Saturday morning I went for a walk through the old Bensonhurst area where my community first moved to from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They were all immigrants from Syria and although there were the Damascian (Shamie) Jews and the Aleppo (Halab) Jews – they were all one community.
As I was born in 1966, I did not experience the life lived by my ancestors at 2051 65th Street. Yet as I walked through the streets I felt myself traveling through time…as I sometimes choose to do.
I am sometime in the 1940’s after the war…its a friday afternoon and there are kids playing punchball on the street, stoop ball on the stoops and I can sense the aroma of Shabbat meals being prepared as I pass each home.
The doors to each home are open and there are some men in uniform and others in civilian clothes walking with a sense of urgency. I see a short familiar looking man walking and he is smiling and waving at some people sitting on their porch. He suddenly runs across the street and greets another short man, kissing his hand and then the other man puts his hand on his head, a smile and a “Shabbat Shalom.” I realize that is my father kissing the hand of his Rabbi, Hacham Murad Maslaton.
My father, not yet 40 years old…I follow him as he turns on 67th street and 18th Avenue towards 65th. He is walking very quickly and I try to keep up. I laugh to myself because here I am at 54 years old and my father is younger than I am.
Suddenly I find myself on another street…I am transported to another time, now I am outside of my grandfather’s barber shop and I think I see two of him? I have never met my grandfather but I have seen pictures of him and now I am unsure of my whereabouts.
There are so many people, an aroma of manure, coffee and strange roadkill? I look down and there are cobblestones and mud across the way. There is a pickle store with the barrels wide open and a liquor store right next to it. I see my grandfather and I am floored to see him, he looks like my father and the other man must be his brother Kamal.
A lady walks in and says something in Arabic I cannot understand. She ends the sentence with, “Moussa” . That is my grandmother – I only knew her when she was in her late 90’s. She is beautiful and she looks at me, stops and then turns to walk on.
I want to introduce myself to her, I want to tell her how amazing her son Sam will be and how each of her children will represent the Zalta family. They will always have a reputation for honesty, friendliness and for always helping others.
I want to run and hug my grandfather and tell him about the stories my father told me about him – I want to see him up close but as I open the door I am transported once again…
I am in a schoolyard and I see some girls standing and watching a group of boys playing stickball. A ball gets passed the pitcher and rolls towards me. I pick it up and its
a spalding. It seems thicker than the ones I grew up with a bit heavier…
“Thank you sir!” One of the kids is prodding me to throw the ball back and I do. The kid looks familiar but I am unsure. Suddenly I realize who it is and I am about to call his name when…
I am thrust back into time…I walk towards my home, Brooklyn in 2021.