When it’s enough, already
RECENTLY I met a man who told me he was thinking of converting to Judaism because when their time came he wanted to be buried next to his Jewish wife. The Duke of Edinburgh is supposed to have said that if a man opens a car door for his wife it’s either because it’s a new wife or a new car. Heaven knows what he’d say about this. As it happens the man in question is by far the politest person I know and has doubtless opened many a car door, but this went far beyond the boundaries of politeness.
I was particularly struck by what he said because of what happened some years ago when I resigned my membership of a Liberal synagogue. I wasn’t in love with the place anyway but what really drove me away was the mind-numbingly boring banality of the new rabbi’s sermons. The membership secretary phoned to try to persuade me to stay. I said, without going into specifics, that my mind was made up. As an inducement to remain he pointed out that this was probably the only synagogue that would allow me and my non-Jewish wife to be buried side by side.
I may have hesitated for a nano-second but quickly reassured myself that companionship in the notional hereafter was no compensation for present torture. But the subject of burial was indeed pressingly relevant. If I had to sit through another of those sermons I might have had to kill myself.
In return for all the good communal things rabbis do – teaching the children, visiting the sick, leading the service – they are given the right to bang on at their captive audience until musaf seems like a merciful relief. Exceptions do exist. There are rabbis who give magnificent sermons, just as there are successful England football managers.
My grandfather, who is buried next to his wife and amid his family in Harrogate’s small Jewish cemetery, never exposed himself to death-bysermon. He was a ruthless exponent of the EnoughAlready school of shul behaviour. At about 11.30 every Shabbat morning he walked out regardless of what was going on and if a sermon went on too long he wouldn’t have any truck with that either.
It is touching to see lifelong companions interred in adjacent graves or even together, preserving their partnership for posterity (though if you listen very closely you can hear plenty of those couples still bickering). On the other hand, I’m sure if the Almighty wishes to reward people with eternal togetherness He is capable of finding them however far apart they lie.
Eternal togetherness? That’s looking on the bright side. But what if worst comes to worst and I am fingered for my many derelictions and brought to book? “Dovid ben Aryeh, remember all those sermons you missed because you thought you knew better? Now there is no escape. Come with Me. You shall hear every one of them, in full. You’ve got all the time in the world. And then some.”
Remember those sermons? Payback...