Book binds generations

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By Mordecai Drache

My great-grandfather machzor is inscribed simply C. Tadman. “C” is got Charles, although his given name was Betzalel. Its spine is cracked, its fragile yellowing pages tinged along the edges with faded gold. Worn by and, I confess, my poor storage and packing, the design on its brown cover is barely visible.

Charles used this book for worship during Yom Kippur, the day of atonement nine days after Jewish new year celebrations in late September or early October. These high holidays are a time of new beginnings and brutal self-honesty. Yom Kippur prayers speak of human weakness and the challenges of living ethically.

The machzor is not worth a lot of money. At least, that’s what the antique book seller told me, rather dismissively.

“When was it published,” he asked.

“1913.”

“Where?”

“New York City.”
He wrote it off as a mass-produced edition and a standard fixture in North American synagogues of the time. It wasn’t valuable, financially or historically. Did he assume I wanted to sell it? I wasn’t sure.

People tend to romanticize mementos and their original owners. But Charles was an ordinary man. He owned a hardware store in Winnipeg. He married Rose Tadman, one of the first Jews born west of Ontario, and raised four children, including my grandmother Marjory. Progressive for his time, Charles allowed Marjory to attend university and earn a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A master’s, however, was out of the question, even though she was offered a scholarship.

Like Charles himself, his machzor was a product of his time. The synagogue he attended in Winnipeg, Shaarey Tzedek, would have eventually replaced it with new editions, so it wouldn’t make sense to use his old one. The page numbers wouldn’t have matched the other congregants’ books. But he didn’t throw it away. After Charles died, it was passed on to my father. I inherited it when my parents divorced.

The machzor will remain on my shelf while I’m in synagogue for Yom Kippur next Monday. I would never use it. The version has a gloom-and-doom tone that turns me off. I also find it too long. But then, coming from the generation he did, Charles would probably have disapproved of my synagogue, with its alternative meditations that veer away from the masculine depictions of God as “king” and “lord.” He’d probably be uncomfortable with the synagogue’s female leadership and population of same-sex couples.

Although Charles’ machzor is impractical for my purposes, I remain its guardian. Someday I might give it to one of my nieces or nephews. After all, Jewish prayer books are never thrown out. They are buried in a ritual known as geniza. Sometimes it seems a little silly for me to keep the book. After all, I’m not using it. But I am not ready to commit geniza of the soul.

Journalism student Mordecai Drache belongs to Keshet Shalom, a Toronto congregation or gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Jews. 

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