“We’d like to send him to the ER to rule out a stroke. Someone needs to accompany him.”
Eliyahu HaNavi one hundred and thirty times in a row?!
Our litvish husbands had never heard of the song that never ends.
As children, we’d join in. As teenagers, we’d find it a little tiring and frequently space out. And as adults, well… But every so often, we’d visit on a Motzaei Shabbos and join my father as he sang the interminable song. Every week without fail, my father would sing it with pathos, with joy, with yearning — with true Yiddishe taam.
There was a straightforward logic to the tune. It played in a loop, with ten mentions of the prophet in each. If you counted 13 stanzas, that’s it; you were done. And all the blessings Eliyahu HaNavi could bring would descend upon your house for the week, I suppose. (I never thought to ask what the segulah was for).
Still, we don’t sing it these days.
It’s Motzaei Shabbos again. We’re heading home from a jaunt to Yerushalayim, when my cell phone rings. I don’t recognize the number. It’s the head nurse on the ward at our relative’s senior citizen’s home. His speech is a little slurred and his hand is drooping badly, the nurse tells us. “We’d like to send him to the ER to rule out a stroke. Someone needs to accompany him.” Obviously. And he needs someone right now. We take the first possible exit off the highway and drive quickly back to the home, updating the rest of the family by phone on the way.
Half an hour later, after dropping off my husband, I’m careening down the intercity highway alone. Vehicles whoosh by, scattered stars twinkle across the still night sky. A host of painful thoughts press on my mind, jostling, pushing to be heard. Too painful.
Between my concern for our relative and memories of the countless times we rushed with my father to the hospital before he passed away this autumn, my thoughts scatter sideways, dissipating into the chilly night air. In a flash, one lone, unbidden, realization sears itself across my brain. It’s Motzaei Shabbos.
Out of nowhere, like the soft touch of a worn angora scarf wrapping itself around my shoulders, a vintage image cradles my heart… Daddy sitting at the kitchen table. Two flimsy tea light flames meander up to the heavens in honor of David HaMelech, and Daddy raps the table with the heel of his hand, tapping a march to “Eliyahu HaNavi.”
Unable to stop the tears from soaking my face as I drive, I open my mouth and as I cry, I sing. I sing and sing. And I count the times — 13 in all — that I sing the cyclic tune that Daddy always sang. I’m singing and I’m crying and I’m driving. Angels must have watched me, for sure, because I could hardly see for tears.
When I finally reach the last few mentions of Eliyahu HaNavi’s name, my singing is down to a whisper. I feel lighter. I remember the time, shortly after my father’s passing, when I travelled this route on the intercity bus. Then, too, it had been dark. Then, too, I had been alone. And then, too, grief had burst through me.
As I had gazed through the large windows, the strangest vision had overtaken my mind. I had imagined my father turning somersaults alongside the Jerusalem highway. His jacket whipping behind him in the wind, he was peering through the window as he cartwheeled. And he was smiling. Pulling funny faces and smiling. Trying to make me laugh. A typical Daddy Maneuver. Now, like then, I could almost feel his presence, sitting right next to me in the car.
It’s Sunday afternoon. I’m peeling potatoes for supper and cradling the cordless phone between my neck and my shoulder (I’ll be feeling that muscle later, if I’m not careful).
“I had the weirdest experience last night,” I tell my sister, and I describe my impromptu car concert. “I haven’t sung that song in years…” I say, wistfully.
Nothing could have prepared me for my sister’s response. “That’s interesting. Me neither,” she says. “And I also sung it last night! My sons returned from a Melaveh Malkah at the Rav’s house, and they said the Rav had sung it — just like Zeide used to.” The Rav is our first cousin. The song was part of the family. “So, we all sat down and sang it at our kitchen table. I felt so nostalgic…”
“Me, too!” I cried.
Fascinated by the synchronicity, I call my mother. “Oh!” she says. “We sang it, too!”.
“Your brother and I. He was driving me to the Kosel. We just felt like singing it.”
Truly, a song that never ends.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 537)
Oops! We could not locate your form.