12 February, 2018

[Real] Rabbi Syme: Continued!

My previous post about [the Real] Rabbi Syme generated a wonderful internet "moment—" one of those lightning-in-a-bottle experiences where the internet proves to be truly connective. I wrote the post in response to questions I received through the course of my book tour, and online: is the Rabbi Syme (Perchik's teacher and advocate) of After Anatevka at all connected to a real person, particular a man named Rabbi Daniel Syme of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan?

The answer: yes. To briefly quote my previous post:

Fictional Rabbi Syme is based very loosely upon the real-life Rabbi Syme—loosely because my description in the novel is not so much a literal, but more of an evocative recollection and honoring of his influence. Real-life Rabbi Syme and I only spent a collection of minutes together in 2001, but they were crucial minutes. He gave me the gift of delivering the eulogy at my father's funeral service, as well as bearing witness to it when he lead the funeral service, and above all, he gave me an hour of his time months later, reminding me of what was eternal, and chartering a map toward the beauty, strength and individuality my faith. Irreplaceable gifts one can never forget. The influence of Rabbi Syme proves another true-to-life maxim: that we never know the depth of the influence we have upon one another

I then followed this by recounting a crucial memory of the real Rabbi Syme.
Keep in mind that I have not seen, heard from, been in touch with dear Rabbi Syme since 2001. Nearly 17 years.
I pressed "publish." 
I posted the blog's link to a few social media places.
The link was shared on Facebook.
Then again.
And before long?
An email in my inbox was sitting there from the real Rabbi Syme.
This was followed by a save-it-forever voicemail.
And finally, a phone call that, at long last, completed a circle I never even dreamed would reach its resolution.

Then today...

Today I gave a book talk at Temple Beth Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan—only a few miles away from Birmingham, the suburb of Detroit in which I grew up, and in fact, from Bloomfield Hills, where Rabbi Syme and I first met.

My talk went on, and as usual, I concluded with a reading. Whenever one of my book events is located in a temple I like to read the following passage and tell the audience a little about the real Rabbi Syme. How the character came to be and how this was my form of honoring the man who was my father's advocate, and thus, artistically, Perchik's.  I read:
     “Free a man of the constraints that limit and inhibit his development, and you have a free human being. Freedom is the natural state of man.” He looked away from the boy for a moment and recalled his youth, his own search for self. “My boy,” he imparted with a ferocious passion that shook them both by the throat, “there is nothing negative about our human potential—do you understand me? God Himself created you the way you are. Do not let anyone in this world convince you otherwise. And you are capable of anything, my boy. There is and shall always be a disparity among the gifts God has granted men, but we all deserve equal consideration. All men, no matter how low, how basic, or how tormented, deserve compassion, dignified brotherhood, and respect.
     “But part of respecting all men is respecting ourselves. Recognizing that God has blessed you. By embracing these gifts, we live as God lives, with love for all He has created—with an open heart.
     “Thus our Sages have said: ‘In every generation, a person must see himself as if he has himself come out from Mitzrayim.’ You, of course, know what Mitzrayim, this Hebrew word used for ‘Egypt,’ means, do you not?”
     “Boundaries,” the boy said quietly.
     “It does indeed—and the effort to free ourselves is a perpetual one.”
     The rabbi removed his spectacles and looked deeply into the eyes of the boy. “I promise you, Perchik: you are a truly blessed child of our Lord. I promise you will find the strength to overcome the oppression of your circumstances. This fight is your purpose—the strength for it inherent within you. Like rocks of salt shaken in water, the turbulence soon asserts itself in perfect order. My boy, you are supported by the greatest parent of them all. As it is He who has endowed you with your gifts, you can be sure that He, therefore, believes in their power. And for the record, my boy, so do I.”

The real Rabbi Syme... was there.
In the audience.

Coming up in line as I signed copies of the novel that honors him in character, and thanks him in the acknowledgments, came the real-life, breathing man who bears the name Rabbi Daniel Syme.

We reunited.

What other proof do we need that miracles happen?
Because they do.


  1. Profoundly moving.

    1. I'm so honored that the story moved you as much as the real moment moved me. Miracles happen.



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