Monday, June 27, 2011
Dancing Hasid, Subway Story
I sat down next to a Hasid on the subway to work this morning. He was reading a bible or something of the sort in Hebrew. I wished I could read it. As I sat there I started singing Davi Melech Yisrael, Chai Chai Yichaom. He looked at me and smiled. He asked me if I've ever danced with my hands to the song and, if not, he could show me how. I replied affirmatively, that when I was a child I learned it at sleep-away-camp and that it would be nice to dance with my hands again. So we sat there pressed against one another in the cramped subway, singing Davi Melech Yisrael, dancing with our hands. We laughed and sung until tears shed from our eyes. It was a wonderful experience! He got up and began dancing in the isle, took out a talis (or whatever it the name of those silk white and blue fringed scarf-like things) from inside his long black coat and wrapped it around my neck, pulling me up into the isle. We started singing Havenu Shalom Aleichem, Havenu Shalom Aleichem, Havenu Shalom Aleichem, Havenu Shalom Shalom Shalom Aleichem, although it was 3 1/2 days until Shabbat. We danced elbow to elbow. A woman walked up to us and asked if she could join us for a miniature Hora. I looked at her as if she were crazy, said, “I can't believe some your ignorance! Don’t you know that this is the men’s side of the train?” and continued dancing. The Hasid continued dancing as if he hadn’t noticed her at all.
The F train entered a tunnel that passes below the East River between the York and East Broadway stations. The lights dimmed. For some reason the mood of our songs became solemn and we sang Avenu Malchenu, Avenu Malchenu, tears soaking our long beards. It was a sad song. But it also made me feel very warm inside. The Hasid stopped dancing and said that we were about to enter East Broadway and it was time to recite the Mourner’s Kadish. We bent down on our knees, placed our elbows upon the subway bench infront of us, bowed our heads and recited in Hebrew Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba b'al'ma di v'ra khir'utei v'yam'likh mal'khutei b'chayeikhon uv'yomeikhon uv'chayei d'khol beit yis'ra'eil ba'agala uviz'man kariv v'im'ru... Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru.Amen." May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed. May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon… He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace, upon us and upon all Israel. Amen
The train entered the East Broadway station. The lights returned to full flourescence. Chinese people crowded into the center of the car pushing other passengers into the isle where the Hasid and I had been dancing so joyously. A woman stepped on my toe with the heel of her pump, a sharp pain shot through my ankle up through my calf and into my groin. I glared at her. But she was engrossed in her Wall Street Journal and hadn't even noticed the discretion. I looked over to my friend the Hasid as if to say, these Goyishe women! But an Elderly Chinese woman was sitting next to me, asleep. I glanced around the train looking for the Hasid. But he was no where in sight. I became horribly restless and anxious. The warm feeling quickly drained out of me. My hands started shaking uncontrollably. I dropped my head and stared down at my lap expecting to see a copy of the Old Testament in Hebrew the Hasid had handed me when we recited the Mourner's Kaddish. Instead I saw Bohamil Hrabal's book, I Served the King of England laying open; a half eaten poppyseed bagel with cream cheese sat between pages 207 and 208. Some napkins had fallen on the floor. My coffee cup was tilted in my left hand, drops of it spreading out on my pant leg. At the next stop, Delancey Street, I rushed out of the train, knocked over a Puerto Rican woman as she was lifting her baby's carriage at the bottom of the steps. I glanced backwards briefly as she scrambled to keep the carriage from toppling over, then leaped up the stairs 3 steps at-a-time. I lit upon Essex Street. Sun shone on my face, but an icy wind blew from the East River and flowed up my pant legs and down through the collar of my jacket as my scarf unraveled from around my neck. The wind became icy undergarments. For a moment I felt like an Orthodox Jew who has suddenly found himself in the middle of an Eastern Orthodox Easter mass. The blood drained from my tongue and cheeks. I cuffed my ears with my hands and screamed like the man in Edvard Munch's painting the Scream, and ran down Delancey Street towards Orchard, past all the wholesale underwear, leather, and shoe distributors. I screamed across The Bowery and I screamed across Grand Street as I ran past the dim sum venders. I zig zagged throughout the Lower East Side, Chinatown, very little Italy and into Soho and all the while screaming, hair clutched between my wooly gloved fingers. On West Broadway there was a lone artist braving the cold morning air, selling what looked like reproductions of Marc Chagall paintings. He looked up when he heard me screaming as I
approached. I was rushing past him when I suddenly stopped dead in mytracks. I turned around panting. My cheeks red from the icy wind. And staredat the paintings then back at the lone artist. He was wearing a black felt hat. He had a long black beard. There were locks of hair tucked behind his ears. I was suddenly filled with peace. He didn't seem in the least bit cold wrapped in his long black coat. The artist looked up at me and asked if I had time for him to show me a dance he had learned when he was a child living in a shtettle outside of Lvov, Poland. I hesitated. For a second I thought there was somewhere I should be at the time. But I had forgotten why and to where I was rushing. So, I looked him in his dark brown eyes and nodden "yes". The artist grabbed my hand. I felt a firm tug and we floated over the tops of the old tenement buildings in the Lower East Side. We passed above the cars pressed bumper to bumber entering the city on the Williamsburg Bridge and looked down at the Hasidic men and women dressed in their long black coatsand black fur rimmed hats crossing over the BQE from their homes to work in downtown Williamsburg. We floated towards the pale November sun that had risen above Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach and disappeared into the clouds.