Down the street is a little old shul, comprising a sanctuary and a school.

It smells of aged cedar and pine, parchment, paper, leather, and wine.

The floorboards creak and moan when trod, as if themselves called out to God.

At, dawn, a minyan, with their wives, come to spend some of their lives

Worshipping their One True God™: Some of love, some at the prod;

The goad of conscience drives them on; and some Tradition, their faith long gone.

Before the Ark, they take their places (perhaps their fathers’ fathers’ spaces).

Above, the women, with their young, wait in silence, hold their tongue,

And from the sep’rate gallery, listen to the liturgy

As their men begin to pray before they start another day.

In the back, a smoker retches as the chazzan softly kvetches,

Steel-capped shoes on floorboards shuffle, caftans hang and gently ruffle,

Siddurs open, pages rustle in the sedate morning bustle.

The chazzan leads the shacharis; the rebbe sits and prays in peace,

Sitting next to the eastern wall, swathed in an old white prayer shawl.

Tefillin laid, he rises up and chants his prayers with their trup;

Davening, shuckling, sometimes chuckling, old frame swaying as if buckling

Under the heavy weight of ages, praying the words of long-dead sages….

At my elbow, firm of tread, along whatever paths I thread,

Weaving spells of memory, of hearth and home and family,

A step aside, a pace behind, the music plays, both sweet and kind.

My non-existent soul is stirred as I hear the Elder Word,

Traditions carved in stone and thunder, once held dearer than all earthly plunder.

I stop behind my heavy plough; Listen—It is playing now.

I pause to listen, and I hear, and to my eye there comes a tear.

But standing, though my heart is breaking, without backward glances taking,

I continue firmly on, the Song ignored, but never gone.



About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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