Friday, July 16, 2010


July 16 is lots of other things, of course. It's International Juggling Day. It's Ginger Rogers's birthday. It's Friday. It's hot again, back in the 90s. It's the day our friends from Pittsburgh arrived for a stay; tomorrow we'll go with them to the Cape for the weekend. But more than anything it's what July 16 is every year, just because it's July 16: the yahrtzeit, the "year's time", of my father's death in 1961.

A yahrtzeit is one of those customized occasions, a day with your name on it, or your family's name, a day you know with a little-used sense. There's probably a German word for that sense, meaning "memory of the heart," something like that. In our temple tonight, they will read my dad's name. I won't be there. Nor will I light a yahrtzeit candle, as I have in some years. Too hot for a 24-hour candle. Maybe a briefer one.

If my mom's birthday three days ago was a watermark on the day, this is a more of a brand. Is it just the difference between life and death? Birthdays being the index of years within a life, and a yahrtzeit being the index of years without? Or is that just essay talk? Because birthdays also look at a life after the fact and a yahrtzeit can celebrate a presence as much as it marks an absence.

Except there's that date, July 16, when I was 12. The long night, listening in my room for the footsteps of someone arriving with bad news—trying to keep it at bay, but instead predicting it into existence, the footsteps, the doorbell, the rabbi at the door, the news.

That forever marks a day, no matter that next year will be fifty years since, and he'll still be 48, me looking at 63. So I can see why you might as well light a candle or say the mourners' kaddish. Or write a blog puzzling it out. And maybe end with a letter he wrote to Betty in 1940, when he was 27 and so was she, about four months before they got married, in the high tide of their lives...

July 5th, 1940

Miss Betty Novick

c/o Warden Lawes

Sing Sing – Simon Simon –

New York – New York. Heh, Heh.

Bet you didn’t expect to hear from me to-day. Guess that means I win 15 kisses again. Or maybe you mean to win this bet and collect 15 kisses yourself — either way, I don’t care.

Did you have a good time in Amherst? How were all the folks? What did you hear from the mob? Did you “grease” your Maw and oil yore Paw? Do you mind my asking all these questions? Do you wash your undies in Lux? Do you see your dentist twice a year? Do you know I’m the one guy in the world who wants to get “B.O.”? Do you know why? Efsher kennst du mir usen?

A bunch of Who-shot-John?, huh. I’m leaving for Bosting to-nite at 5:30. Have nothing new to report except that I missed you terribly and will continue to do so till we see each other next.

Picture of me missing you terribly

(Me missing a shave terribly)

(Me missing a couple of teeth terribly)

If you look for me in the above picture you will be surprised to find me missing. Instead I have substituted a reasonable facsimile.

I know a guy who once wrote a letter for some particular reason — I don’t remember what it was — something about a substitute for a prostitute who was destitute in an institute, I believe. But I have absolutely no reason for writing other than to let you know I’m thinking of you constantly & love you very much.

So saying his pen ran out of ink and he just about had enough left to say au revoir and je t’aime



  1. What a voice, Hal; and how much of it you have inherited, even though you only had twelve years together. Blood. It's amazing.

    Thinking of you, your dad, your mom, love, and July 16th.


  2. Wow, the ink wasn't even dry! Thanks, Meera, so much. That means a lot.
    Love, Hal

  3. I do't know Meeralee, but have to echo her comment. Just logged on to your blog and found this beautiful piece. As always, I stand in awe and treasure thee and we. Love, H