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A Few Words From ...

The following Drash was delivered by past-president Steve Baron in honor of his Bar Mitzvah sidra Ki Tetze. We are grateful to Steve and all the wonderful volunteers who have shared their time and treasure with us.

My bar mitzvah took place forty-six years ago, on August 16, 1975 - Parsha Ki Tetze in the Book of Deuteronomy. I still remember my maftir and could probably chant it in my sleep if prompted in the right way. Certainly, if Cantor Shalom Markovits tip-toed into my bedroom, I would sense his presence, sit upright in bed, and rattle off those few lines like a major league shortstop fielding a routine ground ball. And it wasn't because I was afraid of Cantor Markovits. He did not coach me (or countless other kids of my generation) in a way that was the least bit intimidating. He wasn't a drill sergeant or a screamer like some of the teachers I remember from my days at Talmud Torah in Minneapolis. To the contrary, I recall those brief, pre-bar-mitzvah visits to his office at B'nai Emet Synagogue in the summer of 1975, as relaxed moments filled with quiet encouragement. I can still hear in my head his deep voice, thick with the Eastern European accent of his youth. "I vant you should go little-bit slower, Steven. And maybe little bit louder." But he delivered his minimal comments with a smile and a twinkle in his dark brown eyes, which were framed by immensely bushy eyebrows. I am half-convinced to this day that his eyebrows were under the stewardship of the Environmental Protection Agency. It's possible that flocks of birds could have lived in the underbrush atop his eyes, and we never would have known it.

What I remember most vividly about Cantor Markovits was the number tattooed on his forearm. Because my bar mitzvah took place during the brief but warm Minnesota summer, Cantor Markovits wore short-sleeved dress shirts at our weekly meetings. The shirts revealed his bare arms, and one of his forearms revealed a small, several-digit number in deep blue, nearly black faded ink. I tried not to stare at it, but it was difficult not to be drawn to the number -- and to let my mind wander back to what the number represented. When he was a boy of roughly the same age as me, thirty or so years earlier, he went through some unspeakable horror in Europe during World War II that I could not grasp then, and I still cannot grasp to this day. We never talked about the number on his arm, but in some ways, it was the most important symbol in the room.

Like any Jew who studied the Holocaust in Hebrew school, I have often wondered what would have happened to me if I had been born in Europe in that era. If I was lucky enough to survive, would I continue to hold tight to the religion that nearly got me killed? Cantor Markovits did more than embrace his religion. He spent his adult life sharing the joy he found in it and teaching it to others. He literally gave voice to it. To me, there was no more poignant moment in the High Holiday services of my youth than when Cantor Markovits sang the Hineni ("Here I am") prayer, which he always started from the back of the sanctuary and then slowly marched to the front and ended on the bimah near the Torahs. I don't know what it meant to him to be telling G-d, "Here I am," but it resonated powerfully with me to see this Holocaust survivor in white robes marching slowly and deliberately toward the Torahs at the front of the room.

Back to my maftir for a moment. Here's the English translation:

You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear God. Therefore, it will be, when the Lord your God grants you respite from all your enemies around you in the land which the Lord, your God, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!

I think I finally figured out why Cantor Markovits had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye when I chanted these words.

May his memory always be for a blessing.


Steve Baron

Emanuel Past President


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