New Year on the Horizon by Dan Butler

It happened back in High School, but has always stuck in my mind. My friend Bobby's father had taken sick a few weeks before. One night, at about ten, Bobby appeared at our door in tears, really distraught. His father was VERY sick and would I come down to help make a minyan (a ten-person quorum) to have a quickie prayer session. We're talking American teenagers in the sixties, but among Orthodox Jews this didn't raise any eyebrows.
There's a custom of saying certain prayers –mostly psalms –beginning with the letters of the sick person't name. Then sometimes (in real dire cases) they change the patient's name; the idea being that the Angel of Death has a certain name on his list and if you change it, he wouldn't be able to find his intended victim.
So, a bunch of us eleventh graders got together late at night and prayed (in Hebrew no less) for our friend's father. I remember it so well because it was so real. No abstractions. Faith. Pure, simple, and untainted. A bunch of teenagers sincerely attempting to help their friend by pleading on his behalf that G-d not make him an orphan. The lots, daily prayer that was so much a part of our training (Orthodox, remember) was a form of metaphysical karate practice so that our skills would be sharp when the inevitable need for them arose. And, perhaps too early in our young lives, that time had come. So we poured all of our skill and enthusiasm into the effort to save our friend's father, bravely putting our faith itself on the line as we prayed with the fluidly devout grace born of long practice.
Bobby's father died the next day. But something had happened to the relationship among us –as if we had played the BIG GAME or some other adolescent cliché. Even though we had "lost," it had the effect of bringing us together in a way that has survived the passage of time. And, ever since, on those rare occasions when I'm asked to help make a minyan for the benefit of somebody who's sick, I can't help but think of Bobby's father.
That's what happened the night they called about Mr. Gross. In the ICU since his stroke a few days before, he had taken a turn for the worse, and with desperation disguised as hope, the family had asked friends to organize a minyan.
The feeling of inevitability that frequently looms over these occasions did nothing to diminish the intensity of the participants. Nobody was just going through the motions. With no less devotion that his doctors on the ground, his friends and neighbors ranged through the Heavens that night, using the ancient words to communicate to a G-d Who was certainly listening, considering, deciding.
Lotsa people seem to assume that if you ask and G-d says, "NO", then His infallibility, even His existence is somehow called into question. You gotta be pretty sure of yourself to figure you've got that good a handle on the Big Picture… and I'm not even getting into the value of the experience for assembled friends and neighbors.
In the weeks and months that followed, Mr. Gross, without even being aware of his new name, called the spiritual reserves be had accumulated in his lifetime. Lifelong honesty in business, a retirement spent on care and hospitality for strangers sent to local hospitals from all over the world, values reflected in five good decent industrious children for whom he secured the best Jewish education hard-earned money could buy. Now doing the same for their children.
The devotion of a woman whose cheerful dignity smooths over the rough spots in a difficult and painfully slow recovery. The kind of woman that every man thinks he deserves, but in fact is a gift so rarely bestowed by Heaven. A wife and mother, whose cheerful gratitude for each additional day, eschews recrimination, bitterness or despair.
And finds its reflection in the quiet devotion of their children, who, by coming back to town in rotation, "tagging" each other in turn, pay their parents the highest compliment of all: Imitation.
So, some six months later, the New Year on the horizon, the community turned out this week as the Grosses married off their youngest daughter. At a traditional Jewish wedding, the bride, as queen for the day, sits on a throne of sorts prior to the ceremony. There, she customarily receives a blessing from her father. When the time came, this queen came down off the stage erected for her and, with head bowed low enough for her wheelchair-bound father to cover it with his newly mobile hands, brought a tear to every eye in the place.
Did any man ever dance down the aisle at his daughter's wedding as happily as this man who had to be pushed in a wheelchair by his son? Did any man ever express his gratitude for the privilege of marrying off the last of his four daughters with greater eloquence that Mr. Gross's whispered "I made it!" to a family friend?
With the New Year on the horizon, it's only natural to wonder; was tithe man? Was it the family? Was it those friends and neighbors? Or was it pure happenstance that brought Mr. Gross back? I kinda think that, if you thought it was happenstance, you wouldn't have read this far…
Sometimes G-d says "No". Sometimes He says "Yes". And sometimes it seems He leaves it to us… Something to consider with the New Year on the horizon...