Mourning Prayers

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Blessed art thou God, who gave the rooster knowledge to differentiate between day and night

Every morning, the wakeup ritual was the same. Someone would drag a boom box into the dormitory hallway, and crank out the same Miami Boys song as loudly as they could. “I am grateful to you, everlasting king, that you have restored my soul with much compassion.”

Every morning, with that musical masterpiece blaring, he’d wake up feeling anything but grateful.

Blessed art thou God, that you did not make me a woman

As far as he was concerned, it was much better to be a woman. Woman were not tempted by things like sex. They were not drawn to watching porn after everyone had gone to bed. They did not even need to study Torah day and night to earn their place in The World To Come. They did not need to wake up early to go and pray before The Time of Shema had passed. All they had to do was keep their elbows covered.

Blessed art thou God, that you did not make me a slave

 The day would start at 7:30 am. If you were traveling from out of the neighborhood, you might have to wake up as early as 6:00 am to make it on time. He was lucky to live across the street, so he could wake up at 7:29. The day would end at 6, or at 9:30, or at 11, depending on the grade. They had one day off a year – Tisha B’av, when Jews are so sad that they can’t partake in joyous Torah learning. Personally, he didn’t find it particularly joyous the rest of the year, either.

Blessed art thou God, that you did not make me a non-Jew

In The World To Come, the most righteous of gentiles will have the merit of being the dust under are feet, taught the rabbis. Each fringe on your tzitzit will have a dozen non jews holding on to it, clamoring to be allowed to serve you. Every time the Filipino house cleaner would clean his room, she’d break his lego sets. He built himself a loft that was only accessible by a climbing rope, but they somehow still managed to mess up his stuff. One non Jewish servant was more than enough.

Blessed art thou God, who places the land above the water

The school bathrooms were typically flooded with about an inch of water. Assumingly it was urine, but it was usually black after mixing with the mud on people’s feet. Every morning the bathrooms would start out clean, and then be restored to their former pigsty glory in short order. He’d hold his breath and try to ignore the floor whenever he needed to pee. Pooping was best held in until he could go home every recess – he probably pooped in those school bathrooms maybe five times in 12 years.

Blessed art thou God, who strengthens the steps of man

He was always running. Running home to take advantage of every precious moment during which he could read books: Arthur Conan Doyle, C. S. Lewis, Mark Twain. National Geographic. They were portals into different worlds and different times. This was where the real education happened. He’d always overstay his recess, and end up running back to school, late as usual. There was someplace he’d rather be.

Blessed art thou God, who gives sight to the blind

Whenever he was goalie and the ball came his way, he would duck. Better to let in a goal then to have your glasses crushed against your face – permanently bent out of shape and leaving a glasses-shaped imprint on your nose and eye socket. Almost everyone in class had glasses. 95% of Orthodox Jewish men wear them, the highest percentage in the world. Every other store in Geula sold them. But somehow, he was even more blind than most.  

Blessed art thou God, who gives strength to the tired

It was like magic. As soon as he’d sit down with his tutors, a wave of exhaustion would wash over him. He could barely keep his eyes open. He’d fight, blinking stupidly, swallowing yawns, doing whatever he could just to stay awake. It was as though he didn’t want to be there. It was as though he didn’t really care what happens when a bull gores a cow who is pregnant and she falls into a pit in the Public Domain. He’d return to his former chipper self as soon as the sessions were over. Maybe that was a clue?

Blessed art thou God, who girds Israel with strength

Yonatan Eitan was not particularly strong, but he’d somehow managed to pin him to the floor. He couldn’t remember how he got there. Chananya Kremer too, enjoyed grabbing him by the hair and dragging him around the school courtyard. If you didn’t see someone beating someone else up during recess, you didn’t live that day to the fullest. Sometimes they’d fight with other schools. Sometimes they’d fight with Arabs. Then Rabbis told them to stop beating up Arabs, so they went back to beating up each other.

Blessed art thou God, who adorns Israel with splendor

From the age of 13, they would wear their Tefillin all day long. They’d study with Tefillin. Pray with Teffillin, beat up Arabs with Tefillin. Even pee with Tefillin on. Your Tefillin are meant to be placed halfway down your bicep, but with a two finger’s space above your elbow. With his tiny arm and adult-sized Tefillin, this requirement defied the laws of physics and left him vexed and paranoid about not fulfilling the obligation properly.

I was young, and I become old, and I never saw a righteous man abandoned, or his children seeking bread

When you have 12 children in two bedroom apartment, the living room serves a dual purpose. They’d have plastic sliding doors that split the room in half, and couches that slid out into triple decker beds. Every Friday he’d go knocking on the neighbor’s doors, collecting funds for the neighborhood charity. There were dozens of families that needed help.

But it was when Passover arrived – the most expensive Jewish holiday – that things were most pronounced. He helped box hundreds of care packages for local families. Great pallets of potatoes would be placed in the streets, and families would come by to haul away sacks by the cartful. All sponsored by generous donors, he was told. Probably rich people from America.

Lord, the soul you have given me is a pure one. You puffed it in me, and you are destined to remove it from me, and to give it back to me in The Future That Will Arrive. And please, don’t bring me to sin or temptation, and force my desires to subjugate to you

If you studied enough, you could avoid death. You’d be righteous, you’d sit with God, and you’d come back during the resurrection of the dead.

But if you didn’t wipe your butt properly, all your study would be worse than naught – it would be a sin.

Play your cards right, and Judaism will allow you to live forever. To worry about your unclean anus for all of eternity.

He was crushing it.

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