As I hurriedly walked past The L.A. Mayer – Museum For Islamic Art in Jerusalem this morning out of the corner of my eye I saw this poster advertising a series of musical performances and lectures about the Jews of Yemen at the museum.
What caught my eye wasn’t the scrumptiously detailed list on the left or the bold letters announcing “All of Israel is from Yemen”. What caught my eye was the photograph of the old man lying in his bed reading.
What stopped me from rushing on along my way is that the book, is upside down and the old man’s hands are fixed in a such a way that I could easily see him moving them forward and down to return the prayer book to its owner.
As I stood looking at the photograph I realized that I know that when this old man was a boy, he was amongst the smallest in class and so his sitting place in the “cheder”* circle was directly in front of his teacher. From the position of his hands ever ready to extend them forward and return the book I can tell that his teacher often had him read out loud. How do I know this? The answer is contained in the following story:
Late one afternoon a little Jewish boy went out to his garden and spied his family’s elderly gardener reading a newspaper. The boy thought it odd that the gardener was holding the newspaper upside down and angled at 45 degrees. Being that he was a little boy he had no real prejudice only a desire to understand and so he asked: “Why do you hold the newspaper that way?”
The gardener explained: “When I was in Yemen only our teachers had books. To learn we sat in a circle around our teacher and followed along as he read from the large books he placed in his lap so that we could all see. My sitting place was off to the teacher’s right side. I can read the newspaper right side up just as you do, but if I do that then my teacher is not in front of me.”
The blue eyed boy smiled a gentle smile and quietly agreed: “I like it best when my teacher is in front of me too.”
I knew the little boy in the above story. He was my late husband, David, and he was my teacher too. Two days ago, we, his family marked the 20th Yahrzeit** since his murder***. It is good that on a spring day 20 years and two days after his murder David is still with me teaching me.
*Hebrew: “room”, it can also be used to mean “school room”. In Yemen teachers sat on the floor with their students all around them in a circle.
**Yiddish: “Year’s time” or “year’s tide” meaning the anniversary of the date of death of a person.
***David was murdered along with 29 other people in the car-bombing terrorist attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Yod Bet B’Adar Bet 5752 (which corresponded to 17 March 1992).