Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2002 / 28 Elul, 5762

Ted Roberts

When breaking the genealogical chain is the right thing to do: A Rosh Hashanah tale | The sages teach that every Jew who walks today's earth can be traced to an ancestor who walked over the dry riverbed of the Red Sea, participated in the Encounter at Sinai and spent forty years marching through the desert.

Think hard about this on Rosh Hashanah. Consider the awesome fact that you're in synagogue here in America, 2002, on a planet in the solar system because your ancestors survived until they could play their part in your creation.

Consider this Rosh Hashanah that if just one of the human links, between this primeval ancestor and you, had scratched their leg on a Sinai thorn bush, developed an infection, and left their bones in the desert (before they could forge the link that engendered you) --- you wouldn't be here in synagogue. Statistically, it's a million to one shot that 150 generations in your genetic line lived to make the next link in the CHAIN OF YOU. Statistically, your existence is beyond the imagining of even the most optimistic genealogist.

And you not only do you owe the blessing of existence to this sandaled, brown-robed, Hebrew-speaking nomad -- a stranger 3300 years away who you couldn't pick out of a crowd -- but you owe this faceless creator your genetic inventory.

They tell the story of Morris Keminsky, who lived on Skylark Cove, in Fairlawn, New Jersey, USA. He's 41 years of age. It's Rosh Hashanah morning. Morris is hardly aware of the holiday's annual arrival. But he knows it's not a day like all others, because he's not at work --- and it's already 8:30 a.m.

He loves the High Holidays. What's not to like. No work, a leisurely review of the New York Post, a nap, and a festive supper.

The synagogues and temples of Manhattan and New Jersey are as full as the Meadowlands for the Giants-Eagles match. Everybody's in synagogue. Even Jews who dump catsup on their chopped liver, even Jews who think Reuben is a sandwich and Sinai is only a hotdog brand.

But Morris Keminsky is not at worship. He's at home breakfasting on scrambled eggs with the sports section propped up before him instead of the machzor (holiday prayer book). And a genealogist -- after a couple of years of historical research -- could explain why.

Morris Keminsky's ancestor, Dovid Kamen ben Issachar, at the Red Sea crossing, asked Moses for a life preserver --- just in case their Divine Deliverer changed his mind and that wall of water returned.

Morris Keminsky's forbears in the Sinai trek were always whining to Moses about the fleshpots of Egypt. "Stewed goat in leek sauce beats manna every time --- let's go back."

Morris Keminsky's ancestors, a couple millennia later, shot dice on the street corners of Minsk instead of attending the Yeshiva and studying Talmud. That's the kind of genetic freight the Keminski tribe carried.

They were rebels. Yom Kippur? Just another Monday morning. And that's why Morris Keminsky looked up from his scrambled eggs in surprise to see his daughter, Sarah, dressed to the nines. Dressed for synagogue. And after a brief farewell to the 155th descendent of Dovid Kamen ben Issachar, she was out the door and on her way to services.

Her mother was already at services. Her mother, you see, had also had an ancestor who stood fearfully on the shores of the Red Sea -- Rachel bas Elisheva -- who victoriously sang the song of Miriam after the crossing with eyes moistened by joyous tears. So today, the 156th descendent of Rachel bas Elisheva bids her father a "sweet new year." She's gone to services.

Morris lingered over the sports section for a moment. He read a fascinating discussion of the Giants' new quarterback prospect. He was strong, mobile, and accurate, reported the sportswriter. This should have cheered Morris -- a rabid Giants fan -- but he trudged upstairs, his steps silent on the carpeted stairs of an empty house. Confused, he dressed for synagogue. The chain between Dovid Kamen ben Issachar, who formerly lived in the Sinai desert, and Morris Keminsky of New Jersey, USA, was broken.

JWR's very own Ted Roberts, Jewry's sentry of the South, is a humorist based in Huntsville, Alabama. He reads -- and answers -- all of his e-mail himself. Send your comments by clicking here.


© 2002 Ted Roberts