(click to download PDF)
Marc J. Seifer, Ph.D.
Box 32, Kingston, RI 02881
Opening chapter from Rudy II: Sequel to Staretz Encounter
Elias looked up at the sign posted above the entranceway of a long red-brick building: Maxwell-Bavarian Machine Works and beamed. His building. Steel supports, a flagstone base and lots and lots of windows half of which overlooked the rushing tributary which ran to the Iller River in southern Bavaria. With a labor force of over fifty, Elias prided himself in knowing nearly everyone by name.
As he walked into the factory a sensation overtook him that he had never experienced before. He felt larger, felt his being expand, felt his arms extend through the lathes, the presses and assembly line, felt his essence flow out through the windows through the spray of the cataract flowing through the waterwheel beside the massive generator, felt his shoulders rise to the ceiling and his head explode through the roof where it crested above the burgeoning hamlet.
From this position, Elias could look north towards Munich, to the east towards Salzburg, to the west to the Swiss Alps, or to the near south, to Kemptem, perhaps the oldest town in the region, where his new automobile dealership had just opened up. With a partnership with his wife’s uncle, Adolf von Rosensweig, Elias had become an assimilated entrepreneur. He gazed behind him, upstream, past the series of cottages that housed his workers, past the stylish homes where his managers lived, past the long private lane lined with rhododendrons to the hill, his hill where his mansion lay.
Elias Isaiah Maxwell, son of Rabbi Hillel Maxwell, grandnephew of Judah Buruch Maxwell, most venerated cantor, was a capitalist. To the chagrin of his family, he was also a convert. A Protestant.
“We will have the doctor perform the circumcision,” Elias proclaimed as his wife lay sweating in her bed, her newborn son, Abraham still covered with afterbirth, suckling.
“He will have a bris, and he will be Bar Mitzvahed, like his father before him, and like his father and grandfather before him. You may try to renounce your heritage, Mr. Elias Isaiah Maxwell, but you will not....” Debora broke down in tears.
A sense of pity and disgust swept through Elias. “I want a modern wife, Debora. We are no longer in the shetl. It is time for us to become Bavarians. As you know, Jews cannot own property, they cannot hold political office. They live as outsiders, inferiors!”
“Oh, so now my husband, wants to be mayor.”
“I would be a good mayor. But with a Jewish son, impossible.”
“And your father. You want the rebbi to convert as well?”
“My son will not have a bris. Why must you be so selfish? How can you take this great joy from me?” Elias demanded. “You want your new Abraham to grow up with a yoke on his life, a cloud over his head, a stain on his record, when all we have to do is give up pagan beliefs. It’s nearly 1907, for Chrissakes! Why can’t you wake up to the new world? Do you think I can run my operations and be successful as... as a Jew?!”
Debora felt her son begin to gasp. Aunt Ella, who was midwife, grabbed swiftly, and brought the boy firmly to her chest. Cupping her hand she swatted his back soundly. He hiccupped and burped. In spite of himself, Elias smiled.
Although her hair was messed, and there was sweat upon her brow, Ella still expressed elegant regalness and air of authority. She turned to face her nephew. “You vant a healthy son?” she said in Yiddish, her stare deflating the businessman as he shrank back twenty years to his life as an eight-year-old tearing through Tante Ella’s kitchen, as she prepared Sedar dinner. Swiping a pastry to her chagrin as she swatted his backside, he would scoot out the door, his mouth half filled with delicious treat.
“May I hold my son?”
Ella looked at Debora who turned away. Elias wheeled and rumbled down the stairs unable or unwilling to take on the two women, at least for now. There would be another day.
From the porch, he looked downstream beyond the factory to the blur of downtown Kempten seven miles in the distance. He felt he could almost read the bright new sign of his automobile dealership. He knew precisely where it was, across from the town square right in the center of the little metropolis.
He called Gunther, his manservant, on his new intercom, and had him bring the new Royce roadster up to house and park it by the front door. Donning riding gloves and goggles, he pushed past and stepped into the driver’s seat, commanded Gunther to “crank it up” and put the automobile in gear.
“I expect my shoes to be polished by the time I return.”
“Yes, sir,” Gunther said.
Steering the Royce around the semi-circular driveway, Elias put his arm out of the window the way he had been taught to make a signal, then he made a right turn and sputtered down the dirt lane. It was late spring. The first purple buds of crocus were beginning to peep throughout the lawn, the rhododendrons were also beginning to bud.
A brood of pheasants crossed in front of him, as the driver instinctively braked to a slow crawl. Watching the strutting mother followed by a trail of six chicks, Elias felt a sense of pride since he considered them part of his estate, when suddenly, out from nowhere, the male swooped, fluttering dangerously close to his head, warning him off, causing him to duck, as the brood disappeared quickly into the brush. The vehicle lurched and rumbled over a moving object. Elias cut the wheel and slammed the auto into a maze of branches.
Picking rhododendron buds from his windshield, the driver shook his head to get his bearings. Removing his goggles, he loosened his collar as he watched the cock reappear to attack the animal he had just run over. A red fox lay smashed in the center of the driveway, it’s neck broken, eyes still open, pecked at by the regal ring-necked bird. Elias would later swear that this bird had looked squarely at him in the eye to tell him that he too should protect his flock.
Debora sat up in bed and began to sob. “It’s all right,” Tante Ella said, handing her back the boy.
“Why is he so stubborn?”
“He vants to be a success. Is that really so hard to understand?”
“But is it worth the price of our heritage?”
“There is nothing new here, Debora,” Tante Ella said. “Rabbi Sinschwartz has told us that intermarriage is as high as 40% in Hamburg, over 25% in Berlin.”
“What will happen to our essence?”
“There are still many good Jews. We have survived for thousands of years.”
“But what can I do, deny my son a bris to placate his pigheaded father?”
“Appeal to a higher authority, my dear.”
Alone in the garden, Elias listened to the plaintiff melody of his great uncle’s voice swirl out the sitting room and echo down the hill. Because of the fame of this renown cantor, his father, Hillel, the cantor’s nephew, now a new grandfather, was able to gain a post at Ben Zion Temple in Weissenbach, just over the border in Austria. It was the largest synagogue in the region.
Well aware that he was part of the educated aristocracy, Elias knew he had grown up with a silver spoon. But he also knew that it was not his father who “built a machine shop from scratch to turn it into a major industry.” Elias mumbled as he paced outside. “Nor did my father erect a complex to house my workers. And he did not negotiate with goyem to obtain a lot in the town square to start an automobile dealership....”
“Are you coming in?” von Rosensweig nudged as he came out to fetch his reluctant business partner. “Or do you want your brother to hold the boy when the rebbi makes the cut.”
“My brother! If Simon so much as touches....” Elias spouted, throwing his cigar down, he joined his wife’s uncle and marched inside. Von Rosensweig led him to the crib. There before them stood the whole clan. They numbered over forty. Although his mother was no longer alive, Elias’ father appeared vigorous and self-assured. He stood arm and arm with his sister, Tante Ella, beside Debora, their eyes aglow with images of this new and “perfect child.” And like a Goliath, also stood Great Uncle Judah.
“Eli, you been pissing in the woods?” the cantor cajoled, loud enough for the entire forty to hear.
Shrinking beneath the comment, the convert did his best to hide his revulsion as he watched the relatives break into laughter. He gained some comfort to see that his younger brother did not smile with the others, but rather, came forth to pat him reassuringly on the back.
“Congratulations,” Simon said.
“Thank you, brother,” Elias replied.
The miole looked Elias in the eye. With a disdained air of resignation, the new father reached for a yalmuke and plunked it on his head.
Debora’s eyes sparkled. Were those tears of joy or sorrow? Elias could not tell. A voice inside took over as he recited in Hebrew by rote the appropriate prayer. As he did so, he felt a large hand on his shoulder. Wheeling, he glimpsed clearly the ghost of his dead mother and the ghost of her father as well. “Wake up, schmuck,” whispered the dead Grandpapa Izzie.
During this strange interlude, Elias looked over to the living, his father Hillel and granduncle Judah, who appeared to be dovening in his direction.
Tante Ella’s soothing voice and gentle hand smoothed Baby Abraham’s shoulders. The little one lay on his back, in the crib. A smile of contentment.
The moile took center stage, stating that this tradition would not interfere with young Abe’s ability to marry and reproduce when he reached proper age.
“May I say something,” Elias found himself saying, the images of his dead relatives still powerfully hovering in his psyche, “that is, before the surgery begins?”
His father nodded assent, which halted the procedure for a moment.
Elias moved his gaze from his father and granduncle to his wife. “I know I have come from a blessed family, and I know I have not been a religious man. But I am a good man, and I respect my father and his uncle, my wife and her wishes. Abraham Maxwell has been born the religion of his mother, and he will be circumcised in a matter of moments in accord with a tradition that is thousands of years old. There is no easy answer for someone of Jewish ancestry in this world. The real world. I only wish the best for my son.” He nodded to proceed.
The moile chanted the sacred prayer as he brought out the cutting instruments. Capping the boy’s penis with a little metal hood, he took out a small very sharp blade, held it next to the protected phallus, and sliced off a ring of foreskin.
Baby Abraham pierced the room with his shriek, as the family applauded and the feast began.
“Thank you,” Debora said to her husband. She stood in deference by his side, her eyes still welled with tears.
“I know I’m an ass,” he whispered as he gave her a kiss. “I’m only trying to survive in an unforgiving world.”
“I know,” she said. Their lips met. It was the first time they had kissed in nearly two weeks.
(click to download PDF)
Marc J. Seifer, Ph.D.
Box 32, Kingston, RI 02881
Dressed smartly in a charcoal grey three-piece pin-striped suit, Jacob Bruno stared out the pigeon stained window of his office, a second story walk up, combination class room, graphology and rare manuscript bookstore, between 61st and 62nd on Lexington Avenue, and burst into tears. "Oh, Sollie!," he wailed, as he turned to gaze at the one and only framed, wrinkled, photo of his wife and son that survived the war. His only son frozen for eternity at 8 years of age, Solomon Isaiah Bruno, with his thin brown hair cascading out from under his grandfather's tureen-shaped yarmulke, curled peyes spiraling down about his ears, trusting hazel eyes and innocent face, sitting on his mother's lap, smiling up at papa. Deep waves of grief poured through the old man's being as he thought back to that black day when Sollie died in his arms. In the midst of a cold snap. In The Camp. Just twenty days before his release. February, 1939. "Why didn't you take me?" he sobbed as his eyes turned back towards the window to watch a peregrine falcon snatch a pigeon from a flock as it banked sharply to avoid a highrise and land at its nest atop a nearby three-story townhouse. With his own weight down to 84 pounds, it was a miracle that he survived, that anyone made it out, if you could call it that. But Sollie was below 60 pounds, a skeleton that hardly breathed. Like Hollenschtein, who attempted suicide, and two other Buchenwald survivors who succeeded in leaving this hell called earth, Jacob Bruno remained at his core, another of the walking dead waiting for the reunion with his family.
"Jacob," Shirley's voice came over the intercom. "Your 2 o'clock is here... Jacob, are you there?"
"Give me a minute," he paused, "to vash up, and zen show her in. And call up Hollenschtein. I'll meet him for dinner at seven."
Overweight Shirley, in her Rosemary Clooney autumn-colored muumuu, eased herself into the room, closing the door quietly behind. "You saw him last week." She raised both eyebrows in a pleading gesture. "He only makes you depressed."
"We're za only dead ones left, now. Maybe we'll just finish each other off, like we planned. A Heaven's Gate cocktail. It'll make God happy."
"That wasn't God's doing," she responded weakly.
"No, not your God, dear Shirley. But my God apparently is an anti-Semite. And quite successful at it. He took six million. Seemed to thrive on young men and women and particularly children. A few, like my Sollie, starved to death. But most were gassed, or mowed down with machine guns, or better yet, experimented on, raped and zen fed to the dogs. Zere are European bankers even today with golden bricks numbering in the hundreds of millions smelted out of the sweat of my brethren's brow and out of their dental fillings. I think zere is still even a market today for tatoo lampshades. We should put one here. I can put it on during the cloudy days.... If I get ill, Shirl, or just wise up, you'll help me won't you?"
"You want to go kill yourself when there are a half dozen organizations that revere you, twenty or more students who depend on you, and numerous others who love you! No, Mr. Jacob Bruno, you leave me out of it! I'll tell you're 2 o'clock to come back tomorrow. Or next week." Shirley turned with resignation to depart, unconsciously tugging at her collar and rocking her head around to release hot air.
"And how will I pay za rent?" Jacob Bruno jumped to his feet. "Are you going to lend me za money! Give me five and send her in."
"Yes," she said, her customary smile returning, as the old warrior departed for his private bathroom.
Mrs. Theodore Titcomb strutted in, a lynx poised on spiked heels, wrapped in white sable, with her three carat bottom-kisser diamond ring, emerald studded cleavage, insignia engraved violet see-through stockings and darker pleated violet mini-skirt.
"Sit," Jacob Bruno suggested, as he stacked a recent case that had lain scattered in several sheets upon his desk. Mrs. Titcomb deftly lowered herself to the seat, flipped one leg over and displayed, apparently on purpose, a large portion of her magnificent thighs. The old man made no effort to hide his gaze as he watched her arch the raised foot and curl her toes back so as to dangle one shoe precariously.
A dog-eared text by her side, caught her eye. She placed it on her lap and read the German title Handschrift und Charakter. "Who is this Ludwig Kla-jeez?" she said, as she looked up to stare brazenly into the old man's eyes. Hers were glistening green. With long curled eyelashes, topped by pencil thin eyebrows, her face was capped by a perfectly crisp aquiline nose, lightly powered cheeks and supple lips painted magenta.
Mrs. Titcomb's tongue made a quick appearance as she waited for his response.
Bulging from his head like oversized grey olives, Jacob Bruno's eyes stared back. Saddled with deep bags underneath, these portals to Jacob's soul expressed a lifetime of experience in the numerous cry and laugh lines that surrounded them. Balding, but not bald, his wispy tufts of silver hair were brushed back over his rotund visage. "Klages," he corrected in his natural Austrian accent, "with a hard g."
"The book is dated 1928. And this one here," she lifted another well-worn text, "is it Saudek with a hard K?"
Was she mocking him? he thought. "Correct," he said.
"And here's another in 1926, by Osborne. Don't you have any modern texts, Dr. Bruno? Has nothing happened in your field in four score years?"
"Mister," Jacob corrected. "Zey call me Doctor, and I imagine I'm entitled to the appellation as I have two honorary degrees, but I never even completed college, it was..."
"Buchenwald, I know," Mister Bruno. I've read your file."
"File?" his eyes darted.
"Did I say file? Bio," she corrected.
"Oh, I see. Did you know that it was Klages that turned me in?"
"To the Gestapo!"
"This man!" she said, returning to the first text, holding it up with horror.
"And you keep his book?!"
"Books." Jacob Bruno guided her gaze to the jammed book shelves. "There you see his four major works. Like God, he cannot be explained. Za bastard was an anti-Semite of the worst kind. 'Za Jew has stolen za soul of Germany,' he accused many times, but he turned me in not because of my religion..."
"Because I was a professional threat!"
"He sent you to a concentration camp so Klages could be the only graphologist in town?!"
"Being Jewish didn't help. But, yes, and Klages sent many others as well, teachers, astrologers, palmists, philosophers.... My wife and son were taken, in part, because of Klages. This was before the war, when most often they only interned the head of the household, but he had them make an example of me and my kind. So, yes, I read his books, study them every day. Can you think of anything more absurd?"
"No, I cannot. Why would you ever do it?"
"Because, even after 80 years, za cretin remains za genius of our field. Quite a legacy. He's like a Freud or an Einstein. You cannot do without him. So no, to answer your question, the field has not changed very much since za dawn of the century. A handwriting is a handwriting, an analysis is an analysis, a comparison is a comparison."
"I'm ignorant, Doctor, er, Mister Bruno. This Klages book is about character analysis, is it not?"
"That is correct."
"And you study forgeries?"
"Are you a handwriting analyst or a detector of forgeries?"
"Isn't handwriting analysis a fortune teller's trick?"
"Good day, Mrs. Titcomb." Jacob Bruno's manner changed rapidly. He turned his gaze to a large chained watch which he pulled from a vest pocket.
She paused to consider the fast rebuke; his peripheral vision caught sight of her full breasts heaving. Mrs. Titcomb was exceedingly beautiful, particularly her deep and entrancing crystal green eyes. A superb nose job, he thought, slightly dimpled chin. Was that reconstruction too? Maybe her breasts were fake as well. He hoped not. If only I could see her handwriting, he thought.
"That's it?!" she said, finally, breaking the silence.
"I'm too old and too tired to deal with another skeptic, Mrs. Titcomb," the ancient graphologue replied. "Do I look like a man who could spend his life wasting his time? We are what we write, so make up your mind. If I can be of help to you, I'm interested, but if you have your doubts, I von't be offended. Shirley can show you za yellow pages on your way out."
Jacob Bruno stood up and approached the women, placing a hand gently on her shoulder. His touch was warm, presenting it in such a way so as to leave the decision to her. A kindliness flowed from his fingertips as he felt, in return, zero response. It gave him a chill. Lack of love from the mother, he guessed to himself. Boldly, she placed her hand on his.
"I'm told you're the best."
"I am, Mrs. Titcomb."
"In forgery detection?"
"In every detection. You have a case?"
"It's my husband. He maybe having an affair." She reached into her purse. "I want to know if this is his." She handed him a one-page letter.
"A love note?"
"So it seems."
Grabbing a magnifying glass the size of a pie plate, the analyst began to peruse the document as Mrs. Titcomb stared in fascination at the enlarged portion of Jacob Bruno's face. She was amazed to see through the large lens a beehive arrangement of the skin cells on the tip of his nose. "To Monica," he said finally. "You know this girl?"
"By reputation only. She's a lady of independent means. Keeps four or five lovers who pay her rent. But I don't necessarily buy that my husband is involved. It was his son who gave me the note."
"From a previous marriage?"
"Yes, of course. I believe he wants me to divorce his father."
"So he'll get the inheritance?"
"What else is new. Can you do this? Can you match the letter to my husband's writing?" She gave him two copies of Theodore Titcomb's handwriting.
"Where are your husband's signatures?"
"Oh, are they missing?"
"They're not here. And I'll need the son's as well?"
"Is that important?"
"Well, Mrs. Titcomb, we have two questions here. Number 1, did your husband write za note; and Number 2, if he didn't, did his son?"
"I'm not sure I can get the son's."
"I'll need the son's."
"I can't get the son's. Look, Mr. Bruno, I don't really care if it's the son's. I just want to know if it is my husband's."
"But, without the son's handwriting, you make much more work for me. Suppose they have the same basic style. That's often za case, you know."
"Because the son copies the father?"
"Partially, but also you have genetic components, inherited characteristics.
"But my husband's son was adopted," she lied.
"Oh, I see. Zat is a different matter. However, without the son's writing, this still increases the difficulty of the case."
"I'll see what I can do," she said.
"I will need an advance of $3000, and if you want a written report, it will be at least an additional thousand."
"Your secretary said most cases run no more than a thousand."
"This is not most cases. If you get me za son's handwriting and some of Theodore's signatures, I can take off three, maybe five hundred dollars. Sleep on it, and if you decide, you can messenger the documents back to me with a check."
"I would want a detailed report, a precise explanation. Something to show my lawyer," she added.
"With charts and figures for each key letter?"
"Make it an even $5,000. And I must get it all up front."
"You will take a cashier's check?"
"A private check will be fine."
"I will send a cashier's check, Mr. Bruno. I can't afford the time it takes for a check to clear. Time is of the essence," she added locking eyes onto his.
"I understand," he said returning her gaze.
"This is, of course, strictly confidential." Her eyes darted around the room, before she searched her purse for a mirror.
"As are all my cases."
Powdering her nose, eyes on the task, "May I leave the documents and forward the check by courier?"
"For this kind of money, sir," eyes up to his, eyes back to the compact, " I expect a clear presentation."
"Chapter and verse." Jacob Bruno parroted the response she needed to hear. "Would you write me out a statement agreeing to the fee and sign it?" He handed her pad and pen.
She hesitated. "OK, doctor," she erred on purpose.
"And, please, would you include your address. We needn't meet again," the Austrian added. "Courier is more efficient on my time, what little of it I have left."
"Are you ill?"
"Old. Eighty seven years is a very long time."
"You don't look a day over seventy-nine," she smiled, as she leaned forward to reveal her cleavage as she wrote out his request.
With his aging libido aroused, he accepted the note, and took her hand.
"Deal." Slithering from her chair, she straightened her apparel and waddled towards the door.
"Mrs. Titcomb," he called after her. "You didn't give me your first name."
"Chastity," she breathed.
"Of course," he said as she closed the door behind her.
The old man dropped his eyes to the paper to stare at the artificial style which spelled out the agreement to the fee in measured fashion. Her address was a box number at Penn Station.