by Sylvia Dorham
Dark ran it’s finger around the outskirts of the city like a child licking the last of the
brownie batter from a wide bowl. Dusk settled first around skyscrapers and funneled
down to the brownstones and nondescript buildings which housed businesses below
The stars flew open and shone from the canopy, rolled back in special brilliance tonight,
thought Moishe Rosen, walking slowly through the sidewalk gauntlet of trash cans set
out for collection.
“The Heavens are telling the Glory of God,” the young rabbi recited in Hebrew, looking
up, adjusting his shifting fedora. It was a ‘Ruach’ night – when the breath of Yhwh, the
Spirit, flew uncontrolled, unexpected. Rabbi Rosen could smell it in the air, a
scintillating sensation which ran up his spine and out over his fingertips, creating
movement in the fringes of his prayer shawl which dangled white from beneath his navy
sport coat. The Ruach made him want to skip and twirl, even if ostensibly only to the
polka music drifting over the cement and chain link fence of St. Stanislaus on the
Gentiles dancing and singing. A good time to cross the empty street and walk home on
the far side. He stepped through the dark between trash cans and slammed against a
suddenly solid shadow, which sprawled into the semi-dark street with a shriek of
“Oh goodness. I’m sorry,” choked Rabbi Rosen, regaining his balance, extending his
arm to the figure in the street. At that very moment, a street light above him sputtered
and flickered to life, revealing the victim of his untimely crossing.
It was a woman.
“Please forgive me, ma’am,” blundered Rabbi Rosen bending toward the figure splayed
out in the street. “Let me help you.”
“Rabbi?” The voice was sweet and simple, but tinted with pain which marred its texture
like a fork on non-stick cookware. Bent over with arms extended, he paused to listen.
“Are you a Rabbi?” she asked.
The Ruach slid over his shoulders and ran down his arms, leaving a trail of
goosebumps as it jumped and twirled off the ends of his hands into the summer night
between them. Rabbi Rosen sat suddenly on the curb and lowered his arms with care,
as if they were not his own.
“You look like it.” She smiled, dimly, pain flecking her eyes. “But don’t touch me.” She
was a young woman, maybe twenty? Twenty-one? Something was strange about her
clothing. A dirty gray over-sized t-shirt covered her on top, and her skirt looked for all
the world like another t-shirt which she had stepped into upside down, the sleeves
serving as leg holes and the waist tied closed about her own. Her bare feet were filthy,
he noticed. In fact, all of her was filthy, even the dark brown hair which escaped from a
makeshift ponytail at the back of her head.
“At least let me help you up,” he started forward again, but she held up a palm as she
struggled to an upright position, then wiped her hands on her t-shirt skirt.
“Uh uh. No. See?” She twisted her arm and her neck to squint at a bloody scrape
down the back of her forearm. “I’m bleeding. And,” she turned back to him without
expression, “I have my period.”
He looked at her questioningly.
“Well, you can’t touch me, right? Aren’t you ‘unclean’ if you touch blood, or a woman on
her period? Wouldn’t you have to do, like, a week-long purification if I made you dirty?”
“Who told you that?”
“I took a Judaism course in college.”
He stepped toward her, off the curb and into the empty street. “You went to college?”
She slid herself backward slightly. It was a barely perceptible move, but Moishe Rosen
saw it and froze.
“Sorry.” He held both hands toward her, palms up, in a gesture of harmlessness. “I’m
not going to hurt you. What’s wrong with your knee?”
Eyes fixed on him warily, she made an offhand gesture at her right leg, stuck out at an
awkward angle like it was in quarantine — swollen, black and yellow. “It’s a mess.”
“What happened?” He stepped forward again, then checked himself as she pulled away,
sucking in her breath and gritting her teeth against the pain of moving the limb.
“I was in a fight.” She was crab-walking toward the curb away from him, using both
hands and one foot. The injured leg dragged. He watched pain play over her face.
“What happened to the other guy?” he chuckled, trying to lighten the mood as the
woman eased herself gingerly onto the curb into the shadow of a trash can.
“He’s out there,” she muttered, tight-lipped.
“He’s out there? You mean someone did this to you and got away with it?” The Rabbi
“I was the one who got away. Not that I’ll be able to stay away. ”
“You can’t go back to someone who does this to you!”
Her eyes narrowed.
“More like I can’t keep away from him. I don’t run so fast, anymore.” She leaned her
head back on the trash can, and Rabbi Rosen heard the ragged breathing of tears
among the garish polka music echoing down the twilight street from St. Stanislaus on
He sat down near her, but far enough to avoid triggering the protective startle which
jolted her when something neared the injured limb.
“Can you tell me?” He asked gently.
“Tell you what? The purpose and meaning of my life?” she spat.
“I told you, I was in a fight. I lost, and a big iron crowbar won, but they didn’t figure I
could still climb out the window. There was an dumpster full of rotting food from the
Chinese restaurant downstairs that caught me when I rolled over the sill. I crawled
three blocks through the alley on one knee. Kind of hard to miss a girl wearing only a
tank-top, so I stole two shirts from one of those street-vendors and crawled into a hole.”
She jerked her thumb. “Under a pile of junk at a demolition site over there.”
Rabbi Rosen knew where without looking. He had passed that broken-down building a
She looked up at him. “I stayed there three days. Four times, I watched his car go up
and down the alley, looking for me. But they didn’t get me. They couldn’t get to me.”
“Who are ‘they?’ ” he asked, trying to make eye contact.
She laughed mirthlessly, looking up at the steady stars.
“The @#!& who promised me a modeling contract. The ones who have, like, four girls
up there, and that’s not counting the rest of the places they’ve got around this city. Like
twenty other houses, or something.”
“Whatever. Selling girls to be sex slaves. Killing them for no reason!” Her eyes grew
wide and fixed, remembering.
Shudders rocked her body, making the trash can rumble against the cement like an
oversized pager on ‘vibrate.’
“They’re going to find me and kill me. They probably already killed Rashida because I
ran away.” She was strangely dispassionate. Like she didn’t remember he was there.
“God,” she whispered. “Where is God while they do this to us?”
Rabbi Rosen lunged to his feet.
She froze. Eyes wild.
He squatted in the street beside her, extended a scarred hand, and touched her hair.
“Daughter, he said firmly, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Scooping her up gently in the heavily knotted arms of a laborer, he stepped onto the
sidewalk and moved gracefully along the street, her feather weight and awkward, angry
knee no impediment to his progress. At the gate of St. Stanislaus, paused and peered
Twirling polka dresses. Bobbing dancers. Laughter. Accordion music. With great care,
he lowered her to the ground, just inside the gate.
“You’ll be alright, now, Beloved.” He looked at her. And smiled. She followed him with
her eyes as he crossed the street and strode into the gloom, the fronds of his prayer
shawl visible, white in the darkness.
“Lord, have mercy! Honey, what happened to you? Bill! Get Bill! Doctor Bill, come
A crowd of brightly colored ladies descended on her, as Rabbi Rosen intended. Indeed,
the parishioners of the old Polish Church knew the meaning of mercy.
He watched from the deep dark of the shoe store awning until an ambulance and three
police cars arrived, their blinding colored lights spinning merrily in time to the polka
The Ruach blew with breath like a sweetly scented breeze. It wrapped around Rabbi
Rosen and wreathed him in the perfume of the righteous.
There was no need to purify himself, after all.