Tuesday, February 03, 2009


In the fullness of time, I have said farewell to a number of people: friends, relatives, and even the marginal acquaintance. It’s a painful responsibility that falls upon we who survive. (And, just between you and me, I’d prefer to be among them that are saying the farewells than among them that are at the receiving end of same.)

But last night, I attended a shiva minyan for someone I hadn’t seen in many years. At least thirty, and probably closer to forty.

Rabbi Leon Spielman, who passed away last week, was the rabbi who presided over my Bar Mitzvah. He had been living with his son’s family here in Atlanta for the past year, but somehow our paths never managed to cross. It’s doubtful he would have remembered me, a snotty Bar Mitzvah trainee who subsequently dropped out of Hebrew school.

Back in the day, Rabbi Spielman was an imposing figure. Portly, with dark hair and a prominent moustache, he would wear black robes with a tall, black, Old-School-style toque while conducting Shabbat services. I, along with most of my youthful confrères, was just a little afraid of him: He was not the sort to brook any nonsense, nor was he “palsy-walsy” with his young charges. He was... The Rabbi.

Our synagogue sat right on the line dividing Nassau and Suffolk counties, on the Suffolk side of the line. That placed it firmly in Amityville. Yes, that Amityville. Big deal.

One of the synagogue regulars - a chief-cook-and-bottle-washer kind of guy - was a sign painter who called his business Kal Signfeld Signs, an appropriate (and intentional) misspelling of his own name, Kal Seinfeld. Yes, that Seinfeld. He had a kid in the Hebrew school who was one year behind me. Jerry, his name was.

Jerry was not a big fan of Hebrew school. But then again, none of us was at the time.

Rabbi Spielman’s son, in one of those strange twists of Jewish geography and fate, attended my very own Alma Mater, albeit five years later than I. And even stranger, he ended up in the same congregation with us here in the Atlanta metro area. Who’da thunk it?

I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to see the Rabbi before he passed on to Olam ha-Ba - the Next World. But perhaps it’s just as well. The shock upon finding out that I am now a regular daily minyan attendee who can function as a Chazan (cantor) for Yom Kippur services might have hastened his unfortunate demise.

And when I see the son, I remember the father... for the younger Spielman bears an astonishing likeness to the way his late Dad looked 45 years ago. Uncanny, that.

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