “extra” thoughts if one stays firmly to the required path. Point taken. But as I say the combination of the two of them make for some beautiful music. I know I am making it sound as though I am going to a jazz club, but that is how it strikes me and probably also why I am so enjoying it.

After the service we set the table for our meal and I got with Simon Shapiro for a chat. Shapiro has been my closest friend since I started coming. He is a grumpy retired journalist and an interesting conversationalist. That second point is true probably because he never stops practicing the art; i.e. he never shuts up. But we have gone to the health club together for a steam and to beat each other with birch leaves (Russian style), he has come to our house to play chess with Egor and we talk together pretty well. He asked me how Egor had done in his last tournament.

“The first three places got to go to Baranovichi for a tournament.” I said “Egor of course came in 4th.”

“He needed third place but came in fourth?”

“Yea, isn’t this always the way? I think he finished with 6 points and Fioderov, the boy he needed to beat finished with 61/2 of nine.”

“So this means he will not go to the regional tournament?”

“No, this is a different tournament. But he could have gained a higher ranking and received a free trip to the Baranovichi tournament if he had won that one game with Fioderov.”

“Can he still go to the tournament?”

“Yes, but we would have to pay for the ticket.”

“And how much would that cost?”

“About thirty bucks is what I heard.”

“Thirty bucks is not a lot of money.”

“It is to us.” He nodded his head at that.

“So this is your news and I have some news too.”

“Really, what’s happened?”

“I’m dead.”

“What does this mean?”

“I went to the doctor. He says that I have cancer in my liver. I am going into the hospital this week for further tests.”

“You have to be joking. When did you hear this?”

“This week since you and I went to the baths.”

“Is there something you can do?’

“No, there is no way to operate.”

“Jesus, Simone…”

“Look at such news…” I looked hard at his face but he was refusing to show any emotion. “Don’t tell the others.” He added “I have told Moishe Fhima and Lieberman but not the others. Today I have turned in the last articles for the gazette. This will be the last issue.”

“What are you saying? Don’t be like this.”

“How should I be?”

“Is there nothing you can do?”

“What can you do? You take drugs, you can take chemotherapy. I will go and sit in the hospital this week.”

“Jesus, Simon…”

“Yea, look at this…” At that moment they called us over to the table for Kidush. I took my normal position at the table across from Simon as David filled the wine cup with kosher grape juice. I looked around the table at our minion of pensioners and started to cry. I took off my glasses and covered my eyes, acting as though I were simply rubbing them. I heard David begin the hagaphen. Somebody was talking to me. It was Simon saying something about Egor. I swallowed hard trying to suppress the tears. My eyes were shut tight and I didn’t want to open them. Simon was still talking but some of the others were now actively shushing him. This gave me chuckle which seemed to counter the sadness and I opened my eyes again to see Simon nodding abidingly to the others who were giving him scolding looks, a grimace on his face at his mistake. David looked quickly at me and then drank the juice. One of the others winked at me and handed me a plastic cup of grape juice. Shabbos had begun.