The quintessential immigrant during the late 1800s and early 1900s usually tried to assimilate into American culture to a degree. If they did not, they were often destitute, which almost certainly led to their children’s assimilating. Harry Houdini was one of these children. Born in Budapest, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the son of a rabbi, Harry moved far away from his father’s rabbinical world of thought. Houdini was much happier hopping trains from metropolis to metropolis, performing his magic tricks rather than pursuing his studies and taking an interest in ancestral traditions
Harry’s father, Mayer Weiss, had failed in his endeavor to make a living as a rabbi in America. Late in life, he relocated to New York City, where the only work he could find was in a tie factory. He took Ehrich (Houdini) with him. After slaving away in the garment district for about three years, Mayer Weiss was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. Unable to speak, he was rushed to Memorial Sloan Kettering, but died soon after. A common expression among immigrants was, “When you leave for America, you leave God behind in search of the mighty dollar.” This story is about the conflicts between immigrants and their children as they struggle with what proportion of their Old-World views and practices to keep or to discard. For many, it is not a clear-cut unidirectional process, but rather one that oscillates.
Traditional Jews believe that with each good deed (mitzvah) one creates an angel, and with each sin, a demon. Then, when one dies, one is confronted with these angels and demons; depending on how the person lived his or her life, he or she must go through a purification process. Most Jews consider this to be a time in which the soul can reflect on life – about what good deeds (mitzvahs) they did do, and about what they could have done better.
Another concept from traditional Judaism is the idea of the seven levels of heaven. In the Hebrew Bible, the word for heaven is Shamayim (actually a plural word meaning heavens). Similar concepts exist in most faiths. This is the dwelling place of God who sits on a throne and is surrounded by angels. Over time, Jewish mystics developed an elaborate heavenly hierarchy with seven levels of heaven, the highest being where God resides, while the lowest is the one that is closest to earth. In the Jewish belief, the objective of the soul in the afterlife is to reach God’s level. Progressing through the first six levels of heaven for a Jew is somewhat analogous to the time spent in purgatory in the Christian tradition.
If one looks at Houdini, in light of these Jewish traditions, he was a man of extreme paradoxes. On the one hand, he gave extensively to charities and ensured all his relatives were buried in a Jewish cemetery; on the other hand, he had a statue of himself erected at that cemetery – a bizarre mixture of traditional Jewish Tzedakah (charity) and bombastic materialism. His father, in contrast, was a cerebral man, who in America was compelled to earn his living in a sweatshop, while constantly striving to remain close to his spiritual traditions. In life Harry was the total opposite of his father: brash, materialistic, and spiritually hollow. Considering this, it’s not surprising that at his death he would wind up on a different heavenly plane than his father.
As one reads this story, one should also take note of the fact that Mayer Weiss could not speak before he died. Ironically, his name is lost to obscurity except when it is mentioned in tandem with his famous son, but by not speaking, Weiss shared the same circumstances that the Lubavitch Rebbe faced prior to his death, when he suffered a stroke and lost his ability to speak. Because of this similarity to Moses, who suffered from a severe speech impediment, when the Rebbe lost his ability to speak, many of his followers considered him to be the Messiah.
Finally bear in mind that this story attempts to mirror the following quote, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not only the ancestors of the Jewish people; more importantly, they represent the three principal modes—love, fear, and compassion—with which the Jewish soul identifies, and through which each Jew prays.”1 These attributes are reflected at various times in God and the other characters in this story.
This story is not meant to set your “moral compass”; rather its goal is to show you the struggle in modern-day America in navigating between Old-World spirituality and America’s materialist milieu. Life, of course, is not one-dimensional, so the reader is not required to take sides.
July 16, 2020; 24 Tamuz, 5780
The Hungarian and the American sat above Coney Island, Brooklyn, one misty Saturday morning. It was the Sabbath, and even souls need their rest. Three decades separated father and son in terms of age, but it seemed as if an eternity separated them here in the afterlife. Working next to God in reality and not in the abstract was hard to get used to, especially for the son. They were both inhabiting the lower heavens, the Jewish “Purgatory” where the soul goes through a period of self-reflection before the Messiah comes, but they were dwelling on very different planes. While the father understood the significance of progressing through the levels of heaven, the son did not.
“Had I known you would have risen to such lofty material heights, despite the emptiness of your soul when it was with your body, I would have never left Hungary, Ehrich,” Mayer Weiss quipped.
“Dad, how many times do I have to tell you? The name’s Harry, Harry Houdini.”
“I was just reminding you of your roots,” the disgruntled father replied.
“Which ones? The Hungarian or Jewish ones?” Harry responded dejectedly.
“Both,” the old man chuckled. “Perhaps living in Hungary would have kept you from your wayward ways; if only you had fully sprouted there, and then we had emigrated.”
“And why would you have stayed in Hungary had I been successful?” the son asked his father.
“Had I known your amazing physical prowess and escape feats, we could have made a living and not have had to come to this desolate place where secularism and material mediocrity is the rule.” Mayer Weiss chuckled again, proud of his alliteration, given his far from proficient English. He did not realize that his failure to assimilate at all into American ways had meant that he did not make sense to his son, who was never the least bit interested in linguistic wit. “Your empty life, your hollow marriage to a woman outside the faith whom you reduced to a prop in your charlatan-like tricks; you strayed completely from our precepts. In our tradition, a person’s education is key, and his family is his temple. If this is how you lived on Earth, no wonder you are on the lowest spiritual plane of heaven.”
“And I suppose you are now going to say that all of your nine children wanted a pound of your flesh, and that is why you died at the tender age of sixty-three,” Harry replied mockingly.
“No, no. I harbor no bitterness toward any of you. After all, I lived to be sixty-three, you only fifty-two. And what’s more, I am on a higher spiritual plane, closer to God’s ethos than you,” the old soul laughed.
“But we don’t know when I died!” Harry retorted. I died in 1936, a leap year, and scholars still cannot figure out if it was 5697 or 5698.”
“Ah, trying to be an escape artist again, are we? Well, let me tell you something: death does not deceive you. I know my death date, it was 5649. Ehrich, you cannot escape the plane you are on; you cannot hijack it. You can only get to another plane through self-reflection. Harry, you are always moving so fast, you never take the time to reflect on your actions or think of the consequences for you or for others.”
“I’m a magician. What do you expect? And, actually, dear father,” Harry remarked sarcastically, “the year you died was also a leap year, so how do either of us know when we died? Maybe this is all a dream. Maybe I’ll just wake up and be back doing my magic tricks on Earth again soon.”
“Touché, touché.” Mayer Weiss patted his son on the back. “But come, tell me why you are in such a haste to leap away from God’s side back onto an Earth that has not completed Tikun Olam? You are lucky to have gotten here, to be here in heaven at all, even if you are a few planes below me, Ehrich. I watched you from the day I died. Remember, you married a gentile whom you treated like a prop as opposed to a wife. In addition, you, on several occasions, almost took your own life in your stunts, which would have been suicide. . . And what killed you?”
“An infection of a vestigial organ, which you probably never heard of, called the appendix.”
“You are my son, a rabbi’s son, you should have gotten here, to my spiritual plane, immediately after your death. You could have been on the same spiritual plane as me. We could have been close in a way we did not have a chance to be on Earth due to financial stress. But no! You abandoned all decency and traditions!”
“Dad,” Harry retorted in anger, “calm down. It’s not as if I didn’t do any mitzvahs with the money I earned through my magic. I ensured that your remains were next to those of mother and the rest of the family, didn’t I?” Before the father could answer, the son continued, “Besides, I spent more time in caskets, coffins, and other manifestations of them than I have so far in the realm of the dead itself! I would argue that death is deceitful; for, as you said, it should have come for me sooner…”
“Once again, you confuse spending money with doing a good deed,” the father broke in. Harry pointed to a flock of doves flying over the bay. “They, the doves, are deceitful. Sure, they brought back the olive branch to Noah on the ark, a symbol of peace. But look at the world since; what kind of peace has followed? And since then, we Jews, among the descendants of Noah, are crushed like olives in an oil press by the rest of his descendant’s progeny. Perhaps, had the dove not found dry land, Jews would have never existed, and therefore, would never have been oppressed.”
“Harry,” Mayer commented, “if the doves had not found dry land, not only would Jews not have existed, neither would anyone else. There is no need to be so dramatic.”
“It’s part of my persona,” Harry quipped. “The doves extended a tease, a branch, but when humanity came to find the olive tree and reap the benefits of it, it was nowhere to be found.”
“Harry,” the father said, exasperated. “Ever since you joined me here, I have tried to help you become adjusted to God’s majesty. I have tried to get you to the same spiritual plane as me. I know that it is hard not being number one as you were in life. Believe me,” Mayer implored, “I know. During my own time on Earth I could not find success in my work as a rabbi, even though I was good at it. Remember, two congregations asked me to leave because they thought I was not American enough. And then I was forced to spend the rest of my life making ties in the Garment District. Oh, how I would have loved to have taken those God-forsaken ties and shredded them, just as you shredded a portion of your clothes when I passed – by the way, excellent following of the Jewish tradition to demonstrate your mourning of a close relative,” Mayer interjected. “But it was not to be. I was not able to serve as a rabbi, and perhaps, in all fairness, it was I who let you drift away from your roots.”
“Don’t throw yourself a pity party, Father,” Harry replied brusquely.
“And don’t you, either.” Mayer Weiss stalked over somberly into the mist that hung heavily over Coney Island and looked down at his son before walking away.
Once his father had gone, Harry plopped down above the beach and looked toward Earth. The year was 2020; the world was ravaged by COVID-19. New York City had been particularly hard hit, but now things were beginning to open up and the beach looked quite busy. It reminded Harry of the days when he would escape from straitjackets on skyscrapers lining Manhattan, when he and his magical feats were an escape from the hardships of everyday life for the poor. Now, he felt as if he were in a straitjacket from which he would never be able to free himself. He had died too young. He wanted to go back to Earth to do his tricks and to repair his relationship with his wife, Bess, but he was stuck on some abstract plane from which he, Harry Houdini, the master of escape, could not escape!
Harry was just about to catch a little shut-eye when he heard a voice. The Almighty had heard father and son quarreling, and while he had not interfered while they were on Earth, he wanted to now for the sake of both parties, to give them a better understanding of each other. For jealous as He may have been about mortal Jews who strayed from His path by deifying other idols and breaking the Ten Commandments, He felt no competition from souls in Heaven. For the lower levels of Heaven were a place for self-reflection until the coming of the Messiah.
“Harry, I, your God, God of your forefathers, command you to descend to Earth and to handcuff your hands. I know you long to return to the world of the living and make amends with your late wife's soul. However, if I grant you this, I also want you to learn discipline, something you lacked in many areas of your life. You were so wrapped up in your tricks and magic that you would often abdicate basic family obligations.”
Unlike other biblical figures such as Jonah, Harry had no desire to evade God’s command. “I’ll be home by Christmas!” Harry shouted mockingly to the voice.
“Let it be done,” boomed the voice, giving no hint of acknowledging the subtle slight Harry had just made at the expense of his own people.
“Grant that I shall have all the feelings, physical abilities, and other attributes of a mortal, save hunger and thirst.”
“Very well. However, as you are a soul, you shall remain invisible to humans who walk the Earth. And you shall only remain there for one week.”
“You drive a hard bargain, but I’ll take it!” Harry replied with chagrin. He wasn’t going to have much of an audience for his tricks. He wouldn’t have much time either but hopefully enough to make amends to Bess.
Once on Earth, Harry, now invisible to the naked, unenlightened mortal eye, proceeded to handcuff himself to what he believed to be the most difficult place from which to escape. He had every intention of keeping his end of the bargain with God. The former magician chose to handcuff himself under the pier near the Coney Island amusement park. Just because of the ebb and flow of the tides, Harry would be forced to uncuff and recuff himself approximately every eight hours to avoid the sensation of drowning. He would have to do it more often if any storm came. This, Harry thought, was a fine challenge to show off his prowess, already relegating Bess to an afterthought.
The first night passed uneventfully for Harry, as far as his slipping off the cuffs during high tide was concerned. He had brought with him his favorite pair of handcuffs, the set he had escaped from in Germany when, on orders from the Kaiser, the German police had restrained him when he visited the country in the early 1900s. Aside from hearing an amorous couple making love on the pier, Harry’s night had been a peaceful one. He did not have to worry about the nuisances of mortal life – he felt no hunger or thirst. However, he wished he could have been a part of the bustling excitement of the beach life nearby. But to him, proving his mettle against the Almighty and his father was more important. For now, the Almighty remained patient.
Around eleven o’clock that morning a patrol boat passed thirty feet away from the pier. The NYPD had stepped up patrols since 9/11, and when an officer on board noticed a pair of lone handcuffs hanging from the bottom of the pier, he became suspicious. As the boat approached, Harry curled up and remained still, hoping that if the cop saw the cuffs were not moving, he would go on to more important business. However, the cop was not deterred. He began to jiggle the handcuffs with his baton and became more curious when he felt how heavy the apparently empty pair of cuffs was.
“Hey Jake,” the cop called to the man in the cabin driving the boat, “come and get a look at these cuffs.”
As he was walking toward his partner, Jake said, “They look mighty old, almost something you might see in a museum."
“That’s not what’s rousing my suspicions. Go ahead, take your baton out and try to shake them.”
Jake did as he was told and said, “For a single pair of cuffs they are mighty heavy. I never knew restraints were made that way. It feels as if a corpse or a lead weight is hanging from them.”
“I know,” the first cop responded. “Well, I don’t see anything else suspicious around, but let’s keep an eye on this place and come back tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Jake replied and shifted the patrol boat into drive.
Harry was relieved the cops were gone, but part of him wished he had been seen so they could have admired him, as he was convinced he could have performed tricks for them. Bruised and in pain, Harry managed to slip his cuffs from under the pier that night, but as soon as he did so two more pairs took their place, much like the heads of the Hydra, each of which would double in number after Hercules cut one off. So far, Harry was not able to settle back into the exciting Earth he had known when he was young. Looking at the new set of handcuffs, Harry wondered, is the Almighty punishing me? He vowed the next day he would set out to try to contact Bess.
The next morning, Harry awoke to the chilly dawn with water rushing into his nostrils. The magician coughed and gagged as he struggled to escape from the now two pairs of handcuffs. It must be God testing me, Harry thought to himself. Not being able to take the frightening feeling of actively drowning, Harry implored the Almighty to spare him.
“Very well,” God responded to Harry’s plea, trying to give the young man another chance to walk the righteous path. “I remember all too well that in your life you never did your milk-can trick wearing handcuffs. Therefore, I will consign you to a barge. And I will indulge your ego and allow you to be visible to people. On the barge shall be areas to do all the tricks you used to do in life. In addition, you will be in charge of all the inhabitants aboard, but be forewarned, some are cunning, much like yourself. I am a generous God who expects honorable followers among those I have chosen but forget not the quest for which I have allowed you to return to Earth.”
“Including the straitjacket one?” Harry asked excitedly.
“Including that,” the voice boomed. “The barge will be under your feet forthwith.”
For the first time in his afterlife, Harry was momentarily grateful to the Almighty. While the ensuing moments were laborious due to the ephemeral experience Harry had of being transported by the Almighty, he kept his resolve, and God kept his promise. Shortly, a large boat was beneath his feet. Harry took the two pairs of handcuffs with him; if he was planning to break any more rules, or request that God bend them for him, he could only do so by keeping up his end of the bargain. Even the Almighty’s patience is finite, Harry thought. I have already broken the rules by removing my handcuffs, I had best be careful or my visit to Earth will be shortened.
The boat God had promised Harry proved to be more than he had bargained for. It was, or at least it appeared to be, Noah’s ark. As he explored the vessel, Harry thought, This is indeed an olive branch from the Almighty. I almost feel closer to Him. On board were a pair of every “clean animal” as well as a pair of every “unclean animal.” Harry looked around at what was to be his new home for the remainder of the week, only to become elated when he discovered his companions on the ark could speak. Also, on the ark was the equipment Harry needed for every trick he had performed when he had been alive on Earth. He was euphoric about the prospect of having a captive audience, as well as the means to perform his calling.
“What in God’s name is this milk can doing here?” Harry heard a voice from the deck below quip.
Upon hearing the words “milk can,” Harry rushed down the stairs with his handcuffs on to find two cows staring at the milk can he had once used in his stunts. “Would you like to know what that milk can is doing here?” Harry asked the cow, not thinking to introduce himself.
“You bet I would!” the cow replied indignantly.
“I’ll show you, but I need it to be filled with water first,” Harry said.
“Well, I don’t know how you expect us to do that,” the cow replied, leaning up against the stall to make a point.
“Tell you what,” Harry replied quickly, eager to assume his magician’s role. “Why don’t you fill that can up with milk, and then I will show you its purpose.”
The cow looked apprehensively at the large steel can. “How much milk do you think I produce, and what is the trick?” the cow asked, wanting to see if it was worth her while.
“I will be sealed inside the can and will break free without drowning.”
The wide-eyed cow looked at her male counterpart with disbelief. “You overestimate both my interest and my abilities,” she replied. “For one, I can produce no more than six or seven gallons of milk a day. I think it will be easier for you to fetch some water from the river.”
Annoyed with the cow’s answer, but still wanting a chance to show off his talents, Harry decided to fill the can himself. Upon finding a piece of rope and an old pulley in one of the storage compartments of the ark, Harry dashed up to the deck and filled a bucket with water, after which he shuffled back down the stairs to fill the container. After doing this several dozen times, it was finally full.
Harry quickly slipped off the pairs of handcuffs. He reasoned he was not breaking his end of the bargain with God, since the Almighty had acknowledged earlier that Harry had never done the milk-can trick while handcuffed. He would put them back on as soon as he escaped. Then he enlisted the help of an orangutan, who was looking on, to seal the milk can. He performed his trick as if it were old hat; within three minutes he emerged from the can, and he immediately recuffed himself. With this performance Harry won the confidence and respect of all the clean animals on board.
The unclean animals would prove to be harder nuts to crack. The predatory birds, the ravens in particular, were unimpressed with Harry’s East Indian Needle Trick, where he swallowed fifty to one hundred needles and twenty yards of thread, and, after a bit, removed the threaded needles from his mouth. “It’s for the birds,” one raven joked to another as he yanked the needle-laden string from Harry’s mouth.
The doves who were nearby approved. “I actually thought the trick was quite neat,” the female dove quipped to her husband.
Harry then tried performing his Metal-Rimmed Box Trick where he escaped from a box that appeared to be nailed shut. Once he emerged, the snakes gave Harry trouble; the venomous ones tried to bite him repeatedly, and Harry was forced to take refuge in his Water Torture Cell. When he was alive, the maximum amount of time Harry had been able to spend inside the cell was approximately three minutes. It had already been a little over three minutes, and the snakes were striking at the glass, a terrible foreshadowing of what Harry would face should he exit the cell. Another thirty seconds or so went by, and the horrible feeling of drowning began to creep up on Harry. Even though he believed God’s promise that he would not actually drown, the sensation was still there. Harry broke forth from the cell, freed himself from both pairs of handcuffs, and proceeded to handcuff the serpents’ tails together but not before being bitten several times.
Although Harry did not feel any physical pain from these bites, he did feel somewhat shell-shocked. From that point forward, his movements would be more calculated and more cautious, as the snakes’ strikes had unnerved him. For the remainder of the day Harry ran about his new abode and quelled any pandemonium he saw from the unclean species, acting as caretaker to all those aboard. He used the needles from his East Indian Needle Trick to sew a disgruntled vulture’s wings to the ark’s wall, since it had repeatedly tried to attack the other animals. He then entertained the wildcats by escaping from a straitjacket, thus gaining more respect.
After what felt like a very long day, the sun was setting. As Harry made his way to the sleeping quarters, he noticed a dead female raven on the steps near the quarterdeck. He contemplated storing the body in a small box he had found until he could give the bird a decent burial, but as he stooped to retrieve the carcass, he stumbled and accidentally kicked it into the Hudson River. He walked on and didn’t give it another thought.
Harry went to reattach his handcuffs to keep up his end of the agreement with God, only to remember they were serving a very important purpose at the moment – restraining the serpents. He climbed the stairs to what he assumed to be his cabin and fell asleep, exhausted. He had wasted yet another day without a thought of Bess. God, however, did not fail to keep His part of the agreement for, when Harry awoke, he found himself restrained by three pairs of handcuffs. “Damn,” Harry hissed.
Once again, the voice of the Almighty resounded, “I am a loving, patient God, and have made allowances for you taking off the handcuffs in certain circumstances, but now I must be paternalistic and instill discipline.”
“Tough love,” Harry said amid a sigh. Payback, Harry thought, payback for my using those cuffs on the snakes! But was there another reason?
The rooster’s crow as the sun began to rise roused Harry from his uncomfortable slumber. As if they could feel Harry’s discomfort, the snakes hissed in unison. “Now we have been able to get our pound of flesh,” a rattlesnake said to his mate, “but he certainly got his with all those heavy handcuffs and the shackles he has on!” The six other snakes broke out in laughter.
It had been such a tiring night that Harry fell back asleep and did not awaken until ten o’clock in the morning. He would have slept longer, but he heard the loudspeaker of a guide from the Circle Line, which made its way around the sites of New York City every two hours or so. He climbed into the crow’s nest for a better look.
“On your right you will see Coney Island. The ‘island’ has been a key symbol of Brooklyn since its creation.”
“What is that on the barge over there?” a tourist inquired, spotting Houdini in the crow’s nest surrounded by all types of animals on the deck of the barge. The tour guide looked up. Usually he saw many passing barges on his tours, but never had he seen one teeming with so many types of fauna. The tour guide dropped his loudspeaker into the water. It gurgled an unintelligible sound much like Mayer Weiss had right before he died from cancer of the tongue.
“It looks like Harry Houdini,” yelled another tourist. “Look at him with three pairs of handcuffs.”
“It can’t be him,” a third tourist replied. “I have a book of famous obituaries, and Houdini’s was written in 1927.”
Harry had always loved an audience. In an effort to attract the attention of the passengers on the tour boat, he began to slip out of the first pair of handcuffs – the pair that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany had ordered his German police to place on Harry when he told them he could get out of any cuffs they fastened on him. Within a matter of five seconds Harry had slipped out of them.
“Look! Look! He’s slipping out of the cuffs,” the guide said in amazement.
Harry hurled the pair of cuffs and it fell at the feet of the tourists. One older man gingerly bent down, lifted the heavy cuffs, and inspected them. “Folks, I don’t know what to tell you, but these are genuine. I had a grandfather who served in World War I and was a POW. He had a collection of items he brought back from the war, including the cuffs that were put on him while imprisoned, and they looked just like this.”
The crowd on the tour boat gasped in amazement as Harry slipped out of the other two pairs of the cuffs and the shackles.
“Not a word of this to anyone,” the old man stammered. “People will think we are crazy. The best thing we can do is go to the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side and say the cuffs were stolen and give them to the museum. If we say anything else, people will think we are insane. Besides, there is a Houdini exhibition up till the end of the month.” The people on the boat nodded, and the boat sped off into the distance, the tourists paying no heed to Harry’s calls for them to please come back and see some of his other tricks.
Night fell, and Harry was discouraged. Dad is probably saying Kiddush since it’s Friday evening. I feel as if I am saying the Mourners Kaddish, Harry thought. I only have a few more days here on Earth, and I have almost no time to get the adulation I am entitled to. Again, Harry had been so focused on seeking attention that the fourth day had gone by and he had not even thought of Bess.
He was just about to fall asleep in the hull of the ark when the stipulations of his contract with God came back to haunt him with the weight of more restraints.
The voice of the Almighty resounded, “Because you have neglected your mission, I shall now bind you with seven pairs of handcuffs, even though you have only been back on Earth for four days. Furthermore, remember you must return to the firmament in three days’ time.”
The punishment of the cuffs demoralized Harry; they were like none he had ever felt when he was alive. They felt heavier than lead. Down below on the quarterdeck, he could hear the snakes hissing with glee; they had had their revenge, even if they were trapped en masse with one another. Harry remembered the real reason he came back to Earth: to contact his wife, Bess. He thought about trying to contact his beloved deceased wife through spiritualism, a practice he had originally hated but toyed with at the end of life. Perhaps he would try tomorrow. As far as Harry was concerned, he was in the toughest straitjacket he had ever been in, and the first order of business was getting some sleep. Tomorrow he would scour the ark to find the most suitable animal to serve as a medium between him and his deceased wife.
Mayer Weiss looked down from heaven with a mixture of sadness and satisfaction. While he did not like to see his son suffer, he hoped his son was learning the virtues of being with him in the afterlife, through the trials and tribulations God was meting out. Perhaps, Mayer thought, this was the purification process his son had to endure before they could be reunited. Unsure and anxious for his son, Mayer sought out God, on whose plane he had recently come to dwell. This final plane of heaven was the apex of spiritual realization.
“Adonai,” he called. As a believing Jew, Mayer Weiss never referred to God directly. “Did you agree to let my son Harry descend to Earth so he could complete his purification process? Are all those unclean animals on the ark metaphorical demons he created while doing his deeds during life?”
“Yes, Mayer, yes,” the Almighty replied. “However, this is what your son wanted, and by the end of the process, he will, hopefully, accept his plane in the afterlife, even if it is not the same plane you are on. You are a very learned, well-versed man, who cared about Jewish traditions, whereas your son is not. Perhaps, in time, he will reflect and change his attitude. Now that your son is back on Earth, he is forsaking his mission, making amends with Bess, for which you yourself chastised him. He has returned to the same frivolous antics he pursued while he was alive.”
“Thank you,” Mayer Weiss replied sheepishly. “But, oh how I miss my son! Had I been the venerable Lubavitch Rebbe who succeeded in life, perhaps my son would have taken his Judaism more seriously and so been closer to me. It is a pity that because I have ascended Jacob’s Ladder of Angels to be on your plane, I cannot get close enough to see misty Coney Island, to see Ehrich. If only my accomplishments had been as lofty as that of the Rebbe…” Suddenly, a hazy two-dimensional figure appeared before Mayer Weiss and his Maker. “Did . . . did you make this, Adonai?” Mayer Weiss stammered, pointing to the two-dimensional figure that only souls could see.
“Why, of course not,” replied the Almighty. “That angel is a result of your own karma; it is of your own creation.” The soul of the Rebbe had appeared beside the Almighty by this time. The Lubavitch Rebbe had a look of bittersweet sorrow, as opposed to anger, on his face.
“B-b-b-but I thought that humanity could only create angels and demons via their deeds while being mortal on Earth,” Mayer stammered.
“Even souls,” the Almighty responded in a calm tone, “can do things that make them fall from grace. I have no choice but to cast you down to a level lower than mine. There, Harry will find you when he returns to the firmament. Evidently, you have not completed your exercise of self-reflection, and do not yet warrant a spot on my plane.” The Almighty paused, as he racked his brain for a way to douse the flames of distress and fear that were visible on Mayer Weiss’ face. “At least you will be closer to your son,” He said softly, doing his best to calm Mayer’s Weiss’ nerves, as He prepared to banish him from his lofty plane.
“I fear being debased spiritually,” Mayer Weiss responded. “I only hope it is out of love for me that you cast me down to a lower plane, and it is out of compassion for the Rebbe’s soul that I will be reunited with my son Ehrich when he returns from Earth. I deserve to be cast down for my coveting the Rebbe’s status, but if it brings me closer to my son, it is more than worth it.”
“That it is,” the voices of the Almighty and the Rebbe said in unison. Mayer Weiss followed the hazy image down Jacob’s Ladder of Angels. Once on a lower spiritual plane, Mayer Weiss could now see his son clearly, but he had a more distorted view of God.
Harry awoke wearing the seven pairs of handcuffs. At least today is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, he thought. Perhaps the Almighty will give me rest. Besides, these handcuffs are so heavy I will not be able to work much. Exasperated, but feeling a duty to tend to those who could not tend to themselves, Harry fed all the animals on the ark, taking three times as long as before due to the handcuffs. Aware he would have to try to make contact with Bess indirectly, he went to see the doves who he thought would be the best medium to reach his wife.
“You thought my East Indian Needle Trick was neat, right?” Harry asked the pair of doves who cocked their heads together.
“Yes, we did,” the female answered. “We were both impressed, but I was more so than my husband.”
“Well, I thought your trick on Noah’s Ark when you found dry land was pretty cool myself,” Harry responded. “I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”
The two doves looked at each other apprehensively until the male gave his consent. “Sure, shoot, anything within reason.”
“Well,” Harry began, not sure where to start. “You see, until I was on my deathbed, I unleashed tirades against spiritualism, the idea that one could talk to their dead loved ones via people who were trained as so-called ‘mediums.’ However, as my own death approached, I beseeched my wife to try to contact me via spiritualism on every anniversary of my death. She did so for ten years, but then out of frustration and sadness she gave up. Even after she passed, she was never reunited with me, as she could not by Jewish law be buried with me in a Jewish cemetery, not to mention that her parents would not permit it. Having this knowledge is like having a ton of handcuffs around my heart. Since I have been granted a short time on earth, I thought I could try and contact my wife via you, oh birds of peace.”
The doves looked at each other with uncertainty. The female dove bobbed her head up and down as if trying to gauge her mate and whether he approved. Finally, the male said, “Very well, we will go as your medium and try to contact your wife. We will tell her that you love her and that one day you will be reunited.”
Harry felt euphoric having finally focused on his mission; a profound sense of fatigue overwhelmed him, and he fell asleep.
Harry was hopeful and excited as he went up to the prow of the ark and released the two doves. He felt like Noah and was sure that the birds would bring him back an olive branch, an olive branch that would be a symbol of peace between him and his wife. After releasing the doves, Harry went back down to their roost and began to clean it. This is the least I can do for them until they return, Harry thought as he began to scrub down the roost with a damp cloth.
Half an hour had passed, and Harry was almost done cleaning the doves’ abode when the raven, whose nest was next to the doves’, crowed, “Why did you not send me out first?” Harry looked up at the raven who was without his mate. Then he remembered how his wife had died.
“Oh, I never thought about it,” Harry said, trying to dodge the question as he thought Bess’s soul would have been more amenable to receiving pretty doves as opposed to a sleek, crafty raven. “I did not mean to offend you.”
“No offense taken,” the raven said as he preened his shiny black feathers. “It is just that you said you felt like Noah, and, if I remember correctly, Noah sent a raven out of the ark before he sent a dove.”
“That’s right!” Harry slapped himself across the forehead. “Noah did do that! I guess I never read the Biblical stories as carefully as I should have. Listen,” Harry pleaded, trying to make amends to the raven, “if the doves do not return by sunset, I promise I will send you in their place.”
“I can only hope you keep your promise,” the raven croaked. “You have not been very good on that front with the Almighty.”
“I promise on my wife’s soul that I will,” Harry replied anxiously.
“And I promise I will come back to the ark,” the raven said ominously, hinting that the doves would never return.
Within a couple hours, the doves reached the cemetery where Bess Houdini’s body lay. They had flown as fast as they could to get there. The female dove found Bess Houdini’s grave in no time. She was just about to speak and try to get a reaction from Bess’s soul when her husband, who had landed on a grave some fifteen yards away, was accosted by a young male soul.
“Who are you? Why are you harassing me?” the male dove demanded of the soul who happened to be none other than the infamous mobster Dutch Schultz who had terrorized New York City and Newark during his short life of thirty-three years.
“A restless soul,” came the reply. “I converted to Catholicism and received last rites, but my mother had me wrapped up in a Jewish prayer shawl; hence, I have been unable to rest since my death in 1935.” The soul of Dutch Schultz then recounted his life to the male dove: his early abandonment by his father, whose name he had tried to protect, the life of crime he had led, and his mother’s insistence that he be buried with a Jewish prayer shawl in a Catholic Cemetery.
“Honey, come over here and help me please,” the male dove implored his wife. She flew toward her husband, leaving the soul of Bess Houdini who begged her to come back.
“What's going on?” the female dove asked her husband.
Dutch Schultz gave his pathetic monologue once again. After hearing the story over the course of an hour, the female dove fell under the sway of Shultz’s smooth operating diatribe.
“We must help him,” the dove said to her mate. “But how?” She looked at Schultz.
“Take my prayer shawl piece by piece to the Jewish cemetery a mile yonder and bury it there; only then will my soul be able to rest,” Schultz answered in a depressed monotone voice. “I am between two religions, two dimensions,” he went on. “As long as I have this shawl on, I cannot rest like my fellow Catholics around me.”
Perhaps he should have been an actor instead of a mobster, because after he had finished his story, the female dove began to peck vigorously at the soil under the headstone of Schultz’s grave and gathered whatever scraps of the prayer shawl she could find.
As the soul of Bess Houdini cried out in lament, the male dove remembered the purpose of their journey for Harry. After explaining to Bess what their mission was, the poor, petite, wretched soul of Harry’s wife stopped sobbing and said, “Take the scraps of that criminal’s shawl to the Jewish cemetery in Queens where Harry is buried. Lay them down next to the grave of my husband. If you do this, perhaps God will have pity and grant an exception, allowing me to lie there next to Harry since the tallit is one way God recognizes Jews. Harry has already done so many heterodox things to his family’s mausoleum that he himself may not be resting very peacefully in a Jewish cemetery! Why, by the look of his family plot, it appears as if he were some rich gangster who spared no expense to have himself immortalized in death.”
The doves took both Bess’s and Schultz’s requests to heart. They started their new journey immediately, but their progress was slow. It would take them several hours to carry all the pieces of Schultz’s prayer shawl to the cemetery in Queens where the Weiss' were buried, and it was likely that they would not return to the ark before dark. While flying back and forth between the two cemeteries, the doves encountered high winds and quickly became fatigued. However, they were undeterred as they now had a double mission, which would benefit Harry more than simply contacting his wife.
The two doves passed the raven who had departed the ark of his own accord without waiting for Harry’s approval. The raven was hungry and tired of the fare offered on the ark. As he was perusing the garbage cans that lined the boardwalk, the raven saw what he took to be a hotdog wrapper float right above him. If I am lucky, the raven thought, there might be a scrap of a Nathan’s Hotdog for me. He grasped the “wrapper” in his beak, only to feel fierce resistance and to be lifted slightly off the ground.
“What’s going on?” the raven exclaimed.
“Get your dirty beak off this sacred shawl,” came a familiar voice.
“What are you doing?” the raven asked, startled.
“We are ferrying a tallit to the grave site of Erich Weiss,” the female dove replied.
“You mean Harry Houdini?”
“Why?” the raven asked puzzled.
“None of your business,” came the voice of the male dove. “Just tell Harry that we will not be back by sunset as promised.”
Irked at the haughty way he had just been spoken to, the raven hastily picked up a stray piece of a hot pretzel and flew back to the ark in haste. When the raven arrived at the ark, he found its caretaker sitting on the prow of the boat with a forlorn look on his face.
“I am so weighed down by these handcuffs, I still have another day on this ark. If God should choose to put more cuffs on me, the weight of them will be so heavy that I will not be able to stand. I must make contact with Bess.”
“Well, I hope you can stomach this,” the raven began, “for what I am about to say will be just an appendix to the log of your seven-day return to Earth.”
“I hope not!” Harry burst out laughing so hard that the handcuffs bulged, almost breaking under the strain. “Go on, lay it on me.” Harry stopped laughing as the raven’s words reminded him that his appendix had been the mortal wound that had taken him away from his beloved Earth.
“Well, I met the doves this afternoon, and it looks like they are not going to be back tonight.”
“What are they doing?” Harry asked shocked. “Is the cemetery so vast that they cannot find Bess’s grave?”
“Oh, they found Bess’s grave all right,” the raven crowed. “They found her grave and that of another famous resident: Dutch Schultz.”
“The mobster?” Harry put his head in his hands.
“Yep,” the raven cocked his head, “and Old Dutch convinced them to take his prayer shawl to a Jewish cemetery so he can rest in peace in the Roman Catholic cemetery.”
“So, you mean to say that the doves are doing Schultz’s will instead of trying to find my wife?”
“Exactly,” the raven replied, telling his half-truth.
“As soon as the sun rises, I will dispatch you to attempt to commune with my wife. My dear raven, you are my last hope. Please do not fail me.”
“I will not and will return within twenty-four hours of my departure,” the raven replied, chuckling under his breath.
Mayer Weiss had been wallowing in self-pity; he had fallen from grace in God’s eyes and in his own conscience. He was now only a few planes above Earth. Although he could see his son more clearly now, he was not happy to see him suffer. Oh, how ignorance would have been bliss! Mayer wandered east across the firmaments for about four miles. As he walked, he encountered pious souls engrossed in biblical study while receiving massages from cherubs visible through the mist. These were the quintessential elements of paradise that Jews longed for while toiling on Earth. Finally, his and his family’s resting place in the Jewish cemetery in Queens came into view.
While he was touched that his son had spared no expense to have the whole family buried together according to Jewish law, the entire plot looked bombastic, if not idolatrous. A bust of Houdini adorned his son’s grave, and the headstone of the daughter-in-law he had never met stood above an empty grave. As far as Mayer was concerned, the whole family burial site was an empty grave spiritually. Or was it one full of mystery? American assimilation had clearly taken over, allowing the spectacle to stand. Perhaps Bess deserved to lie next to Harry, as she had been a faithful companion to his son.
Mayer was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he almost missed seeing two doves that were pecking around the headstone of his daughter-in-law’s empty grave. Upon a closer look, Mayer Weiss saw the doves pecking at the ground, pushing what appeared to be small pieces of a tallit under the dirt as best they could. “It seems as if divine providence is making my daughter-in-law’s grave as holy as mine. Oh, how I wish I were not consigned to a grave that is so idolatrous!”
All of a sudden, the firmament began to shake, and Mayer Weiss found himself falling down yet another plane. “Oh, Adonai, why is this happening to me?” But there was no answer from on high; Mayer had stooped to a level so low that he was just above the Earth, and, thus, out of range of the Almighty’s voice. In frustration, God tried as loudly as he could to explain to Mayer that in Heaven, misdeeds, such as actions that broke the Ten Commandments, caused one to fall from a higher spiritual plane to a lower one. But even the Almighty could not control where humanity, including its souls, could or could not hear him. That was man’s responsibility and man’s alone.
The sun broke through over Coney Island, and Harry, as well as the other ark occupants, could hear the roar of the roller coasters and the children laughing.
“Good morning, are you ready?” Harry asked the shiny black raven.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” the raven replied. Harry struggled under the weight of the multitude of handcuffs around his wrists to lift him up in his hands to set him free. “I’ll be back before the sun sets,” the raven called back as he flew off into the distance.
“Promise?” Harry inquired.
“You have my word.”
Harry spent the rest of the day moping about the ark, feeding the animals, and practicing his stunts, hoping to attract an audience. Once again Bess escaped his thoughts.
Meanwhile, the raven made his way to the cemetery. As he flew over Dutch Schultz’s grave, the soul asked, “Did the doves do my bidding?”
“Yes, they did,” the raven replied. “Now rest and rest in peace.” Finally, the raven came upon Bess Houdini’s grave. There he found her soul hysterical and crying; she tore at her hair and scratched at her face in desperation. “Why do you cry?” the raven asked the afflicted soul.
“I am being tormented by demons, they are whipping me, and lacerating me in every way. I am not supposed to be buried here. I am supposed to be resting next to my husband, Harry Houdini. My parents buried me here fearing for the fate of my soul. Well, look at what I got! Pitchforks and brimstone! It wouldn’t have mattered where I had been buried, since marrying a Jew was already a sin. But I do not care, for I loved Harry, and he loved me.”
“I come bearing a message from your husband,” the raven said with a sly smile. “Your husband, Harry, is back on this Earth for seven days, and he has chosen me as the spiritual medium to make contact with you. If I am successful, he will come himself to see you and take you away from this place to be buried next to him. Why, I even saw two doves preparing the ground for you where he is buried.”
“Really?” Bess beamed. “So when will he come?”
“Later,” the raven replied, as he flew off into the distance grabbing a flower from the grave to show Harry he had been there. The raven quickly returned to the ark and dropped the flower at Harry’s feet. “This is from your wife’s grave. I told her you would come to see her soon. I have made contact with her and informed her that the doves you sent yesterday are preparing the ground to make it holy so she can lie next to you.”
“How are they doing that?” Harry asked puzzled, yet delighted.
“No time to explain, you have a long journey ahead of you. Remember it is your last day on Earth, so you’ll need lots of energy.”
Harry thought, There is no way I can traverse so many miles with all these handcuffs. Perhaps the Almighty will have mercy upon my soul and release me from them as I truly intend to contact Bess.
In an effort to make amends, Harry went down to the part of the ark where the snakes were enclosed and freed them from their bondage. He could feel all seven pairs of his loosening by some magical force. Was God having a change of heart?
“Do you think you are our God who led you out of Egypt!” a cobra mocked Harry as he undid the pair of handcuffs.
Piqued, Harry responded, “You and all your comrades had better think I am your God, or I will bind you again as I have for the past five days.”
As soon as he said these words, Harry felt the same magical force tightening the handcuffs so tight that he could not move. Even worse, the handcuffs that had been on the snakes were now part of the burden on Harry’s arms. He could not get up and would not until the time that God summoned him back up to the firmament. The Almighty had punished Harry, whose “stunts” of disobedience, obtuse negligence, and self-involvement had stymied his reunion with his dear Bess.
As Harry lay on the floor of the ark, writhing in pain, the raven asked him, “Do you want me to tell your wife of your situation?”
“No, no,” Harry replied. “That would only make her more upset.”
Nonetheless, the raven snuck off the ark and flew back to the cemetery, telling Bess that Harry was not coming. He made no efforts to soften the blow by lying or by stretching the truth. “Your husband spent his time on Earth performing his tricks and seeking adulation instead of reaching out to you as he promised God. To put it simply, your husband is an unholy, egotistical scoundrel. Not even he is worthy of burial in a proper Jewish cemetery. You are best off staying here until the Jewish Messiah comes, for he is for everybody.”
“No!” Bess screamed. “No! I will not wait for his God-forsaken Messiah. My husband is selfish, still doing all his tricks and forgetting about me. It was the same when we were both on Earth together. He only allowed his own talents to shine, keeping me out of the limelight, consigning me to the role of a prop. Finally, I was nothing more than Mrs. Houdini. I’ll never forgive Harry for neglecting me once again! Now get out of my sight!”
The raven snuck back to the ark, undetected.
Demoralized, Harry slumped down near the prow of the ark. If I were not a soul, I would take my own life, he thought. But alas, this is not the case. My stunts in life were not rational, I cheated death all the time. But God is not rational either; he simply metes out punishments.
“I have missed the mark; my Yom Kippur has come too soon,” Harry said aloud to no one in particular. “Judaism may indeed be an abstract religion and it may not have jived with my philosophy as a magician, but I should have tried to incorporate it, at least in my personal life.”
As Harry finished his soliloquy, he saw two white birds in the distance flying at full speed toward the ark. The two doves landed on the prow and bowed their heads in shame. The male dove began, “We spent hours trying to prepare the grave in the Jewish cemetery for Bess, but when we returned to talk with her, she informed us that she does not wish to lie next to you.”
“What do you mean?” Harry said turning toward the doves, his face flushed with anger.
“We took Dutch Schultz’s tallit to the empty grave of your wife,” the male dove began.
“Dutch Schultz? What in God’s name does that gangster have to do with making contact with Bess?”
“He is buried in the same cemetery as your wife,” the female dove said slowly, trying not to provoke Harry’s anger. “He converted to Catholicism, but, at the request of his orthodox Jewish mother, was buried in a prayer shawl. Dutch thought that by taking it to the Jewish cemetery we could place it in Bess’s empty grave so she could be buried there.”
“You wasted all your time doing this!” Harry bellowed. The handcuffs swelled as his muscles strained in ire. “You were simply supposed to see if you could make contact with her! If you had been able to, I could have spoken to her when I return to the firmament. I should have sent the raven first! I should have followed Noah’s lead! You,” Harry pointed menacingly at the doves, “you are deceitful, deceitful doves!” The raven who sat nearby gave a satisfied smirk.
As soon as Harry had finished speaking these words, he felt some unknown power free him of the handcuffs. He could feel himself floating upward not of his own accord. Within five minutes he was back in the firmament, on the same plane as his father. Harry looked down at Earth – the ark and all its animals had disappeared.
Only the two doves had reached the firmament with him, as they were not deceitful, but truthful. The raven, however, was nowhere to be seen in Heaven.
“So, how did you wind up here on the same plane as me?” Harry asked his father smugly, unable to swallow his pride.
“How did these doves get up here?” Mayer Weiss answered, trying to evade his son’s question.
“Answer my question first!” Harry demanded.
“Well, to make a long story short, I fell from grace. Just as you envied human beings on Earth, I envied souls who are closer to God than me. And come to think of it, I was not the father I should have been. I forgot the wise words of our tradition not to judge a person until you are in his shoes. I never was able to take advantage of the opportunities that America offered. Did I confuse material success with shallowness? Does America have a soul and I was too blind to see it? Maybe I failed to try to understand you?”
With a pensive look on his face Harry replied, “Maybe I got so caught up with my success that I failed to see your virtues.”
“I never went beyond the custom of an arranged marriage,” Mayer said. “Who knows how I would have acted under your circumstances? Maybe in a different world I would have seen Bess differently.”
“But I didn’t see her in the right light either – I saw her as a prop,” Harry responded.
Mayer glanced at the doves and said, “I still want to know how those doves got here.”
“I don’t know,” Harry replied. “Honestly, I don’t know.” He went on to relate his quest to connect with Bess and the role the doves and the raven had played. Harry then said, “These doves are deceitful.” All of a sudden Harry could feel himself falling; he tried to grasp the thin air. But, no matter how strong one is, one cannot grasp nothing. Harry fell and when he landed, he was even closer to Earth but farther from God. Once again, he was not on the same plane as his father. “God damn it,” Harry said. “I thought the next plane down was Earth. How many spiritual planes are there?” Harry looked around and asked himself.
Father and son looked at each other. They may have had different philosophies in life, but one could infer from their facial expressions that they held deep affection for each other. Mayer looked down at his son and began to weep profusely.
“Dad, please stop crying, you are getting me all wet.”
When Mayer had composed himself, he said, “Very well, I will not cry. Just promise me that you will try to be with me.”
Time passed. Father and son observed Earthly activities; they watched as God sent a new wave of the Coronavirus virus, decimating additional parts of the world and bringing economies to a standstill. As the death toll soared, Harry watched the cemeteries begin to fill up including those where his wife and family were buried respectively.
In the cemetery where he himself was interned, the ground began to shift, and the reproduction of his bust, which had been destroyed some four times between the years 1973 and 1995, fell and crumbled into countless small pieces. One day, as Harry looked down, he spotted the same two doves he had castigated only six months earlier, picking up the pieces in their beaks and flying with them to the cemetery where his beloved lay, placing them by her tombstone. Harry could not help but smile as he lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings through tears of regret he felt toward the doves.
“You really loved her, didn’t you?” Harry's father asked rhetorically.
“Yes,” Harry said, with a pained expression on his face. “And a difference in faith should not have kept us apart in the afterlife, as it did not stop us from falling in love.” Harry looked up toward the Almighty and said, “God only knows what plane she is on.”
“Certainly not ours, certainly not ours,” Mayer Weiss retorted curtly, making no attempt to mask his disapproval of Harry’s marrying outside his faith, despite the fact that the older Weiss had never even known his daughter-in-law. He had not had the chance to judge her on her merits as a person.
“I am on a lower plane than you, but not that much closer to Earth than you!” Harry replied hotly. “So, do you mean to tell me that Bess is on a higher than you?” Harry smarted, knowing he was asking for trouble.
“Higher than me?” Mayer Weiss answered coyly. “I think not. Why, I do not think she is even on a heavenly plane to begin with!”
“How dare you!” Harry yelled, shaking his fist at his father, who laughed in his face, knowing Harry could not touch him given their being on separate planes. “I misjudged the doves,” Harry said through fits of tears.
As he said these words, the sun set, and it was Halloween, the anniversary of his death. Harry watched as, like clockwork, the Broken Wand ceremony began at his gravesite.
“Such a pagan ritual,” Mayer Weiss chided his son.
“It only started with my death,” Harry replied as he lit his own memorial candle and watched the ceremony continue.
“Why do you light the candle?” Mayer asked. “You are marking the anniversary according to the Gregorian calendar, not of the Jewish one.”
“At least they,” Harry pointed down at the crowd who had gathered by his grave, “they come faithfully. Tell me, did you yourself light a candle after I died?”
“Why would I?” Mayer asked. “As soon as you passed, you came up to Heaven with me. I did not light a candle. And no, I did not recall that it is your yahrzeit.”
“How could you?” Harry inquired through fits of tears. “I am your own son. How could you forget it? Or were you too busy trying to achieve a higher spiritual plane?”
Upon hearing these words, Mayer Weiss turned his back on his son in shame and hung his head low in front of the Almighty, as the Rebbe shook his head in disapproval. Harry watched the Breaking of the Wand ceremony wrap up, and an idea came to him; yet out of respect to his own soul he waited the full twenty-four hours until the candle was out before he acted on it.
On the morning of November 1, Harry called down to the doves, who, after Harry’s ascent to a heavenly plane had returned to Earth and made their nest among the tombstones of the Weiss' gravesites.
“I’m so sorry for having misjudged you,” Harry said. “If it’s not too much to ask, may I have a word with you?’
The two doves looked at each other apprehensively, but then the female, the braver of the pair, flew up to Harry, and the male followed suit.
“I am sorry,” Harry said again. “Your acts both with the prayer shawl and with the remnants of my bust were so altruistic. I am sorry for not having acknowledged them as such. Be that as it may, can I ask a favor of you, besides your forgiveness?” Harry asked.
“Will it better our position?” the male dove asked.
“I think it will.” Harry smiled.
“In that case, how can we say no?” the female replied.
“Alright,” Harry said, beaming. “A thought occurred to me last night as I was watching the Breaking of the Wand Ceremony take place by my grave. What I am about to tell you is something I have not told many before, so please keep this between us.” Harry drew the doves close and then continued in a whisper, “There is a secret compartment under my grave. If I can’t be with Bess in Heaven, and her remains can’t be next to mine on Earth, then let her heavenly ones rest next to my earthly ones—”
“You don’t mean to say . . . you’re not suggesting—” The male dove cut Harry off before Harry did the same thing to him.
“Yes! Yes, I am,” Harry said, his voice growing animated. “What I want you to do is pluck Bess’s soul from Heaven and put it in the secret compartment under my grave. She is miserable in the Catholic cemetery. Why, her family practically disowned her for marrying me, and it was only because of them that she is not buried beside me. If we cannot rest together in Heaven, then we can on Earth.”
“How sacrilegious can one be?” the male dove protested.
“Hey,” Harry replied smugly. “Let’s just say Bess will be going for a ride with the Holy Spirit. Just when you get her, do so at night when she is asleep.”
The doves took their leave. Harry could hear the male complaining to the female about their mission but was convinced the wife would win out. That night Harry watched as the doves delivered the soul of his late wife to the secret compartment under his grave. Harry watched as the earth shifted yet again, and his mortal remains shifted to embrace his wife’s immortal ones. They were together at last! The doves flew back to their nest and within hours their feat was the talk of the cemetery. Mayer Weiss, the Rebbe, and even the Almighty himself were all aware of Harry’s handiwork, and all three could not help but smile.
“Well, at least he has some of his priorities straight,” Mayer Weiss said to the Rebbe.
“No sir, actually he has all,” the Rebbe replied. “He is a family man before anything else.”
“Yes, but he has taken his wife from her family, and it is only a matter of time before she misses them, happy as she may be to be with him now,” Mayer quipped before saying under his breath, “if only religion did not have to be so legalistic.”
Upon hearing these words, God was moved. “Mayer,” the voice of the Almighty said admonishingly. “I am a God to all my people, Jews and gentiles alike. There is absolutely no reason why Bess is not welcome on the same plane as Harry.” The Almighty pointed to Harry's plane where Mayer was shocked to see Harry and Bess embracing.
“Why didn’t you consider doing this earlier?” Mayer implored God.
“I wanted you, Harry’s father, to be on board. I always was, but I knew he would want you to be, too.”
“I am still not satisfied,” Mayer said.
“And why is that?” God asked.
“I want my son and his wife with me, on my plane, or else I’d rather be on theirs. I want to be with them, even if it means being farther from you.”
As soon as Mayer finished speaking these words, he found himself beside his son and the daughter-in-law he never knew while on Earth. Harry made a quick introduction, and Bess held out her hand. Mayer extended his hand to shake hers, but Harry brushed it aside gently, stepped between his father and wife, and hugged them both.
“This is a trap from which I never wish to escape!” Harry said beaming.