THE ANGRY RABBI • by Garth Wolkoff

The rabbi tilts his neck so that his forehead rests in his one hand.

What have I done?

He tries releasing this tsuris, this distress, through his fingertips into the air, through his toes into his worn black shoes. He’s breathing hard, perspiring through his undershirt, dress shirt, coat. Do feelings dissipate into the air, up to heaven? No. They collect in a reservoir, a bank of safekeeping, to be faced when his soul will be pulled between life everlasting and Gehenna, when the rabbi will account for his wrong doings, the bottomless reserve of anger that for 66 years he has unleashed on the unwitting subjects of the chevra kadisha — the local organization that supervises the burials — and the beit din — the Brooklyn rabbinical court. He has terrified his children and wife with his fervor for the law, and not only his children, but various goyim, his congregation, the Russian immigrants, everyone. He is an honest rabbi in an unjust world, where the desecration of a lawless headstone amounts to a kinehora, an evil eye cast at the traditions he has vowed to uphold, and thus at himself. He held his head with just his left hand.

To right a wrong? The immigrants throw up their likeness on the marble headstones, burnished faces, pictures of the dead. Graven images. The rabbi laments: the Torah tells us no. Grave markers should not contain pictures of the deceased — doing so is idolatry. The rabbi’s own parents are buried here. They mix in the same soil. The same lizards run over their graves.

What have I done?

With his right hand, he continues to grip, not willing to let go, the sledgehammer that he purchased for this purpose, wooden handle, metal head, the biggest one they had. Shards of smooth gray marble lay at his feet, weapons themselves. They cover the grass where the body is buried, Abraham Zilberman. They pepper the rabbi’s black coat.

The street lamps on Bay Parkway illuminate the lone rabbi. It is only a matter of time before someone comes, sirens. Such a sound, the killing of a grave marker for a man already dead. Surely someone heard and notified authorities. But the rabbi hears nothing, save for his own rapid breath.

Garth Wolkoff is a writer and high school teacher living in Brooklyn. He has had stories published in the Indiana Review, Downtown Brooklyn, Kereem, and will have fiction published this year in Bull and 86 Logic. He was a finalist for the 2022 Fractured Lit Flash Fiction Challenge.

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