Judgment Day

Samuel Saks

This was the old man’s eighty-seventh Yom Kippur; by now he knew what to expect. Although he had trouble reading the prayers they carried a deep tacit meaning to him, a meaning that he never quite understood, although sensed its existence. This was how the old man lived, never knowing exactly what things meant but just barely understanding what things stood for. To the old man the Rabbi was a symbol of authority and knowledge that provided a structure upon which the synagogue was built. When a synagogue found a new Rabbi it underwent political as well as structural changes. Somehow, to the old man the Jewish religion was a mystery he never was able to figure out; instead it reminded him of the horse race his father took him to when he was young. He remembered how uncertain he was of the names and positions the horses took. Instead he got lost in the excitement and ended up watching his dad and depending on his understanding rather then his own. How strange, it now occurred to him, that his father would introduce him to such a complex sport at such a young age. Even now the sport seemed unusual to him, for he had given up on it eighty-one years ago.

Now, in the synagogue everything seemed so strange to him. He was no longer part of the congregation. All his prayers were meaningless and he could no longer concentrate. His wife used to help him, he used to be able to strengthen himself in the morning and eat. Now, after her recent death, he felt tired. All the foreign letters contained in the prayer book circled around in his head, the erratic motions refusing to align themselves properly. The man was left alone in the synagogue he once knew with the people he had known. He had been respected and revered in his youth. Now he had no choice but to look back and try to remember the words of the prayers he used to sing. His thoughts flew around like a fly caught between two mirrors. He was never certain whether what he saw was real or a piece of shiny glass distorting his view. This present condition depressed the old to the point where he was in greater pain now than when his wife died. That was when he saw the young boy enter the synagogue.

The boy was incandescent in his innocence, which he flashed around much like a women showing off her wedding gown. The boy didn’t realize he was being watched. Perhaps if he had he might mask this light by staying closer to his father and not radiating the youth that so permeated his being. The old man was enthralled by the free spirit encompassed in the small frame of the glowing creature. Possessing the ignorance that is essential to his nature, the boy pulled out a large red candy in the synagogue full of hungry adults. None paid more attention to this act than the old man who sat there trying to recapture the glory of his youth.

The fast day hung on the old man like his old coat, forcing him to bend under its weight. He was forced within himself, forced to see all the terrible decay that had permeated his being. He was the dying flower forced by the wind to bend and see his writhing body. Even the chair and the people sitting next to him seemed to confine him into a tiny area so compact that it all but cut off his circulation. But he saw a chance to revive himself if he could only get closer to the boy. Instead of wishing to talk to the boy and derive an indirect, if weaker, benefit he decided that he had to capture him and take away what was once his. Then the wind that once blew through his hair would return and elementary school would start in the fall once again. With this dream in mind the old man no longer cared that he was in synagogue and that the ark was opened. He seemed to be flying towards the boy and reaching for his candy then a voice echoed through his head and it shook the foundations of the shul and the strange familiarity of the name drew himself back in.

“Mr. Feigenbaum, it is your turn to open the ark," the voice said.

“Thank you, Rabbi... I must have dozed off for a second," said Mr. Feigenbaum trying to explain his condition to the young Rabbi. Again, the ark and the Rabbi kept him away from the boy. While he approached the ark for the honor that he received he caught a closer glimpse of the candy the boy kept so close to his bosom. Its outer coating was dark red and the inner part was not as hard. It seemed to give off a bright reddish glow in the light of the open ark. He had yet to remember how to read the prayers so he came up with the temporary substitution: “To the mighty and graceful lord whose glory fills the earth, bestow upon me once again the sweetness of youth so that I may follow the righteous path." He repeated this incantation again and again quietly in front of the ark and with such fervor that he felt himself grow weaker and weaker until he could no longer stand before the ark. Now the light of the boy’s candy shone brighter than ever. It became a beacon, a lighthouse for Mr. Feigenbaum so that he could avoid any rocks that came his way. If only he could hold the candy in his wrinkled hands once again, if only the fast would end!

The chanting continued in the synagogue, but the old man’s thoughts never wavered. The candy became the center of his heart and the reincarnation of his dead wife. It provided a means of escape for the old man. A means that he could not provide for himself - only the boy’s candy could save him now. He stared at the candy and it was brighter than the light that hung over the ark. But the ark could not save him anymore nor could the Rabbi; he was under a spell. Perhaps only his wife could save him now but she had left him alone with the blinding light of the candy. Such was the twofold nature of the candy, that at one second it could be the jewel in a king‚s crown and at another be the eyes of the devil. And so the fast came to a close and the old man’s trance had begun to wear off. It was then he realized his whole life was like the polished skin of the candy, so shiny and red until the outer layer was broken and all the liquid would burst out. He had looked inside himself and found this spoiled candy worn away. The old man was merely trying to renew the dream he had once held so close to him. Alas he was unable to. The blazing light from the boy’s candy atrophied the old man’s body to the point that he was left a cold, naked old man forced to endure the harsh winter that comprised his present life, alone. And so the old man left the synagogue with an overwhelming sense of loss that he could never free himself of. The candy which was the boy’s innocence and youth all in one, was now the deepest desire of the old man, a desire which he could no longer control and that destroyed his life. All his memories had been erased in the trance he had sunken into, his wife no longer existed even in the old man’s mind. The old man never went to synagogue again for he knew he could no longer stand to see the light emanating from the top of the ark. The light from the candy had melted his heart and in its place left an eternal glimmer of desire and futility that he was destined to bear.