by G. Evelyn Lampart

“You have to hide me,” I demand. “The Nazis are after me!”

“There are no Nazis here!” Mr. Sender bellows back. He is sitting at the head of his antique dining table. His house is big: three stories high. I once used the bathroom on the second floor, and there were stairs leading higher. There must be an attic.

The group sits around the table watching us. We (five men and I) meet every other week to study Visions of our Fathers. We pursue the principles of ethical Judaism. We are Talmudic, dissecting and pondering the maxims of Pirkei Avoth in the original Hebrew. But I have real problems.

Another woman has joined the group tonight. I ignore Sender and introduce myself. She is the rabbi’s wife. I welcome her warmly. She readjusts her head scarf, and fumbles with the pages of the text we are about to study. The men sit with lowered eyes.

“Shira!” As Sender addresses me, spittle forms on his mouth. “Sit down!”

“But there are Nazis. There are.” He doesn’t believe me.

Sender glances at the rabbi. Rabbi Klummer appeared a month ago. He insisted that I should not be studying with the men. As an unmarried woman, I was a distraction. But Aaron Susskin advocated for me. To exclude me because I am unmarried, Aaron argued, would be unethical. We were there to learn ethics, not halachah, the law, he maintained. They held a vote. The two other men were newly converted, from California. It was three against two. I stayed.

Sender stands and looks down at me. He is tall. I beseech him.

“If the Nazis were chasing me…” I begin again, this time with a supposition. “Your house should be open, Sender,” I quote. “‘And you should make the poor members of your household.’ We learned this the first week.”

He shouts: “And do not converse excessively with women!

That was the end of the passage.

“If someone else was chasing me…?” I give him a loophole.

“Get out. Get out of my house!” Sender points to the door I entered ten minutes earlier.

“I’m not leaving,” I threaten. When the Nazis appear I will have nowhere to go, and Sender’s house is huge. “Remember the mitzvah that says the main thing is doing, not study?” I force the argument. Sender grasps my arm by the elbow, and propels me toward his front door.

“You’re touching a woman!” I admonish.

The rabbi does not intervene. He sees the transgression. Rabbi Klummer stands and fingers the black velvet yarmulke covering his head, and heads up the stairs. He leaves behind a tableful of various editions of Pirkei Avot decorating a starched white tablecloth.

I don’t want to leave. The residential street is far from the subway, and it is dark and cold in December. The Ditmas Park brownstone is warm and well lit. Sender increases the pressure of his hand on my arm. I relax and grow passive. The man rushing me out of his house is strong and could call the police.

Although the streets with abundant trees are poorly lit, I find the subway and sit on a bench waiting for the train going into Manhattan. A man approaches me, breathing heavily. I begin to move away. “Shira,” Aaron Susskin says out of breath, and I acknowledge the man in the group who championed my right to study with the men. . “You can come with me,” he consoles. “If the Nazis are after you – they are after me too.”

I explain to Aaron that my mother is a Nazi.

“So. Your mother.” He sighs. “I see. I understand. Of course. My wife is a psychotherapist. And a mother.”

My mother put me in a psych hospital after I refused to go on any more blind dates. I went to  Rockefeller Center, to the airport at JFK, to the Waldorf Astoria lobby, and to the renovated kitchen of a yeshiva boy who made a pass. I was through with those Jewish boys.

“I have to get married. Or she will have me locked up. Again.”

Aaron says that he understands what I went through.

“But it isn’t over. She warned me that she can lock me up anytime.” I need him to understand completely.

My mother insisted that I keep going out. To keep trying.  With a plan to escape, I packed a suitcase with the journals I began when I was bat mitzvah. My mother found my work, and threw all of my books into the incinerator. I wailed when I found out. My temple was destroyed. I was bereft with depression and couldn’t get out of bed. It was true — my mother could send me back.



“Did you follow me?” I ask Aaron, relieved that I am not alone. We sit together waiting for the train.

“Sender was wrong to push you away. I was worried for you.” He makes it sound so simple.

As simple as the sign I saw on a bulletin board in the Jewish Division of the library in Manhattan advertising a Jewish study group. As simple as my joining with the hope that I would meet intelligent and educated Jews.

“I’m getting off at Seventh Avenue. There are friends in Park Slope…” I mumble. Years ago I had friends. But they left Brooklyn, and I was scared to make the break. “What do you do?” I am curious.

“I’m a business man. In Manhattan.” Aaron hands me a business card. “Call me, Shira. I’m not going back there.” He twirls his pointer finger around his forehead. “My clinical diagnosis,” and he sighs again.

“Seventh Avenue,” I announce as we near the station, and get off the train. Aaron waves good-bye. I straighten my back, and head for the street.

On the avenue I pass a familiar looking church, and for the first time in my life I walk up the steps. I want sanctuary. I am tired. There is a bell on the massive wooden door, and I ring it. Again. And again. No one comes to the door. I sit down on the stone steps because it is late. The Nazis would look for me at the study group, but never outside a church.

After working in the field for many years as a clinical social worker, G. Evelyn Lampart gratefully leads an art workshop in a  mental health clinic. She  is published in Poetica, Nous, Dirty Chai, and the anthology Rozlyn. She is a lifelong Brooklynite, and  has witnessed, and been a part of, its  many changes over the years.