In orthodox fashion, in the synagogues, the males had the center stage and the women were. I was with my grandfather at services in a Debrezen synagogue when I first became aware of the cadence of the worshippers during prayers. With yarmulkes on their heads and their shoulders wrapped in prayer shawls, they would ‘shuckle,’ sway back and forth while standing and praying. Different men had different tempos, some short and rapid swaying while others were long and slow. I did not know the reason, but I tried to match the timing of my grandfathers ‘shuckles’. In time I learned to set my own cadence to suit my thoughts, and murmur my studied adaptation of sounds to simulate the sounds of praying, while my thoughts were not on religion. I was intrigued as how the pious men have twisted sideburns swung in arcs across their cheeks. By tilting my head I could make one pious brush my face while the other side dangled loosely. Prayer time, for me, was an opportunity to explore non-religious interests while giving the illusion that I was rapt in prayer.
While my grandparents remained in Europe, my mother and my two brothers returned to America to join my father. We lived in Red Hook, the shipyard section of Brooklyn. On holy days we would walk to the nearest synagogue, Bnai Israel, which was near Boro Hall, two miles away. When I was eleven, the simmering awakening of adolescence made me aware of the girls isolated from the temple’s center section during services. However, they were cropping up in the center section in the temple of my thoughts. I ‘shuckled’ and murmured my convincing sounds of prayer while my mind explored the non-religious potential of growing up.
Morris in the adjacent pew was almost thirteen and a head taller than I was. My lower rib cage was at the height of the back of the pew in front while his hips were at that height. He had a varied ‘shuckling’ cadence, at times slow at times with increased frequency, followed by periods of stillness. Covertly I watched him and noted that he would contact the back of the pew while ‘shuckling’. The slow cadence increased as the services continued, and usually when the ark was opened and my father, along with others, covered their eyes in the opening prayer, Morris had achieved his cadence with increased vigor. Then his ‘shuckling’ stopped, his face seemed flushed, and his eyes had a faraway look as he seemed to look into the future, accompanied by low, suppressed gasps, which at first I thought was reverent awe, spewed from his trembling lips. By the time the torah had been removed and everyone was seated, Morris was quietly staring ahead, wrapped in awesome thought. I was curious and wanted to find what religious inspiration gave him such rapture.
I was in a bathroom stall when I heard Morris and his friend Hy’s voices coming into the room. I lifted my legs to hide that I was eavesdropping. I heard them mutter as they looked to see if anyone was present. They thought the room was empty. Morris exuberantly told Hy, “Wow! Just at the moment that the rabbi opened the ark, I came. It was terrific.”
“Who was it this time?” Hy questioned.
“Lillian, with the big tits,” Morris smirked. “How did you make out?”
“Not good. I was thinking of Gussie and I got excited and dumped my load. My pants are stained,” Hy admitted.
“Smuck! Didn’t you follow my advice?”
“Sure I did. I used one of my sister’s fancy hankies, but it must have slipped off.”
“Mine didn’t. Next time use a bigger handkerchief and use rubber bands to hold it tightly wrapped.” Then they stopped talking as someone entered the room. When I heard them leave I lowered my feet. When the man using the urinal, flushed and left I returned to the services.
I reviewed what I had heard that day. I realized that I found the answer to the religious inspiration that gave Morris such rapture. At times before, between, and after services, I overheard some older boys engaged in private conversations about various girls’ physical attributes and their fantasized involvement with girls that stimulated their urges. Younger boys, like myself, were never included in their conversations.
During the following year, I had grown taller and at the proper height to exploit the back of the pew ahead of me for stimulation. In my fantasy, in a secluded room of my mind, I had my harem of ten favorite wives, plus a countless array of concubines. I would savor different wives as the Yom Kippur service progressed, and then I would summon my chosen one for the ultimate finale. I thought of the aging Rabbi’s young wife, Pearl. She was shapely with jutting breasts and long hair. . In my fantasy, I would free Pearl from the clutches of the rabbi, and make her made her my favorite wife.
I chose her for the ecstatic climax that would happen during the blowing if the shoffer. As the rabbi picked up the shoffer my ‘shuckling’ cadence increased, as did my mumbled prayers.
Then I felt my father’s firm hand on my shoulder, and saw his disapproving look, as he pulled me back and away from the back of the pew.
I realized that once upon a time, long ago, my father had been a young boy.