Richard Epstein

Because I Could Mumble Some Words

The Cantor pulled me aside
and asked if I would spend
the holiday as a family guest
in the north side of town.

He said the temple there
has a small congregation;
too small to guarantee
a minyan for the holiday.

“It’s an honor to be asked;
a mitzvah,” he said.
I was never asked to serve
as a Jew before; except when

I held the chuppah for a wedding
at Rabbi Gutterman’s house.
The soles of my shoes had big holes.
I wore my high-top sneakers instead.

Friends coaxed me to go.
“You’ll be treated like a king,”
they said. No one asked
if I could daven. No one asked

if I had Tefillin or if I knew Torah.
I slept in the home of an elderly couple
not far from their shul. When we entered
for morning prayers, the men nodded and smiled.

“At last,” they shouted, “we can begin.”
When I returned home, the air seemed fresher,
the sun brighter, my mother’s eyes
beamed with delight.


Richard Epstein is a long-time resident of the Washington, DC area. His poems have appeared in O-Dark Thirty, Deros, Incoming, Poetica, Schuylkill Valley Journal and The Federal Poets. Epstein hosts the Memorial Day Writers Project on the National Mall near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial twice a year (on Veterans Day and Memorial Day). He has been a featured reader at the U.S. Navy Memorial, the Vietnam Women's Memorial, the Kensington Bookstore Poetry Series and the Frederick Poetry Salon.