Photo Credit: Jewish Press

By the next morning of course, Leah had found out. She got special permission to visit him in the dorm. Yankel’s room was quite small, with the bed on one side and a chest of drawers on the other – a lot of wood. It reminded her of a colonial bedroom for children. There was a chair at the foot of the bed and she sat there, while Yankel sat up, but leaning against his pillow.

“How are you?” She picked up a Yiddish newspaper that had been on the table. It was strange to have her here.


“I am all right,” he said. “I fought a good fight.”

“You fool,” she said. “How could you take on all those people?”

“I did what I had to do. I knew I could not win, but I did it anyway. I think now that I was fighting for my pride.”

“I feel so guilty. I was in my living room while you fought for your life.” She closed her eyes, took a breath. “How do you feel?” she kept asking. “I brought you a heating pad.”

“Quite frankly, I feel terrible, but also great. I had always felt old, but now I feel young even though it feels like my body has been broken into two. Fighting was maybe the best thing that I ever did. I felt alive, alive with violence. It was weird that way. You can plug away at something, like the Talmud, but no one is interested, at least not viscerally, but what people want to see is a fight, a fire – something.”

Leah nodded. It was clear to Yankel that she understood. “The Rosh HaYeshiva hedged though,” Yankel went on. “He doesn’t believe in this kind of physical force.”

Leah seemed to take this in. “It’s a Jewish idea to fight – to squabble anyway. It’s like we fight, but we don’t use our fists.” Leah continued, “But it wasn’t always that way. Dovid HaMelech was a real fighter, a killer – and yet for that reason he was not allowed to build the Temple because he had blood on his hands – two hundred foreskins of the Philistines, two hundred foreskins!”

“Yes,” Yankel said, “but need I remind you that David won the daughter of Saul with those two hundred foreskins?”

In mock solemnity Leah pronounced, “I hereby accept the arrest of these subway hoodlums as the price for my dowry; you don’t need to bring me their foreskins.”

After a day or so went by, Yankel was out and about, having largely recovered from the subway fracas. Leah asked him to bring some things to the apartment to start setting things up. A friend of hers had a reclining chair in near-perfect condition that she no longer needed. Leah tossed Yankel her car keys. “Could you pick up the chair and take it over to the new apartment?” Yankel put the key into the ancient car and the small, primitive machine at once came to life.

The chair was on the other side of the neighborhood and Leah’s friend was waiting for him on the porch. “The chair is upstairs. It is a bit heavy, but I think you can carry it. From what I just heard you’re a pretty strong guy. Aren’t you the one who beat up the guys on the subway?”

“Well,” Yankel said, absently touching the butterfly bandages on the side of his forehead. “Don’t believe what you hear. It was nothing.”

“That’s not what I hear on the grapevine. They say you roughed them up pretty bad,” she said. “I have been a friend of Leah’s for a long time. My name is Raizy.”

Yankel dodged her friendliness. “Don’t believe the gossip mill.”

Raizy wore a free-flowing skirt and her hair tied up in the back. She was making aliyah with her new husband, a computer programmer named Shlomo. That is why she was giving away the recliner.

Yankel motioned upstairs with his head. “It’s in the living room?”

“Yes,” Raizy answered. “That’s the problem with these second-floor walk-ups. You’ve got to get the furniture upstairs when you move in and downstairs when you move out.”

Yankel strapped the chair to his back and started to descend the stairs. Raizy shepherded the chair out the door with him and on to the porch. “I’ve got it,” Yankel valiantly assured her. For all he knew she could be pregnant.

“You are strong,” she said. “All this from sitting in front of the Talmud? I have got to encourage my husband. He just sits there in front of the computer.”

“The Torah is good for the body too, I suppose,” Yankel felt obliged to answer.

“How was it,” Raizy asked, “to fight back that way?”

Yankel was surprised by the question. It was a little forward. He hadn’t expected it, but then again, now he was a minor celebrity. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t think about it too much. I was fighting for my life – not because I was going to die, but it was for my life… Sometimes you just pull something from inside you – something you didn’t know you had.”

Raizy nodded slowly, a soft, inviting smile coming to her lips. Perhaps she thought of him as a swashbuckler. Yesterday a shnook, today a hero. A man can become anything in a woman’s mind at the drop of a hat. He rested there on the porch, leaning a little on the armchair. It was an unseasonably warm day for late winter. It was as though Brooklyn were set back fifty or sixty years – pre-war. He imagined old cars and white picket fences in Kensington and Ditmas Park. Trees towered over the houses on that block. Every one had been power-hosed and washed. There was something about her too. His body registered the lightest of welcome intrusions – her fragrance lingered with him. Impossible thoughts invaded Yankel’s head. Why, Raizy had flirted with him – she wanted him to be thinking about her, if only for a moment – he was sure of that. Perhaps this was the price of the chair. Women were hungry, Yankel realized, but does conversation, banter like this, satisfy them? A feminine selfishness, a demand for attention from men that somehow felt strangely generous to Yankel.

He shrugged off the thought, put the chair in the car, and drove off in the ancient, rusty machine.

(To be continued)

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