I stand in a small park, near the Kiev’s Brodsky Choral Synagogue, resting on my cane and waving my fedora at all that pass.
I’m back in the land of my birth.
I’m close enough to the Brodsky to witness the smiles of white-gowned brides and handsome grooms dressed in black tuxedos.
I relish watching the smiling kinder leaving bar/bat mitzvahs carrying bags of candy.
Most of these 13-year-olds know my name.
In school, they’ve read, “Tevye the Milkman” and watched “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Thousands of tourists take selfies with me, the Jewish Mark Twain, in the background.
How many times have I heard the not-so-wealthy traveler look at his wife and belt out “If I Were A Rich Man;”
How many times have I heard a single woman look at her boyfriend and sing, “Match maker, match maker, make me a match;”
How many times have I heard the religious chant my name-sake song to the melody written by Rabbi Israel Goldfarb;
How many times have playwrights touched my cold shoes, hoping, as if by osmosis, my talents would flow into their veins, like ink entering a fountain pen.
Some Jews greet me with a hardy, “Shalom Aleichem (Peace be upon you).”
My tight bronze lips want to reply, “Aleichem Shalom (Unto you peace).” But I am speechless.
You may think on one hand, “Sholem, it seems like you have a pretty nice existence in this Ukrainian park.”
But on the other hand, not aliz gut in my Kiev neighborhood.
Of course, there are pigeons.
And where there are pigeons, there are pigeons feeders.
All day and all night, these unbalanced souls come to feed the birds, talk to me and stare into my eyes.
These meshugenahs recite in Yiddish or Russian or Ukrainian, their long list of tsuris — as if talking to Yiddish author will get their prayers answered.
They tell me of long, lost loved ones who have wronged them:
Of children that have failed them;
Of lovers that have spurned them;
Of parents that loved their siblings more than them.
Endlessly, they kvetch, and kvetch and kvetch.
How I want to say, “Gay avek foon mir.”
Go tell it to your rabbi.
But I remain silent as if I were made of stone.
But today my silence ends.
I’m pissed off.
Some bastards painted a red swastika across my scarf and coat.
WTF— it’s 5780.
Aren’t the days of Ukrainian pogroms and Babi Yar over?
Haven’t these antisemitten learned anything?
When will they ever learn?
What a shonda!
When will this dreck stop?
I hate these mamzurs.
I want to give them such a klop on their heads—but my arms are frozen.
In the dead of night, two punks pull out of their black leather jackets spray cans of red paint.
I hear one say, “We’ll teach this Zhid writer and his followers the meaning of hate and fear. We too have our traditions.
Just like my grandfather did, when he cut swastikas into their chests.”
The other curses, “Death to all f’ing Zhids.”
How the red paint and their words sting.
How I want these red stains scrubbed off of my clothing.
How I want to say, “Gay avek foon mir. Enough is enough.
Crate me up and ship me to the safe confines of New York City.
On the other hand, maybe Israel is a bissel better.