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PURIM

 
 
 
       
 

Rediscovering Purim: A Bronx Tale
By Larry Domnitch 
About the Author

The borough of the Bronx in New York City has changed over the years. The relocation of its once thriving Jewish communities has already become old news; a story rarely recanted except by those who have remained.

The following event occurred a few years ago. It was Purim, and my destination was the South Bronx to read Megillat Esther in one of the last remaining synagogues in the area. While scurrying around my apartment in an attempt to make a hasty departure, I received a phone call from a friend who had discovered an elderly Jewish man who lives alone in a vast housing complex in the Bronx’s Soundview section. It would be reasonable to assume that this individual lives in virtual seclusion and is also detached from the Jewish community. On that day, however, he would be reacquainted with the holiday of Purim.

I phoned Bernie (not his real name) and offered to bring him Mishloach Manot. Although surprised, even shocked, to receive my call, he accepted the offer. I told Bernie that I would stop by in the afternoon. He replied that he anxiously awaited my arrival.

Years of solitude no doubt affects an individual. My call must have prompted Bernie rehash his personal memories of the neighborhoods’ bygone eras when Jewish life flourished. Perhaps he thought of the Jewish community in all its vibrancy with its many synagogues, community organizations and holiday celebrations. Perhaps he was not quite prepared to deal with those memories. Bernie called back and left a recorded message. He stated that all the Jews had left years earlier and it would be better if I did not visit him. I had already left and did not receive that message.

Later that afternoon, when I, along with a friend arrived at Bernie’s apartment, he greeted us graciously but with a subdued enthusiasm. He seemed uneasy, unsure that he wanted us there.  However, with Mishloach Manot in hand, we were there nonetheless.

For about a half-hour, we sat in Bernie’s unkempt, cluttered apartment surrounded by old newspapers and memorabilia. We spoke about Israel, the Bronx, the Jewish Patriarchs, Purim, and whatever else he chose to discus. I felt like a traveler from afar bringing Bernie news. We were indeed his connection to the Jewish world for that brief time. How ironic that we lived only a few miles apart! Bernie soon became more comfortable with our presence, a sure sign that our mission was a success. When it was time to leave, we wished Bernie a Freilichen (joyous) Purim. A greeting he most probably had not heard in years.

When I returned home that evening, I heard Bernie’s earlier recorded message telling me not to bother visiting him. Then, an additional message followed. In a most enthusiastic tone that spoke volumes, he profusely thanked me for the visit, and for the Mishloach Manot. He stated, “I want to thank you for the Shaloch Manos, and most importantly for your presence here today. It’s been a long time since I spoke about Yiddishkeit. You brought back the Pintele Yid (Jewish spark) in me.” As a parting message he added, “I’ll call you when I get a chance.”

That year the holiday of Purim was brought to Bernie. From the seclusion of the Soundview neighborhood, Purim was not merely a forgotten fragment of the past celebrated elsewhere, but something real and tangible; a cause for celebration.

There are times when a seemingly small act can have the most profound affect upon another. It was an unforgettable Purim.

1Larry Domnitch is the author of “The Cantonists: The Jewish Children’s Army of the Tsar” recently released by Devora Publishing


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