Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Jew and the African King

by Regina Edelman

“This is a cemetery of Spanish and Portuguese soldiers,” my husband told me about the ground framed below our third story window on Saint James Place in Chinatown. “Seven soldiers and a general who fought in the American Revolution are buried here, Portuguese Jews from Recife, Brazil who came to the new world hunting for easy gold as the Dutch did. New Amsterdam became famous because everyone thought that free gold littered the ground for the taking.”

“I kind of know what those early immigrants thought,” I said. “When I first saw New York it seemed bathed in gold; the sunlight seemed brighter, oranger here than in Brazil, but I know that the sun is what deludes and fabricates a mirage of fresh water and coconuts to a mind lost in the Sahara, and in truth, it isn’t easy to find water in the Sahara or gold in New York. I came from Brazil to get that idiotic dammed delusional gold, and for that I have to battle like our Jew fellows buried here did to be part of human history.”

Smiling, my husband listened to me and said, “When I lived in Berlin a girl friend said the same thing about how the sun seems to shine brighter here. In search of brighter sun, the Jewish soldiers ended dead here, their graves out our window. What I don’t understand is if they came from Recife, Brazil, why don’t people say that Brazilians are buried here?”

“I don’t think they were Brazilians, amore. They were European exploiters of new lands, and Brazil was a colony of Portugal at the time. They only passed through Recife. The only people in Brazil at that time were natives just cheated by a mysterious god to them, and they had no knowledge of the existence of the European Universe or North America. Those old natives were trapped in huge trouble with intruder warrior assaulter Europeans who came to procreate in their land to give power to a king of a Catholic empire, not Dutch, but Portuguese.”

“You always surprise me, amore, and teach me something new.”

I chuckled, smiling with the good words of my adorable husband and said, “It’s you who enlightens my mind so I can teach.”

We kissed goodbye, and he hefted my bicycle on his shoulder and carried it downstairs from our walk-up to the street so that I could ride through East River Park to and from work on 28th and Park. He locked my bicycle to a gatepost in front of the brave soldiers buried in the Jewish cemetery, and from the window, I blew him kisses as he headed uptown to work.

Later when I stepped outside to also go to work, I observed a young man no older than twenty perhaps standing in front of the cemetery gate. Dressed in an immaculate white shirt, well-tailored black pants with long strings hanging over his pockets, and a black velour-like yarmulke, the young religious Jew, braces shining on his small teeth, his eyes clear blue as the Manhattan sky that day, was reading about the deeds of his ancestors on the bronze plate attached to the fence.

Girls’ laughter caught my attention. Three young ladies jeweled in brilliants and gold, dressed in silk embroidered in gold vines, fancy in molds of African couture I’d seen in magazines, stood along the spiked iron fence. Beautiful and well treated, their cheeks were rosy and their lips carmine, their soft dark skin like fresh blueberries. A tall handsome man also dressed in gold embroidery took a little while to organize his ladies for a picture. I fantasized that he was a king from Africa who owns them. So romantic was the king to his princesses that I envied them while I took the chains from my bike. I didn’t understand their African tongue.

The African king snapped the picture of his sexy princesses hugging each other in front of the historical cemetery, and then he looked around, obviously wondering who could take their picture all together. His eyes landed on me already perched on my bicycle to go, then on the immaculate Jewish boy visiting his dead forefathers. The young Jew promptly offered to take their picture.

“How much is it?” the king-sized African man asked with a submissive smile, resigned to pay any price to be in a picture with his sexy princesses in Manhattan.

“Nothing,” the young Jew answered awkwardly, innocently startled, uncomfortable, perhaps guiltily, and not understanding.

“O, thank you, thank you so much!” the dark king exclaimed, grinning, honored, and handed his camera to the young Jew.

©2009 Regina Edelman


  1. The Jews in Recife ended up in Brazil because of the spanish and portugese inquisition which wanted to kill them, not because they were European exploiters.

  2. How much sadder then that they enslaved native innocents like them, Anonymous, or did the Tupinambás enslave themselves?