July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I heard him as soon as I climbed the steps and paid my fare. Actually, it was hard not to, as his booming voice filled the crowded crosstown bus.

“Thank you so much,” he shouted. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there before Shabbos. Thank you, thank you. I really appreciate it. Don’t worry. Before Shabbos.”

It seemed like the whole bus was listening to the voice that I now noticed belonged to a disheveled looking man speaking into an ancient looking cell phone. He was wearing a rumpled suit, and a large velvet yarmulke sat atop his graying hair. He must be a meshulach, collecting money for something, I thought. Can’t he speak more softly? It’s embarrassing.

As soon as the driver picked up speed, the man sat down in the only empty seat on the bus. Unfortunately, it was the one next to mine. I gazed down at the floor but that didn’t stop him from speaking again.

Are you Jewish? He asked in that too-loud voice.

I nodded in the affirmative. And on he went.

Where do you live?

What do you do?

I answered softly and monosyllabically, hoping my neighbor would tire of my brief replies or at least lower his voice to match my tone. But that didn’t happen and now everyone on the bus was being entertained by our exchange as he plowed on.

Where does your husband daven?

Do you know my cousin Simcha from Teaneck?

Not wanting to seem totally rude, I then asked him where he lived.

Where? What do you think? Boro Park, of course. Where else would I live?

A few minutes of blessed quiet ensued until the man perked up again. “How far are you going?” he now wanted to know.

Even more uncomfortable now, I hesitated a few seconds before answering. Was this meshuganeh going to follow me when I got off the bus? Stalk me? Was this guy dangerous?

“I’m going to NYU Langone,” I murmured. “Doctor’s appointment,” I added, hoping this would finally avert any further conversation. He wouldn’t harass me in a doctor’s office, would he?

Now my seatmate swiveled around in his seat, and stared deeply into my face. He then proceeded to repeat the words “Refuah shelaima, refuah shelaimah” (speedy recovery) at the top of his lungs, almost like an incantation. Finally, he rummaged in his pants pocket and retrieved a piece of paper which he forcefully thrust into my hand. It was a lottery ticket. “Here it’s for you. Refuah shelaimah.”

Not knowing what else to do, I took my car keys out of my handbag and scratched out the rows of numbers. To my surprise one of the rows was a match! I had won $1.00.

“Here,” I said to the man who sat watching me. “This really belongs to you. You won a dollar.”

“No, no,” my new friend insisted as he rose from his seat in the lurching bus and towered over me. “It’s for you. Give it to tzedakah. It’s for a refuah shelaimah.” And with that he smiled broadly at me and headed off of the bus muttering refuah shelaima all the way out the door.

I cashed in the ticket at a bodega on the way to the doctor’s office and my husband put the dollar in the tzedakah box in shul that very night. I don’t know what the rest of the people on the bus thought, but when I recounted the story later that day to my daughter, she said the man on the M42 was clearly Eliyahu Hanavi. Hey, you never know! From his mouth to God’s ears.

Estelle Glass, a Teaneck resident, is a retired educator who is now happily writing her own essays.

By Estelle Glass

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