home EXHIBITS about gems store funding
home > exhibits > levine > page 2
What the Jew in the Street Thinks
about the Jewish Flying Hero
What do the Jewish masses on the street think about all the hoopla over the young Jewish man, Charles Levine? What is the Jewish community saying and thinking about it, and what is the meaning of this particular event for the older generation of Jews from the Old Country? A stroll down the various Jewish streets of New York allows one to eavesdrop on various conversations of typical Jews and to find some answers to our questions.
To start, I went to a Hassidic synagogue on Attorney Street, to the renowned house of study of the illustrious Rabbi Z. I wanted to know what Hassidim thought of such a curious accomplishment and, if possible, to get a word from the Rabbi himself. Oh, to hear a word about Levine's great feat from the Rabbi himself!
Ah, but I was very disappointed. The Rabbi did not even want to hear one word about this, considering it was a holiday (the first day of Shavuot). To begin with, he considers the whole enterprise a secular matter, and therefore something completely inappropriate to discuss on a holy day. Secondly, the Rabbi, as I found out later from one of his oldest adherents, is very angry at the young Jewish man -- that Levine. It seems that Levine, in choosing the Sabbath for his trans-Atlantic departure, spurned the holiness of the Sabbath before the entire world.
The old Hassid who told me this expressed a different opinion, however. He reasons that Levine was able to overcome the obstacles standing in his way during the flight because God was with him. It was doubtless in recognition of Levine's accumulated good deeds, he explains, that God joined him as co-pilot. "God is a devoted lover of his creations," added the old Hassid from behind his large, flowing white beard.
A second Hassid -- also not exactly a young man -- but a stalwart person of true substance, bedecked in a silken waistcoat and displaying a solid gold watch chain, was clearly enjoying it all. Here was a Jew showing the world that he could do it just like the Christian, Lindbergh. "You understand," says my rich Hasid, "such acts matter to me. I fear that no matter what we Jews do, we will never have the complete respect of the non-Jews. But among our children and our grandchildren, Levine's feat has lent prestige to the Jewish name."
A third Hassid, a thin sickly Jew, with a very drawn face, a high forehead, and a pair of intelligent, sad eyes waits until the other Hassid has finished and then lets out a deep sigh before speaking up. " Udoy! Udoy! Jewish history is full of Jews who went to their reward in the afterlife in flames or lost their heads to the sword. So it's good when we find young Jewish heroes like Levine who demonstrate to the world that a Jew is not the pansy the world took him for."
At the Beys Hamedresh ha'Godol on Norfolk Street, a group of Jews stand outside talking about Levine. It is the time between the mincha and mayriv prayers on this holiday and people have a moment to chat as they only do on holidays. The congregation is mixed, but they all have the same subject on their minds. Someone discovers a few pennies in the pocket of his holiday raiment and goes out to buy a Yiddish paper that has just hit the newsstand. One gray-hair reads about Levine's to-do, then another. The crowd around them grows thick. A little snuff is passed around with the newspaper.
Others just stand on the periphery and listen to what's being read and said. Soon a discussion breaks out about the subject of "airplanepilotology," in general, and about the Jewish pilot, Levine, in particular.
From somewhere outside the circle a little Jew crowds his way in and, with a crooked little beard and worn out everyday clothing, has his say. "Why are you making such a racket about this flier? He flew out in a -- whatchamacallit -- in a flying machine. Not so? So what's all the hoo-ha about? I see airplane pilots ten times a day out at Coney Island. It's gotten so I don't even notice them any more, and here you are making a whole hullabaloo about it."
A second Jew, with a small globular shaped head, who is, nonetheless a tad wider than he is tall, with a grotesquely shaped belly balanced on two short stumpy legs, wants to show right at the get-go that's he's a big expert on the subject. So he calls out: " I have no idea what the papers are screaming about! The whole thing is a bluff. Feh!" There was something more that he wanted to say after the uproarious laughter died down, but the assembled crowd sized up this "genius," and he was left with nothing more eloquent to say than his final "feh!"
* * *
On the stairwell of the dispensary on Rivington Street several young women and a few older ones are discussing Levine's flight to Europe. The younger folks can't quite get over Levine's "sticktoitiveness" and the wonder of his flying over the ocean in an "air balloon."
Suddenly, an older woman chimes in with an accent like those they have back in Berditchev. "Believe me, all this to-do on the street is a bit too much. It's those people who can get across the street without getting killed who should be honored! Automotos fly by with their fiendish cry, crashing right into people. Flying over the ocean takes less bravery than crossing a street in New York."
The younger women nod their heads and begin yelling at their kids to keep on the sidewalk and away from the street where the cars are whizzing by.
* * *
On Second Avenue near a theater, several Jewish girls and boys stand looking at a poster of Lindbergh displayed in the window of an ice cream parlor. The girls can't take their eyes off Lindbergh. One of the young girls opines that "Lindy's" trip is more important than Levine's. Firstly, he was the first to fly across the ocean, and secondly he flew alone. "That's a hero for you. Young, Lindy, boy!"
Resentful of the girl's fascination of Lindy, one of the young boys tries to prove that Levine is more of a hero than Lindy. Firstly, he says, he flew farther than Lindbergh; second he's a millionaire, and he left his family and business in order to fly across the ocean. And -- here we're still speaking about that excited young man -- given the fact that Levine didn't fly alone, if there had been a mishap, then two men would have been lost instead of one.
Another girl breaks in, insisting that it's not such a big thing when two fly together, since one can sleep while the other flies. "That's right!" pipes up the first girl, with half-closed eyes, and adds in English: " I would love to sit by Lindbergh's right side and help him stay awake."
This, even the most zealous Levine supporters can't argue with. With that, the young man yells out that any young girls who are "crazy" about Lindbergh are fools. "Charlie Levine is a thousand times more of a hero than Lindbergh is."
"But Levine is already married," the second one adds, putting an end to the subject.
* * *
A young Yiddish actress in a theater district café states that she envies Mrs. Levine. She notes that all the papers print Mrs. Levine's pictures along with lengthy bios of her. "What did she do?" asks the puzzled actress. "Why do the papers give her so much publicity? Her husband is truly a hero. After all, he risked his life showing courage and daring. But Mrs. Levine? What did she do to get so much attention?"
The actress then whips a powderpuff out her bag and powders her nose with such ferocity that it becomes red instead of white.
* * *
An actor, a "star," who is sitting at another table at the Café, says that in Levine's place he couldn't have withstood the torment of staying up two days cooped up in an tiny airplane with a "partner" by his side without being able to sneak in a hand or two of pinochle. "It's such a terrible thing that for that alone Levine should earn a separate medal," says the actor.
A well-known cantor wonders what Levine's flight will do to help the plight of immigrants? The cantor has struggled for the last few years to bring his wife and children over from Europe -- with no results.
"It's like this," says the cantor, "America should be ashamed of itself about its closed door policy regarding immigrants. Charlie Levine is himself a child of immigrants and, who knows, maybe one of my sons could grow up to be as big a hero as Levine."
The cantor believes that, if by some miracle his family is allowed in, his older son could become the next Edison. "But what's the use dreaming?" he asks. "They won't let us in."
But still he wants to know, "Can't we take advantage of the success of this child of immigrants, Levine, to relieve some of the severity of the immigration laws?"
|*Please note that the Yid-O-Matic does not currently display text on newer versions of RealPlayer for Mac.
We are sorry for the inconvenience.
Copyright © 2002 Sound Portraits Productions. All rights reserved.