This extraordinary story is about a man, his daughter and her husband and how they are throughly transformed by their circumstances and each other.The story and journey begins in Boro Park.
Boro Park needs no introduction, but should I have the fortune of having my stories read in 50-100-200 years from now allow me to indulge.
Boro Park is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York City. That is the dry fact.
However the truth is is that Boro Park is a living breathing place that transcends time and place. It is the meeting of old and new, the adaptation of a very old culture to a very new world. It is precisely this clash that will occupy and propel the protagonists in our story.
Moshe Kleinbart stared out of his 3rd story window, entirely oblivious of the fact that he’s the figment of my imagination. He was all alone in his 4 bedroom walkup apartment. A cigarette dangled from his fingers comfortably and the smoke swirled around him as if to conceal him from the cruel world around him. And yes, Moshe had been dealt a cruel hand in life. He looked a few years older than his 57 years. His weary eyes made a bit smaller by the constant smoke rising from the thin lips 3 inches below. Those thin lips concealed by a yellowing grey mostache that had never been trimmed. With one hand he curled his long grey beard into a ball under his chin and with the other he took a long draw on his lifeline, his cigarette.
At first glance Moshe could be any one of thousands of middle aged Hasidic males in Boro Park, the children of Holocaust survivors. They were the generation that bridged the gap between the paltry few broken immigrants to the dynamic internet generation. He was a no nonsense father to his 5 children. His primary mission in life was to ensure that the next generation receives what he received from the generation before him. To this end there was no room for compromise and he was every bit as strict as his father was. Any breach in the wall of faith was to be closed swiftly and brutally. He was blessed with a kind and beautiful wife who tempered his disposition somewhat. His oldest daughter Rochel and 3 sons Yossel, Chaim Burech and Feivel fell in line and gave him much nachas. All beside for Feivel were married and living in close proximity as is often the custom in the community. His youngest daughter Perele was always his favorite little girl and they shared a special bond.
The last 6 years were extremely unkind to him. On Chanuka 2001 his father suffered a heart attack and died and 2 months later his wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Her illness of 4 months and rapid deterioration strained the fabric of his heart and his family. Long hours at her bedside beseeching God for a miracle left him physically and emotionally drained and when that horrible day came Erev Pesach he was a broken man in every possible way. He buried his wife and came back home bent and distraught. His children did all they could to be there for him and lighten his burden but their best efforts fell woefully short.
The trauma of having the ground under you shift and uncertainty rule the day was especially felt by Perele. She was the youngest and very smart yet somewhat insecure. Always a bit of a rebel she always got away with her antics because her charms wold win over her father. She was the only one that could somehow soften those hard features. She was a beautiful girl. She inherited her mothers expressive green eyes and cleft chin. She was a little overwheight but that did not negate her beauty in the least. She was very intelligent and curious and would pepper his father with incessant questions. Any other one of the kids would have long drawn his ire but Perele held the key to his heart and he tolerated, even though he rarely had answers for her. What he didn’t know was that Perele had been sneaking to the library after school for years. She had learned how to use the internet there and found herself fascinated by anyhting and everything. She knew that if her father were to find out he’d most likely fly into a rage with long term consenquences. Her thirst for knowledge and her curiosity knew no bounds. She especially loved literature and philosophy and she started writing prolifically. Poems, stories, thoughts and essays.
When her mother became ill, she withdrew. Her father was spending more and more time out of the house which afforded her more freedom.
Another secret she held deep inside her was that when she was 13 years old she was molested by her uncle. She never told anyone about those horrible moments and would not even divulge details to me her creator. Memories that left her feeling guilty, lonely and thoroughly confused as her uncle was well considered in her family and community. It made her question her religion, her God, her family and shattered the tranquility that had been her world.
All these events converged during the spring was 2003 to create the perfect storm.
Moshe sighed deeply as he recalled that tense spring. He remembered the first time he discovered a notebook full of scribbled random thoughts that smacked of heresy. He confronted her and demanded an explanation. This touched off a firestorm of accusations and counter-accusations as father and daughter squared with an intensity that sacred them both.
He snuffed out his cigarette and rubbed his eyes, leaning back into the green worn out couch. His breathing deepened as he recalled.
It was June 3rd. He woke up his usual time 7:00 and after washing up he shuffled to the kitchen to make himself a coffee. He wondered why Pereles door was open and her light on and went to investigate. His heart sank as he surveyed the scene before his suddenly wide eyes.. All her closet doors and drawers were open and they were empty.
He tried keeping calm and instinctively reached for a cigarette. He woke up Feivel and asked if he had seen or heard anything. They both spent the next 5 hours calling anyone they could think of but noone had heard anything. He did not sleep that night, nor the next.
Jack Berezin was as removed from Moshes world as can be. The son of Russian immigrants he was young, smart and ambitious. He was soft spoken and inevitably left a favorable impression on those that crossed his path. Jack was a bit of a misfit growing up, trading the basketball court for the library. He loved to learn and had an inquisitive mind. By the time he was 19 he was in Medical School and going places.
It was at the end of an exhausting week in February that he walked into the library, fell onto the comfortable couch and saw her. She was leaning forward on her chair hunched over a book, brown hair twirled around her finger and the most beautiful green eyes he had ever seen. She was wearing a green sweater and plain black skirt and he deduced that she must be Orthodox. Then their eyes met. Her soulful green eyes and his soft browns.
Although she had been on the edge of frum life for some time, she never felt comfortable around boys and most of the boys she encountered intimidated her. There was something so different about him, so inviting, so magnetic. He was wearing a brown sweater under a wool jacket and he deduced that he must be a college student and in this neighbourhood was most likely Russian.
“I love his books..” his soft voice flowed into her ears. She shyly looked up at him and the next thing they knew it was 2 hours later and they were swapping phone numbers.
Months of clandestine meetings, of spirited discussions and comforting hours together followed. Until one day in June after a particularly difficult argument with her father she decided that she has to leave. She couldn’t take that cramped, tense apartment, full of anger and grief. All the pent up rage silently burst forth by the simple act of walking out the door in middle of the night. She was alone and a bit afraid but Jack made her feel complete and safe
She moved into Jacks basement apartment and they started a life together.
Moshes eyes were closing on him as he leaned back and let sleep creep up on him. The lamp was casting long shadows on the grey walls. The familiar scent of stale smoke, onions and old books comforted him in a strange way. He saw his wife sitting on the couch opposite him knitting a sweater and he smiled a quick... His breathing deepened and his beautiful wife slowed her hand movements and the beautiful sweater she was making slipped to the ground. Oh how soft it looked. A sudden movement caught his attention. His father stormed into the room and he awoke with a start as the sefer that was on his lap fell to the floor. He wiped some drool from his lip, retrieved the book and felt his heart tighten as reality set in once again.
His Perele..sigh. It was 2 frantic weeks before he heard anything from her. And when he finally did he wished he haden’t. She had moved in with a non religious guy! How could she??
He was so enraged, he went into her room and ripped everything he found of hers to shreds until he collpased in a heap of tears. How could she do this? How could she shame her family so? Hadn’t they suffered enough?? What would his friends say? What about Feivel?? He still needs a shidduch!
A few weeks later on a sunny spring morning, the kitchen was gowing in early morning hues. He was reading yesterdays newspaper when the phone rang. He answered it and the voice he heard filled him with so much anguish he nearly collapsed. It was a voice from the grave as far as he was concerned.
It was to be discarded along with the unopened letters from both Perele (now Pearl) and Jack and the beautiful linen wedding invitation that followed in a blur of months and years.
He was a bit upset that Rochel and Chaim Burech went to the wedding but there was nothing he could do about it. He refused to hear their words of reason and he refused to look at a picture of her radiant face in white. He knew he was doing the right thing.
Jack was a stellar student despite his turbulent upbringing. His parents had come here when he was 4 years old and promptly got divorced. He lived with his dad for the most part as his moms work took her out of town a lot. When he was 12 his mother suddenly found religion and married some Orthodox guy she met at a seminar. This made him curious about Judaism but he never did anything about it as he drifted farher and farther away from his Mom. His father was a staunch atheist and he valued education above everything else.
Here he was graduating from Medical School his face beaming, a tear escaping his left eye. He was flanked by his beautiful wife Pearl and his beaming parents. This was a bittersweet moment because in a month they were moving to Minneapolis where he was starting his internship at the prestigious Mayo Clinic.
A few weeks after moving, Pearl pushed him to go with her to a Kiruv class every week, which he enjoyed very much and thus they began their own slow yet fulfilling spiritual journey.
The sleep that Moshe so desired just would not come. He reached over and closed the lamp and leaned his head back.
Tears started flowing down his cheeks. Images of his smiling wife, his daughter and his parents danced before him. He fet like a failure. He was embarassed to look at his father. His one mission in life and he’d failed. His chest tightened as his fathers face grew stern and dark. Darkness came with the pain. He welcomed the pain as it brought with it darkness and in the darkness he couldn’t see anyone, until the dark was complete and everyone was gone.
The light was unlike any he had ever seen. He tried to move, but he couldn’t. It felt soothing and cleansing. His hand was held and it felt warm and comforting. He should’ve been wondering where he was or what was going on but it all somehow strangely made sense.
Then he heard that voice, that soothing soothing voice and he let it wash over him. The voice was saying such wonderful things. Things he’d never heard before. And then it would dissapear and he’d fall back into darkness.
Then it was back, the warm hand, the calm voice the words. Something about Pesach about the Korban Pesach and the deeper meaning of Matzah, something about something heard from his Rabbi Then it all dissapeared again. And again, the light, the voice, the thoughts, the hand and again…until one day he felt the need and found the strength to push up and his eyes fluttered open. He was in a room, lights, beeping sounds. He saw a clean white robe with blue lettering Mayo Clinic and the kindest brown eyes he had ever seen in his life. He then let it ebb away again, warm hand firmly in his and the calmest look on his face.