The morning before the cystoscopy Asher joined his father at Rav Amram’s little synagogue for morning prayers.
“Are you sure you want to come? You always said that that we daven too long.”But Asher insisted . For the first time in his life he appreciated the subtle beauty of the slow service with it’s contemplative melodies and extended meditative silences.
In many synagogues he got the feeling that the men were racing through their prayers eager to get them over with so that they could get to work or even to yeshiva.Though the yeshiva prayers tended to be slow, he knew that most of the guys preferred the intellectual exertions of study to the work of the soul. He’d been like that too but now ever since he’d become, sick, not really sick but health challenged he’d come to value prayer. He was utter powerless over the most elemental functions of his own body. . Prayer was the only real card he had to play and it felt good to be around people who understood this.
After the service ended told his father that he wanted to speak to Rav Amran. “Are you sure?”
In the past, Asher had avoided his father’s Rebbe preferring the Lithuanian Rabbis from his yeshiva. “Yes, I feel like I need a brocha. Does Rav Amram know what is happening with me?”
“No, I never said anything to him.”
Asher slid his hand into his fathers and together they walked to the front of the synagogue where Rav Amram studied from a holy book, wrapped in tallis and tefillin.
“I’m running to a bris now but come to my house at noon.”
Asher spent the morning helping his mother prepare for Pesach which on this day meant scrubbing the fridge gasket with a q tip and scraping around the cabinet knobs with a tooth pick, to extricate any residue of hametz, leavened substance .In the past he’d avoided Pesach cleaning spending hours in a neighborhood Bais Medrash and doing the bare minimum but this year he found the simple physical tasks soothing rather than tedious. As he work he sang loudly to the latest Schwecky CD which he played at full blast, the music filling his mind and pushing out the space where worry might have crept in.
At noon Asher arrived at Rav Amram’s to find the rabbi laying underneath his stove holding a power screw driver in his hand.
“This holiday, brings you down to earth before it takes you up to heaven. “.
Asher smiled wanly
“Feel free to talk. ” The rabbi rose up. He was in shirtsleeves.
“Should I wear my hat and coat or am I alright as is?”
Once again Asher voice failed him again . He stood at the entrance to the Rabbi’s kitchen stuck in awkward silence until Rav Amram looped his arm around his shoulder.
“So, what can I do for you.”
He’d never before noticed that Rav Amran’s eyes were bright blue and his face was open and full of light . He thought for a moment. Should he retell his story with all the gory details. No. He’d just ask for a blessing.
Rav Amram laid his hands on Asher’s head and whispered the priestly blessing. Then he mumbled a few more words. “Refua shlaima, complete healing, Hatzlacha, success and a zigug hagun benekal, a proper match easily located. Simchas. Celebrations.
On C-day Molly and Nahum escorted their oldest son now two months short of his twenty third birthday to the hospital, In the back Asher dozed a baby in a car seat. The day was warm , the sky a bright blue and the hills around Hadassah hospital swathed with green like a Middle Eastern Switzerland.
A stocky bleached blonde nurse with a thick Russian accent escorted Asher into the treatment room handing him a pair of hospital pajamas and leaving him alone. As, Asher waited he bit his nails as if he were a child again. His head throbbed, The night before he’d tossed as his mind explored his worst fears. What if the doctors would find something and even if they didn’t what if his body had a reaction to the anesthetic like Grandpa Fred?
He took a deep breath and then began to pray in his own words. “”Help me, Please don’t end my life now. I’ll do what you want me to do. I’ll get married, I promise I won’t be too picky. I’ll find a good girl and build a family to give you nachas. G-d just let me live.”
Where were the doctors? How long would they leave him alone on an operating table shivering in threadbare pajamas.
In the morning his urine had been normal. Maybe he didn’t really need to do this. But just as he began to step down from the bed a deeply tanned man wearing scrubs arrived. .”I’m Dr. Moshe the anesthetist You like you’re getting off. ”
Asher obediently climbed back on the bed.
“Afraid?” Asher nodded slightly. What kind of question was this? Of course he was afraid. This man, had the power to end his life.
“It’ll be fine. You have a girl friend?”
Asher burst into laughter. Other than a non Jewish fellow, his father worked with no one ever asked him that.
“I wish I had one. I’m divorced for two years. I want to marry but this job doesn’t give me a moment to date and women aren’t’ interested in men who have no time for them….” Asher had never heard anyone talk this way and he was captivated Maybe he told this to all his patients, a bizarre ploy to calm their nerves but it worked. As Dr. Moshe continued his monolog anesthetic dripped into Asher’s vein . By the time, he finished Asher was unconscious.
Just outside Molly and Nahum sat nervously, Nahum scrolling through his email as Molly recited psalms. Then Nahum lifted his head and turned to his wife. “Are you thinking about my Dad?”
“Oh Nahum.” She clasped his hand in hers. It was trembling and cold.
“I can’t get it out of my head. I’m so scared.”
In a soft voice Molly hummed Shlomo Carelbach tunes with words from the pslams” I lift my eyes up to the mountain, where will my help come,” Nahum joining her until the nurse returned to tell them that the procedure was over.
When they entered the treatment room, Asher was wearing street clothes and Dr. Sadeh was there too, dressed in surgical scrubs. “Looks good, “he nodded. ” No need to worry”
“What about the bleeding?” Asher asked.
“It’s very minor. You’ll probably bleed today but I expect that it will stop very soon”
“And what about growths, can—” Asher could hardly say the word.
“Nothing, absolutely clean. ”
Molly threw her arms around her eldest son. Then she hugged Nahum and then all three of them huddling together in a circle of love.
On the ride home Asher asked about Shidduchim.
“Already? Molly face clouded. Don’t you want to recover from this first?.”
“Soon there will be a new crop of girls on them market.”
“Crop.????”Potatoes are crops, not girls”
“You know what I mean. Another bunch of girls. ”
At Passover a new group of 19 year old girls would enter the shidduch market— more girls for Asher to meet.
Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son.