Commentary Magazine


Topic: Arnold Beichman

Re: Arnold Beichman, 1913-2010

I would like to add a small footnote to John Podhoretz’s moving tribute to Arnold Beichman, who died yesterday at age 96.

John noted that Beichman never wrote a memoir “even though he had a great one in him.” One can sense the truth of that observation from the letter Beichman wrote in 1994 to COMMENTARY, at age 80, in response to Jacob Sloan’s article “Saying Kaddish.”

The article had reminded Beichman of “an episode in my early childhood when I became a steady attendant Friday nights and Saturdays at a Lower East Side shul on Rivington Street.”

As I grew older, I began to note something I couldn’t understand. Usually, over the months, the faces of Kaddish-sayers changed with the expiry of the required year of mourning. One face, I began to notice, never seemed to change—Reb Moishe Bear’s. A big, broad-shouldered man (a carpenter, I recall), he was always saying Kaddish. Week after week, High Holy Days, Sabbath, and weekdays, Reb Moishe Bear, eyes shut tight, face rapt, head swaying from side to side, was always saying Kaddish, and loudly. At first, I assumed that he had a lot of relatives who were dying all the time, and I felt sorry for him because he was a nice man. But as I approached my bar-mitzvah year, I began to wonder: how could this be?

One Friday night, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. I asked my father about Reb Moishe Bear and what seemed like his terribly sad fate. “For whom is Reb Moishe Bear saying Kaddish?”

My father replied in Yiddish with a gentle smile: “Er zogt Kaddish oyf der velt”—he is saying Kaddish for the world.

I didn’t know what my father meant. Didn’t you have to have a death in the family? Not necessarily, said my father. Anybody over the age of thirteen could say Kaddish, and if Reb Moishe Bear wanted to say it “oyf der velt,” he could do it and maybe even earn the merit of performing a mitzvah. I persisted: so why didn’t my father do the same?

My father smiled; his sense of tzneeyus (modesty), he said, prevented him from mourning for the world.

Not until years later did I grasp the gentle irony in my father’s answer about people who undertake to say Kaddish “oyf der velt.”

Now the COMMENTARY community will say Kaddish for him, and the gracious intellect that is reflected in that story.

I would like to add a small footnote to John Podhoretz’s moving tribute to Arnold Beichman, who died yesterday at age 96.

John noted that Beichman never wrote a memoir “even though he had a great one in him.” One can sense the truth of that observation from the letter Beichman wrote in 1994 to COMMENTARY, at age 80, in response to Jacob Sloan’s article “Saying Kaddish.”

The article had reminded Beichman of “an episode in my early childhood when I became a steady attendant Friday nights and Saturdays at a Lower East Side shul on Rivington Street.”

As I grew older, I began to note something I couldn’t understand. Usually, over the months, the faces of Kaddish-sayers changed with the expiry of the required year of mourning. One face, I began to notice, never seemed to change—Reb Moishe Bear’s. A big, broad-shouldered man (a carpenter, I recall), he was always saying Kaddish. Week after week, High Holy Days, Sabbath, and weekdays, Reb Moishe Bear, eyes shut tight, face rapt, head swaying from side to side, was always saying Kaddish, and loudly. At first, I assumed that he had a lot of relatives who were dying all the time, and I felt sorry for him because he was a nice man. But as I approached my bar-mitzvah year, I began to wonder: how could this be?

One Friday night, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. I asked my father about Reb Moishe Bear and what seemed like his terribly sad fate. “For whom is Reb Moishe Bear saying Kaddish?”

My father replied in Yiddish with a gentle smile: “Er zogt Kaddish oyf der velt”—he is saying Kaddish for the world.

I didn’t know what my father meant. Didn’t you have to have a death in the family? Not necessarily, said my father. Anybody over the age of thirteen could say Kaddish, and if Reb Moishe Bear wanted to say it “oyf der velt,” he could do it and maybe even earn the merit of performing a mitzvah. I persisted: so why didn’t my father do the same?

My father smiled; his sense of tzneeyus (modesty), he said, prevented him from mourning for the world.

Not until years later did I grasp the gentle irony in my father’s answer about people who undertake to say Kaddish “oyf der velt.”

Now the COMMENTARY community will say Kaddish for him, and the gracious intellect that is reflected in that story.

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Arnold Beichman, 1913-2010

Word has just arrived of the death of Arnold Beichman at the age of 96. Arnold was, I think, the most extraordinary man I’ve ever known, and though I first knew him as a boy, I found to my wonderment that I became his friend as a man, even though he was nearly a half-century older.

And yet he was not older. He was younger. Younger than I at 23 when he was 72 and we became reacquainted at the Washington Times; younger than I at 47 when I last saw him in his 97th year, though he had finally wearied enough of walking that he was mostly using a wheelchair. Whatever Arnold Beichman had in him, if they could bottle it and we could take it, we would immediately lead lives of energy and purpose, high good humor and great good feeling, and a sense that, though there were very dark forces at work in the world, the world itself was a wonderful place and one should embrace it and drink it deep to the dregs, and then drink the dregs and relish them too.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Word has just arrived of the death of Arnold Beichman at the age of 96. Arnold was, I think, the most extraordinary man I’ve ever known, and though I first knew him as a boy, I found to my wonderment that I became his friend as a man, even though he was nearly a half-century older.

And yet he was not older. He was younger. Younger than I at 23 when he was 72 and we became reacquainted at the Washington Times; younger than I at 47 when I last saw him in his 97th year, though he had finally wearied enough of walking that he was mostly using a wheelchair. Whatever Arnold Beichman had in him, if they could bottle it and we could take it, we would immediately lead lives of energy and purpose, high good humor and great good feeling, and a sense that, though there were very dark forces at work in the world, the world itself was a wonderful place and one should embrace it and drink it deep to the dregs, and then drink the dregs and relish them too.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.