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Everybody who goes to New York always has something to relate. I wouldn’t be the exception, even though it wasn’t exactly what one might have foreseen. Right on my first afternoon, it being the anniversary of my mother’s death, I tried to discover where I could find an Orthodox synagogue for the afternoon and evening services of Minchah and Maariv. Naturally there were many. Given that, according to what I was told, there was one right in the vicinity of Central Park, near the hotel where I was staying, I set out on foot. I was walking up Fifth Avenue in no rush; I had plenty of time. The late afternoon sun was still glistening in the windows of the stores and the skyscrapers of Manhattan, this disconcerting Babylonia, where, it is known, live and labor thousands of our race. To my surprise the synagogue was closed. On a plaque at the entrance , I could read the schedule for services; I had a whole hour to kill wandering about before the first service. Standing next to me, studying the plaque, a middle-aged man, or perhaps older, displayed the same disappointment. By his manner, hat placed on his head, nose slightly hooked, I didn’t have the least doubt that he was a coreligionist. He looked ostensibly at the clock on the facade and made a face. With all that spare time, I decided to cross the avenue and went to look for a bench in the landscaped square facing me, where with some comfort one could enjoy the passersby. I noticed that the little man accompanied me some steps behind, and when he caught sight of the first free bench, occupied merely by an elderly lady who was taking in the sun, he ran over in order to sit down right next to me. The old man was wearing a tweed sport coat, a bit démondé, a large necktie loosened at the knot, filled with colors, and he had a prankish air spread all over his face. The first impression I had was that Eliezer Levin New York, New York 146 eliezer levin the man was getting ready to knife me. However, he started with an introduction. He began telling me that he was from Chicago, where he lived alone, and he had come to spend a few days in New York at his sister’s home. ‘Her grandchildren are to me like my own,’ he informed me, in an English that left no doubts as to his origin. Without a doubt the man had class. Being in a good mood, I decided to play his game. ‘So you are from Chicago?’ I asked, naturally thinking, without being able to avoid it, about this city’s long history with its gangsters, the clashes between its gangs, and all that gross atmosphere of crime. As if in a movie screen of my memory, there loomed up before me the well-known faces of Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni. ‘Yes, I live in Chicago, since the Prohibition. Have you in Brazil heard of the Prohibition?’ ‘Of course,’ I answered, half smiling, each time more engaged in his scheme. ‘I was a gangster in one of the gangs that fought against Al Capone. Today I am retired.’ The man hadn’t as yet knifed me, but I was expecting it any minute. I decided to make things easy for him. ‘And how is your income going today?’ ‘From time to time I pick up some change at the roulette table in Las Vegas. It’s enough to live on, and I even bring back some dough for my sister.’ Nice play, I thought to myself, he is still getting ready for the kill. Smiling, just like a tourist but by now a bit suspicious, I asked: ‘Do you regularly attend services at the synagogue?’ ‘No, I am not fanatical about religion. Sometimes, I get nostalgic and there I go.’ From that cue he began to speak to me about his deceased parents , his life in Russia, and even about the heder he had attended as a child. ‘I would go to shul everyday with my father. Do you want to hear some parts of the chazones?’ he asked me, and without waiting for an answer, he began to hum some niggunim. The man really had a lot of class, and I thought that I had done more than enough to merit his knifing. It was at...


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