Share Your Story
by Alan Busch
Author's note: This is the second in a series of articles about living with Parkinson's Disease from the point of view of a Jew of faith. The introductory piece: "Ben Zoma Says: Who is Rich?" can be read at www.articlesbase.com.
The time was 6:03 a.m. and I was running several minutes late for morning prayers. My father, for whom I was saying Kaddish, had recently passed away in October of 2008. Unless I arrived in synagogue within four minutes, I'd miss the Rabbinical Kaddish. To make matters worse, I had taken my Parkinson's meds at 4:30 a.m. instead of at 3:00 a.m. thereby delaying their "kick in" time. Laying tefillin, I anticipated, was going to be a problem. I had made this mistake before.
Minyan was more crowded than usual. I felt cramped with two new fellows joining my table bringing the total from three to five. "This is not going to work," I muttered, attempting to don my prayer shawl. I picked up and moved to the main sanctuary where there was more than enough space for what I had to do.
Parkinson's is a movement disorder, which not only slows movement but restricts the ease with which the body ordinarily moves.
I rejoined the minyan in the adjacent "bais medrash" after ten minutes. The extra space had helped, but it could not change the fact my meds hadn't yet kicked in. For my troubles that morning I had myself alone to blame and vowed to adhere more closely to my meds schedule.
My thoughts turned back to an old friend, Mr. Irwin Parker, upon reaching The Shema, the heart of the morning service.
"Reb Isser", as he preferred to be called, taught me to read the "siddur", the Hebrew prayer book and "lay tefillin". "Slip your arm through this loop and slide it up to your bicep." "Like this?" My legs shook. "No, no. You see this knot? It has to be on the inside of your arm facing your heart."
We tightened the slip knot, wound the black leather strap seven times around my forearm, recited the blessing, placed the "tefillin shel rosh" on my head and recited its blessing.
"Oy," Reb Isser ... "a Yiddisher man!" He looked so proud. I felt like his lost little boy.
Tea With Reb Isser
"So what do you think? Pretty amazing, isn't it?" Speechless, he stared at a photo of my maternal grandfather, Harry Austin. The resemblance was striking. The tea kettle whistled. Placing two sugar cubes between his lower lip and gum, I was reminded me that Harry Austin, my maternal grandfather whose photograph I had just shown Reb Isser used to take his tea in the same manner. Steam clouded Reb Isser's sparkling blue eyes.
"Our prayers," he explained "are like long distance calls. If you dial His number often, you're guaranteed customer satisfaction."
"Kinda like a divine telephone service plan," I quipped, extending Reb Isser's simile. "More tea, Reb Isser?" He nodded. There were plenty of sugar cubes.
Awakened by The Mourner's Kaddish
I shook myself out of the deep sleep into which I had fallen. G-d sent Reb Isser as one His "molochim", angels, to instruct me in the basics of Jewish prayer, a critically important part of Torah and the inconvenience of Parkinson's disease with which to strengthen my resolve to never forsake Reb Isser's blessing.
Alan D. Busch
Revised June 1, 2011