Saturday mornings we walked to the largest synagogue in Brussels, which was quite distant and a really long walk, but we couldn’t ride there because riding in any sort of conveyance was forbidden to observant Jews on the Sabbath. So was carrying money, which was absolutely no problem because we didn’t have any. However, it was also forbidden to carry anything else, including a handkerchief, which had to be tied around the wrist, in the hope that god would think that we weren’t in fact carrying anything. It was all part of the ritual which I didn’t question at the time, and which I loved.
We walked through the city two-by-two; I don’t think we held hands, but I do think I was always first in line and that possibly because I was the tallest. The walk afforded us time to talk, and seemingly, although we were living together, there was never a dearth of subjects to discuss. Yet at times there were conversational lacunae. For some reason I don’t recall, I decided to fill them.
I should mention that by this time I had become a reader. What this involved was simply reading everything that came to hand in French, but my favorite reading was a magazine for children whose title I don’t even remember. It did however, have a long story about a group of daring flyers who performed all sorts of valiant deeds as a team called “L’Aile Rouge,” or “The Red Wing,” and this story became my favorite. It didn’t take me long to invent a similar adventurous group that had all sorts of hair-raising adventures, and it was with this invention that I began to entertain my friends on the walks to the synagogue on Saturday mornings. The line of two’s became a line of four up front and the second row also became a line of four as several other boys began listening to the stories I told. At first it was fairly easy to make stuff up. Then composition problems cropped up, as the story stretched on and on, and my imagination was challenged beyond its capacity. I was so fond of the characters I had created that I didn’t really want to kill any of them off, although the plot clearly demanded it. Story telling really did make those walks more interesting, more enjoyable and shorter than they might otherwise have been.
The synagogue, when we finally reached it, was a large, impressive building whose main hall I never saw. I was told we couldn’t go there because the place had an organ, and music was played during services, and this was strictly forbidden. We went to the basement room, which didn’t have an organ, but was crowded with devout bearded men with covered heads in elaborately trimmed prayer shawls who prayed while rocking in place, their eyes often closed, their prayers obviously deeply felt. I enjoyed being part of this group of worshipers, whatever was going on upstairs. All of us were stubborn survivors, and I guess I took pride in that.