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“I remember.”

“So you know when I recite the prayers, they’re in Hebrew. I can say the Hebrew, but what I’m saying, this I don’t know, because when did I have a chance to learn? We were a poor family. My father-he worked plenty hard in the old country just to feed us. So after I learned the prayers, he took me out of the cheder, you know, the school, and already I was helping him in his work. That’s how it was with most people those days.”

“Yes, I know.”

“So because I don’t understand what the words mean, that means I’m not praying? I have thoughts in my head, while my lips are moving, and by me this is praying. Am I right or wrong, Rabbi?”

“I suppose it depends on what the thoughts are.”

“Ah-hah. Now that Saturday, what would my thoughts be? They would be about Ben. I asked God He should help him. He should make the police they should find out the truth so they should let my Ben go.”

“I would say that was praying, Mr. Goralsky.”

“So while I was praying, I made a promise. If my Ben goes free, I thought, then I would do something.”

“You don’t have to bribe God, and you don’t have to make bargains with Him.”

“Not a bribe. Not even a bargain. I made with myself a promise-a-a vow.”

“All right.”

“Now here’s my question, Rabbi. Do I have to keep my promise?”

The rabbi did not smile. Hands in his pockets, he strode up and down the room, his forehead creased in thought. Finally he turned and faced the old man. “It depends on what the promise was. If it was something impossible, then obviously you’re not bound. If it was something wrong or illegal, again you’re not bound. In any case, where you made the promise to yourself it’s up to you to decide how committed you are.”

“Let me tell you, Rabbi. Months ago, I was talking to Morton Schwarz, the president of the temple, and I said I wanted a remembrance for my Hannah, which she had died a few months before that. After all, I’m a rich man now, and my son is rich. And my Hannah was with me all the time we were poor. Even when I got rich, she couldn’t enjoy it because already she was sick, in bed most of the time, on a diet so she couldn’t even eat good. So this Morton Schwarz he asks me what I had in mind. The temple could use an air-condition system, maybe a new organ.” The old man shrugged his shoulders. “I’m going to make an air-condition system in remembrance of my wife? Where will her name be? On the pipes? And an organ is better? I had to fight with myself a long time before I went to your temple because there was an organ there. So should I give the temple an organ in my wife’s memory? So I said, ‘Mr. Schwarz, I don’t want a piece of machinery, and I don’t want any organs. I had it in mind something like a building.’ Nu, that’s all I had to say, and that’s all he had to hear. He tells me he had it in mind to build like an addition to the temple, a special sanctuary which it would be used only for praying, not for meetings or regular business. I told him I was interested.”

“Did he tell you how much it was likely to cost?”

“The cost I didn’t care. The money, I can take it with me? Or I got to provide for Ben? Schwarz says more than a hundred thousand; I said even two hundred thousand.”


“So then later he shows me a drawing, and he explains how there will be like a gallery so you can stand there and talk when you want to leave the service for a little rest, or after the service, a place you can linger.” He hunched his shoulders and spread his hands. “Believe me, Rabbi, at my age, you’re interested in lingering. You’re not in and you’re not out-sort of halfway.”

“And then did he show you the model?”

“He showed me.”


“And the model-” he grimaced, “already I wasn’t so crazy over. The building by itself-nice, but attached to the temple, it was already not here not there. The temple-it’s plain, it’s straight; and the new building, it’s fancy. But I’m an architect? What do I know about buildings? So I wasn’t sure, but that day when I was praying for my Ben, I made it a promise that if they let Ben go I would give the building.”

“And your question is whether you’re bound by your promise?”

“That’s the question.”

“And your objection is that the two, the new and the old, don’t go together?”

“Not only that, Rabbi. This I could stand already. But all my life, I’m a businessman. Do you know what is a businessman, Rabbi? A businessman, when he spends a dollar he got to get for a dollar merchandise. Makes no difference for what he spends. If he spends for charity, he got to get for a dollar charity. You understand?”

“I think so.”

“So to me it seems like this building is mostly wasted. Do we need an extra building for the temple? To put up a building just to put up a building, just to spend the money, it’s not in my nature.”

“Suppose the building were separate from the main building. Would you feel better about it?”

“So what would you use it for?”

“It could be a school,” the rabbi suggested slowly. “Or even a community center.”

“You need a separate building for a school? If you took the school out of the temple and put it in a separate building, for when would you use the temple? For a couple of days a year? It would be a waste. And a center? Here in Barnard’s Crossing you need a center for the boys to play basketball? In the city, where nobody had a yard and was lots of kids and was dangerous to play in the street-all right. But here, you need a place for kids to play?”

“Perhaps you’re right-”

“Remember, Rabbi, just to put up a building, should be a building-this is foolish. Better in this place should be God’s grass and flowers.”

Then it came to the rabbi. “You’re right, Mr. Goralsky. But there is one building that we do need.” He looked at the old man and spoke carefully. “We could use a chapel for our cemetery. Oh, it wouldn’t be as big as the plan calls for, but it could be the same general design. And it would be especially fitting since your wife was one of the first to be buried there-”

Goralsky’s lined face broke into an old man’s smile. “Rabbi, Rabbi, this time you got it. The same design, maybe a little smaller, this would be a nice building for the cemetery. And even a fence, I would be willing to put it in, and flowers and maybe trees. The Hannah Goralsky Memorial Cemetery. It could be like a garden.” Then his face fell. “But my vow, Rabbi. I made a promise for an addition to the temple here in Barnard’s Crossing. In my own mind, I even saw Morton Schwarz’s building-”

“But did your vow concern this particular arrangement of buildings? You made a vow to donate a building to the temple, a memorial to your wife-” He stopped as the old man shook his head.

“Look, Rabbi, you think I made a vow like I was swearing before a notary? I, Moses Goralsky, do hereby promise… No. Was going through my mind all kinds of pictures, feelings, ideas-not so much words, you understand. But I know what I promised,” he added stubbornly.

The rabbi nodded thoughtfully. Of course the old man did not verbalize his vow. And he was old enough and rich enough to hold himself to its strict observance, even though he was also shrewd enough to realize that the alternate plan, the cemetery chapel, would be much more useful and appropriate. The rabbi rose from his chair and began to stride up and down the room, while Goralsky waited with the patience of the very old.

The more the rabbi thought of it, the better the plan seemed. No less than Marvin Brown, he realized the importance of the cemetery to the congregation. And it would give Morton Schwarz his building-not exactly as he had planned it, but near enough. And it would permit the old man to set up a lasting memorial to his wife’s memory. The problem was, how to permit Mr. Goralsky to do what he actually wanted to do.

He paused in front of the bookcase and his eyes wandered over the large leather-bound tomes that comprised his copy of the Talmud. He selected a volume and took it over to his desk. He leafed through the pages until he found the passage he wanted and swiveled around to face Goralsky.