A Bronx Tale
About the Author
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
are times when a seemingly small act
can have the most profound affect upon another. It was an unforgettable
Domnitch is the author of “The Cantonists: The Jewish Children’s Army
of the Tsar” recently released by Devora Publishing
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