Jewish Journal

The Odd Moments Are the Truest

by Susan Esther Barnes

February 5, 2014 | 12:30 am

Photo from Wikimedia/Elipongo

Have you ever struck up a conversation with someone, and within moments come to realize their thoughts are swimming in an area about three levels deeper than yours are?

This past weekend, as a volunteer for the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center,I had the privilege of meeting a man approaching the age of 92 who, for purposes of this article, I’ll call Isaac.

I had been told in advance that, despite his trouble with medium-term memory, Isaac is a remarkable guy. Right away, I could see this is true. When I arrived, Isaac was standing out front of the retirement home where he lives, looking for me to arrive. He lives on the second floor, and, as we approached the elevator, he suggested we take the stairs instead.

However, the most remarkable thing about Isaac is not his physical ability or his thoughtfulness in waiting for me out front, but in the way he immediately opened up and started speaking to me on a deep level.

In general, I expect when I meet someone new, we’ll need to take some time getting to know each other, building up a level of understanding and trust, before we start to approach the deeper, more important subjects. Not with Isaac.

No, within a few minutes of sitting down in his living room, we started to talk about the first anniversary of Isaac’s wife’s death, which was only a few weeks away. They were married for 60-something years, so her death represents a huge change for him. Not surprisingly, he says he thinks of her every day.

He said he is adjusting to her death, but that feelings about her come up for him at odd moments. He grew up in a virulently anti-Semitic environment, and as a result feels somewhat disconnected with Judaism and its rituals. He said he wished Judaism had something that would “make you stop and think.” I told to him that on the anniversary of my father’s death each year, I light a yahrzeit candle, and I talked about how it makes me stop and think about my father during the day.

Later, as we circled back in the conversation, he said, “I know I said the feelings come at odd moments. But you know, those moments are the truest ones.” I have to say, that is the most profound thing I’ve heard in a long time.

May we all have more odd, true moments.

"Like” the Religious and Reform Facebook page to see additional photos and behind-the-scenes comments, and follow me on Twitter.

Tracker Pixel for Entry


View our privacy policy and terms of service.




Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

Read more.