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The Clinging

Tablet Fiction: An evil spirit has entered a living person. Can the Rabbi perform a Jewish exorcism?

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Rabbi Jake Singer had heard about the Rebbe Molkovitch, from a few of the old Russian residents at Mazel House, the assisted care facility where he worked. No, Rebbe Molkovitch doesn’t have a fancy lineage, they told him as they shifted their canes between their swollen legs. Nor does he have a huge following. He’s a quiet sort of fellow from Odessa, content to tend to his congregation in whatever way he can.

Rabbi Jake listened to the residents’ tales like a child, awed by their easy acceptance of a magical dimension that he couldn’t quite fathom.

Word was that this rebbe didn’t hesitate to dip into the secret teachings of the Midrash and deliver the goods of the Kabbalah. If you believed what the old timers said, this tzadik healer was particularly adept at defusing the Einhora—the Evil Eye.

Nor was the tzadik reluctant to use sympathetic magic, if that’s what it took to save a marriage, find a cure for an illness, help steer a youngster away from bad influences, or even to reverse a business setback.

“Go and see him yourself, Rabbi,” Rabbi Jake was told. “You might be pleasantly surprised. If you have any questions that you want answered, bring him something that relates to the topic because he likes to hold it in his hand, which he uses like a magnifying glass so he can interpret the hidden vibrations.”

***

Rebbe Molkovitch waltzed out of his office and immediately caused a stir in the parlor. Everyone’s face brightened up instantly, as he nodded and waved and uttered a few words of encouragement in Russian to some congregants and spoke in English to the others.

He was in his late sixties, a stocky man with a curly brown beard and side-locks streaked with gray, a barrel chest, and big hands that wriggled in the air like oversized carp.

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He had a booming voice and a way of shuffling his feet that conveyed a coordinated spirit of vitality and purpose. He was casually dressed in a brown cardigan, with an open-collared red flannel shirt, and a dark blue kippah on his head.

Rebbe Molkovitch immediately zeroed in on one of the few non-Russians present. She was a fortyish-looking Jewish-American woman who had obviously been referred to the tzadik through the grapevine of her upscale Jewish neighborhood in Laurel Heights.

“Mrs. Brenthoff, and how is your son?” the rebbe asked in his rustic English.

Before she could reply, he swooped her up to her feet and held her at an arm’s length. “His, what you call it, concentration sindrom?”

“His ADHD, Rebbe—‘attention deficit disorder,’ ” the woman corrected him. “I don’t know,” she sniffled. “I go to the doctors, they give him medicine, it’s still no good … ” she shook her head.

“Nu shto,” the rebbe cast his face sideways as if disappointed to hear the news. Then he looked her in the eye, swayed his head from side to side as he checked her out, and gripped her arms tighter.

He was seeing something, Rabbi Jake thought, and wondered what it was. A moment later, the rebbe reached his diagnosis about the boy’s ADHD. The room grew quiet.

“Mrs. Brenthoff,” he announced solemnly. “It’s not your son. Eta vii. It’s you.”

“Yes, Rebbe,” she nodded gratefully, then was taken aback. “What did you say? It’s me?”

“Da,” the rebbe agreed. “When you take mikveh last?”

Mikveh?” She didn’t understand what he meant.

Rabbi Jake came to her rescue and translated. “That’s the ritual bath for women … ”

Rebbe Molkovitch glanced at Rabbi Jake. “Thank you, Rabbi,” he said to him. “The bath. Yes?” he faced the woman again. “When?”

“Why … I don’t know,” she replied. “It’s been a while.”

The rebbe released her. “That is the reason, Mrs. Brenthoff. That is the reason for your boy to be upset always. Do your mikveh and he’ll be OK.”

***

All mankind was childish. It took a grown-up like Rebbe Molkovitch to put them on the straight path.

The Hasids davened as they waited to be received by their wonder-rebbe. Voices spoke softly in Russian, until Rebbe Molkovitch came bounding out of his study into the waiting room. There was an immediate grin on his face when he saw Rabbi Jake. They had grown very close to each other, more like father and son than student and teacher.

Rebbe Molkovitch raised his hand to the congregation.

“Children of Abraham!” he bellowed. “Please be patient! I have a special guest here this morning. This is Rabbi Yakob Singer from the Jewish Home for the Old People.”

The Hasids murmured their greetings as Rebbe Molkovitch gave Jake a powerful bear hug. “It’s good to see you, Yakob,” he whispered into his ear.

“It’s good to see you, too, Rebbe,” Rabbi Jake said as he kissed Rebbe Molkovitch’s cheek.

Rebbe Molkovitch looked Jake in the eye. “Did you bring your homework?”

Rabbi Jake patted the pocket of his jacket. “It’s all in here.”

“Good,” Rebbe Molkovitch replied. He addressed his congregation. “My heart is out here listening to your woes. But for now I’ll be inside with Rabbi Yakob. Come on, Yakob, let’s go into my study.”

***

As Rebbe Molkovitch listened to Rabbi Jake’s account, an old grandfather clock ticked away in a corner of his musty study.

The rebbe sat in his green La-Z-Boy chair, the plastic headrest patched with tape like a recycled bicycle tire, with embroidered lace doilies on the armrests.

Rabbi Jake sat opposite him in the seat of honor, a plush Renaissance-style red velvet armchair with sturdy legs and carved feet that looked like griffin’s claws. A seven-branched menorah candelabrum rested on top of a polished walnut cabinet that was set against the wall. Framed portraits of various Hasidic sages and tzadiks covered the wallpaper that was patterned with scenes from the English countryside.

“I was really shocked,” Rabbi Jake said as he wound up his narrative. “This afternoon, I went to the house of the son of this strange woman resident—the one who seems to be causing all the manifestations—and what do I find? To put it bluntly, it’s a house occupied by neo-Nazis.”

Rabbi Jake briefly removed his kippah to show Rebbe Molkovitch the few bald patches where Anna Applebaum had shaved his head.

“That’s not such a good haircut,” Rebbe Molkovitch commented.

“When I went to visit her in her room yesterday, she did this to me,” Rabbi Jake explained. “And she had a visitor with her, a young man who was a phantom dressed like a Nazi.”

The Odessa rebbe opened his eyes wide and poured Rabbi Jake a cup of Russian black tea from the samovar on the side-table. He passed it to him along with a tray containing slices of lemon and sugar cubes.

“You make my heart tremble, Rabbi,” he said attentively. He pointed at one of the portraits of the tzadiks, miracle workers, on the wall, an old man with a long white beard and flowing white hair that spilled from his fur-trimmed shtreimel.

In the picture, the tzadik’s left hand was inserted in the folds of his black kaftan like a rabbinical Napoleon on the march.

“You know who that is?” the rebbe asked Rabbi Jake softly as he answered his own question.

“That’s the Rebbe Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger. A great and pious man. A maggid of the highest order. The ‘Emperor of the Hasids,’ he was called. When the war broke out in 1939, the Nazis made it their top priority to hunt him down. First, he hid in Warsaw, going from house to house. But he always remained invisible to them. They couldn’t see him with their naked eyes. G_D blinded them.”

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The Clinging

Tablet Fiction: An evil spirit has entered a living person. Can the Rabbi perform a Jewish exorcism?