Tuesday, September 08, 2009


It was last Thursday evening that I was regaling SWMBO with yet another hoary old joke. This one had to do with the golf buddies who made a pact with each other, that the first one to die would try to communicate with the other in order to tell him whether there was golf in Heaven. Sure enough, Charlie drops dead one day... and then, a week or two later, a grieving Mike hears a disembodied voice speaking to him in the dead of night.

“Charlie, is that you?”

“Sure is! And, Mike, I got good news and bad news...”

“What’s the good news?”

“There is golf in Heaven!” And it’s wonderful! Better than Pebble, better than Pinehurst #2... and I finally straightened out that miserable slice!"

“Well, what’s the bad news, then?”

“You and I have a tee-off time at 9:45 next Sunday morning.”

* * * * *

As I was standing in line at the check-in counter at Reagan National midday Friday, I got an e-mail that informed me that Josh K., one of our Minyan Regulars, had died earlier that morning. I was flabbergasted. Why, Josh had led Minyan services only yesterday! It had been the day before his father’s yahrzeit - the anniversary of his passing - and Josh had wanted to recite Eil Malei Rachamim in his memory, but would not be in synagogue Friday owing to his morning Tee Time. And so he took care of business a day early.

Josh was one of the Respected Elders of our synagogue. Since the passing of Gravel-Voice Larry three years ago, it was Josh that led the dukhening ritual on Yom Kippur, the part of the service in which the congregation’s Kohanim - descendants of the ancient High Priests - stand at the front of the sanctuary and pronounce the Priestly Blessing. During our annual World Wide Wrap program, Josh would instruct the Hebrew school children in the art of donning tefillin, little leather boxes containing words of Scripture (“And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes...”) And he was one of our Gabbaim, the people who assist during the Torah service by calling up those with honors, helping correct any mistakes in the reading, reciting the blessing for the sick, and announcing page numbers. In fact, on Thursday I had asked Josh to take over my Gabbai duties Saturday morning as I would be out of town, and he had readily agreed.

We had a little joke between us. During services, when someone leads part of the service or otherwise performs a role in the ritual, it’s traditional to say “yasher koakh,” a (somewhat mispronounced) expression that means “may your strength be increased.” (It sounds so much more Jewish than “Good show, old chap.”) But I would always say “Joshy koakh” when Josh was the recipient of my attaboy. OK, it’s silly, but I’m all about the silly. And Josh could appreciate the silly. He always had some sort of comment or observation to share, invariably thought-provoking and generally funny to boot.

Even at the remove of several days, I have a hard time believing Josh is gone. There is a peculiar feeling associated with having seen and spoken with someone the very eve of his passing. It’s both hair-raising (there but for the grace of God go I) and saddening - because one never gets a chance to say goodbye. And Josh, being a Minyan regular, was someone I would see almost every day of the week.

Josh had only recently returned from a trip to Israel, where he was able to visit his father’s grave... and he died on the golf course, playing the game he loved. I suppose there are worse things than to have the Unexpected Visitor appear in the guise of the Golf Ranger, bearing a scythe in lieu of a three-iron.

And I have a vision of the Eternal, standing at his great Reading Table in the Sky, where He reads Torah on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and the various Yomim Tovim... and standing on each side, making sure the reading is letter-perfect and that the pages are announced properly, are Gravel-Voice Larry and Josh.

No comments: