National Geographic : 1964 Jul
The World in New York City Dancing for joy also characterizes the most tradition-minded minority in New York. The men wear noble beards and hats ringed with sable, like the Renaissance patricians painted by Titian. The little boys know the first five books of the Bible by heart. They call it the Torah, for they are Jews-remnants of the Hasidic branch of Judaism that flowered in Eastern Europe two centuries ago. Hasid means the pious, but these people go beyond piety. They give their lives entirely to the joy of communicating with God. In New York live some 1,800,000 Jews, almost as many as in Israel. Among them the Hasidim are the tiny fraction whose zeal brooks no compromise. They frown on the State of Israel. Why? Because it was founded by men, and not by the Messiah. I watched as they joyously celebrated Suc coth, the feast of the harvest that also gives thanks for shelter during 40 years' wandering in the desert. The synagogue was small and unadorned, and so crowded that men clung to the walls to get a look at their rabbi, their zaddik, one so devout that they think he can work miracles. For this, men had come from far away to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. From Canada. From Argentina. From France. From Israel itself. Jammed into the singing crowd I swayed, perforce, with the rest. A tiny space was kept clear for the rabbi, a famous scholar in his 80's. There he danced, dressed in white and silver, with the Torah in his arms. High Life at the Towers In ultramodern Manhattan, too, I was hap py to find so much of the old still alive. Off Madison Avenue I met an itinerant sharpener of knives and scissors, with his workshop on his back. And in the Village, Joe Price, who was 77, still delivered onions by horse cart. The horse wore flowers behind his ears. On Third Avenue, Conrado Perales rolled cigars by hand. A cooper on Ferry Street made barrels as they were made in old Nieuw Amsterdam. Independent craftsmen survived by the hundreds, happy to repair things rea sonably, rather than tell you to throw them away and buy expensive new ones. But I suspected that it was as easy as ever to spend lots of money in New York. And my wife proved it beyond question. This episode began when I proposed that for a while we move from Elmhurst to the Towers of the Waldorf-Astoria. "Everyone needs a little change now and then," I said. "You'll love the view east from the 29th floor, when the sun rises over Queens and the East River. And there's an extra air exhaust right in the shower, so that for once I won't have the mirror all fogged up. Never mind the cost." I added that the neighbors would be nice and quiet. Cole Porter has an apartment up there, and so has Adlai Stevenson. Should the Duke of Windsor be in town again, or the Shah of Iran, they would be staying in the Towers too. "Let's go," said my wife. Standing Room Holds True Opera-lovers We also went to the opening of the Metro politan Opera (pages 88-9). Reporters record ed the arrivals. Mrs. John R. Drexel III in pink-and-white brocade. Miss Patrice Munsel in red ostrich feathers. Miss Hope Hampton in chinchilla. My wife wore a black look. During the last act, while Aida and Rad ames expired melodiously along the Nile, I went up to the fifth tier, to the standing-room regulars. By the eerie light of an exit sign, one sat on the carpeted steps. Another leaned against the wall. Neither looked at the stage. A third looked asleep. Actually all three were concentrating deep ly. Later I learned that they were a mathe matics teacher, a secretary, and a food sales man. During the opera season they were up here four or five times a week. "She was terrible," said the teacher. "A great voice, but miscast," said the secretary. The salesman said, "You've got to hear three or four Aidas, then the production begins to move." How many had he heard? "About a hundred. You see, each performance is differ ent." Could greater love be found in Vienna or Milan? Next morning my wife said sorry, she sim ply couldn't go to the United Nations Day Ball unless she too had something spectacular to wear. I said, "Try Ohrbach's, on 34th Street off Fifth Avenue. They're stylish and very reasonable." My wife went to Bergdorf Goodman, at 58th and Fifth, where ladies have been known to spend $100,000 a year. She went on to Ab ercrombie & Fitch, on Madison Avenue, for a $90 embroidered cardigan, and to Hammach er Schlemmer, on 57th Street, for scissors to slice off the tops of boiled eggs. "Such a handy gadget," she said, "for only six dollars. Now let's get you something nice."