Temple Dues – Cary Gitter

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Stuart Silverman was behind on his temple dues. Georgia spotted him in his cherry-red Lexus IS as she stood outside Congregation Sons of Israel after a September Sunday morning spent helping out at the religious school. His appearance was shock enough—lately Stuart had seemed to be avoiding the small Reform synagogue like the plague—but now she saw him rolling down his window and waving her over with a suntanned, gray-haired arm.

Weaving among the giddy children scurrying to their parents’ vehicles, Georgia shuffled with her bad right foot toward Stuart’s luxury sedan and thought of all the years she’d known him. God, had it really been two decades since their own kids—her son, Cameron, and his daughter, Leah—entered Hebrew school together at age seven? She remembered those long-ago halcyon days when the glowing Silvermans would show up at Friday-night services: beach-bronzed Stuart, flush from his jewelry pawnshop and flanked by his regal Korean wife, Min Hee, and royal little Leah. But things had changed. There’d been a drop in the gem trade due to the Great Recession and an ill-fated attempt to set Min Hee up with an It’s Greek to Me restaurant franchise in nearby Lodi, and Stuart was allegedly broke. Too broke, he claimed, to pay his fifteen-hundred-dollar annual temple-membership dues.

“How are ya, Georgia?” he called out the car window with the grim amiability of a man on an embarrassing errand.

“I’m good,” she said, hobbling up to the Lexus. “What are you doing here?”

A brief word on Georgia’s bluntness. Given Stuart’s widely known payment problems—secrets spread fast at Sons of Israel—the question “What are you doing here?” might have sounded loaded or even downright accusatory coming from any other congregant. But those who knew Georgia well, as Stuart did, would have heard it differently. Thanks perhaps to her father, a strapping hardwood-floor man from the Texas backwoods, and her mother, a hard-nosed Brooklyn Italian-American—no, Georgia wasn’t born Jewish—she was direct to a fault and harbored no hidden agendas. When she wanted to know what you were doing here, she just asked, without guile or malice, and so she got an answer:

“I figured I could catch ya,” Stuart said. “I saw on the calendar it was the first day of Sunday school. Listen, I’ve gotten all your messages—”

“I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be pushy. But, you know, I’m in charge of membership this year—”

“No, I get it, you’re just doin’ your job. I wanted to talk in person, though. I’m gonna be honest with ya.” He shrugged. “I’m hard up.”

Georgia paused. He had first pleaded financial hardship to her over the summer, as the August 1 dues deadline rolled by, but now she sensed a finality in his tone. “I’m … sorry to hear that—”

“I’ve been waiting to get in touch with you ’cause I thought I might be able to get my, uh, stuff together”—here outside the synagogue, he said “stuff” instead of “shit”—“but it doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen. I’m straight-up strapped for cash. I can’t afford those dues right now.”

“… Okay—”

“I mean, on top a’ everything, Leah’s student loans are killing me. She had a great time at Boston, but I’ll tell ya, in hindsight, Rutgers is lookin’ pretty good to me right now.”

“Well, that was a worthwhile investment,” Georgia assured him.

“Yeah,” Stuart said without confidence. “But who am I to talk? You sent Cameron to NYU.”

Zooming out, Georgia saw two middle-aged Jewish parents on a sunny street in the square-mile, suburban, upper-middle-class town of River Hill, New Jersey, commiserating over having sent their precious only children to big-city dream universities instead of a far less expensive state school. The image was unsavory, so she got back to business:

“So then … if you can’t afford your membership … what were you planning on doing for the High Holidays?” she asked.

Stuart stuck his head farther out the window. “That’s what I gotta talk to you about.”

“Rosh Hashanah’s in a couple weeks—”

“I know, I know. And unless I win a scratch-off tomorrow, I’m not gonna be a member of the temple by then. So can I, uh, just buy holiday tickets this year?”

“Honestly, we’re all sold out of nonmember tickets, Stuart.” Georgia’s bluntness. “The holidays are two weeks away.” But then, just as typically, an attempt at accommodation: “How many do you need?”

“Four. Me, Min, Leah, and my sister. How much?”

“Adult High Holiday tickets are three hundred per person—”

Three hundred? You gotta be kidding. Since when? They used to be half that—”

“The board voted to raise the price this year. We need to renovate the Holy Ark.”

“Jesus Christ,” he muttered, but Georgia pretended not to hear him or to see his reddening cheeks.

“Look, four tickets are going to cost you twelve hundred,” she continued in her most pragmatic voice. “You might as well just renew your family membership for an extra three. That’ll guarantee you guys a place—”

“But I told you, I can’t afford that,” Stuart cut in, slicing through her diplomatic words like a sharp Sabbath knife through softest challah. “I can’t afford fifteen hundred and I can’t afford twelve hundred. So my family’s gonna miss High Holiday services? Jesus Christ.” And with this second invocation of that other Jew with dues issues, he did something that astounded Georgia. He drew his head, with its close-cropped, military-style salt-and-pepper hair (she knew he’d been in the army—had he served in Vietnam?), back into the car and drooped it until his forehead came to rest on the steering wheel. A grand pathetic gesture, of a kind rarely made or seen in public by civilized small-town grown-ups. The gesture of a man shut out of the High Holidays.

This was mortifying. Peeking around to see if any other Sons or Daughters of Israel were witnessing the bizarre scene, Georgia found to her relief that all the Hebrew school parents had departed with their kids. Only poor Charlie waited on the corner for his chronically late dad, who had him on weekends. She looked back at the top of Stuart’s recumbent, motionless head.

“… Stuart?”

Another second of painful silence—then, like an awakened golem, he shot up in his seat and turned to her with desperate eyes. “You think you can help me out, Georgia?”

Still startled by his open show of distress, she heard herself mumbling, “What do you mean?”

“I know it’s short notice. I know Rosh Hashanah’s in two weeks. I know I’ve, uh, handled all this badly. I swear to you: I don’t have the money right now—for temple dues, for High Holiday tickets, for anything but my goddamn bills.” He indicated a pile of torn-open envelopes, bound with a rubber band, on the passenger seat. Why was he carrying his bills around? “But I gotta bring my family for the holidays. I gotta. It’s very important. It’s spiritual. You understand—”

“No, yeah, I, I know how you must feel—”

“So you can work something out, right?”

“Um … well …” Clarity was returning to her now, possible plans of action emerging from the surreally uncomfortable haze of a few moments ago. “We do, you know, offer financial assistance with dues, when there’s a need—”

“Great. I thought so—” 

“But that’s a process.”

“Okay—” 

“This is very last-minute. I’d have to talk to the board. Our next meeting’s Wednesday—”

“Hey, whatever you gotta do, Georgia. I’m broke, I’m not ashamed, I don’t care who knows it. But I won’t always be broke, and everybody on that board knows I’m loyal to this congregation and I’ll pay my way for the rest a’ my life. Or at least till I move to Florida. Heh. But seriously: this is a, uh, temporary rough patch, and I just wanna get my family here for the big days—”

“I understand. It’s just not my decision alone, so I can’t make any promises.”

Stuart winked at her. “Come on. You’ll work your magic.” And Georgia knew that his relieved smile, such a contrast from the tragic mask of minutes earlier, was because he’d enlisted her—not just anyone—in his cause. She was, after all, the congregant whom Rabbi Scheck had once singled out from the bimah as the “linchpin” of the synagogue, for her tireless volunteering and tenacious efficiency. It was best to have God on your side, he’d quipped, but having Georgia was a close second. She saw now in Stuart’s relaxed face a firm belief: that with her on the case, he would surely be sitting in a pew alongside his family in two weeks’ time, listening to the shofar herald a sweet new year that would put him back in the black. He looked ready to kiss her hand.

Georgia said she’d do her best to get the Silvermans into the High Holiday services, and Stuart showered her with thanks before speeding off in his Lexus toward the family’s lavish residence. Drowsy in the warm September air and pained by the bone spur in her right heel, she limped back to the now-empty temple to collect her things. She had to go home; make lunch for herself and Cy, her husband; and then, with any luck, take a nap. 

***

At nine-thirty that Sunday night Georgia sat at the desk in her home office, on the phone with Dr. Bernie Gelb, DDS, the current president of Congregation Sons of Israel.

The office had been built onto the house back when Georgia was at the height of running her own small print-advertising business, Cam Ads (named for her son, Cameron). Twenty years ago, in 1993, she and Cy had together left the Manhattan ad agency where they’d met and fallen in love, taking all their loyal clients with them, to form the two-person company. She was forty-five then, he was sixty—second marriages for both—and young Cameron was six, born a year after their union, in 1987. As Cy eased into semi-retirement she ran the business—placing real-estate and help-wanted ads in myriad tri-state-area newspapers—from the house, where she greeted Cameron each day when he came home from school. No image could more perfectly symbolize Georgia’s dichotomous soul than that of her getting off the phone with a New York Times advertising representative and rising to make her son a snack.

Cam Ads thrived for years but, like Stuart Silverman’s jewelry pawnshop and millions of other American enterprises, couldn’t survive the economic crisis of 2008. Clients axed their advertising budgets, and print was dying anyway. Beleaguered by this decline and Cameron’s NYU tuition and the costs of being a New Jersey homeowner, Georgia engaged a lawyer, declared Cam Ads bankrupt, and—with characteristic resourcefulness—earned a real-estate license. A new career at age sixty. Starting over. Now, five years later, with Cy eighty and fully retired, their savings depleted, and retirement as distant a prospect as death, Georgia spent her days on the road, driving homebuyers around Bergen County for Roth Realty. She did enjoy the work, though, fond as she was of houses, people, and keeping busy. Her spare time was dedicated to the synagogue. The home office often sat empty.

Tonight, however, she sat in it, with the window air conditioner on full blast—her favorite setting—but still not loud enough to drown out the sound of Cy’s Yankees game from the living room. The sound actually came not from the television but from a portable stereo, since Cy watched Yankees games on mute while listening to them on the radio. He preferred the sonorous-voiced WFAN announcer John Sterling—a controversial figure once called a “clown” in the pages of the New York Post—to the TV commentators. Each season Cy watched/listened to almost all of his beloved team’s one hundred and sixty-two games, so the din of baseball filled the house for half of every year. Georgia sometimes found herself hating the sport and wishing for John Sterling’s untimely death. But at this moment both the air conditioning and the play-by-play were background noise to temple president Bernie Gelb’s reedy sneer on the phone: 

“Georgia, come on. Stuart Silverman isn’t broke.”

“He says he is—” 

“With that house? That Lexus?” 

“People with big houses and nice cars can still be broke, Bernie.” 

“And he’s got that great business. All those people trading in their farshtunkene jewelry—”

“His business hasn’t been doing well, apparently. And he bought Min Hee that Greek to Me restaurant in Lodi—”

“Which was super smart. That woman couldn’t make a sandwich, let alone run a restaurant.” 

“Why would you say that?”

“Bottom line,” he said, ignoring her, “this is all bullshit. He’s telling you stories.”

“Why would Stuart say he has no money if he does? It’s embarrassing—” 

“You’ve gotta have shame to be embarrassed.”

“Bernie—” 

“It’s simple: he’s crying poor because he doesn’t wanna pay his dues! He’s a deadbeat. Look who we’re talking about here. All those years Leah was in Hebrew school and he was loaded, it was still like pulling teeth”—Georgia wondered if the dentist’s dental analogy was deliberate—“getting him to pay on time, right? And now that his kid’s grown up and he and his family never show their faces at shul, he wants to slide into High Holiday services once a year for free.”

“So you think Stuart’s trying to … con us—” 

“Yeah, I do.” 

“You know, always assuming the worst about the congregants probably isn’t the best thing for the president of a—” 

“You’re too soft, Georgia. My job is keeping Sons of Israel afloat. It’s not making sure every freeloader—who really has plenty of dough, by the way—gets a free pass to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That’s a, a bad … pre …”

“Precedent.”

“Right,” Bernie said. Fortunately for him, dental skill and business acumen have zero correlation with vocabulary size. His limited lexicon and his malapropisms were a frequent source of amusement at board meetings, but he could laugh at himself too, for he was such an unequivocal success in life.

Indeed, Bernie had enacted a particular northeastern Jewish version of the American dream: plebeian Bronx upbringing with first-generation parents; bachelor’s, cum laude, from Delaware; DDS from Tufts; marriage to a pretty, blonde (Jewish) nursing student; lucrative family dental practice in his home borough; expansive house up in the affluent “hills” section of River Hill, NJ; three kids (finance, law, and medicine); sizable donations to the synagogue; and now, as a crowning honor at sixty-one, a two-year term as its president. Hardworking, generous, crass, wisecracking Dr. Gelb had “made it,” and he didn’t see why anyone else shouldn’t. For Stuart Silverman, a peer of his in every outward sense, to be claiming penury and groveling for High Holiday admission was nothing less than an affront to Bernie’s very being.

“So what do you want to do?” Georgia asked, divining his answer before he said it.

“Tell him no. Tell Stuart he pays his dues or buys tickets or his family’s not coming to holiday services this year. If you don’t want to tell him, I will. It’ll be a pleasure.” 

“Well, I promised him I’d discuss it with the board on Wednesday—”

“Discuss what? Oh, you mean Stuart as a financial-aid case?” Bernie’s phlegmy horselaugh. “That’s for people who really need it—and there aren’t many around here. Besides, that’s a whole involved thing. Rosh Hashanah’s in ten days—” 

“I’m still going to bring it up at the meeting. I told him I would.”

“Go ahead, Georgia. But I don’t know why a mensch like you is jumping through hoops for a pisher like Stuart Silverman. You’re the best, but you gotta learn to pick your battles.” 

Battles. A minute later, with Bernie’s voice—and its mockery of Stuart’s plight—gone in favor of the comparatively blessed sound of the AC and the Yankees, Georgia sat staring at her office wall, at two tokens of her greatest personal battles. No, “battles” wasn’t the right word at all, with its negative connotation. These were victories. Triumphs. One of the tokens on the wall was a blown-up photo portrait of cherubic-cheeked fourth-grade Cameron, who rested his chin on his hand in front of a studio cloudscape. The cherished only son, her ultimate accomplishment, center of her universe (no less true for being a cliché). Where was he on this Sunday night? Didn’t he have a stand-up gig? Yes, and it was ten o’clock, so he was probably onstage this very second in some dingy hole in downtown Manhattan, telling jokes about River Hill and Jews and his parents. You raise them with love so they can mock you with impunity. But she was proud.

Beside the picture of Cameron hung her framed shtar giur—certificate of conversion to Judaism—dated July 2, 1995, and signed by Rabbi Scheck; Lou Kramer, the then president of Sons of Israel; and, of all people, Bernie Gelb. Gazing at this second emblem of achievement, she flashed back, movie-style, to the unlikely path that had led her to it. It took her thirty-seven years—from a Jewless, vaguely Christian childhood in California through a move to New York and a first marriage to a bohemian, atheistic cab driver—for her to wed Cy Beller, an East Coast Jew to the bone, and thereby become intimate with the chosen faith. Through Cy’s family and her own son’s upbringing (they agreed to raise Cameron Jewish because Cy cared and she didn’t), she discovered the haunting beauty of the synagogue music, the joyous holiday celebrations of escape from persecution, and the religion’s refreshing focus on the here and now rather than a pay-later afterlife. By the time Cameron started Hebrew school in 1994, the seduction was complete. With no urging from Cy, whose strong Jewishness was cultural and not devout, she enrolled in a six-month Reform conversion class with Rabbi Scheck and then, one hot July day, stepped naked into the cool waters of the mikvah, the ritual bath, to become a Jew.

Not just a Jew, but a “super Jew,” as Cy liked to called her, referring to her regular attendance at weekly services, her labors on the temple’s board, and her ceaseless activities on behalf of the institution. Sometimes, as Georgia ran out the door to buy yet another last-minute loaf of challah that someone else had forgotten to secure for the post-service oneg, Cy wished she’d converted with a little less zeal. If you saw the Bellers today, knowing only that they were an interfaith couple, you’d no doubt guess he, not she, was the goy.

Georgia now read the prayer printed across the top of her conversion certificate: the holy Sh’ma.

שמע  ישראל ה’ אלקינוּ ה’ אחד

Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one

How had she gone from the sanctity of that day eighteen years ago to the pettiness of this one? Tonight all that Judaism meant to her—ritual, community, tzedakah (charity; literally, “justice”)—was obscured in her mind by Stuart’s desperate High Holiday haggling and Bernie’s cynical derision of him. For an instant the entire affair struck her as a grotesque farce: temple dues, holiday tickets, paying thousands of dollars for permission to pray to God— 

“Georgia!” Cy called from the living room, mercifully severing this sequence of thought.

“Yeah?” she yelled over the office air conditioning.

No reply. She knew Cy was probably in there shaking his head and grumbling to himself, as was his wont when he summoned her from another part of the house and she didn’t come immediately. This gratuitous impatience in an otherwise good-natured man was the product of eighty years in which he’d never lived without a woman to attend to him: first his mother (1933-1956), then his first wife (1956-1978), his mother again (1978-1986), now Georgia (1986-).

“You called me?” she said, entering the living room—where she found Cy in his favorite armchair, bent over and patting a bloody spot on his Bermuda-shorts-clad right leg. “What happened?” 

He gave her an annoyed look, as if she should somehow have known. “I got up to go to the bathroom, and the coffee table slashed my leg.” Georgia imagined the anthropomorphized piece of furniture stabbing her husband with a tiny knife. “It hurts. The table’s too close to my chair.”

“Let me see. It doesn’t look too bad. I’ll clean it.” 

Once she’d fetched the alcohol and a cotton ball from the bathroom and begun to disinfect the cut, she told Cy about her phone call with Bernie.

“Bernie’s tactless, but I’m with him on this one,” was his swift response. “If Stuart can’t get his act together two weeks before the High Holidays, his family shouldn’t be able to go. Why give the guy special treatment? He’s trying to take advantage of your benevolence.”

Georgia nodded. As she dabbed at the shallow wound, it occurred to her, out of nowhere, that another day of her life had been consumed by the needs, resentments, and vulnerabilities of men.

***

“… so Stuart’s having difficulties at the moment. And we don’t have time to go through a financial-aid process with him before Rosh Hashanah next week. But since he’s a longtime congregant and member of our community, I suggest … we just give the Silvermans four High Holidays tickets now, and work out some kind of payment plan once the holidays are over.”

Thus concluded Georgia’s appeal to the board of Sons of Israel at the end of its Wednesday-evening meeting. Over the past three days, as she’d gone about her weekly routine, showing clients eight-hundred-thousand-dollar Bergen County houses and typing up the temple newsletter and watching rented movies late at night with Cy, her reluctant agreement to plead Stuart’s case had grown into a firm resolve. With no idea why, she’d begun to feel, weirdly, ridiculously, as if the legitimacy of the Hebraic religion itself hinged on whether or not his family would be admitted to the congregation’s holiday services. 

The nine board officers in attendance (there were five no-shows, which Georgia hoped would make her job of persuasion easier) sat around a long plastic table in the synagogue’s drab, fluorescent-lit basement social hall. In front of them were styrofoam cups containing coffee dregs and paper plates strewn with crumbs from the dry Entenmann’s pound cake provided by Karen Lubitz, who invariably brought the worst refreshments. 

Bernie piped up. “To be frank, I don’t think we should even be devoting time to this—”

“Bernie, we all know how you feel,” Georgia interrupted. “Let’s hear some other opinions.”

She knew whoever spoke first would set the tone for the debate—and it would certainly be a debate. No discussion on the board ever wasn’t, from which Brooklyn Torah scribe to contract with down to who would carry Cantor Rosenfeld’s glass of water to the bimah on Friday nights. 

Unfortunately for Georgia’s cause it was Ira Hilberg, the angular retired math professor, who opened his thin mouth. “I barely know Stuart Silverman, and I have no personal stake in this matter,” he said with pedantic poise. “But to advance him four High Holiday passes now—that just seems unfair, both to everyone who’s paid their dues or bought tickets on time and to those who’ve shown us in a responsible, timely fashion that they’re financially unable.”

Solemn nods.

Next came the lilting singsong of Pam Fish, the frizzy-haired ex-hippie who’d recently instituted monthly summer yoga sessions on Sons of Israel’s lawn. She smiled at Georgia. “I understand you and Stuart are close—”

“We’re really not close. Our kids went to Hebrew school together—”

“That’s still a strong connection. And you’re so sweet, Georgia, forever doing for others. But … like Ira said … when we start, um, making unfair exceptions …” 

Pam feared confrontation too much to finish her sentence, so Benjamin Miller, a forty-something Bank of America VP in a smooth suit, interceded to deal the deathblow. “This place survives on dues,” he said in the sturdy, reasonable businessman’s timbre that often expressed the consensus of the assembly. “And congregants who want to join us on the holidays have a responsibility to pay. The hard fact is, Stuart hasn’t contributed much time or energy here either, so I don’t see a compelling reason to … undermine our basic sustainability structure for him.”

Georgia suddenly hated them all: these predictable types, this motley crew of moral weaklings. Sustainability structure. It was their classic domino dance: one biased board member—in this case Ira, who thought Stuart crude—employed a little rhetoric, and the rest fell into line. Like that Freud book Cameron had read in college and described to her, about how groups bring out the worst in people. Why had she even dreamed they’d show some Jewish menschlichkeit and give Stuart a break? Her mistake was that she’d failed to anticipate the extent of their antipathy to the jewelry pawnbroker, who, in truth, was not the most likeable guy. He hadn’t done a damn thing for any of them or for the shul, so what did they care if he was broke and his spoiled wife and daughter got locked out of the High Holidays? 

And yet Georgia made one last-ditch effort.

“The thing for me is—” She stopped, tried again. “I mean, I don’t want to sound highfalutin here, but—refusing to let someone, someone we all know, come here and pray with his family on the most important days? Is that … really who we are as a—? Is that how we practice our—? It … doesn’t seem right.” 

She glanced around for any signs of solidarity, but all that met her plea was awkward silence.

At last Bernie said, “Thanks, Georgia. All right. Let’s vote. Give Stuart the four tickets now and figure out payment later: yes or no.” Then he added, “And keep in mind: we don’t actually know what Stuart’s real financial situation is, or if we’ll ever see any money from him for this.”

Bernie,” Georgia said.

“Well, we don’t!” 

The final tally was six to two, with all voting “no” except Karen Lubitz, who always abstained; Stanislav Markovich, a shy, widowed Russian émigré given to eyeing Georgia with admiration; and Georgia herself. She was obviously not amazed. Ever since Stuart had begged for her help on Sunday, part of her had foreseen this outcome. The man’s low repute, the temple’s perennial fiscal straits, the personalities of the board, the general unwillingness of humans to cut other humans slack—all these factors had signaled that the Silvermans wouldn’t, in the end, be granted access to the High Holidays. Even so, she was disappointed, in the small-mindedness of her fellow officers as much as her own inability to make them see the compassionate light.

Outside, after the meeting, Bernie’s thick, clammy hand emerged from the nippy night to touch Georgia’s arm as she opened her car door. 

“You did your best for Stuart,” he said. “You can tell him that at least.”

“Thank you, Bernie. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.” 

“Hey, what can you do? The board has spoken.” He winked and laughed. “That’s almost like a verdict from God himself.”

She rolled her eyes, which Bernie couldn’t see in the darkness. His joke didn’t really make sense, and he was a creep. 

The house was empty when Georgia got back at ten-thirty. Cy was at his weekly card game, playing Texas hold’em with a group of older Jewish men in the rec room of a high-rise in neighboring Fort Lee. She hobbled into her office, where she’d left the AC running, and signed on to America Online. Cameron had repeatedly explained that her AOL account was redundant now that she also had a high-speed Internet connection, but she kept paying for it anyway out of habit and confusion. “You’ve got mail,” said the voice, an old friend, and up popped a new message from silvermangems@gmail.com, crafted with Stuart’s poignant grammar and syntax.

subject: thx!!!!

georgia-

hope tonites bored meeting went well   thank u again from bottom of heart for going bat for me. my family know we will be at holy days this yr thx to u   its funny, ppl forget what jewish is all about but never u georgia. let me kno how tonite went, thx so much!!!

-ss

***

Georgia did not respond to Stuart’s email that night or to its anxious follow-up forty-eight hours later. She passed the rest of the week in a strange private limbo. It felt as if she were floating. Inside her an unnameable spiritual feeling, emergent over the last several days, crystallized.

On Saturday, the Sabbath, she arrived serenely at a resolution that surprised even her and, when it became known, stunned the membership of Sons of Israel. She had decided to make a sacrifice—to perform an act of radical tzedakah—for Stuart. With the whole congregation aligned against him, it was, she’d realized, the only way. 

Her unprecedented plan: to give her own family’s three High Holiday tickets to the Silvermans. Yes. She would stay home with Cy and Cameron on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year while Stuart, Min Hee, and Leah went to temple and worshiped in their stead.

No sooner did this outrageous news spread than a disbelieving Bernie Gelb phoned, frantic to dissuade her, as did an appalled Rabbi Scheck. For Georgia, a prominent lay leader, to remove herself from the holiday observances like this amounted to nothing less than a shocking public protest of the shul and its policies, they cried. But she replied calmly that, after the board’s Wednesday ruling, her own family’s absence was simply the sole means left to ensure the Silvermans’ attendance at services—her prime concern. No ill will intended. Why, both men asked, did she care so much about the Silvermans all of a sudden? That, of course, was the big question, the one whose ancient, divine answer had come to her this weekend but couldn’t be put into words. So she offered them a vague response about needing to keep her promise to Stuart.

Oddly unfazed by Bernie’s and the rabbi’s rebukes, Georgia brought Stuart the three tickets in person on Monday. Clutching the pieces of paper as if they were branches on the Tree of Life, he embraced her in tears on his palatial front porch and gave her cheek a soft, reverent kiss of gratitude. There was not, alas, a fourth pass for his sister, but he and his wife and daughter, the core clan, would now be present to greet God on the Days of Awe after all, free of charge. Amen.

As for Georgia’s tribe, Cy, ever eager to escape long, lethargic days in synagogue, and Cameron, an ardent young atheist, were frankly glad to not have to sit through the sacred rites this year. Still, they remained as astonished and bewildered as everyone by their wife and mother’s extraordinary sacrificial gesture. And Georgia, aware she would soon face the full community’s reaction to that gesture, spent the High Holidays of 2013 praying alone at home—more thankful for, and secure in, her Jewish faith than at any time since her life-altering conversion nearly two decades before.

Cary Gitter is a New York-based playwright and writer of fiction and nonfiction. His plays include the full-lengths “I Fought New Jersey” (NYU’s John Golden Playwriting Prize), “Herschel in History” (semifinalist, O’Neill Center’s National Playwrights Conference; honorable mention, Kennedy Center’s Rosa Parks Playwriting Award), and the one-act “Molly Finn R.I.P. We Love You” (finalist, Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival). His short plays have been presented at New Media Repertory Theatre, T. Schreiber Theatre, the Players Theatre, NYU, the Sam French Festival, and the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, among other venues. Gitter’s dramatic work has been published in “interJACtions: Monologues at the Heart of Human Nature, Volume III” (JAC Publishing), his nonfiction in “Ronde del Dia!,” and his music writing in “the Deli.” He holds a BFA in dramatic writing and an MA in English and American literature from NYU.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *