For reasons I’m not entirely certain of, this became the Rosh Hashana song for me.
Many years running, and long-alienated from religious faiths or belonging, I walked on East Broadway each year when this holiday came.
Not so long ago, the air used to turn cold then. Gray-bearded Orthodox and Hasidim in long black caftans rocked and swayed in the study houses that remained, to the east down the blocks from the Forward building.
I looked into the windows and remembered how I’d felt to be in East Berlin, in Prague, and in Budapest in 1986, finding noodle shops with spare lunch eaters with pickled cucumber sides.
Here, I spent several gray, cool September late afternoons between benches in Seward Park and the Bialystocker home for the aged.
I peered – a complete stranger – at the barred windows of the Mikvah, having circled past Essex Street where imminent decrepitude haunted shops where I bought farmer cheese, and cassettes of old recordings of cantors.
He peered above his white beard at me over the cluttered counter and asked me “how do you know Cantor Sirota?“
I told him I had records of the music, and paid him a few dollars.
The cafe on the corner where I.B. Singer ate his eggs and coffee.
The Hungarian and German bakeries that had the butteriest mundt cake and rugelach i’d ever touched.
The time I walked to the fences at the Park boundary then up to the bridge, and threw bread into the river, while old women did the same some feet away, reciting prayers.
Nearby, the Al Smith house on Oliver Street. P.S.001 on Henry Street.
The St James Church on James between James and Madison, where once the Ancient Order of Hibernians congregated.
And the Mariner’s Church, apparently once a comfort to workers and merchant seamen.
Later, I brought Rui down here to feel the passage of time and the atmosphere of old city park, autumnal air, waning cultural solidity in the specificity of this urban geographic setting. I’ve wished so many times to return here with him on my shoulder as I did then.
My loss was his loss. And now where is our remainder?
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – —
“Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river.
She is wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters.
And the sun pours down like honey on Our Lady of the Harbor.
And she shows you where to look amid the garbage and the flowers.
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning.
They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever,
While Suzanne holds the mirror.”