Sadness Of A Summer Vigil
07/23/99
Staff Writer

 

Summer, the season most associated with love and escape, is just as often the season of loss, endings as elongated as the drawn July afternoons. The Jewish calendar meanders through the Three Weeks and Nine Days, mourning the foreboding even more than the end itself. Unlike the usual procedure of ìsitting shivaî after a death, the mourning here is about the vigil; the days before the Templeís burning, not the nine days after.The first days of the Hebrew month of Av are considered ill-fated in the present tense, still. Rabbis warn Jews, even now, that these are inauspicious times. Last week, the days stretched on as Americans wondered about a lost Kennedy in summerís ocean. Back in 1964, in these same summer weeks, America waited out the disappearance of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney; the famous two Jews and a black.Goodmanís mother, Carolyn, says, ìWe were cultural Jews. We didnít practice, but knew damn well that we were Jews and we wouldnít deny it under any circumstances.îToday, in her sitting room filled with books, is a carefully labeled shelf: ìJewish subjects.î There are volumes about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Arab-Israel conflict, a 1968 travel guide book to Israel, and Jean Paul Sartreís ìAnti-Semite and Jew.îThere were no guides for where Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were going, but you packed your duffel with an eerie premonition. Volunteers loaded up on bandages and antiseptics, $500 for bail money, and four copies of portrait photos (and the address of your favorite hometown newspaper), so the movementís communications office could help the media when volunteers involuntarily disappeared.As they drove away in a Ford station wagon, June 21, Schwerner called out, ìIf weíre not back by 4:30, start phoning. But weíll be back by 4.îThey werenít. Their bodies were found six weeks later.This is the summer of their memory. Last month, buses filled with pilgrims commemorating the Freedom Riders departed from the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan, bound for the Mississippi earth by the side of a dusty road where the three bodies were found.This yearís Freedom Riders memorialized Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney in the most Jewish of ways: Small stones left by mourners on the consecrated earth.On the other side of the planet, in Israel, on that same day of 12 Tammuz, a Lubavitcher chasid with a long beard lit a candle and went to shul to say Kaddish for his brother Andy. Jonathan Goodman became religiously introspective several years after Andyís death, and wondered what it ìreallyî meant to be a Jew. His answer led him to chasidism and emigration to Israelís Kfar Chabad, where he lives with his wife and seven children. Andy was never even given a Hebrew name but his posthumous niece and nephews are Ruth Chana, Aaron Zev, Kalman, Menachem, Shimon.ÖCarolyn Goodman lives in the same apartment on Manhattanís West Side. All mothers know something of waiting and praying, and she carried Andy for nine months in 1943. After their own tortured ìThree Weeks,î Carolyn and Andyís father, Robert, (she a psychologist, he an engineer who helped build the Lincoln, Holland and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnels) found comfort in American scripture.Robert Goodman later said, at Andyís memorial, that during the weeks of waiting, ìmy wife and I, in a sense, made a pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial, in the evening, and stood in the great shrine looking down past the Washington Monument toward the soft glow of the light around the White House. Full of the awe of a great nation that surrounded us, we turned to read emblazoned in black letters on the white marble, ëIt is for us the living to dedicate ourselves, that these dead shall not have died in vain.í îBack home in Manhattan, was a postcard, with a four-cent Abraham Lincoln stamp, dated June 21, 1964:ìDear Mom and Dad, I have arrived safely in Meridian, Miss. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful, and our reception was very good.All my love, AndyîGoing to the South was a natural thing to do. Carolyn Goodman ó who was arrested herself a few weeks ago at the sprightly age of 83 while protesting the shooting death of Amadou Diallo ó says sheís been involved with liberal causes, ìsince shortly after I was born.î It was no surprise to the Goodmans that, when Andy was old enough, he went off to see the coal mines and conditions in Appalachia.No, there were no 24-hour news stations ó neither radio nor TV ó nor cable when Andy disappeared in Mississippi, but it was a grueling vigil. ìIíll tell you,î says Carolyn of those summer weeks. ìI was so stunned, it was as if I was walking through clouds. It was like it was me, and not me. Iíd walk into my house, it was jammed full of people; friends, well-wishers, the press was all over the place.îWhen his body was flown from Mississippi to Manhattan, it was brought to the Riverside Chapel on Amsterdam Avenue.ìIíll never forget going into that chapel,î says Carolyn. ìOf course, the coffin was closed. But I ësawí Andy sitting on top of it. I never had hallucinations before or since. It wasnít Andy as he was at 20. There he was at the age of 4, maybe 3, sitting on top of that coffin. ... I can see him right now, wearing his funny, little hat.îShe pauses: ìThis whole life of mine has been one bittersweet experience.îUnder the coffee table in her sitting room is a book, ìThe Chabad Musician,î a collection produced and arranged by Yonason (Jonathan) Goodman. She says proudly of her oldest son, ìHe is a brilliant musicianîIn the songbook is an old but lively Chabad anthem, ìUfaratzta,î in which Jews are inspired to go out beyond, to the North, East and West, to every corner of Godís world.Andy went South.

Last Update:

09/08/2009 - 14:51

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