O Wholly Night--Introduction


Good evening and thank you all so very much for coming. It's always such an honor and source of excitement to be able to present new work, and I'm extrememly grateful for this opportunity. Before I begin this evening's presentation of "O Wholly night!" and other Jewish solecisms, I'd like to share with you something which has both a literal and a figurative symbol of my desire to say the things I'm saying with this piece...and that is: this dress. I hope you can see it OK...it's a threadbare and gossamer...and all hand-embroidered by some ancient, loving fingers. It's old. You can tell I didn't get this at Strawberry's. In order to be able to share with you fully the impact of this dress on tonight's work, I need to share with you the story by which this dress came to be in my possession.

While I was growing up my parents had many friends, and these friends were by and large couples: the Goldbergers, the Sperbers, the friedmans, the Galkins, the Goldmarks, the Fraidowitz's, the Hermans; if you're here, and I've forgotten you, please forgive me; there were many of you. These people were like extended family to me. Some I got to know well, others not so well, but all these people were in my life, and I revered them the way a runner reveres a brick wall: they were there, and I needed to negotiate my way around them.

I found out a year or two ago that one half of one of these couples, Mr. Friedman, was seriously ill, in fact terminally so. Mr. Friedman was one of those friends of my parents I didn't know very well; he was a high- powered attorney of some kind and he spoke in a very loud, booming voice which, in the absence of any intimacy, I found very frightening when I was a child. I always imagined him to be a man who smoked cigars, although he never smoked a day in his life; yet he did die of lung cancer, which gets one to wondering about the regular, underground collusions between myth and reality, at the very least.

Anyway, since Mr.Friedman was terminally ill, I asked my mom and dad to take me to see him, and they immidiately agreed. I mean, so often after a person dies we think to ourselves: now what did his teeth look like when he smiled? How did he hold his hands when he was making a point? And other things, and I didn't want that to happen. My parents made the necessary arrangements, and we went over to the Friedmans' house on the appointed evening. The conversation was ordinaryon that occasion, as it so often is in extraordinary circumstances. I believe we talked about the stock market, or how to put things in escrow, or something like that. As we were getting up to leave, Mrs. Friedman walked us to the door, and as we approached her front door, I noticed her hall closet was open, and hanging in her closet was this dress! This incredible garment from another age, and it took my breath away, and I just stopped walking. Mrs.F saw me looking at the dress, and she came over, and I said, Mrs. Friedman, where did you get this dress? And she said: well, you know, Debbie, this dress has an extraordinary history. It was found under huge boulders in a ruined synagogue, and as the story goes, the woman who owned it, a young immigrant mother, had to abandon all her possessions and leave very quickly lest she and her children be decimated by the destruction of the temple, or something like that. I didn't really hear what she said, so moved was I by the garment itself...I heard it whispering t, calling to me susurrantly from another era. her words melted into snow flakes on the hot pavement of my awe. Then finally I heard her ask:

Debbie. Would you like to have this dress?

And I said yes, I would, yes I would, yes, yes. I couldn't help feeling like I had extorted the dress from her with my reverence, but I took the dress! And I took it home, and hung it up. And I would visit it regularly, every few days or so; dust it, brush things away around it; it hung precariously as a spider web, one sleeve hanging like a flower broken off at the stalk by a careless child. And I knew that the time would come when I would be able to find the right and proper use in my life for this remarkable garment.

So, when this opportunity to perform came, I knew the dress had found its moment. But i didn't remember the story Mrs. Friedman had told me about it...and I decided to call her for a reminder. So I dialed and reached her; her husband had since passed away; so after some sorrowful pleasantries I said: Mrs. Friedman, remember how you gave me that dress? Well, I've been invited to perform at the Jewish Museum, and I'm going to use the dress, but I couldn't remember that incredible story you had told me about where it was found and stuff, and I was wondering if you could take just one moment to remind me.

And there was a silence, a very large one. It was stony in texture and cool in temperature, after which Mrs. Friedman said:

Debbie, I never gave you a dress!

And you know me. I wanted to say: My honored lord, you know right well you did, and with them words of so sweet breath composed...etc. etc. But instead I said: Mrs. Friedman! You gave me that dress, that incredible silk dress, it was ancient and lovely, and you said it had been found under a bunch of rocks or something like that, please, Mrs. Friedman!

There was another of those cavernous silences, and finally she said:

Look Debbie, I never gave you a dress. And if you need a story, MAKE IT UP!

Thus I wrung an exasperated benediction from Mr. Friedman's widow, and it has been very much under the auspices of this benediction that me show this evening is proffered.





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