“The Sounds of Silence” is a song by the American music duo Simon & Garfunkel. The song hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 on December 4, 1965. It spent 12 weeks on the chart. By January 1966, it had sold one million copies. (Wikipedia)
I know most rabbis will call people before Chanukah; however, I now realize that a call after Chanukah can be even more appreciated. Ethel Moshkowitz (name changed) taught me this important lesson and since then, every year for the last six years I call her on the day after Chanukah. It was six years ago on the day after Chanukah when I met Ethel in the local kosher grocery. After she left the store I realized she had forgotten one bag of groceries on the check-out counter. I told the cashier that I would bring her the forgotten bag.
Ethel lives in a one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise building in Passaic. I called Ethel and told her that I had the groceries. I asked her, “If it was not too much trouble could I drop it by?” Early that afternoon I drove to Passaic Ave. and pressed the elevator button for the sixth floor. As the elevator made its steady climb upward I thought just how happy Ethel must be. Her son and daughter-in-law lived less than a mile away in Clifton and she had just spent Shabbos Chanukah with them along with their married children who live in Lakewood. I could only imagine the nachas Ethel had from being with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
As soon as the doors opened to the sixth floor I could hear the deafening sound of a blaring radio. As I neared apartment 6B I realized that the blasting radio was emanating from Ethel’s apartment! I rang her bell, knocked loudly and finally after what seemed like an eternity, Ethel opened the door. “Hello rabbi, please come in for a minute.” I did not want to insult her, however, I did need her to lower the volume so I jokingly said, “That must be a very interesting show on the radio since it’s on so loud!”
Ethel looked up and with complete sincerity replied, “Oh, the radio is on? I was not even listening, sometimes I forget I’ve turned it on.” And then I uttered the words which I regretted saying the minute they left my mouth, “If you are not listening then why have the radio on and why so loud?”
Ethel suddenly became solemn and clarified somewhat apologetically, “Rabbi, let me explain. Today is the day after Chanukah. Today everyone went home and back to their regular busy routines. My grandchildren were restless to get back to Lakewood and they drove home this morning. And I am sure that my son and daughter-in-law are appreciating the peace and quiet as they are now able to get back to their regular work routines. I also came back to my apartment today. However, for me what does today mean? Does it mean getting back into my ‘busy or exciting’ routine? For me it means one thing: loneliness.
“For the last few days of Chanukah I heard the voices of Jewish children. I heard them when I awoke and when I went to sleep. When I arrived back home I was ‘welcomed’ with the same sounds that have greeted me since my husband passed away, the “sounds of silence.” The silence is so painful and so haunting that I put on the radio just to hear another human voice. I am sorry if the radio was disturbing. For me the day after Chanukah or any Yom Tov when everyone excitedly gets back to their ‘real lives’ is the day I go back to my silent and lonely home. What for others is a day of joy, for me is a day of sadness.”
As I left her with the red bag of groceries and made my way to the elevator, I turned around and saw Ethel Moshkowitz close her apartment door behind her. A minute later her radio was back on, perhaps a drop lower than before.