“Borges y yo”, un mini-cuento por Steve Sadow

For the English version of this story, please see the November 24, 2017 post.

BORGES Y YO

Convencidos de caducidad

por tantas nobles certidumbres del polvo,

nos demoramos y bajamos la voz

entre las lentas filas de los panteones,

cuya retórica de sombra y de mármol

promete o prefigura la deseable dignidad

de haber muerto.

Jorge Luis Borges, “La Recoleta”

Una de esas tardes tibias del invierno bonarense, entré por el portal del mausoleo laberíntico La Recoleta donde quedan los restos de los próceres de la República Argentina—Sarmiento, Mitre, Avellaneda y aún Rosas. Más tarde estaría Evita, pero Juan Domingo Perón, no. También estaban enterrados allí notables de vida literaria y deportista del país.  No conocí el lugar, pero sí el poema de Borges sobre el cementerio, uno de sus más conocidos.

Entré y de repente me fijé  en Borges quien estaba de pie, no más de unos diez metros desde donde yo me paré. Nadie menos que Borges, acompañado por su traductor Norman Thomas DiGiovanni. Vi sus espaldas. Borges llevaba un traje gris; DiGiovanni un púlover. No hablaban ni se movían. Reflexionando, meditando tal vez. Inmóviles.

Sentía un fuerte deseo de interrumpirlos. No obstante, por respeto o por timidez o los dos, no hice nada. Por un instante, me captó el destello de un sepelio elegante de al lado. Cuando dirigí mi vista adonde los dos pausaban, nadie estuvo.

Borges se me había desaparecido.

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HOMENAJE A CHARLES PAPIERNIK/ HOMAGE TO CHARLES PAPIERNIK

HOMENAJE A CHARLES PAPIERNIK

(1917-2017)

Por Steve Sadow

En el momento de conocerlo en Buenos Aires en 2001, entendí inmediatamente que Charles Papiernik era la persona más merecedora de respeto y admiración que jamás había conocido. Diez y seis años más tarde no he cambiado de opinión. Hasta su muerte en 2007, Charles era energético, luchador y testarudo. También era adorable; como si poseyera un campo de fuerza que atrajera a otros hacia él. Pero era obvio que llevaba un gran cargo. Sin embargo, su sonrisa era lista and radiante. Era un verdadero “resiliente”.

Charles Papiernik era sobreviviente de cuatro años en Auschwitz y campos de concentración en Francia. Como testimonio de lo que había sufrido, escribió su autobiografía en París de 1946, muy poco después de ser liberado de Auschwitz. En este testimonio, contaba de los horrores que había observado en los campos. Su tono es muy personal. Describe a individuos que conoció, fueran prisioneros o asesinos nazi. Hablaba de “Escuela de construcción” donde él tenía que enseñar a judíos y gitanos jóvenes y cómo edificar campos de concentración nuevos. Allí, Papiernik trataba de ayudar a sus estudiantes o por lo menos extender sus vidas.

Después de la liberación, el Joint Distribution Committee lo traslado con su futura esposa Micheline a Montevideo donde vivía su hermana mayor. ¡Un año después, llegó de ser dueño de una fábrica de ropa de mujer! En los años 70, fue manager de otra empresa en Buenos Aires. Después de jubilarse a los setenta y cinco años, con su esposa Micheline, se convirtieron en portavoces de los sobrevivientes argentinos, dando testimonio sobre el Holocausto a organizaciones judías y no-judías por las ciudades y pueblos argentinos, en universidades, escuelas públicas y privadas argentinas y en el exterior.

Charles me pidió que tradujera su autobiografía. No vacilé en decirle que sí por razones personales y porque sabía que, en los Estados Unidos no tenían idea de que centenares de sobrevivientes y sus familias

vivieran en Sudamérica. Durante varias de mis visitas a Buenos Aires nos reunimos en su departamento para charlar, mientras comíamos la deliciosa cuisine judío-francesa de Micheline. Siempre me sentía muy en familia. Charles me contó de sus experiencias inimaginables y de las pesadillas espantosas que le perseguían desde los años 40.

Ilán Stavans, mi editor, me sugirió que Charles agregara una sección a la autobiografía que tratara de su vivía en el Uruguay y la Argentina después de la guerra. A Charles le encantó la idea. Con la ayuda de nuestro amigo Mario Ber, Charles que ya tenía más de ochenta años, relató de su familia, sus trabajos y su experiencia como portavoz de los sobrevivientes de la Shoá.

Titulado Unbroken: From Auschwitz a Buenos Aires (Inquebrantable: De Auschwitz a Buenos Aires), el libro fue publicado en 2004 por la University of New Mexico Press. Se vendió bien. Actualmente, 175 bibliotecas universitarias y públicas, en diez países, guardan copias del libro para que puedan leerlas sus lectores y las pidan de préstamo gente de todo el mundo.

Charles a la edad de ochenta y cuatro años, con Micheline, sus hijas Elena de Buenos Aires y Francis de Montevideo y su nieta Avital, la hija de Francis, cinco en total, volaron a Boston para participar en dos eventos que tuvieron lugar en “el Espacio Sagrado” un salón especial de Northeastern University donde yo era profesor. La primera noche, Charles disertó por más de una hora en una mezcla de español e idish. Yo le traduje al inglés para que lo entendieran los asistentes. La segunda noche, armamos un panel de la familia entera. Era necesario imponer límites a Charles para que los otros pudieran hablar sobre sus vidas como sobreviviente, hijas de sobrevivientes y nieta de sobrevivientes en Uruguay, Argentina e Israel.

Charles Papiernik tuvo una vida extraordinaria: estudiante del Talmud en Polonia, hombre joven en la Paris de los años 30, socio del Bund en Francia, una organización judío-socialista, luchador por los derechos humanos, preso en los campos de concentración nazis, dueño y manager de empresas en dos países latinoamericanos, como portavoz del Holocausto y sobre todo como esposo, padre, abuelo y bisabuelo.

Lo extraño mucho.

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HOMAGE TO CHARLES PAPIERNIK

(1917-2017)

By Steve Sadow

Frim the moment I met him in Buenos Aires in 2001, I understood that Charles Papiernik was the person most worthy of respect and admiration that I had ever known. Sixteen years later, I have not changed my mind.

Until his death in 2007, Charles was energetic, feisty and stubborn. He was also loveable; it was as if he possessed a force field that drew others to him. But it was obvious that he bore a great burden. Nevertheless, his smile was quick and a radiant. He was a truly “resilient person.”

Charles Papiernik was a survivor of four years in Auschwitz and concentration camps in France. As a testament to what he had suffered, he wrote his autobiography in Paris in 1946, very shortly after he was liberated. In his testament, he told of the horrors of what he had observed in the camps. His tone is quite personal. He describes the individuals he knew, be they prisoners or Nazi murderers. He spoke of the “Construction School” where he had to teach Jewish and Gypsy young men how to build new concentration camps. There, Papiernik tried to help his students or at least extend their lives.

After Liberation, the Joint Distribution Committee brought him with his future wife Micheline to Montevideo, where his elder sister lived. A year, later, he was the owner of a women’s clothing factory!  Then, in the 1970s, he became the manager of another such firm in Buenos Aires. After retiring at seventy-five, he and his wife Micheline became spokespersons for Argentine Holocaust survivors, giving testimony about the Holocaust to Jewish and non-Jewish organizations in the cities and towns of Argentina, in universities, public and private schools in Argentina and in other countries.

Charles asked me to translate his autobiography into English. I immediately agreed, for personal reasons, and because I knew that in the United States, nobody knew that there were hundreds of survivors and their families living in Latin America. During several of my visits to Buenos Aires, we met in his apartment to chat, while we ate Micheline’s delicious French-Jewish cuisine. I always felt very much at home. Charles told me about his unimaginable experiences and of the horrible dreams that pursued him since the 1940s.

Ilan Stavans, my editor, suggested to me that Charles add a section to the autobiography that dealt with his life in Uruguay and Argentina after the war. Charles was delighted by the idea. With the help of our mutual friend Mario Ber, Charles, who was by then over eighty years old, related stories about his family, his work and his experiences as a spokesperson for Holocaust survivors.

Entitled Unbroken: From Auschwitz a Buenos Aires (Inquebrantable: De Auschwitz a Buenos Aires,) the autobiography was published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2004. It sold well. Currently, 175 university and public libraries, in ten countries, hold copies that are available to their readers and through inter-library loan to people world-wide.

When he was eighty-four years old, Charles, along with Micheline, their daughters Elena and Francis, and their granddaughter Avital, Francis’ daughter, five in all, flew to Boston to participate in two events that took place in the “Sacred Space,” a special room at Northeastern University, where I was a professor. The first night, Charles lectured in a mixture of Spanish and Yiddish. I interpreted his words into English so the attendees could understand. The second night, we put together a panel of the entire family. It was necessary to put limits on Charles, so that the others had time to speak about their lives as a survivor, daughters of survivors and a granddaughter of survivors in Uruguay, Argentina and Israel.

Charles Papiernik had an extraordinary life: as a student of the Talmud in Poland, a young man in the Paris of the 1930s, a member of the Bund, the Jewish-Socialist organization, fighter for human rights, inmate in Nazi concentration camps, owner and manager of businesses in two Latin American countries, and a spokesperson for Holocaust survivors, and above all as a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

I miss him greatly.

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“Hechizo Sefaradí” por Carlos Szwarcer/ “Sephardic Charm” by Carlos Szwarcer

Carlos Szwarzer es historiador, periodista y cuentista judío-argentino. Es especialista en la historia de los sefardíes en la Argentina y ha coleccionado muchos testimonios orales de la gente vieja sefardí de los barrios de Buenos Aires.

Carlos Szwarcer is a Jewish-Argentine historian, journalist and short-story writer. He is a specialist in the history of Sephardic Jews of Argentina, and he has collected many oral testimonies from older people in Sephardic neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.

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HECHIZO SEFARADÍ

José tiene más de 80 años. Nació en  Villa Crespo, Buenos Aires. Su niñez estuvo estrechamente ligada a la calle Gurruchaga al 400 y sus cercanías; creció en “el medio de la Yudría”, sector del barrio en el que se concentraban los sefaradíes de habla judeo-española. El lugar tenía características muy especiales que sobresalían aún dentro del universo multicolor de Villa Crespo, donde los ashkenazíes (1) eran inmensa mayoría entre los judíos. Todos ellos coexistían con españoles, italianos, musulmanes, griegos, armenios, etc., pero desde las primeras décadas del siglo XX, Gurruchaga, ubicada entre Corrientes – por entonces llamada Triunvirato – y Camargo,  fue una típica callejuela de Izmir (Esmirna).

En verdad, José, apodado “Pepe”, no era sefaradí… pero lo parecía; era descendiente de una de las tantas familias de origen español de los inquilinatos donde convivían entremezcladas parentelas de distintas etnias, humildes y trabajadoras. La mayoría de los amigos de Pepe eran “turcos sefardíes”  y  conocía a la perfección sus costumbres, a tal punto que, se podría decir, era uno de ellos. Si hasta iba con aquella “barrita sefaradí”, a la tardecita, al templo de Camargo al 800 para  ganarse unas monedas de propina  ayudando a distribuir las kipás (2) a los varones que ingresaban  a orar.

Los años 30 del siglo pasado fueron difíciles, aunque dentro de una coyuntura de crisis, generalmente las familias se conformaban con poco. Los testimonios tienden a recordar lo cotidiano desde aspectos muchas veces presentados bajo un barniz de felicidad, producto de un tiempo que parece haber sido disfrutado con pequeñas cosas y aún las dificultades, derivadas de una incómoda situación económica, hoy son expresadas desde el humor o rememorando picardías o travesuras.

Pepe cuenta que su “hermano trabajaba en la pollería de la calle Gurruchaga, pelaba pollos y mi mamá me mandaba a comprar allá. Los huevos rotos los vendían más baratos y yo iba con una “lechera” y le decía a Gallizy – el dueño del local – ‘Hola, don Juan, dice mi mamá si me puede dar una docena de huevos rotos’. Y él me contestaba ‘Sí, claro, anda, decíle al Cholo’. Y yo le decía a mi hermano, que se iba al fondo, agarraba los huevos sanos, los golpeaba y los tiraba a la lechera, pero en vez de 12 tiraba como 50 huevos y cuando salía yo le decía ‘Dice mi hermano que ya está don Juan’. “A ver, qué te voy a cobrar si están todos rotos’ y no me cobraba nada”.  Con el rostro encendido y nostálgico por el recuerdo de esa artimaña Don Pepe continúa: “Y mi mamá pisaba todo, con cáscara y los colaba y hacía una masita que le enseñaron los turcos (sefardíes), que le llamaban “pan esponjado”, pan de España, después con lo que le quedaba le agregaba un poco de harina y estiraba la masa con una cuchara y se hacía como un huevo frito y hacía unas masitas: ‘Mulupitas’ y llevaba la fuente a la panadería para que se la hornearan. Aprendimos de los turcos… comíamos a cuturadas.” (3).  Ríe a carcajadas.

Asegura conocer muchos temas que cantaban los turcos y hurgando en su memoria, en tanto se humedecen sus ojos claros, alcanza a revivir con cierta dificultad, pero mucha alegría, algunos fragmentos: Ay! Yo me la llevé / abajo del puente / cuántos cuentos le conté / ni me lavo ni me peino / ni te pongas la mantilla / hasta que venga mi novio de la guerra de Sevilla. ¡Y Pepe sigue entonando Ay! Sí, ven Pupula ven / Pupula ven no te desbragues / que aquí nos pueden ver / toma por aquí toma por allí…” 

Claro que fue tanto el contacto con el mundo sefardí que se vio embelekado; las comidas, el cancionero, los refranes: “Mucho i bueno ke te de el Dió”, “Kamino de leche i miel ke se te haga” y, sobre todo,“la “grazia de sus muyeres”, hicieron  que se enamorara de la hija de un operario  del templo sefaradí de la vuelta. La familia de la novia solamente le pidió que no se casaran por iglesia y les deseó “parida de hiyos”. 

Sorprende escuchar en este criollo de apellido vasco, la perfecta cadencia y entonación de sus palabras en dyudesmo, tan cuidadosa y gratamente elegidas del baúl donde se guardan las vivencias más queridas, mientras se ilumina una vez más su rostro, como quién de pronto encontró un lugar y un tiempo en el que comenzó su felicidad.

Este testimonio, que es parte de la historia de una familia común de Villa Crespo, es reflejo de la convivencia e integración en un ámbito de diversidad cultural, donde el mundo sefardí, como observamos, fue y sigue siendo una fuente de hechizo y seducción, muchas veces irresistible.

Notas

  1. Judíos de habla idish. 2.
  2. Pequeño sombrero para cubrir la cabeza durante las ceremonias en el templo.
  3. En mucha cantidad.

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Sephardic Spell

José is more than eighty years old. He was born in Villa Crespo, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires. His childhood was tightly linked to 400 block or Gurruchaga Street and the area nearby; he grew up in “amidst the Yudería,” the part of the area inhabited by Sephardic Jews who spoke Ladino. José had unique characteristic that stood out even within the multicolor universe of Villa Crespo, where the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews were by far the majority of the Jewish community. All these Jews co-exited with Spaniards, Italians, Muslims, Greeks, Armenians and others. However, from the early decades of the twentieth century, Gurruchaga was a typical side street of Smyrna, Turkey.

In fact, José, nicknamed “Pepe” wasn’t a Sephardic Jew, but he looked like one. He was the descendant of one of so many tenants of Spanish origin, who lived mixed in with hardworking and modest family members from distinct ethnic groups. The majority of Pepe’s friends were” Sephardic Turks” and he knew their costumes perfectly, to the point that, you could say he was one of them. He even went to the temple on Camargo Street, in the early evening, to earn tips for helping distribute skullcaps to the men coming in to pray.

The thirties were difficult, though even during a crisis situation, the families, in general, made do with the little they had. Stories about those times tend to portray daily life with a veneer of happiness, product of a time that that seems to have been enjoyed with little things, and even the difficulties, derived from an uncomfortable economic situation, are today remembered with humor or by remembering mischief and pranks.

Pepe recalls that “his brother worked in the poultry shop on Guchurraga Street, plucking chickens, and my mother sent me to buy there. Broken eggs would be sold cheaper, and I would go there with a “milk can,” and I said to Galizy, the owner of the shop. “Hello, don Juan, my mother wants to know if can give me a dozen broken eggs.” And he answered me, “Yes, of course, go on, tell Cholo.” And I told my brother, who went to the back, grabbed unbroken eggs, broke them and threw then into the milk pail, but instead of 12 he threw in about 50. And when I came out, I said, “My brother says, that here they are.”  With his face reddening and nostalgic for that ruse, don Pepe continued, “And my mother stepped on all of them, shells and all and strained them and make pastries in the way the Turks (Sephardic Jews) had taught her. They were called “esponyada,” Spanish bread. Then, with what was left over, she added a bit of flour and stirred the dough with a spoon formed it as if it were a fried egg, and make pastries called “Mulupitas.” She carried the platter to the pastry shop, for them to be baked. We learned from the Turks,. and we ate a lot.” He guffawed.

He claims to know many tunes that the Turks used to sing, and delving into his memory, his light eyes became moist, he began to relive, with some difficulty, but a lot of pleasure, some fragments: Ay! Yo me la llevé / abajo del puente / cuántos cuentos le conté / ni me lavo ni me peino / ni te pongas la mantilla / hasta que venga mi novio de la guerra de Sevilla. Y Pepe sigue entonando: Ay! Sí, ven Pupula ven / Pupula, ven no te desbragues/que aquí nos pueden ver / toma por aquí toma por allí…”(Ay, I brought her/under the bridge… I told her so many stories… I won’t wash, I won’t comb my hair… don’t put on the mantilla/until my boyfriend comes from Seville.) And Pepe went on singing, “Sí, ven Pupula ven / Pupula ven no te desbragues / que aquí nos pueden ver/ toma por aquí toma por allí…” (“Yes, come, Pupiua, come Pupula, come, don’t get undressed/They can see us here/ drink here here/drink from from there… “).

Certainly, he had so much contact with the Sephardic Jews that he found himself fascinated by it; the meals, the songbook, the proverbs: Mucho i bueno ke te de el Dió”,( That God give you much and good;” Kamino de leche i miel ke se te haga” Let you be given a path of milk and honey:” and above all, la “grazie de sus muyeres”, “the grace of the women” cause him to fall in love with the daughter of a worker in the Sephardic temple around the corner. The bride’s parents asked him only that they woundn’t marry in the church and wished for them thec“parida de hiyos” “the birth of children.”

It is surprising to hear in this native-born Argentine with a Basque surname, the perfect cadence and intonation of dyudesmo (Ladino,) so carefully and pleasingly chosen from the trunk where the dearest experiences are kept, while his face was once more illuminated, as with someone who suddenly found a place and time in which his happiness began.

This testimonial, that is part of the history of an average family in Villa Crespo, is the reflection of the living together and integration in a social environment, where the Sephardi world, as we have observed was and continues to be a source of enchantment and seduction, so many times irresistible.

Translated by Steve Sadow

 

 

Grandpa Joe

MY GRANDPA JOE

(1886-1961)

By Stephen A. Sadow

Let me begin by saying that Grandpa Joe Sadow was and is my idol. That is to say that the following account comes from my own memories of him until I was fifteen, the year that he died. They are enhanced by comments made by other relatives, particularly my parents Lenny and Jessie Sadow—while Joe was alive and thereafter. Therefore, what I am about to relate is how I remember a great man who had an enormous influence on me.

The Sadow family myth is that when Joe arrived along at Ellis Island, after a voyage in steerage from Moscow via Hamburg, he was met by an aunt (probably his sponsor) whose last name was Sadowsky—we don’t know who she was or who else she might have been related to. As the story goes, the Irish immigration changed his name from “Yussel Tchezik” to “Joe Sadow.” Yussle became Joe and Chezik metamorphosed into Sadow.  (All of this is highly unlikely, as Ellis Island immigration agents did not, as a practice, change immigrant’s names.)

He spoke only very rarely about Moscow, except to say that a limited number of Jews were allowed to live there. His father was a butcher who sold tref (non-Kosher) meat to Russian Orthodox clients, and that during the long Russian winters the Volga River froze so hard that they laid railroad track and ran trains over it (I’ve never verified this.)

My clearest memory of Grandpa Joe is when he took me into the foyer of the apartment to show me his books. He did this a number of times. He was very proud of his books. He had hardbound copies of the great Russian classics, in Russian, of course; he had a collection of literature and a bunch of pamphlets in Yiddish; and he had what appeared to be some sort of encyclopedia written in English. He also showed me that day’s editions of the Forvertz, the Yiddish daily newspaper and one of New York’s daily. I was about eleven years old, an avid reader myself, and was awestruck. Once, he asked me if I was going to learn Russian. It was, in his words, an “easy” language! Joe had had very little formal education, but he was well read in three languages, no less.  To his misfortune, Grandpa Joe was woefully near-sighted, and the eyeglasses of the 1950’s didn’t help him much (though I don’t ever remember seeing him without them.)  He once tried out a set of “bottle glasses” which had lenses about ten inches long: they didn’t work well either. When he read, he wore his glasses and used a magnifying glass up close to the paper.

Once, I told Grandpa Joe that, in school, we had read How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis, an early photojournalist who recorded life in the slums of New York. I mentioned that the worst conditions were on Cherry Street on the Lower East Side of New York City. Grandpa replied, “I lived on Cherry Street.”

Joe had the habit of humming songs as he went through the day. He urged me to do the same. To my wives’s chagrin, I still do so.

When I was about thirteen, Grandpa Joe took me with him to the Luxor Turkish Baths on 34th Street in Manhattan. In those days, Turkish Baths were a Jewish immigrant institution, and the Luxor Baths were known as about the best around. After we entered, we went into the locker room where we stripped down to our skin and wrapped ourselves in large bed sheets, supplied by the management. To my amazement, the “baths” included steam baths and “the pine-scented room,” that is, a steam bath in which pine oil had been added to the water. There were fire hoses alternately spraying intense bursts of hot and cold water. Most impressive were the masseurs. These were enormous men who were capable of untying the tightest muscles. They spoke no English, but rather grunted in Russian or some such language. Since many men spent the whole day at the bath or even all night, there was a cafeteria that served meals at all hours. Grandpa and I were on line, just behind a huge masseur. Grandpa told the man behind the counter, “I’ll have what he’s having!” What the masseur had ordered was a whole apple pie, a pint of vanilla ice cream and a quart bottle of Pepsi-Cola. Grandpa ordered sandwiches.

Joe and Rose met in New York. He came from Russia, she from Lithuania. As they couldn’t speak together in their native languages, they communicated in Yiddish and later on in English too.  Long before I knew him, Grandpa Joe had been a cigar-smoking, burly-chested foreman in a factory that made corrugated boxes. He and Grandma Rose, Saul, Lillian and “Lenny, the student” lived in the Morris Park section of the Bronx.  By the time I knew him in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, he was a thin, grey-haired older man, who usually wore checkered or plaid shirts. The changeover had come in 1943, when at age fifty-eight he suffered a serious heart attack, so serious they thought, that my father was summoned back from a ship in the South Pacific. Joe survived the heart attack, but retired so he could receive a small pension from the factory. (Today, he would have gone back to work.)

At some point, I’m not sure when, Joe and Rose moved to a one and a half room (the half being the kitchen) apartment on Brighton 6th Street in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, which is where I knew them. –Brighton Beach had been originally developed as a seaside day resort for those New Yorkers who could afford to spend the night at one of its hotels. Though the ocean hadn’t moved and the Boardwalk was still there, the Brighton Beach where grandpa and grandpa lived was made up of aging apartment buildings, inhabited primarily by aging Jews—.

Grandpa and Grandma lived on the sixth and highest floor of their particular building: I have a strong olfactory memory of rancid chicken soup, encountered as we rode the elevator. The apartment itself was tiny, positively suffocating when our families came to visit, which was often. Grandpa did most of the cooking, and his repertoire was limited:  grapefruit to  start, boiled chicken with potatoes and a vegetable, and ice cream for dessert. On occasion, there was gefilte fish or chav, that is, jellied calves feet (I detested it.)

Grandma Rose suffered terribly from asthma, and often had attacks while cooking. So, in that household, “just what Mama used to make” was often burnt. Grandma did cut the onions. The kitchen window faced the black, iron fire escape. Rose would put the onions and chopping board outside that window, then close the windows onto her wrists, so that the onions wouldn’t make her cry.

Years earlier, Grandpa Joe had done everything he could to help alleviate Grandma’s asthma. There was no air conditioning, of course.

Each late spring and summer, when the pollen count was the high, Rose would spend those weeks at a hotel, built for especially for asthma victims in the piney White Mountains of New Hampshire. Most Friday nights, Grandpa would take the train to the Granite State to visit her; he would return to the Bronx on Sunday night.

Of course, Grandpa was not perfect. He had an explosive temper, and often blew up at Grandma for reasons I could not possibly comprehend. But to me, he was always the sweetest man. Moreover, he was my direct connection to the Old Country, the world of European Jewry that was gone before I was born and to the world of the Jewish immigrants in New York. He attended an orthodox shul around the corner from his apartment. He couldn’t be called a regular, but he knew the service by heart. The only time I remember that he wore a suit when he attended my Bar Mitzvah. That day, Grandma Rose proudly wore the mink stole that the family had bought for her. Grandpa Joe died the next year, age seventy-five. Grandma Rose died a few months later, at seventy-five more or less (no one every knew the day or year in which she was born; she chose July 4 as her birthday.)

I’ve spent a great deal of my career involved in Jewish Studies. When I first arrived in Buenos Aires, in 1972, the Villa Crespo neighborhood reminded me of the Brooklyn of my childhood. I subscribe to the weekly Forward, an English-language reincarnation of the Forvertz. During the last couple of years, I’ve been teaching myself Yiddish. When I study, I think of Grandpa Joe.

“Borges and Me” A Short-Short Story by Steve Sadow

Borges and Me

Jorge Luis Borges, “La Recoleta”

Convinced of demise

by many noble certainties of dust,

we delay and sink our voice

between the slow lines of pantheons,

Whose rhetoric to shadow and marble,

Promise or prefigure the dignity of having died.

Translated by Aaron Goekleer

On one of those mild winter evenings in Buenos Aires, I walked through the imposing entrance gate of the labyrinthine Recoleta cemetery. There lie the remains of the illustrious heroes of the Argentine Republic– Sarmiento, Mitre, Avellaneda and even Rosas. Later on, Evita would be there, but Juan Domingo Perón, never made it. Also interred there are the country’s literary and sports notables. I was totally ignorant about this national monument, but I was well aware of Jorge Luis Borges’ poem about the cemetery, one of his best-known works.

I entered and immediately, and to my amazement, caught sight of Borges himself, standing not more than twelve feet from me. Literary. Borges, no less, accompanied by his translator Thomas DiGiovani, standing in from of crypt. I saw them from behind. Borges was wearing a gray suit, DiGiovani a sweater. Not talking or moving. Reflecting, perhaps meditating. Motionless.

I felt an intense desire to interrupt them. Nevertheless, through respect, timidity, or both, I did nothing. For an instant I looked away, my gaze fixed on an elegant tomb. When I looked back, the two were no longer there.

  Borges had disappeared.

By Stephen A. Sadow

Un cuento mío escrito en español. (One of my stories written in Spanish (An English translation will appear in a later post.)

LA CABALA EN D. F.

–México, D.F. es una ciudad religiosa y espiritual. Aquí pasan cosas que no son del todo entendible racionalmente–me decían unos amigos judo-mexicanos cuando tomábamos cerveza una noche en un café de la Colonia Polanco. “Entonces los judíos en su mayoría también somos creyentes, algunos hasta místicos”, agregó un compañero de origen argentino.  Ahora los entiendo.

Cuatro años antes, yo había presentado mi antología de “Literatura y cultura judío-latinoamericanas contemporáneas” en la Cafebrería-El Péndulo, una librería espectacular visualmente y amplísima en el rango de sus ofertas. Como es de costumbre allí, después de hablar yo, había un panel de expertos que comentan (casi siempre en un modo muy favorable) al contenido y calidad del libro. En el panel ése, participaron tres miembros de la flor y nata de la intelectualidad mexicano –judía: la novelista y fotógrafa Ivonne Saed, el periodista José Gordon y la novelista, poeta y experta del misticismo Angelina Muñiz-Huberman. Nos escucharon noventa asistentes.

Para la noche siguiente, Angelina nos invitó a mi esposa Norma y a mí a cenar en su casa Ella vive con su marido el físico Alberto Huberman en un apartamento sobre un callejón sin salida en la Colonia Insurgentes no tan lejos de Universidad Nacional Autónoma Mexicana (UNAM) donde los dos son profesores. Al lado de su edificio, hay un convento.

Los taxistas no conocen la calle. Por esa razón, Angelina le da a cada visitante instrucciones precisas y detalladas con muchos puntos de referencia. Durante el viaje, yo me concentraba tanto de instruir al taxista—pase al Centro Atlético, doble a la derecho después de . . .–que no pensaba en otra cosa. Al llegar le di una propina al taxista y accidentalmente dejé mi cámara en el asiento trasero Me di cuenta inmediatamente de mi error, pero estuvo demasiado tarde; el taxi había desaparecido en el tremendo tráfico de D.F. Me sentía mal, pero qué hacer.

Por una hora y media, Norma y yo nos divertíamos mucho con los Angelina y Alberto. Charlamos de todo:  la política, nuestros hijos y algo de la cábala sobre la cual Angelina es experta. La comida fue excelente. Antes de las nueve y media, escuchamos un golpeteo a la puerta. Con un poco de aprehensión Alberto abrió la puerta de par en par. ¡Era el taxista y tenía en las manos mi cámara! Tratamos de darle una propina grande, pero el hombre no quiso aceptarla. Dejando la cámara con Alberto, salió diciendo, “Que Dios los bendiga”. Angelina exclamó, “¡Una cosa semejante nunca ocurre en México!” Más, tarde Norma y yo regresamos al hotel sin problema. Ese taxista conoció el lugar.

Cuatro años más tarde, volví a D.F y a la Cafebrería -El Péndulo; viajé solo esa vez. Vine para presentar los catorce libros de artista que habíamos armado en Buenos Aires unos colegas y yo.[i]  Después de disertar yo, cinco poetas judío-mexicanas—entre ellas, Angelina, Becky Rubenstein, Jenny Asse Chayo— leyeron de sus poemarios.   Nos escucharon a eso de cien personas.

Para la noche siguiente, Angelina me invitó a cenar en su un apartamento sobre un callejón sin salida en la Colonia Insurgentes no tan lejos de UNAM donde es profesora. Al lado de su edificio, hay un convento’

Los taxistas ya no conocen la calle. Durante el viaje, yo me concentraba tanto darle instrucciones al taxista—“pase al Centro Atlético, doble a la derecha después de…–que no pensaba en otra cosa. Al llegar le di una propina al taxista y accidentalmente dejé en el asiento trasero el catálogo de los libros de artista que iba a regalarle a Angelina. Me di cuenta inmediatamente de mi error, pero estuvo demasiado tarde; el taxi había desaparecido en el tremendo tráfico de D.F. Me sentía mal, pero qué hacer.

Por casi dos horas, Angelina y yo charlamos. Nos discutimos el misticismo hispano-hebreo, la literatura comparada y las actitudes de nuestros estudiantes. La comida fue excelente. Se hizo tarde y nos despedimos. Regresé al hotel sin problema. ¡Ese taxista conoció el lugar!

A mi entrada al Hotel Obelisk, la recepcionista me comentó, “Hay un libro aquí para usted, señor Sadow.  Un taxista se lo dejó”. Fue el catálogo. “¡Una cosa semejante nunca ocurre en México!”, insistió la recepcionista.  ¡Pero a mí, sí— dos veces!

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[i] Los libros de artista son libros armados por artistas plásticos. Cada uno es único. Es una forma de arte iniciada en la Edad Media, desarrollado por William Blake y luego por los surrealistas. En este caso, los libros miden 28 cm. de altura y 14 cm. de anchura. Cada uno incluye un poema de un diferente poeta judío-latinoamericano, la traducción del poema al inglés y también una obra de arte inspirada por el poema hecha por un artista plástico judío-latino-americano.