In the Court of the Tsadik

by Geoffrey Clarfield (December 2011)

Shlomo was often called to sing at Israeli Independence Day celebrations or at Holocaust memorial days or, at special events where normally staid synagogues were transformed by dancing chains of Jewish teenagers, intuitively liberated from the burden of the law and hand in hand, charging through the isles of buildings whose marble and shining glass had not been equaled since the time of the second temple.

I had first seen Shlomo perform at a Saturday evening event at an orthodox synagogue in Toronto, the new Sharei Shamayim, a synagogue that my paternal grandparents had helped found. At that time my knowledge of Judaism and Jewish history was minimal. I was twelve years old.

Then I had only my eyes and ears to tell me what existed. I concluded that Judaism consisted of large synagogues with rabbis from New York that were filled once or twice a year. That was the length and breadth of my Jewish experience.

Shlomo sang in Yiddish and Hebrew and at times reached a point of ecstasy, which compelled him to jump up and down, playing his guitar, singing and closing his eyes as he communed with the Almighty. For those of any religious persuasion who have seen or stood near people with faith, his belief in a divine creator was incontrovertible. For a few moments I lost my newly won teenage cynicism and newfound agnosticism and marveled at his belief in the God of our Fathers.

We arrived at the house and walked in the front door. The place was filled with young men and women in their twenties and thirties. All of them had mystical smiles on their faces, as if they had just finished a Yoga class or had just met the Dalai Lama.

We paused for refreshments and to my surprise I discovered one of my summer camp mates, a young Jewish lad from Montreal, who always had more books on his shelf than I did. He and his wife were now Sufis and wore beaded caps. They had been to Turkey many times and had recently left Montreal to live in Toronto where there was an established Sufi community.

Shlomo picked up his guitar and started chanting.

They raised the child in their hands and we all began to sing Shma Yisrael (Here oh Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One) Shlomo then asked each of the parents for their names. They were called John and Rebecca and he blessed them with his melodious voice filled with love and affection for this happy couple and their son, who had the fortune to be born in a city at peace in a peaceful country. He then asked them the name of their son.

Shlomo was off to San Francisco the next morning. He told me that I should come one day and see what real Judaism was all about. I shook his hand warmly. He gave me a big hug. I said I would think about it.

Geoffrey Clarfield is an anthropologist at large.

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