Thursday, January 8, 2009

Friday Fiction for January 9, 2009

This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by Catrina over on her blog, A Work in Progress. Be sure to head over there for Mr. Linky and this week’s terrific submissions.

Nearly three years ago, a friend on an internet forum posted that he was working on an idea for a series of stories set after a world-wide plague had nearly decimated the human race. He asked for anyone that was willing to write up character sketches and submit them, so that he would have an interesting variety of characters in his stories.

I gave him two; this one, and one for Constance, who is mentioned herein. I decided to create a Jewish Rabbi character, and framed his sketch around the Kaddish, which has become a traditional prayer associated with mourning. It is not a prayer for the dead, but rather, because the Kaddish was associated originally with the study of Torah, it was considered a blessing to pray it in the memory of departed loved one. It also is not to be prayed alone, and part of what it does is help the bereaved to remain connected to the community.

It was tough to imagine what it would have been like to be the survivor of such a calamity, and the struggle to hold on to one’s faith in the midst of it would be monumental. For Jew or Christian, we both hold to the idea that God reigns over all the Earth, and that even in the darkest times, He must have a plan in work.

I Am Samuel Harold
By Rick Higginson

Yitgadal v'yitkadash shmey rabba b'almah d'verah chirutay…

How many times have I prayed this prayer over the past 20 years? I prayed it each time as I buried my children and then my wife. I tried to pray it each time I buried someone from the Shul, until the time would only permit me to pray it once each day. I prayed also that the Holy One, baruch Hu, would grant that there would be someone to bury me as well and say the Kaddish for me when the disease claimed me.

It never did. I did not even get sick with it. Instead, I watched my family die; I watched my congregation die. I found a digging machine and learned how to use it well enough to bury as many as I could, until there were just too many for me. I rubbed the Vapor-Rub beneath my nose to block the smell, until it reached the point that I lost all sensitivity to it except in memory. Now, it seems that no matter how many times I wash or change my clothes, I still think the smell of death is clinging to me.

…v'yamlich malchutay b'cha'yaychon uv'yomechon uv'chayay d'chol bet Yisrael…

I remember the smell, but most of all I remember the flies. Oy, how I hate the flies! They swarmed about the bodies faster than I could bury them, attracted by the smell of death. I cannot abide flies anymore. I never pass an opportunity to kill them and I have worked hard to seal our home from their invasion. They feed on death and corruption, and I cannot see one now but I think of them upon the faces of those that I had loved.

If there is any saving grace to the flies, it was the minor amount of them that led me to check Constance. Her family lived next to the home of one of my Congregation, and on whim I checked the house. The people had always been good neighbors, and I thought to repay their kindness by at least granting them a decent burial. Her parents and siblings were already dead, but I noticed that only a few flies paid attention to her, unlike the swarms that plagued the deceased. She was sick, but alive. I took her home and tended to her, thinking that if she was going to die at least she would not have to die alone.

…ba'agalah u'viz'man kariv, v'immru Ameyn.

She lived; she recovered and became my reason to live. So many times in those early months following the plague I wanted to join my fathers in eternal sleep, but now I had this young girl who looked to me for her care. She needed me; her parents were dead. Looking back, I know now that I needed her as well, for my children were dead. I became her father, and she my daughter.

She stands with me now, a beautiful young woman, saying the Kaddish with me for the families that we lost so long ago. Her husband stands beside her, and their son sleeps nearby in his crib. I am a grandfather, yet I cannot help but feel the loss of knowing that my lineage will end with my death.

Y'hay sh'mey rabba m'v'orach l'olam u'olmey olma'ya.

Her husband is a Christian, yet he and I share a strange camaraderie; we both expected Moshiach instead of this plague. His family had taught him that Jesus would return, while my people have waited for thousands of years for Moshiach to come and deliver us. Messiah was to come to Israel, but I wonder at times if I am all that is left of Israel.

HaShem, You promised to our father Avraham that You would always maintain a remnant of Avraham’s seed upon the Earth. Surely that remnant cannot die off with me, can it? Truly, with all the people that have gathered here in this city now, I cannot find even one other, let alone a minyan for a proper service. I must confess that my faith is sorely tested. When they ask, “Where now is their God?” I fear I have no answer anymore.

Yitbarach v'yishtabach, v'yitpa'ar v'yitromam v'yitnasay v'yithadar…

And yet, I still pray the prayers and keep the Shabbat. As much as I can, I observe Kashrut, though there is no longer any Rabbinic groups certifying the foods. I would teach Torah, if there were those who longed to learn it. Instead, I teach the children the other skills that will serve them well in this new world; reading and writing; mathematics and what of the sciences that I know.

And music; I teach music to any and all who would learn whether young or old. The sadness of all that we have lost is best expressed in song, as is the joy of such blessings as a grandchild. So much vanished from our world when the plague hit; it would be an added tragedy if we let music fade away as well.

…v'yitaleh v'yithalal sh'mey d'kudesha b'rich Hu.

The children who were born after the plague are reaching adulthood now; they know of no other world than this one, and the tales we tell them of cities teeming with millions of people are little more than fairy tales to them. I have walked groups of children to the airport and pointed out the aged craft that sit silently by the terminals now. The children think me crazy when I tell them people once rode those things through the sky to places all over the world.

We have a former pilot among our group, but there is no infrastructure to support the aircraft; no maintenance nor navigation systems on-line anymore. Nor is there any guarantee that the destination airport will be in any shape to safely land. From time to time a small, simple aircraft will come through, though as the fuel supplies deteriorated those became increasingly rare as well. All the wondrous things that humanity built had never been intended to last through so many years of neglect.

L'eyla, l'eyla, min kol birchata v'shiratah tushbechata v'ne'chemata…

I have learned instead to live as my ancestors did, with horses and oxen. We have all learned how to live without all those essential technologies we grew so dependent upon. We still have electricity, thanks to the work of some individuals who know how to build wind generators, and some of the electrical devices are in plentiful supply and do not degrade as they sit on the shelves in the old stores.

…da'amiran b'alma, v'immru Ameyn.

Yet, I still miss the life I had before the plague. I miss the warm, modern home I shared with my family. I miss the lively discussions of Torah during the Oneg Shabbat. I miss the people that so enriched my life with love and laughter. I even miss the cranky old widow who used to so vex me with her constant complaints. What I would give to be surrounded by all that again!

Y'hey sh'lama rabba min sh'mayah v'chayim alenu v'achol Yisrael, v'immru Ameyn.

I still see them, though, each night in my dreams. I see their eyes, looking to me for the answers when they ask why this plague was taking them, and the hopelessness when I could give them no response. I see their fly-blown corpses disappearing beneath the dirt until I had no strength left to bury them, and the accusing stares of the vacant eyes asking why I left their bodies to rot in the open.

The younger children ask why I will suddenly start weeping for no apparent reason, but the older ones such as Constance do not. They know.

Osey shalom b'meromav, hu ya'asey shalom alenu v'achol Yisrael, v'immru Ameyn.

“May He who makes peace in the Heavenly realms, may He make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say, Amen.” We conclude the Kaddish in the same way as we always have, and I am again struck by the irony. There is no more war that we know of; there are too few of us left to fight and die needlessly. The Holy One, baruch Hu, made peace for us in this world. Would that He might make peace for me in my dreams each night.

I am Samuel Harold, and I say Kaddish for Genevieve Harold, my wife; for David and Ruth Harold, my children, and for more names and faces than I have time to list.
The Kaddish, with translation, can be found here.
"Baruch Hu" is Hebrew for "Blessed be He"
"HaShem"; literally, "The Name", used in place of the Holy Name of God.
"Minyan" is ten Jewish men, considered the minimum needed for a prayer service.
"Kashrut" is the Hebrew term for the kosher laws.
"Oneg Shabbat" is the communal meal shared after the Shabbat service.


Unknown said...

If this story doesn't leave you thanking God for what you have...I don't know what would. Thank you for sharing this!

Sara Harricharan said...

This captures so much that we can take for granted without knowing it. Wow. So real and vivid, I find myself wondering more into the message behind this wonderfully created character.

Catrina Bradley said...

Hoomi, I love this! It makes me sad, yet I feel encouragement that this one lone Rabbi keeps the faith in his new world. He would be a great character in King's "The Stand"

Julie Arduini said...

This is so powerful, your descriptions and character are so rich and full. I definitely want to read more!

Lynn Squire said...

This is really good. Well done. Unique and powerful.

Joanne Sher said...

Excellent use of the Kaddish. It was especially meaningful to me. I was absolutely engaged.