Friday, March 03, 2006

The Creedmoor Book - Prologue

(This will be moved to a separate blog but for now I do not have time to set one up and promote it, so enjoy Chapter 1 here).

It was the day before Shushan Purim in Yerushalayim. And for one Persian Jew named Mordechai, it was a day for reflection rather than for preparing to celebrate. For that Jew, Dr Mordechai Kohentzedek, was approaching his 97th birthday, and he could never be sure that this would not be his last Purim.

So the retired neurologist walked slowly along the streets near his beloved Machaneh Yehuda market, where he enjoyed chatting in Farsi with some of the veteran vendors, as they traded stories of their native land and asked him for medical advice. Some even remembered the name Manouchehr Kohentzedek from the idyllic days of the last Shah, when the good doctor, the son of a wealthy merchant whose father sent him to England to study medicine, was renowned as the best doctor in all of Teheran, and was said to be the doctor whom the Shah trusted for his own family. But in 1977, Dr Kohentzedek and his wife Shireen (Shulamit) had seen the handwriting on the wall, and like the handwriting on another wall in Persia many years hence, they knew their days were numbered if they stayed in Iran. And despite their advanced age and lack of children, the doctor and his architect wife were still strong and alert when the Islamic Republic was born, so they boarded a jet liner to Canada while they still could, having fortunately transfered their substantial assets to Switzerland and Israel over the months before their departure.

And in Canada, Dr Kohentzedek settled down to work at a major hospital attached to the University of Manitoba, where he could enjoy seeing patients as he did every day in Iran, from dawn to dusk. He barely even remembered to cash his provincial health system paycheck, and when he did, it often went straight to help those less fortunate than he.

For in leaving Iran, he had found Torah, and that is what led him to examine a young, not particularly earnest baal tshuva by the name of Dovid Goldman. Even now that he was retired and living in Israel, and no longer officially practicing medicine, he could not get Dovid out of his mind.

It was to this Dovid Goldman that his thoughts were turning this chilly morning in Adar as he walked the stalls of Machaneh Yehuda, looking for Fairouz, and, Baruch, his stall was Beit Yosef now and it was the only place the doctor himself ever bought any food...and Behrouz, who he remembered from the bazaar in Teheran.

"Was I right to have Dovid committed to that Creedmoor place in New York? Was he really mentally incompetent? Or was he the biggest scam artist to ever surface in Winnipeg?"

Suddenly, his reveries were interrupted by a familiar face. "Excuse me, is your name Weinberg by any chance? Is your father a doctor named Michael, and your mother also a doctor, I think her name was Chana but sometimes they called her Annette - she was from Beirut or somewhere like that?" This was the question that the ancient little wraith of a man, whose voice and mind were far less worn than his fragile cane-supported body, posed to a strong young man with dark features who was shopping for nuts and cake at the stall of Rahamim, another confidante of the doctor from his Teheran days. "You look so familiar - you must be their son...can you call your father please and tell him that Mordechai Kohentzedek from Winnipeg is here?"

"Yes - my name is Avi Weinberg and my parents are Michael and Chana - we came here last year - my father retired and is opening a clinic here! Sure, I will call - how did you know my father?"

"He was the medical director of Creedmoor, and we were in touch because I sent him a patient who was referred to me by Haham Kalman, my rabbi - he was a US citizen, this poor boy, and he needed to be committed, this Dovid!"

"Dovid Goldman? My father used to tell us stories about him! I know it is Purim - but when my father tells you what happened to him in Creedmoor, it is true."

Avi called his father, and quickly passed the Nokia mobile to his old acquaintance:

"Michael, do you remember me? Mordy Kohentzedek, you used to call me Mottel Katz all the time - I sent Dovid'l over to Creedmoor 25 years ago!"

"Baruch...mechoye hameysim...Baruch, mehaye hameytim!" - the two retired physicians made the customary blessing that one makes when reunited with separated acquaintances, and then Dr Weinberg answered: "How can I forget! Dovid was the true American success story - came in as an inmate and ended up buying the place! He was so much fun over the years, even if he costs the government the same as 6 months of military aid to Israel! Now, you must come to me in Har Nof - Avi will take you home with him! You must spend Purin with us tomorrow - stay over tonight - we have plenty of room!" And Dr Kohentzedek asked Avi to help him pick up no less than a case each of arak and Chivas Regal from the wine shop in Machaneh Yehuda - it would be a very happy Purim indeed at the Weinberg residence, transplanted this very year from Woodmere to Har Nof.

Many miles away in a suburban development outside of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Rabbi Kalman Berkowitz had finished davening Shacharis and was opening his mail. In it were, baruch Hashem, two cheques. One was accompanied by a letter in a handwriting that was so Middle Eastern that if the rabbi had not been receiving letters like this for 29 years, he would have called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to report possible terrorism. The note explained that as the donor was getting older and had no heirs, he wanted to advance a substantial part of his estate to the Winnipeg House of Tradition at this time. The cheque, certified by Israel Discount Bank on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, was for a fine sum of six figure size. The letter promised four more such cheques over the year, and noted that a third of its payor's estate was left to the synagogue.

But before the rabbi even had a chance to call his donor in Yerushalayim, he nearly fell off his chair and risked severe injury to his back, which he had injured many years before, as a soldier in the Israeli Army reserves before he was called upon to become a soldier in his Rebbe's Army in Winnipeg. That was because the second cheque was drawn on "The National and International Reserve Bank of the Independent Republic of Creedmoor" and was made out for the sum of 8,387,987,423,005 food stamps!

"Malky! Come see these! Boruch Hashem, we are finally set! We can finally begin building the new shul! And what's more, I will have the greatest Purim story of ANY House of Tradition rabbi ANYWHERE - just LOOK at this second cheque! Just in time for the seuda tonight - but I better not have done anything to my back when I fell off the chair or I'll have to take medicine instead of drink!"

"OY! Goldman - or is it Schmoigerman now - has really outdone himself! He just used to send forged food stamps - remember that!" Mrs Malky Berkowitz could barely restrain tears of laughter when she saw the bank document. And her joy was even more marked when she saw the letter and cheque from Dr Mordechai Kohentzedek in Yerushalayim.

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