Paul Greenberg

BOSTON, Mass. - Azoy geht es,my father used to say at funerals. So it goes. In his immigrant's Yiddish, he was using the same phrase Kurt Vonnegut would make the refrain of his "Slaughterhouse-Five." It's one of those all-purpose observations suitable for any occasion - happy, sad or in between. Much like "This, too, shall pass." It sums up the transience of the human condition.

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The message was waiting on my answering machine: "Daddy, we've had a baby girl!" Seven pounds, 14 ounces. Full head of hair. Delicate features. Fingers and toes all there. Definitely a girl. After two grandsons, I hadn't dared hope.

Just in case it'd been a boy, I'd been practicing a cheery "That's wonderful!" out loud. And it would have been. Just not as wonderful as a girl.

"What are you going to call her?" I ask when I call back. The happy mother won't say, not before the name is announced at morning services later in the week. It's a tradition.

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Ah, yes - tra-dition! I keep learning new ones ever since my daughter got pious on me some years ago.

Be careful what you wish for. I always wanted her to marry a nice Jewish boy. Now I can't call her on Saturdays because she doesn't pick up the phone on the Sabbath, when the world is turned off. When she visits, she carries most of her own food - my kitchen isn't kosher - or we go out and stock up on kosher canned goods with the U in a circle on it, the rabbinical Seal of Approval.

And so it goes. Her grandfather on her mother's side - Robert E. Levy - was raised in Marlin, Tex., which was something of a spa at the turn of the century.

My father-in-law remembered riding into nearby Waco on a wagon every year for the Jewish high holidays. In the absence of any synagogue in Marlin, he went to Methodist Sunday School - so he shouldn't be a complete heathen. Now his granddaughter was telling me her baby's name wouldn't be announced till after the Torah was read in their synagogue. Š And so it goes.

When I was young, it was simply assumed that in each generation the old ways would fade a little more, with English replacing Hebrew in services, the old rituals disappearing as customs gave way to bright shiny modernity, till we wouldn't be all that distinguishable from UnitariansŠ.

Oy, were we wrong. The pendulum has swung the other way as the old ways attract a whole new generation. Across the whole religious spectrum, the old is new again. People are returning to the fundamentals.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.