Illustration by Jean-Pierre Weill, THE WELL OF BEING, Pan Macmillan Publishers
L’dor Vador by Sandy Shapiro
Kippah on my head, I reach for the two, black velvet bags with Hebrew script in silver trim. The first bag holds my tallit, my white satin prayer shawl. It is two-feet-wide by six-long. Six-inch fringe hangs from its ends. I wear this while reciting morning prayers. …And, as my fingers gently caress its fringes, my mind goes to childhood and the synagogue of my youth. How different it was then.
I am nine or ten, proudly standing next to my grandfather, chanting prayers in our ancient tongue. At my height, my face rubs against the cool soft satin of his tallit even as my fingers play with the fringes that dangle at my nose. My nose also catches smells from his suit jacket—sweet yet acrid cigar smoke. It is overwhelming. But not only from the cigar smell, but from the odor of the onion he eats every morning to “ward off germs.” Likely a tradition from the Old Country. I can only assume these smells are the same no matter where one stands, because most of the congregation come from the same areas of Eastern Europe.
The chanting that arose from my grandfather and from those around us in the Men’s Section was different from today. The Hebrew words were the same, but the accents were from the shtetlach of Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia …
Of all his grandchildren, I was my grandfather’s favorite. And, although he was not one for emotion, he’d reach down, now and then, to take my hand into his. I’d look at our hands, intertwined like my fingers into his fringes, and I’d be mesmerized. His hands were so large and strong. Though it had been a long time since he’d done manual labor, his hands still showed the calluses and scars from his years on the horse drawn wagon collecting junk. Little did I realize, then, that our clasped hands were the bridge connecting our generations.
*L’dor Vador is a common Jewish phrase that speaks to the responsibility of perpetuating culture and spiritual knowledge from generation to generation.