The Amazon’s magical mystery rabbi


Details of Rabbi Shalom Emmanuel Muyal’s mission and death in the Amazon remain obscure, but that’s nothing compared to the mystery of his afterlife.

Local Catholics have named him the Santo Judeu Milagreiro de Manaus, or the Holy Jewish Miracle Worker of Manaus. His tomb receives regular visits from Christians who attribute magic to his spirit.

Nobody can say for sure why Muyal set off from Morocco to the Brazilian Amazon in 1908. The most likely story seems to be that he was sent by Morocco’s chief rabbi to touch base with the rain forest faithful.

Like all travelers back then, Muyal began his Amazon expedition near the mouth of the river in the city of Belm, and worked his way upriver. By 1910, he had traversed the nearly 1,000 miles to Manaus, then a city of 50,000.

In his book, “Two Years Among the Indians,” German anthropologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg, who passed through the town a few years before the rabbi, warned of a “dangerous ‘Manaus fever,’ that nearly every year kills a quantity of foreigners.” Muyal caught something, probably yellow fever, and died on March 10, 1910.

Manaus didn’t have a Jewish cemetery until the 1920s, so Muyal was buried with non-Jews in the Sâo Joâo Batista Municipal Cemetery. In keeping with tradition, members of the Jewish community built a small wall around the tomb. The headstone featured inscriptions in Hebrew and Portuguese.

By all accounts, nobody really wanted to hang out at the rabbi’s deathbed — nobody except a woman named Cota Israel, who faithfully attended to Muyal until he died.

After the rabbi’s death, Israel developed a knack for helping people iron out kinks — muscle pulls, twisted ankles and knees, fractures and back problems.

“Just a common woman, she began to treat people as would a physical therapist today,” said Isaac Dahan, a doctor who also serves as the Jewish community’s prayer leader in Manaus.

There’s no record of when Muyal himself was first credited with miracles, but members of Manaus’ Jewish community born in the 1930s remember hearing stories about him when they were children.

Dozens of beneficiaries have attached plaques to the rabbi’s tomb. Most simply announce a “graãa alcanãada,” or miracle performed, without specifying the details. Most are not dated, but the oldest with a date is from July 18, 1975.

A few years later, around 1980, a member of Israel’s Parliament named Eliahu Moyal learned from a friend of the late miracle-performing rabbi in Brazil. Muyal determined that the man had been his long-lost uncle.

He sent a letter to the Amazonas Israelite Committee in Manaus asking whether the remains could be sent to Israel for reburial. After some soul searching, community leaders regretfully denied Moyal’s request.

“How could we? He’d become a saint,” Dahan said. “We can’t even move him to our cemetery nearby.”

Christians continued their pilgrimages to the tomb, lighting candles and leaving offerings.

Many members of the 200-family Manaus community find the phenomenon a bit curious, but they don’t begrudge the Catholics their Holy Rabbi.

“Nobody can disrespect the beliefs of the city where we live,” Dahan said.

— Bill Hinchberger, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Over a Cliff


I once heard a colleague recount how, after lecturing about God, a man came up and told him that he was impressed with his lecture. He explained that although he wasn’t personally observant and didn’t attend synagogue, he had a close relationship with the Almighty.

This intrigued the rabbi who asked the man to elaborate. To his surprise, the man claimed that God had created miracles just for him.

Impressed with this comment the rabbi said, “Wow, you really must be special because God hasn’t done this for anyone else that I know. Please tell me, what kind of miracle did He perform on your behalf?”

The man explained that it happened while cycling as a professional cyclist. On one of his tours in Europe he was cycling on a very steep hill in northern Italy, when an 18-wheeler came around the turn and pushed him off a cliff. As he was flying through the air he thought it was all over, but then he enjoyed a cushion landing with out a scratch.

“Rabbi,” he said, “after that moment in my life I realized God loves me and ever since we have had a close relationship. ”

After hearing the story, my colleague replied, “Your experience is awe-inspiring. But tell me, did you ever stop to think about who pushed you off the cliff in the first place?”

In this week’s Torah portion we are challenged not only to think about the God of salvation but also about the God who creates those situations that make us realize that life can never be taken for granted. The opening sentence in the portion states, “And Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan.”

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) remarks that Rabbi Yochanan noted, “Whenever the word ‘Vayeshev’ (and he dwelt), is mentioned in the Torah, it portends anguish.”

But what could Rabbi Yochanan have meant with this perplexing statement?

The classical medieval commentator, Rashi, explains that “Jacob wanted to dwell in peace and tranquility,” but the Holy One challenged this request.

“The Holy One Blessed Be He, said, ‘Is it not enough that he will enjoy eternal peace, in the next world, does he want tranquility and contentment in this life, too?”‘

According to Rabbi Yochanan the word, “Vayeshev” signals that difficulties lie ahead because it implies complacency, contentment and a willingness to accept the status quo in exchange for “peace of mind.” When this happens, life no longer is a challenge. Horizons shrink and vision narrows to the point where man can no longer achieve further greatness.

All real achievements in history occurred because there were discontented individuals who envisioned a better society. Just think for a moment about the great men and women of history, whether they were biblical heroes or heroines or great Americans such as the signers of the Declaration of Independence. None of these ever settled for an “old age pension.” They weren’t complacent. They recognized that difficulties represent as great a message from God as do miracles.

The great sin of our generation is the idolatry of complacency. We search for security and peace of mind. Gone is the challenge of creating a better tomorrow. The beauty of Judaism, however, is that it teaches us to avoid “Vayeshev,” tranquility and a sense of peace, when it affects our spiritual lives. We must stress the need to climb a new mountain, to reach a new goal, to search for a new horizon.

No matter the situation, the Jew knows that acceptance of the status quo, the “Vayeshev” approach, portends anguish. Rather we must be sensitive to the push from God, for it awakens us to appreciate all the gifts that he bestows upon us.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin is spiritual leader of Young Israel of Century City.

 

Silence Is Golden


A saleswoman, driving home in northern Arizona, sees a Navajo woman hitchhiking, stops the car and invites the Navajo woman to join her.

As they drive, the Navajo woman glances repeatedly at a brown bag on the front seat between them.

“If you are wondering what’s in the bag,” the saleswoman offers, “it’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.”

The Navajo woman is silent for a while, then nods several times and says, “good trade.”

Chauvinism, of one kind or another, probably has always been with us. This week’s Torah reading, Parshat Vayera, for example, appears to lend itself to the charge of male chauvinism. The Torah tells us that the three angels who came to visit Abraham brought news that Sarah would give birth to Abraham’s son. Sarah laughed when she heard this, whereupon God chastised her, saying to Abraham, “Why is it that Sarah laughed … is anything too hard for the Eternal?” (Genesis 18:13-14).

Our sages point out that this sharp response seems strange considering that in last week’s Torah reading, when God told Abraham that he would have a son from Sarah, he, too, laughed, yet in that instance God was not critical at all.

Why the different treatment? Could sexual discrimination be at the heart of the disparity or something else? Perhaps we can find our answer in a suggestion made by the late Hannah Levine, wife of the late saintly Rabbi Aryeh Levine, known as the Tzadik of Jerusalem.

Hannah Levine suggested that the story of the Shunamit woman and the prophet Elisha mentioned in the haftorah for this week’s Torah portion can help solve our question. The story relates that the woman’s young son came running in from the field in great pain screaming, “My head! My head!” and then died. The woman took the boy, placed him upon Elisha’s bed in the room that she had prepared for the prophet in her home, and set out to find the prophet.

The woman then asked her husband to provide a chariot and driver for her so that she could find Elisha. Puzzled, he wanted to know why, to which she replied with one word, shalom. When she finally reached the prophet, he saw her from afar and sent his assistant to find out if everything was well with her, to which she answered only one word: shalom. The story continues that Elisha knew something was wrong, went back with her and revived the child.

We, however, must wonder why the Shunamit woman responded to each query with the one word, shalom, when everything was the antithesis of peace. Hannah Levine suggests that this teaches us a lesson. For a miracle to work, one cannot drown it in everyday verbiage. Once it is subsumed by ordinary reality, the miracle will not occur.

Rashi, the classical medieval biblical commentator, offers a similar observation in regard to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah’s laugh reflected ordinary incredulity. She scoffed. She verbalized. As her words indicate, she did not believe such a promise could be fulfilled.

Abraham’s laugh, the Torah tells us, “was in his heart” (Genesis 17:17), but it expressed delight. Not a torrent of words but a simple, heartfelt laugh, reflected firm belief that the promise would be fulfilled.

What a powerful lesson for us who live in this information age, besieged by torrents of words. If we would realize that it is not so much what we say but what we do and what we feel in our hearts that can cause miracles to happen, then, like Abraham, we could influence a whole world for good.

This column originally appeared in The Journal on Nov. 14, 2003.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Jewish Wizard Takes Flight in New Potter Book


Are there Jews at Hogwarts? The world’s most famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry might be muggle-free, but it is possible that it has an equal-opportunity policy for Jewish wizards.

In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth of seven books in J.K. Rowling’s insanely popular children’s series, readers are introduced to one Anthony Goldstein.

The book doesn’t tell us much about Anthony, but we can ascertain certain things. He is in Ravenclaw, which means he is of "the sharpest mind" according to the "sorting hat." Because Anthony is a prefect, he is a considered to be a leader among his classmates. We know that he is one of the good guys, because he joins "Dumbledore’s Army," the defense against the dark arts class that Harry teaches after the unctuous professor Dolores Umbridge removes anything remotely practical from their defense lessons.

Representatives at Scholastic Books, the publisher of the Harry Potter series, said they had "no idea" if Anthony is Jewish or not, and Rowling was unavailable for comment. However, Dr. Raymond Jones, a professor of English at the University of Alberta, who teaches literature courses in "Harry Potter," said that is was highly probable that Anthony is Jewish.

"One of the things that is happening here is that Rowling is making the school contemporary," Jones said. "The school seems quite old-fashioned — they use quills and not computers — but, by populating her school with a variety of ethnic backgrounds, she is admitting to the reality of modern England and modern America."

But even if Anthony and others are Jewish, don’t expect them to start lighting the menorah too soon; according to Jones, religion plays no role of any kind in Harry Potter — where the only miracles are ones done by the wizarding community.

Another Oil Miracle


Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is a time to recall the miracle that occurred more than 2,000 years ago, and celebrate the discovery of the small amount of oil that burned for eight days, the amount of time needed to prepare pure oil from the local olive trees to rekindle the flame. That miracle is the focus of the Chanukah celebration that begins at sundown Friday, Nov. 29. Was it also a miracle that this event occurred at this time, since the months of November and December are the usual time for the olive harvest?

In early November this year, we joined Faith Willinger, our Florence-based food-journalist friend, on a trip to Naples and the Campania area of Italy. One of the highlights of our trip was spending several days at the hotel-restaurant La Caveja, located in the small village of Pietravairano, just a one-hour drive north of Naples.

At our first meal, La Caveja’s owner, Berardino Lombardo, placed a bottle of olive oil on the table and directed us to use it on almost every dish. The olive oil was bright green, fruity and delicious. When we asked him when the olive oil had been pressed, his answer was “early this morning.” The next day, he invited us to join him to pick olives and watch the crush at the local frantoio (olive oil mill). We were delighted and accepted his offer.

This small olive mill custom crushes olives from the nearby area for small local growers. Families had brought their olives and were waiting with their children, huddled in the cold, while their olives were pressed into oil.

Then every shape container possible was filled with this liquid gold. It was exciting to see all the activity.

When we arrived at the olive oil mill, our olives were in a large wooden container ready to be processed. The olives were first washed, then crushed into a paste. The paste was then pressed to produce organic extra virgin olive oil. As the flow of newly pressed olive oil began to glow, a small amount was poured into a pitcher, and Berardino brought out fresh bread to dip into the oil. It was the first time we had ever tasted olive oil that was only minutes old and it was absolutely delicious!

On my return from Italy, I was inspired, during Chanukah, to serve our family several of the dishes that were introduced to us by Berardino. They are perfect for the holiday as all these dishes use either olives or foods fried in olive oil. Included are Potato Gnocchetti, Olive Fritte, Fried Zucchini Sticks and Frittelle.

One of our family Chanukah traditions is to exchange gifts, and this year we are giving each of our guests a bottle of fresh Italian olive oil to take home.

Olive Fritte (Cicchetti)

36 pitted green olives

1 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup fine dry bread crumbs (try mixed with Parmesan)

Olive oil for deep frying

1. Place the olives in a bowl, cover with cold water and allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes to remove some of the salt. Rinse the olives and dry them well.

2. Roll the olives lightly in flour, then dip in beaten egg, and roll them in bread crumbs to coat. Transfer to a paper towel- lined plate and refrigerate one hour.

3. In a skillet or deep fryer, heat 2-to 3-inches of oil over medium heat. Place the olives in the oil and fry them, rolling them around to brown evenly.

4. Remove the olives with a slotted spoon and spread on paper towels to drain. Serve while still warm. They can be held for a few hours, then reheated in a 250 F oven. Makes 36.

Fried Potato Gnocchetti

1 large potato (about 1 pound)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1 cup fine dried bread crumbs

Olive oil for frying

1. Peel potatoes and cut in cubes. Place on steam rack over boiling water. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer to a large glass bowl, mash with a potato masher and let cool slightly. Add butter, cheese, egg, salt and pepper and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Add additional grated Parmesan or bread crumbs if potato mixture is too moist.

2. To shape potato mixture, oil the palm of your hands and roll a tablespoon of the mixture between your palms into an egg shape. Spread crumbs on a shallow dish and coat gnocchetti lightly with crumbs. Place on a paper towel-lined platter and refrigerate until ready to fry.

3. Heat about 1-2 inches of oil in a medium skillet. When oil is hot, fry a few gnocchetti until they are golden brown on all sides, about two minutes. Remove with the slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Transfer to a large dish and serve hot.

Fried Zucchini Sticks

4 medium zucchini, unpeeled

1 cup flour

1 cup bread crumbs

2 garlic cloves, peeled

6 fresh basil leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried basil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 eggs

Vegetable oil for frying

Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into quarters; cut in half, crosswise, and set aside.

In a small, brown paper bag, place the flour and set aside. In the bowl of a processor or blender, blend the bread crumbs, garlic and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place this mixture in another small, brown paper bag and set aside. Place the eggs in a bowl and beat well.

2. Drop four to six zucchini sticks into the bag containing the flour, shaking the bag to coat. Transfer to a metal strainer and shake off the excess flour. Dip the flour-coated zucchini into the beaten egg and then coat with the bread-crumb mixture. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. (You can hold them at this point for at least one hour.)

3. Preheat the oil in a deep-fryer or wok to 375 F.

4. Drop the coated zucchini sticks into the heated oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Transfer them to a napkin-covered basket or platter; sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Frittelle (Fried Ribbons)

11¼2 cups flour

11¼2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch salt

Grated zest of 1 orange

11¼2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons milk

1 large egg

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

Olive oil for frying

Powdered sugar for garnish

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, salt and orange zest. Add the butter and blend until crumbly.

In a small bowl, beat the milk, egg, orange juice and vanilla together. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture all at once and blend until the dough comes away from the bowl. Place wax paper on work surface and sprinkle with flour. Knead the dough into a ball, and divide in half. Using a rolling pin, roll each half of the dough out very fine on the prepared work surface until it is 1¼8-1¼4-inch thick. Using a scalloped ravioli cutter or a knife, cut the dough into ribbons about 4-inches long and 1-inch wide.

Heat oil in a heavy deep-sided frying pan to 350 F, and fry a few of the ribbons at a time very quickly — 20 seconds — until golden. Drain on plates lined with paper towels, cool slightly and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Variations: Twist the ribbon twice and pinch it closed in the center. Or cut the dough into rectangles and make two parallel small cuts in the center.


Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (William Morrow & Co, 1999), “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (William Morrow & Co, 1999) and the “International Deli Cookbook” which is available at the Broadway Deli in Santa Monica. Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

Coincidence? I Think Not


When two friends who are torn apart by the Holocaust discover nearly 40 years later that they live in the same New York neighborhood, some would call it "coincidence."

Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal call it a "small miracle."

The two friends have taken the "small miracle" concept and put it into a series of books, the most recent, "Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart," which comes out this week.

Halberstam said she was compelled to release a Jewish installment after her editor said that most of the stories she kept using for the previous books were from Jewish people. But Halberstam and Leventhal wanted to make this book different. "In Jewish books, there tends to be a lot of melancholy," Halberstam said. She said she wants this book, "to inspire, give hope and make people feel better."

While Jews don’t have a patent on miracles — Halberstam noted that Christian bookstores are carrying the series — she said that the Jewish concept of midah keneged midah (what goes around comes around) is an underlying theme in the book, which includes a story from Chabad of the Conejo’s Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochkinsky.

"People who did a good deed were rewarded years later," she said. "These magical stories happen. When you do a good deed, it doesn’t disappear into a vacuum."

Both authors have had their shares of miracles as well. When Halberstam got lost in Brookline, Mass., she received help from a stranger who turned out to be a distant cousin. When the authors wanted to contact Rabbi Harold Kushner, whom they hoped would contribute to the book, Leventhal ended up sitting next to him on an airplane.

So what of those people who tend to be skeptical when it comes to miracles because they’ve never experienced one? "Maimonidies said, ‘The more you believe in miracles, the more they happen,’" Halberstam points out.

On Aug. 9 and 10, Yitta Halberstam will be speaking at the Happy Minyan at Congregation Beth Jacob 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 285-7777.

Relying on Miracles


Before the last Chanukah candle is lit, I’d like to say a word about miracles.

As one who lives daily with the diagnosis of cancer, I find that the lighting of the menorah has a special resonance this year. I know more than I care to about dark, unpredictable fortune. I have a Maccabean sense of being in the bunker, fighting a lopsided battle against a grave enemy. And I have a true believer’s optimism that, no matter how bad the odds, a great miracle can happen here.

Having seen all this in my own life, I’ve been saying the "Shehecheyanu" prayer every evening, for the blessing of having survived to see the first candle, the second candle, the third, and so on.

Some days I feel I am witnessing a personal corollary to the oil that lasts eight days.

And that presents a problem. I make it from day to day with God’s blessings, true. But is something bigger at work? Am I also seeking a miracle?

Like many Jews, I don’t know what to think about miracles. As I struggle to find the perfect vegetable cocktail with antioxidants, the right combination of vitamin supplements, not to mention the appropriate medical treatment, I look for some sign that I’m on the right track. Against the odds, there can be a miracle.

A miracle is something not Jewish, like an episode of "Touched By an Angel." Though rabbis insist Jews do believe in angels, I still think of them as glass ornaments on a Christmas tree.

A discussion with Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis a while ago put an end to my miracle obsession, at least for a while. Schulweis convinced me that seeking miracles was magical thinking. Magic is trouble, said Schulweis, because it cuts both ways.

And basically, he’s right. A year after my diagnosis, I am now healthy, physically strong, and capable of changing light bulbs in the ceiling chandelier. This is miraculous, right? There’s no explaining why I have cancer, but now that the disease is here, it’s good that I’m doing well.

Yet a few months ago, a CT scan showed that my lungs once again had tiny tumors. Does this mean that the magic has died out?

Jews seek miracles like young lovers seek diamonds: Both seek objects that are finely cut and seductive.

"I’m expecting another miracle," said a friend when she heard the errant cells had returned.

I flinched, thinking of Schulweis. But isn’t that what I want, too?

The fact is that Jews do believe in miracles. The Children of Israel received 10 miracles in Egypt, for having been spared the 10 plagues. And they received 10 additional miracles at the Red Sea. (This is a terrific and largely unknown story, retold in the Sayings of the Fathers.)

Moses told the Israelites to cross the sea to escape Pharaoh’s army. They refused 10 times, demanding that Moses first perform the magic transformation of the sea into 1) a tunnel; 2) a valley; 3) two pieces; 4) clay; 5) wilderness; 6) many pieces; 7) rocks; 8) dry land; 9) walls; and 10) upright flasks containing liquid.

These biblical miracles, however, pose a threat to a religious philosophy that wants men and women — not God — to do good works. I remember reading a chat room thread on a Jewish Internet site in which an observant man claimed he would not get his cholesterol checked, thinking that God would save him if he was in trouble.

We are actively dissuaded, as Schulweis suggests, from seeking God’s intervention as a substitute for our own acts.

The hard and fast rule is: "Trust in God, but do not rely on miracles."

As Nachmanides wrote, "Do not pray to God for a sign or trial, since the Lord does not necessarily will to perform miracles for any particular person at any time."

That’s why the rabbis go to such lengths to separate Chanukah from the big miracles at the sea. Jews do believe in miracles, but only those we help bring about ourselves.

The miracle of Chanukah is not that the oil burned eight days. It is that the Maccabees knew there wasn’t enough oil, and yet they burned it anyway, so eager were they to rededicate the Temple. They took Judaism, which the Greeks regarded as dead from within, and through their actions willed it back to life.

"This is the meaning of ‘miracle,’ writes Rav Ezra Bick, of the Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash. "There always exists the possibility of a new beginning, because, despite the seeming contradiction, the seeds of a new beginning are implanted into the past, like a small vial of oil sealed with the seal of the high priest."

Possibility is the miracle of Chanukah. Possibility is the miracle I seek.

New York Miracle


There’s a storefront church next door to my friend Bill’s apartment in New York City’s East Village. I’m staying with him for a week, so I pass the church a lot, and the sign in the window becomes like a refrain.

“Free: hugs, foot washing, Band-Aids & money. While $upplies last.”

You can also drop off your prayer requests through a slot in the door, and a note promises your prayers will be sent out daily.

An enormous tabby cat sits in the church window, perched atop a child’s wooden chair. Another sign reads: “Coming soon: miracles.”

The foot-washing, as evidenced in several black-and-white photos, holds a certain appeal.

All I’ve done in New York is walk. I can’t stop walking. I’ve rotated my shoes to disperse the blisters, but it hasn’t helped much. Still, I walk.

The East Village is more engaging than anything. I’m convinced of that. I’m here to do a reading at a Jewish cultural center on the Upper West Side, but that’s really just an excuse to see some friends and my old stomping grounds. I haven’t been back in seven years.

I walk for days, while Bill works his office job. I pick up flowers for his apartment and stock the freezer with ice cream. I walk looking for old haunts and accidents, like the Jivamukti yoga class I stumble into that makes me sign a release. I live to walk some more.

I stop in at my old dorm, pass familiar coffeeshops, restaurants and corner delis. I pass that church a dozen times a day, and I guess the thoughts going through my head are something like prayers. Mostly thanks. Even though the old neighborhood is familiar, something is so different — in a good way. I can’t place it. I’ve learned to just walk until I answer my own questions or forget them. I walk, and I know what it is.

Before, when I was a student, I was broke and bewildered, like most people I knew, but it was worse than that. Things were worse in my head. My default setting used to be miserable, and now it’s at least three-quarters content. I never really noticed the shift until now. Anxiety and self-flagellation still visit, like me crashing on Bill’s couch, but they don’t live here anymore. They aren’t on the lease.

Every time I see an old place but feel a new way, I’m thankful. It seems so simple, this basic shift in how I walk through life, but no one tells you it’s possible to just change the default setting and be OK in the absence of anything terrible or miraculous happening in your life.

Some of the prayers going through my head are the greedy, old-fashioned kind (you don’t go to one yoga class and become the Dalai Lama). I wish for a job that would afford me an apartment in New York with a bathtub to call my own. I wish to end up on my old university’s big-brag board, the one I stared at for a while, the one that’s covered with news clippings about alumni success stories. I’m not on the brag board, but I’ve done OK for myself, I think, walking some more. I’ve certainly done better than anyone thought I would.

This thought is so satisfying that my ego decides to pay a surprise visit to my mouth. The sound “Ha”comes out, loud and to myself, and no one cares. “Ha ha,”I mutter, a little softer, as decorum and humility creep back in.

Outside the Public Theater on Lafayette, people are camped out on lawn chairs playing Scrabble and reading about publicist Lizzie Grubman. They are enduring the festival of abuse that is being stuck on a Manhattan sidewalk in July for the privilege of getting tickets to “The Seagull.” Their dedication moves me.

Needless to say, this is something you wouldn’t see in Los Angeles. The only Chekhov that draws a crowd in Los Angeles is that dude from “Star Trek,”and maybe not even him. A pretzel vendor gets in a fight with a sidewalk art dealer, and I use the word “art”loosely. Nothing comes of the exchange but finger-pointing and swearing in various native languages. I walk on.

I’ve eaten at every friend’s favorite restaurant, from Tibetan to Sicilian. My stomach loves it here as much as I do.

There’s that saying, “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” That’s one little axiom I never thought would work in my favor. This week, it does.

I pass the church again. The fat cat slumbers in a patch of sunlight. I have yet to see the place open, but maybe their signs are all they need of a ministry. It seems like a pretty ramshackle place to promise miracles, but who knows? Maybe clean feet and Band-Aids are miracle enough, if you know how to read signs.


Teresa Strasser is now on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com

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