Photo Credit: Jewish Press

One day Leah asked Yankel to meet her in Manhattan where she worked. Leah’s company, a computing firm, was on the 37th floor of the Woolworth Building, which Yankel had learned was once the tallest in the world back when it was built in 1913. The lobby was spectacular and stately. It still, after all these years, had the ability to impress. When he got out of the elevator at the 37th floor, Leah was already waiting for him. In the presence of this concrete ode to commerce, Yankel, although dressed in a suit, felt somewhat backward and provincial. His suit was ill-fitting and wrinkled. His pants were not cuffed and his shoes didn’t seem quite right either. Leah, on the other hand, looked like any of the women who worked in the building, only slightly more elegant. She wore a three-button skirt suit with navy suede shoes.

During the split second they waited for the down elevator, Yankel looked at her shoes.


She said, “You like them?” They had gold buckles over the toes.

“I don’t know anything about shoes, but they look stylish to me.”

Leah smiled. “Shoes are everything. Why, if the company doesn’t like your shoes, they can fire you.” The elevator dropped to the ground floor in what seemed like a second.

They stepped into the lobby. Soon they were outside and they walked south on Broadway. “You walk the streets like you own the place,” Yankel said.

“The whole city feels like a playground to me.” She looked up toward the sky from the downtown canyon. “I love it here, even if back in Brooklyn they think of it as Sodom and Gomorrah.”

A shudder went through Yankel when he heard that. She likes the city – a place of gentile and Jewish tumah, impurities! He had to admire it in a way. She didn’t feel responsible for her ideas and she could fling them all into the wind and could care less what would come down where.

It was a winter day, sun-dappled but windy. Leah tightened her coat against her body. Yankel walked with a downward look.

“What are you thinking about, Yankel?”

Yankel was self-conscious going about on these streets in the middle of the day. For years he had only known the inside of the bais medrash, the four walls. It felt like he was playing hooky. “I’m thinking about two things. One is my shoes. Now that you mentioned shoes are important, I feel mine look a little bit like a loser’s. They have that cap toe, a little bulbous, with the heels worn down – and I am also thinking about a Gemara I am learning.”

Leah looked at his shoes. “They’re not so bad…they’re not cap toes. They’re wingtips.”

“The man told me they were cap toes.”

Leah made a face. “You should go back and tell him he sold you the wrong shoe. Where did you buy them, in Boro Park?”

“Yes, I bought them in Boro Park,” he said with a drop of sarcasm, as if to say in jest, I apologize for my provincialism. “In a million years,” he continued, “I couldn’t go back to him and ask him for a refund. Cap toe, shmap toe. It’s a shoe.”

“If you say so,” Leah said.

“You know,” Yankel said, “there’s a Gemara about what makes a shoe a shoe.”

“There’s a Gemara about everything. I bet you’re thinking about a Gemara all the time!”

“Only when I am not thinking about you,” Yankel said.

Leah gave Yankel a look. It would have been hard for him to describe the look that she gave, but her mouth moved open and her eyes looked like they would fill with tears. She seemed to compose herself.

“Which Gemara are you thinking about?” Leah asked.

He stopped walking. “We can skip over this, but your face told me something.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay, we can drop it, but I wish we didn’t have to.”

“We have to,” Leah said. They walked a little further and the closer they got to the tip of Manhattan, the more clogged the street became with traffic.

Leah turned to Yankel. “It’s obvious.”

Yankel shrugged. “What’s obvious?”

“You don’t understand anything,” Leah said in mock disgust.

“Believe me, it wouldn’t do us any good if I did.”

They continued walking until the moment had passed.

“But you really were thinking about a Gemara, though, weren’t you?” Leah asked.

“Yes, when I am not thinking about you.”

“Here we go again.” Leah rolled her eyes.

“Okay, okay. When you were looking up at the sky before I was thinking about the Gemara of how high a sukkah can be – because after a certain height, the walls of the sukkah provide the shade, but not the sukkah itself.”

Leah looked up again. This time he noticed the whiteness of the skin of her neck. A mild shock went through him – a small wave. He let it pass. “The Gemara is right – you can see straight up to the sky but there is no sun because of the buildings.”

They crossed the street, moving between the buses and cars.

“Watch out!” Yankel pulled Leah back lightly by her coat. She had not seen the motorcycle darting between cars. It almost hit her.

When they made it to the sidewalk, she said, “You saved my life. But I also saw you looking at my neck,” she chided him.

He looked away sheepishly. “I… I…”

“It’s natural for you to look – you’re a man. You must look at a lot of women.”

“Why, they are all like white geese to me,” he said with a wave of the hand. He cracked a smile, too.

“Yeah, right.” A large truck went by and Yankel could not hear what more Leah had said, but as soon as it had passed, Leah repeated it. “They are all like white geese to me. You are stealing a line from the Talmud!”

“You got me.” Yankel had quoted one of the rabbis who once boasted to his colleagues that women had no effect on him at all. “Why,” the rabbi had told them, “I could look at them all day. They appear to me as (nothing but) a flock of white geese.”

In front of the bull at Bowling Green, a street band of Peruvian Indians from the Amazon played. They wore traditional dress, tasseled ponchos and painted faces. One sang while two blew flutes and danced in place.

“The music is gorgeous, but it sounds sad.”

Yankel nodded in agreement. “It fits my mood a little.”

More people gathered around. Leah then turned to Yankel and asked, “Why are you sad?”

Yankel put his gloved hands together. “My father and Gila, they invited us to a…well, I’m ashamed to say it, a Knicks’ basketball game in Madison Square Garden.”

“That’s a little unusual,” Leah said, “but could be kind of fun.”

“Fun? To see a bunch of shkatzim tossing around a basketball?”

“Yeah, actually, it does seem fun. A bunch of super-tall men with a ball – it’s kind of like ballet. Why can’t we enjoy that?”

“Because it’s not my place – Madison Square Garden, me a yeshiva bochur with a hat.”

“So don’t wear the hat. It’s a lark. I’ve never been to a Knicks game. I heard a lot of celebs go – like Woody Allen.”

“Woody Allen? A shvantz, a jerk.”

“I agree with you that he’s a jerk, but so what?”

The music continued to play even more hauntingly.

“Do you have any idea what they are singing about?” Leah asked.

“I don’t,” he said a bit curtly. “Probably about some kind of loss.”

“You never felt bad for these people? Thrown off their land? Hunted down like water buffalo.”

“Never thought too much about it, Leah.” Yankel was slightly irritated by the question. It seemed that so much of what Leah did was to tip the apple cart if ever so slightly – to upend him. He’d had a lifetime of that from his father.

“There’s a lot of sadness in the world, Leah,” he continued. “Should I feel bad about the mouse that gets eaten by the cat or the fish that gets eaten by the shark?”

“These people are human, Yankel. Just like us.”

“They’re not just like us, Leah, and you know it!”

Leah knew just when to leave a point alone. “Forget it,” she said, “Just let’s enjoy the music.”

(To be continued)

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