From the day I met Sanford Naiditch at Torah study, he began every conversation with the same question. "Have you read Constantine's Sword?" My response was always a simple "no." Sometimes we would both arrive early for Shabbat services on a Friday evening or for another special service throughout the week. The question was always the first thing I would hear.
I finally went out and bought the book, assuming that it must be good if this new found friend was constantly inquiring about my having read it. I tried to read it, though I admit I found it mostly offensive and short-sighted from the beginning. I had made it about one hundred pages into the book when I brought it with me for Shabbat services. Sanford arrived shortly after to find me reading the book. "Why are you reading that? That was the most awful thing I have ever read." Our conversations began differently from that day, but always with a philosophical question.
Sanford and I lost touch when I stopped attending services at Mount Zion. He even called once to tell me that he would still be my friend even if I had decided to turn Christian. I laughed at him and assured him that this was not the reason. We had talked several times on the phone since I stopped attending services after Yom Kippur in 2006. Normally the calls would be centered around a theological perspective on a specific verse of Torah. Sometimes he would call to tell me that someone was planning an inexpensive trip to Israel in the near future.
It took some months, but he finally asked me why I had stopped attending services. I told him of the differences in political ideology that existed between me and what seemed to be the prevailing theme of services at the synagogue. He told me that he had asked about me to the associate Rabbi and was told that I was doing well and had been keeping in touch. In reality I had no communication with the synagogue since an email I sent contradicting the Yom Kippur sermon which put Al Gore on a pedestal as being a scientist. I believe that was the last conversation that Sanford and I had.
I finally got my email password reset for an old account today. I had not logged in for over a year and had been using a different account for my primary email. I never really missed it. I was surprised to see that there were only twelve email messages in it that had not been read -- all from Mount Zion Temple. The oldest from April 11th of 2008 contained the following.
"With deep regret we inform you of the passing of Shai (Sanford) Naiditch. Funeral was on 3/7 at Sons of Jacob Cemetery with Rabbi Zeilingold officiating. Shai will be dearly missed by our Shabbat Torah Study community. Rabbi Adler will lead a brief Memorial service for Shai at Sons of Jacob Cemetery, (770 Parkway Dr., Saint Paul) on Saturday, April 26, at approximately noon, following Shabbat/Festival Services at Mount Zion."
I am not certain why this was the first email recieved from the temple in over a year. But I feel that Rabbi Adler had a hand in making sure that I was informed if at all possible. It was perhaps the only contact information that they still had on file.
I miss Sanford, Viktor and Herb. I considered them good friends. I had always joked that they were my "old men's club". We sat together for every service. Our ranks swelled as others joined our group. We prayed together. We laughed together. And we all took a vested interest in each other's lives. But like friends often do, we drifted apart when we lost the commonality of religious services.
I had abandoned the Mount Zion Men's Social Club that we had created through chance. I feel some guilt over that. Should I have kept more in touch? Should I have roughed it and continued attending services even though I was put on edge by the thought of another political lecture?
In our last conversation, Sanford asked why I would not return. I explained that I was not comfortable. To me, religious services are a time of worship. One must be in a proper frame of mind to gain fulfillment through mutual worship. But when I attended services, it was accompanied by increasing anxiety. It became more of an obligation and less of a fulfillment of spiritual need. I felt that God deserved more from me. I think Shai understood.
It has been said that for one to reach true immortality, they must live on in the memory of others. Shai has reached that in me as have the others. I often think about my good friend and remember him fondly. Over the past several weeks, I have thought of calling him and even mentioned him today in coversation at work. Though I can never grant him the one gift he always wanted of attending my bar mitzvah, I can keep him alive in my heart.
I will never forget you Shai.