Roly: Song of the Life Cycle

By Susan Bodnar | Issue Date: September 2011

Roly with congregants. Photo Credit: Nigun HalevIt is a chorus, really, all the memories of the congregation, the story of Roly’s presence when it most mattered. Sometimes when the soft Shabbat morning light drifts into the quiet of the Amidah, you can hear whispered one song in many voices:

As there are seasons to a year,
Roly has guided me through the seasons of my adult life.
“Give it a try,” he said.
He listened,
helped me find my wife,
told me to give that guy a chance,
laughed at what happened,
married us.
Roly told me, “Sometimes you wonder why you keep hitting your head against the wall over and over and over. But you do it and you keep doing it because one time you will find the door and you will walk through to the other side.”
It was right after the Iraq War and he gave the most depressing wedding blessing but it so captured the side by side of life—the good and the bad.
When he sang the sheva brakhot, his voice, so tender and gentle, everyone cried.
When we were under the huppah with him he reminded us to always
find the laughter in our love,
the darkness and the light, the good and the bad.
He understood that we couldn’t stay together.
When my partner and I came to the Torah, I was for the first time ever myself, a Jew and gay.
We told him we were pregnant right after services.
We told him we were pregnant right after services.
We told him we were pregnant right after services.
The first thing I did after services was to tell him the news: our baby was arriving,
they found a baby for us, we were leaving to go welcome our baby.
His little daughters used to come up to the bimah and sit on his lap during Adon Olam.
We came to BJ by mistake and never left, Talia was pregnant and she and Roly invited us to share a Shabbat meal, and then we brought our son when he came back from graduate school.
He kissed my baby,
picked up our baby and looked right into his eyes,
supported me having this child,
came and said a blessing and the next day she had turned the corner,
was there right after the surgery,
welcomed me as a mother.
He found us a doctor who reassured us our baby would be okay.
“This is the prayer,” he told us, “the Jewish way to think about it.”
He named our daughters.
At the brit he made us laugh.
We laughed.
As soon as our baby came out of surgery he was there.
He called me as soon as our baby could eat again,
came to the hospital right after my mother’s transplant,
flew all the way here to be with us.
He smiled,
joked with me after my hip replacement,
you know, he was always very funny,
remembered my birthday,
our anniversary,
the yahrzeit.
When we mounted that one little step and stood next to our daughter in front of the Torah, he looked up at us with that big smile and in the most private, intimate, and heartfelt voice said, “I married you, named your daughters and now the bat mitzvah.”
My son was having a really hard time, if it wasn’t for Roly . . .
If it wasn’t for Roly my kid wouldn’t have had a bar mitzvah,
If it wasn’t for Roly my entire family would have walked out,
my special-needs kid couldn’t have had a bar mitzvah
if it wasn’t for Roly.
My child considers Roly a close personal friend,
still comes back from college to see him.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said,
when I found out I had cancer,
when we lost the baby,
after the accident,
after the towers fell,
“don’t be afraid,” he said,
“but it’s okay to feel afraid.”
He buried my parent.
He buried my spouse, and brought me sliced and peeled green
apples on a plate.
He buried my child.
“Don’t be afraid.”
“Find the Torah you need.”
“One day that person will be so much a part of you
that you will be one.”
Shema Israel.

Twenty-five years is a long time. The congregation grows and changes, always with a Jewish rhythm and a humanistic melody. We have learned how families can practice a Judaism that renders our simple lives—as great grandparents, grandparents, parents, kids—an ongoing opportunity to reach that better, more hopeful, more optimistic world, for which the youngest and the oldest hearts beat as one.

Written by Susan Bodnar, on behalf of many BJ members. She is the wife and mother of David, Ronen, and Binah Schatsky, and has been a member of BJ for over 20 years.  Susan is a clinical psychologist and writer.