In 2012, I moved my father to a memory care facility just three blocks from my home. I would bring him to Shabbat services every Saturday morning to a conservative synagogue close by. His love of Jewish tradition had sustained him through all his life and losses. And now, synagogue was the only place where he felt most himself, most comfortable and comforted.
My father now needed my help to wrap the tallis around his shoulders before we entered the sanctuary. There were so few people in temple that our attendance was noticed, and he would gratefully accept the aliyahs offered him. But I needed to accompany him up the ramp to the bimah, stand by his side as he read the prayers, and make sure he made his way back safely to his seat.
Then came that Saturday morning when he lost his place during the reading of the weekly Torah portion. It wasn’t so much that he lost his place, it was that he couldn’t find it again. I watched him struggle. Finally, when I pointed it out, I heard him give a deep sigh. In that moment, we both felt the shift; our world had changed.
This is the first Rosh Hashanah I spent without my father. He passed on August 27, 2014. He was 98 years old. I wrote this poem to him after sitting next to him during Rosh Hashanah services in 1997.
Meditation on a Tallis
Sitting here, small, next to you in your dark suit,
so handsome, so content.
Here at synagogue,
secure, with peace in your heart.
The exuberance with which you davin,
the satisfaction with which you hold my hand.
It feels so little inside yours—almost lost.
How young I am, how proud I am of my handsome father.
You sit and sing the melodies.
I listen and follow.
I lose my place.
You quickly point it out.
Leaning against the rough wool of your jacket
I know yours is a strength I can rely on.
But when the seat can no longer hold me,
and the prayers seem unending.
When the rabbi’s words are too obscure
for my child’s mind,
I reach for your tallis.
I find patience in each thread,
and weave the melodies into them.
Journeying to sacred places on each strand,
my fingers braid the tassels.
Crisscrossing them into paths
that carry me across ancient desert sands.
They bring a quiet contentment,
moments of gentle peace between us.
I am blessed that we were able to share this precious time together.