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Rediscovering Purim: A Bronx Tale
By Larry Domnitch
The Bronx, New York, has changed over the years. The relocation of its once
thriving Jewish communities have already become old news, a story rarely
recanted except by those who have remained.
The following event occured a few years ago. It was Purim, my destination
was the South Bronx to read the Megillah (Schroll of 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
project in the Bronx's Soundview section. It would be reasonable to presume
that this person lives in virtual seclusion and is also detached from the
Jewish community. On that day however, he would be reaquainted with the
holiday of Purim.
I phoned Bernie (not his real name) and offered to bring him Mishloach
Manot-the traditional package of treats. Pleasantly surprised as well as
shocked to receive my call, he accepted the offer. I told Bernie that when I
finished reading the Megillah, I would stop by. He resonded that he anxiously
awaited my arrival.
Years of solitude no doubt affects an individual and my call must have
prompted Bernie to recollect the memories of the neighborhood's bygone eras,
with its Shules, and schools, and holiday celebrations with relatives and
friends. Perhaps he was not quite ready to deal with those memories for he
called and left this message, "All the Jews have left, there is no one left
here anymore." He said with resignation that perhaps it would be better if I
did not visit him. However, I had already left and did not receive that
Later that afternoon, when I along with a friend arrived at Bernie's
apartment, he greeted us graciously but with a subdued enthusiasm. He seemeed
uneasy, unsure he wanted us there. But with Mishloach Manot in hand, we were
For about a half-hour, we sat in Bernie's unkempt, clutterd apartment
surrounded by old newspapers and memorabilia. We spoke about Israel, the
Bronx, the Jewish Patrirachs, Purim, and about whatever else he chose to
discuss. I felt like a traveler from afar bringing Bernie news. We were
indeed his connection with the Jewish world for that brief time. How ironic
that we lived only a few miles away. Bernie soon became comfortable with our
presence, a sure sign that our mission was a success. When it was time to
leave, we gave Bernie a Mishloach Manot package, and wished him a Freilichen
(joyous) Purim. A greeting he probably had not heard in years.
When I returned home that evening, I heard Bernie's earlier recorded
message telling me not to bother bringing him Mishloach Manot. Yet, an
additional message followed. In an enthusiastic tone that told a thousand
words, he profusly thanked me for visiting him and for the Mishloach Manot.
In an uplifted spirit, he said, "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." He concluded his message with, "Zei Gezunt," (be well) and
added in parting "I'll call you when I get a chance." I have spoke to him
That year, the holiday of Purim was brought to Bernie. On that day, Purim
was not merely a forgotten memory celebrated elsewhere but something real, a
cause for celebration.
There are times when a seemingly small act can have the most profound
effect upon another. It was a Purim I will never forget.
Larry Domnitch is the author of "The Jewish Holidays: A Journey Through
History", published by Jason Aronson Inc.
from the March 2001 Edition Jewish Magazine