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.
Alex, I began reading the blog a few days ago. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how young you were and how your spirit always shined. I loved today’s entry, and of course your story telling skills were much in evidence at Apple Hill. So much of your spirit and sunny disposition made you an incredible camp director. Singing, teaching, storytelling, clowning, playing with us -all left very powerful, wonderful memories for me. Jennie alludes to it when she talks about you, but do you know what you attribute it to? I think you have to be a truly exceptional person. I am so glad you had the opportunity in life to share your lovely nature with so many kids- in the classroom, at camp and of course your own children and grandchildren.
Aw, Jessie, you’re making me blush. . . While I was born in a difficult place at a difficult time, I’ve always counted myself incredibly lucky. That is not to say that I didn’t or do not have now my down periods, but I was always fortunate enough to realize that they were temporary. I was also lucky in the people I met along the way (such as Linda and my in-laws, Sol and Ida) and my mentors at Brooklyn College and other places. I guess to remain somewhat cheerful in this generally sad world you need a combination of good health, cheerful genes, good people, and good sense. I was fortunate on at least three of th0se counts.
Thanks again for your lovely comments. They are real encouragement to keep on writing.