Cantor Efraim Sapir, Dead at 69

Cantor Blog-1

So, at his funeral service, which I didn’t attend because Sharon and I were out of town and didn’t know about it, the presiding Rabbi said God didn’t take Cantor Sapir, he took himself.

Why? I don’t know. I wish I knew before he did it. Many wish they did, too. Could we have helped him? Who knows? Everyone must make their own decision when to live and when to die. Some may need to be told how much they are loved.

I didn’t know him well or for so long. We were the same age, almost. I envisioned growing old with him, learning more about all the things he knew: music, humor, talmud and the meaning of life. I don’t have many friends; he could have been one.

Cantor’s voices connect prayers with God. Efrain loved to sing in Temple, using melodies to rid the congregants of self-consciousness, elevating their thoughts and minds to holy places. He’d pause between some phrases to look out into the audience, listening for proof he had connected, him to them and them to the angels. He once told me that he had observed me banging my prayer book on a pew during a prayer and that I had used an alternative beat. I sit in the last row; how observant.

We did a photo shoot in my studio, a formal shot for the hallway and the Temple Anshei Shalom bulletin. It took two hours. He was dressed perfectly, hair groomed, suit/shirt/tie selected for the occasion. We exchanged stories, listened to cantorial music and played with the lights. During one song by a noted Cantor, he explained the guy was just singing nonsense words, because the music was so beautiful and he wanted to sing along. I told him, after the shoot, how handsome he was and what a joy it was to photograph him. He said he never saw himself as being so good looking and that my images made him very happy.

Cantor Blog-2

The shot of him holding the Torah after the reading was the last shot of him. Taken two weeks before his death at Morning Minyan, it is not my usual kind of photograph. He isn’t looking at the camera and really doesn’t know or care I am in front of him. I usually go for the head, but I was drawn to his hands and the words on the Torah cover. You can see the joy in his heart, his love of Torah and feelings for humanity.

The Photo Gods helped me shoot this image. I wish God had helped me with fix his self image. He was a beautiful man, a significant man. My life will be less without him. You see, sometimes it isn’t how long you know someone but how well.

Kim Mason, Dead


Kim Mason died of an overdose of anti-depressants. She danced with death many times trying to rid her body of evil spirits. Always loving and kind. People couldn’t help her enough, though Howard and others tried. The demons were just too scary. In and out of places. Always adjusting her meds. They needed an exorcism.


I knew her. Met her in Rutland, years ago, or maybe it was Bennington. Don’t remember. But we were friends for ten years or more. She’d hug and kiss me when she saw me on the street. Sometimes when I’d ask how she was doing, she’d put her head on my shoulder and cry, leaving her makeup and her tears all over my face.


A long time ago, I introduced Sharon to her. Kim would ask how Sharon was doing, even if I hadn’t seen her for a long time. She and Mark were together for 35 years. How does he go on? How do any of us?

Occupy City Hall Park-Grieving Josh


They wanted to change their lives, but not this way. They know the story better than I but will have trouble telling it until they grieve. The pain seemed very real and very palpable. But it covered up the issues, whatever they may be.

Larry doesn’t know what is next for him or them, but he mainly cares about himself. He has a tent on the hill. Awaits his retirement. He lives here. Has survived with a smile.

Mikey lips. He just keeps moving and talking.

Amanda almost took the shot as it passed out of the tent. Very, very upset. She had high hopes for the success of the encampment. Almost got killed.

Paul Littlefield has demonstrated before: Mississippi, 1962; Chicago, 1968. Where’d he come from?




They said the dead guy served in Iraq. Turned out he didn’t. But he could be counted as a casualty whose suicide should be blamed on the war. Some dude put a flag on a stick at half mast in his honor.

Medic for the assembled, but not as credentialed as she would have to be to handle the myriad of afflictions, diseases, and accidents which could and would occur. How about a clinic? Does it take medicare and have malpractice insurance. Better not take in the aged or infirm who may have special needs. They probably won’t do knees or hips. Gotta hope there are no outbreaks caused by people who don’t wash or foodstuffs that have been contaminated.

Connor is a traveller. He has family who recently moved Burlington, so he says. Rides the trains. Might spend the winter in Savannah.

Candidate for Mayor, Bram, and Police Chief, Mike, spoke. Shows their concern for the safety  of the assembled and respect for the issues. Park will probably stay open from 6 am to 12pm for all, but not for overnight, as if anyone would want to sleep in the park, unless they didn’t have another place to live. Its still a public park and our inability to house the people should not be an excuse for ceding a very public and popular space to people, some of whom have connections to the community here which some of us would call tenuous, at best. Will the rules applicable to all apply to the people living in the park? Will it be an asylum?

But, with all the watching and listening, I still don’t really know what this is all about. I can tell you what some say. I can tell you what I saw. I read the signs. Down with Wall Street; the 99% (many of whom work) should have their way to do what I am not sure. So go sit in the lobby of Merchant’s or People’s bank. Do what Willie Sutton would have done (don’t steal), but just follow the money. Don’t have a rock concert. People won’t take you seriously; they will think you are in this for a free ride. Don’t get drunk or stupid or let people hut themselves or others. See if you can get a loan to go to school or start a business. Build something. Better yet, grow something. Work on a farm and make food without chemicals. Participate in the system without being greedy. Share the wealth you accumulate with friends and family and other like minded souls. Teach what you know. Barter your services, if you have skills which can be traded. If not, get a job at a place that pays a fair wage. Volunteer when you have spare time. Set a good example.

If there are no such places that you feel comfortable frequenting or working for due to their antedeluvian policies and practices , picket them and don’t buy their products. Be a leader. Be Ceasar Chavez or A. Phillip Randolph or any number of great Americans who stood up for the rights of others. Ghandi. Mother Theresa. Yes, I left out a good deal and a great many, but this is just off the top of my head without much thought.

I read the Communist Manifesto. I know management will get as much out of labor it can. I know the only way to change it quickly is through an uprising of the proletariat. But we don’t have a proletariat anymore. We don’t have a middle class or a working class. If workers were to strike, they would be fired and many would line up for their jobs. The entrails of the National Labor Relations Act which force management and ownership to collectively bargain lies dead in the streets, just like it was when they struck Pullman. Businesses will do good without controls, one party says, so long as you don’t need a place to live or healthy food to live on or health care if you are so unfortunate to have a sickness or impairment. If they stay in power, nothing will trickly down. There’s nothing new about what has been going on in the present that hasn’t been protested in the past.

And I am not marching anymore, because I don’t trust the rebels, or the leaders they crusade against, to do the right thing. Very sad, but true.

The class system some abhor, still prevailed and dominated in the camp. The more political lived up front. They had an assembly led by the meritocricy. People had their say. Decisions were made, just like in the Colonies. Eventually they might allign. A Continental Congress would be needed, just like in the old days. No one would fund them, unless a Steve Jobs would emerge and invent a never-before-heard-of-but-needed instrument of change. So, maybe they would go to war, Peter Sellers style, to get reparations to build their community. Who would lead and who would follow? They would have priests (those who had the collective knowledge) or maybe it would be big brother. Damn. Lord of the Flies. 1984. Oops (not Rick Perry style), a literary reference. Will there be a library or a reading room? And who will select the tomes or magazines. Free internet, they get already. Maybe they won’t need books.

All the problems faced by all civil societies would eventually bring them down, from the simple to the complex. You need water and toilets. You need sanitation, security, hospitals, snow and leaf removal to survive. You need to have rules. Anarchy will not make it in a public park. Neither will democracy. But the bigger question is does the City move them with nowhere to put them or leave them there and invite more disruptive and disquieting activities?

I dunno, but I be thinking and watching.

Water buckets use a lot of energy, inefficiently. Can’t be providing liquid for drinking and cleaning from a few pails. Let’s see who pulls the detail and what happens when they oversleep or spill. Why not pipe it in? Who will pay for the water and insures its clean? Hey. I forgot. Some of the residents may not drink water. And, without rules or any moral suasion, they may not even have to bathe or wash their clothes. One porta san ain’t going to do it either.

Eventually they would need a building code to prevent tepees from shedding skin. Structures can collapse, injuring people and property. Securing them to the ground would be the beginning of a permanent structure. Others may wonder why the property wasn’t opened to public bidding before the squatters took over. Will there be building code that limits size, space between buildings, or color?

Not many being fed from this canteen and not much variety. Need more food than a tent can store, if the community is to be fed. Will there be a dietician? Who will determine if the food is eatable? Will anyone who wants to join the group be welcome, even if they cannot pull their weight? Attracting more residents who need assistance could put a strain on our already strained social service network if the special assembled bunch cannot handle them. How many more can the Emergency Food Shelf take? Perhaps they should deliver.


Whom do you take care of first? And how? And I wonder if the group that assembled really wants to be a part of a community or just be their own?








Paul’s Not Sure About Life, Today

Paul Wonders

Given a choice today between alive or dead, today Paul chose, “dead.” He’s having a tough time being down and out this Spring. Beaten up and robbed while sleeping in a doorway, kids on bicycles jumped him, broke his guitar; and left him bleeding and bruised. Three days later, he appears to have healed physically, but cannot figure out what he wants out of life or where he wants to do it. He’s not presenting all that well these days.

I suppose he has a right to end his life, if that is what he wants. No reason he cannot; more reason he shouldn’t, though I have a problem outside of the Judeo/Christian creed documenting the lack of moral justification for not doing it or coming up with some argument to dissuade. But why stop being alive or take the chance of an accidental termination of existence?

Perhaps, for him, its the weariness of living. He says, when he is not ranting about one unfairness or another, that the loneliness of a life without his wife offers little comfort. She allegedly did everything for him. Could it be a life threatening illness for which there is no cure? No records of this. Is he in pain? He complained about coughing up blood and being forced to take IV cancer drugs last year. But a hospital stay at the end of Fall didn’t disclose any continuing disability. Weariness of life; not wanting to wake up whenever he wakes up wherever he lay down, that must be the reason.

The recently found family has once again retreated or been pushed away. Financial worries can’t matter, since he has no expenses, assets, or possessions. His spotted resume posits limited accomplishments. He points to a period when he practiced photography, though he won’t give up the name of the person who has his works or equipment, recalling a major presentation at Frog Hollow in Middlebury. The last job entry, one after his departure from Valley Vista, house painter, lasted for only a couple of days, ending, allegedly, because his clothes were “not dirty enough” to indicate he had painted a sufficient assigned area. He had a room then, which he lost for not paying rent, a justifiable failure he blames on not wanting to live amidst drug users and drunks who put his safety at risk. And he disdains talking to kids in therapy groups about problems he considers too mundane. So, for him, what’s left?

I can understand his unwillingness to deal with life’s bullshit. I mean you have to attend to yourself and your surroundings. Damn. You have to keep your clothes clean, your teeth brushed, and you abode neat. People only do these chores when they have to; and spare us the ones who enjoy the regimen or don’t appreciate how life draining not being intellectually creative or physically active can be. Oh, I love to vacuum and fold clothes. What would I do if I didn’t work? Oh, my.

No wonder people play golf and go boating (those who can) or play cards or hike or bike or watch TV or draw or listen to music of go to the movies or volunteer or gamble or pray or paint. They have nothing else to do. Where do the hours go? And food. You not only have to shower, but you have to find food to eat, especially if you don’t grow it or don’t have money to buy it. It can be a pain in the ass to go to City Market or the Food Shelf for a meal. It can also be a hassle to have to shop, cook, and clean the dishes.

Paul seems singularly uninterested in the problems of others, which is understandable, too. Everyone has some story, as banal as it may be to one who has battled and won or battled and lost, which he says he is. People, he says, take advantage of him, stealing from him and using him. Yet, he stays connected to some, if only to sit on the street and beg with them or share a can of beer. But he is also equally uncommitted to aiding his own cause. Sadly, he lacks the joie de vivre of Jeff Lebowski, too, which makes him much less attractive this time around. Can it be that what Paul does, sitting with his hand out on the street, is fun?

I gave him a dollar, anyway. He asked for two.