Rachel Shteir’s essay on Houdini today is pegged to a new exhibit at the Jewish Museum. But its timing is propitious: Houdini, who died on Halloween (no, really), was buried 84 years ago yesterday, and, this year, his yahrzeit happened to fall yesterday as well. Which meant that, yesterday, a group of Jewish-magician admirers observed the great man’s death in their distinctive annual way. Participant Julian Voloj emails:
When a member of the Society of American Magicians dies, his fellow magicians perform a “Broken Wand” ceremony at his funeral. “When a magician becomes a member of the society, he is given a wand, a magic wand,” explains George Schindler, Dean of the Society. “Without the magician the wand is useless.”
The first magician who was ever honored in such a ceremony was Harry Houdini, who was president of the Society of American Magicians from 1917 until his death in 1926. Although the Broken Wand ceremony is usually only performed once, it became a tradition for magicians to gather the anniversary of Houdini’s death to pay respect to the greatest magician of all time. “First these gatherings were not organized,” Schindler explains, “but since 1969, every year the Society holds Broken Wand ceremonies at his gravesite.”
In 1976, Noach Valley, a rabbi and hobby magician [and father of Forward cartoonist and Friend-of-The-Scroll Eli], who had just relocated to New York, participated in his first Broken Wand ceremony. He suggested adding a Jewish component: Kaddish if there was a minyan, El Male Rahamin if not. He has recited the prayer ever since at the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens.
So light a candle or raise a glass for a great magician and, as Shteir notes, just as great a humanist.
Bound for Glory [Tablet Magazine]