Purim in the Bronx


Purim in the Bronx


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Opinion & Society

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 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 seemeed uneasy, unsure he wanted us there. But with Mishloach Manot in hand, we were there nonetheless.

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 since.

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

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