I didn't expect to see him today. After all, going to a large bar mitzvah with all the Mariner's family present, I didn't expect to run into anything or anyone from my past.
And it's not like Rabbi Math knew me or my past or even that I included him in my past. That's not how life-changing moments work. They work when all a person is doing is their job...
And Boom! Someone's life changes.
It must have been the very early 1990s and times were lean. Graduate school, student loans, part-time jobs all demanded only the essentials got paid for. The rest had to be scrounged for.
Which is why I snuck into the Village Temple's Yom Kipper service at Cooper Union Square. Actually, it was pretty easy. On the second day, people came and went so walking past the ticket table looking hungry was enough to snag a seat in the back.
I wasn't religious at all. I wasn't even interested. Still not. But on the holiest of the holy and the highest of the high, at that time, not observing just felt too risky.
The evening program began and somewhere, in between the standing up and sitting down and my listening to prayers and songs I had no idea how to say or sing, Rabbi Math began talking.
He looked hungry. And he looked tired. And there was, like, still an hour to go.
He began telling this story about his mother in Florida. One day, she called him, saying he had to come down, something was wrong, he had to come down right now.
When an elderly parent calls and tells you to get on a plane, you get on a plane. He got down there as soon as he could.
The light in the refrigerator had burnt out.
Rabbi Math stood there staring at the dark refrigerator completely bewildered. And then it dawned on him.
“Hineni.” Rabbi Math told all of us, who five minutes earlier had wished it was dinner time but now sat still, listening.
It is what Moses answered, when, standing before the burning bush, he heard his name called.
"Hineni", Rabbi Math said to his mother.
That night, I wrote that down on a tiny piece of paper "Hineni" and stuck it on my bulletin board.
Twenty-five-odd years later, I had to write about what inspired me to face the page every day. There were precious sayings by several important people stuck on my bulletin board: Jean Cocteau; Frank Lloyd-Wright; Satyajit Ray.
But on the tiniest of paper scraps was the word, “Hineni.”
MY PRIVATE CONEY presents IT WAS HER NEW YORK, the short stories that accompany the work-in-progress video and photo collection of the same name (myprivateconey.com - media link - IT WAS HER NEW YORK). The stories and the media explore the tender rubble that holds both my mother, Florence's and New York's soul as one disappears into old age and the other into gentrification. All are real observations and/or experiences with very little tall-tale telling.
Except when it makes the story better.
Please visit myprivateconey.com for additional information and sample works.