He was supposed to have the answers. He was supposed to say what it all meant. He said on the phone he would mull things over and he would go to the synagogue and he would think about what there was to say. He was a rabbi and he would officiate at the funeral that would make sense out of her death and why Son of Sam killed her.
So now it was early on a morning that had no dawn, a morning in which the rain was falling, and I was at the rabbi's house, waitng for him to come back from morning services at the synagogue. His wife was serving me coffee and a visiting grandchild was playing in the hallway and then he showed up, a man of 53 with a van dyke beard and a hurried manner. He was late. We would talk in the car. He gulped some coffee and we drove off for the funeral.
We had talked the night before I had been writing about Son of Sam and I had come to the part where you are supposed to say what things mean - what the point of it all is - and there was just nothing to say. Six killed and seven wounded and there was nothing to say. Stacy Moskowitz would be burned and the hate of one night might be blind and all there was to say about Son of Sam is that you knew more about his victims and less about his gun, but next to nothing victims and he has terrorized a city. He has, you can be sure, a story to tell.
So I picked up the phone and I called the rabbi and I said we had something in common. I said he and I were being paid to find the meaning in things and that he would have to say something at the funeral that would make some sense out of all this. There was a pause and he said. "I'll have to think about it. I'll have to work on the things tonight. I really don't know what I'll say. What does it mean?" he said, repeating my own question "Only God Knows. How could you make sense out such a thing. How could you make sense of a killing?"
Still, he would try. He would go to the synagogue that night and then he would come home to think and he would come up with something. In the morning, he would go the synagogue again and then I would meet him at his house in Queens and he would have something. He would know by then what he was going to say at the funeral.
So now we were in his car and he was smoking cigarettes through a holder and I was having a hard time getting him to say what his discovery had been. I thought maybe he had found something in the books - those books that contain all the wisdom. But he said instead that he thought Son of Sam and the killings has something to do with permissive judicial system. He talked of criminals walking around free. "Son of Sam - he's only part of the corruption."
By then we were in Brooklyn and I was saying that I didn't understand. I understood when he talked about faith and about God and about how life is just a gift - something that can be taken back. I understood, but I didn't necessarily believe. But this things about justice, I didn't understand that at all. We were driving in the Brownsville section and it looked like there had been a war. Buildings had ben fire-bombed into rubble. The rabbi said "look here" and "look there" and then we stopped at a fine old apartment house that had been gutted by fire. You wanted to cry. The rabbi said he went to school in this neighborhood.
We drove on. We came to a private school black leaders had started to help educate handicapped children. It had been burned three times, the rabbi said. Now the windows were filled with tin instead of glass and the doorways were bolted shut with iron. No kids would use that building. We drove on. We came to a synagogue. I was buillt for $3 million, the rabbi said, and the windows were designed to look like the tablets of the Ten Commandments. He pointed to the windows.
"They use them for target practice," he said.
The rabbi drove on. He talked of his old congregation in Brooklyn and how he had lost if after 30 years. The neighborhood simply moved away. We talked about what a joy the area had been, what it had once been like. The synagogue building was still there, he said. "The congregation is not there,"
Now we were at the funeral parlor and the rabbi, who met the Moskowitz family because he is the chief Jewish chaplain at the hospital where their daughter died, greeted everyone. He had been there before and he walked right in the back door, telling that from that point on. I was on my own. An attendant came up and told me the funeral was private and so I left.
I stood outside with the others and we watched the family go in and then we watched the family come out. The last one to arrive was the grandmother. She came alone in a big rented limousine and she walked very slowly to the door of the funeral home. She took about three paces and cried. She looked away for a moment and then resumed her walk. A moment later, people came spilling out. The women were crying and the men looked pained. The rabbi got into the front seat of the hearse and I asked him if he had said what he said he would say - that business about justice and lenient courts. He said he had, and for a while I was angered but then I realized he had simply pulled from this thing the only explanation that made sense to him.
He'd done a lot better than I had.