The voice

After my father died,
He began to speak.

His life had been devoted to the town
Where he brought the divine word he had embraced
The teachings of the beloved Baal Shem Tov
Bringing joy and strength to the community,
Where the synagogue he built could hold five thousand men and women

He taught us about reincarnation
And wrote many religious songs
But of some things, he did not speak

After he died,
He began to speak.

His voice came from my mouth.
In his resonant bass tones and pinched vowels
It told first of the mayor
His dalliance with lashes and twine under the hands of the cantor’s wife.
And then of the cheder principal
Who perverted himself with a different student each year

The disciples recognized the voice of the deceased Sholom Rokeach, and it threw them into great agitation.
“You must not speak such perversion, Eidel,” they told me.
“Do not desecrate the soul of the old Rabbi.
It must be a dybbuk that has taken possession of you.”

In fact, it was I who had told my father the sins of the town.
I had warned him when the tax collector was overcharging to pay for prostitutes.
I came to my father’s study each time a leading citizen set up a tryst in the vestibule.

How could a young girl know these things?
My neighbors avoided the synagogue at mid-day, when it should have been empty
They did not hear sounds from the vestibule,
Or from the cheder after school hours
But at the age of twelve I passed the synagogue on the way to visit an ailing relative
After that, I kept my ears open.

And he responded just as his disciples did.
“You must not speak such perversion…”
But he rubbed his brow and sobbed.
And after I told him that his chief disciple had forced me in the larder,
My father rose and entered the foreboding night.

I told no one else.
I know that he did not either.
I married, bore children.
But after my father died,
He began to speak.

Sholom Rokeach (1781 to 1855) was the chief rabbi of Belz, a town now in the Ukraine that today is much smaller and emptied of its Jews. This poem is inspired by an account published in Moment Magazine, September/October 2018, “The Weird and Wondrous World of Jews and Magic.”

This poem will be published in issue 16 of Slab Literary Magazine.

Andy Oram
October 18, 2018