Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I used to travel by subway from my home in Brooklyn, to the Yeshiva in Manhattan, where I taught. It was not the most comfortable mode of travel, but coming home at four p.m. I always found a seat. The swaying of the train has a soothing effect on me, sometimes it rocked me to sleep, but I always managed to wake up at my stop on Ditmas Ave, until one day I missed my destination.

I woke up near the last stop, but no harm was done. I got off, crossed over to the other side, and took the train in the opposite direction. Although I did not know it yet, missing my stop was predestined.


At the next stop, a tall, strapping, elderly man wearing a cap entered the train. He looked around, his eyes bulging as he scrutinized everyone with great intensity. He finally settled on me, and started talking to me in Yiddish.

“Tell me where is this place… you know… where every one is, where they are selling things, you know over there…where all the people gather?”

He seemed very agitated. I did not understand what he wanted.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“Don’t you know, over there… where…where all the men and ladies are” he made a circling motion with his hand, his face got red and came closer to mine.

“What is your name?” I asked. He looked at me uncomprehending.

“Where do you live?”

“Over there in… in…in Nyrbator” That was a town in Hungary.

It was a miracle that in his confused state, his mind was clear enough to approach another Yid for help.

“OK, come with me. I will take you home.” I said. He came along without hesitation and I led him out at my stop on Ditmas Ave. Inside the station, I turned his pockets inside out, trying to find some kind of identification. He did not object, in fact, he put himself completely in my trust. Out came a couple of ex lax pills, a bunch of crumbled up tissues, two candy wrappers, a broken pretzel, some paper clips, and finally, on a tiny, crumpled paper that I almost threw away, there was a name. Jeno Berkfeld.

“Is your name Jeno Berkfeld?” I asked. He gave me a blank stare. But I reasoned that whoever Jeno Berkfeld is, he must have some connection with this man.

I made him sit down on the bench inside the train station. He didn’t take his eyes off me as I headed to the public phone near by. This was a time before cell phones existed, and you needed a quarter to use the public phone. I only had two quarters. I called my wife and explained to her the situation. Since you only got three minutes per quarter, I had to talk very fast. I asked her to look up the name Jeno Berkfeld in the Brooklyn telephone book, and gave her the phone number I called from so she could call me back.

A few minutes later, my wife called. “There are five Jeno Berkfelds listed in Brooklyn” she said.

I wrote down all five telephone numbers. With my last quarter, I called the first number on my list.

“Hello,” an elderly lady’s agitated, high pitched voice answered on the first ring.

“I found a man on the F train” I said “I think his name is Jeno Berkfeld, would you know who he is?”

She burst out crying, “You found him! Where is he? We are looking for him all over. Please don’t let him out of your sight. My daughter will be right there.” She sounded breathless and frantic. I told her where we were, and that I would wait for her daughter to arrive.

In the meantime, Mr. Berkfeld got very restless. He kept getting up and heading towards the exit. He didn’t like being controlled.

“Nu, nu when are we going? I want to go to the ize.”

I had to get very creative to keep him calm, until finally, his daughter arrived.

As soon as she saw him, she rushed towards him, shaking her head and shouting in Hungarian, which I did not understand. She pointed her index finger at him, wagging it in a threatening manner, then she just threw up her hands as if she was giving up.

Mr. Berkfeld just stood there, uncomprehending, his shoulders slumped, and his face pale.

Finally his daughter calmed down, she hugged him, and led him away.

So ended my rescue mission.

Now for the rest of the story:

The next day at my wife’s office, a co-worker was lamenting how hard it was to take care of her father who has Alzheimer’s.

“He is so strong willed, he does not allow anyone to guide or help him. He just wants to be independent. Like a two year old who wants to do everything by himself.”

My wife nodded sympathetically and offered her advice.

“Make sure your father always carries some kind of identification with his name and address. Just yesterday my husband found a man on the F train. He had no idea what his name is or where he lives…”

She didn’t even finish the sentence when her co-worker gasped, her eyes widened and in a disbelieving voice she exclaimed, “That’s incredible! I can’t believe it! That was my father.”




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