Oftentimes, an audience member will come up to either me or Renée after a performance and ask,
"Is that a true story?"
Our answer will usually sound something like,
"I don't know if the events actually happened,
but it is a true story."
This story is a good example of such a story.
At the edge of town there is an abandoned synagogue that people call the weeping synagogue. Birds nest there. Squirrels come and play there. But no one prays there. Many of the local Jews believe that it is haunted. They abandoned it, moved the Holy Torah scrolls, turned off the Eternal Light, and built a brand-new synagogue on the other side of town. This is the story the oldest members of the community tell about it.
Once, long ago, we had a rabbi who was a scholar. He taught brilliant classes and gave astounding sermons. Late at night he could often be found alone in the synagogue, the old synagogue, studying the holy books. He would study late into the night, early into the next morning.
One night, when the rabbi was the last person awake in the whole town, a voice spoke to him from inside the Holy Ark.
"Make a wish. Heaven has seen how good and how holy you are, so make a wish.:"
The rabbi thought and thought, then said,
"I have nothing for which to wish. I have health and family. I have enough to eat and wear, enough things, enough of a place to live. I am happy with my work. I am happy with my portion in life."
At that moment the ark began to cry. A huge sobbing started. Then the voice began to speak again,
"You could have done so much. You could have brought peace or ended hunger. Human suffering could have ended, but you thought of wishes as only for you." The crying continued.
In the morning they found the rabbi collapsed on the floor. They woke him, took him home, washed his forehead, and fed him soup. By evening he was gone. He said nothing to anyone. But the crying started that day. From then on the synagogue felt like a sad place. At night, when the wind blew, it became a sobbing voice that seemed to come from the ark. Anyone who was in the synagogue heard the ark cry, "If only...If only..."
It became too much for the community. They built a new synagogue and started over.
This story can be found in Stories We Pray, by Joel Lurie Grishaver, Pg 212-213. I highly recommend this book. In his foreword Mr. Grishaver says, "I began collecting stories because Shlomo Carlebach told stories." That's good enough for me.
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and