Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Kislev 5764 - December 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Windows on the World

by Y. Freund

Part I

Rocco knew Manhattan only from the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. He wasn't American-born and didn't really know his way around the large city, even though he had worked there for many years. He knew how to go from his home in the Bronx to Windows on the World in lower Manhattan only by following the arrows on the crumpled and stained map that Rick had drawn for him.

He didn't know how to read English either, except for the letters A-F. When he reached G, Rick would say, "It looks like a C. Now, point to it. No, that's a J!"

From the 107th floor, Rocco could see thousands of sparkling neon signs as well as grasshoppers with human forms seated in tiny boxes which raced along curvy snakes.

Sometimes, Rick visited Rocco at Windows on the World, a famous restaurant, and the two would peer out of its large windows and marvel at the magnificent scene below.

Although its cuisine was simple, that didn't bother its many patrons. The thrill of sitting on top of the world and so close to the sky, made it one of the most popular restaurants in the big town.

Rocco liked his work as a window washer, and Charles Harrison, the manager of Windows on the World, was pleased with him. He even gave Rocco a key to the cleaning locker, which was actually like a tiny room. "Put all your brushes and cleaning fluids in the locker at the end of the day. Then lock it and keep the key with you. You can change your clothes there too, and even nap a bit on the cot."

Rocco was thrilled. He had never had his own locker and surely not his own key!

He had a particularly strong brush, which Harrison said was perfect for cleaning the windows behind the kitchen.

"First you sprinkle the windows with water and soap suds. Then you clean it with your brush. After that you slurp the water with the window-wiper, which is attached to a pole. The pole is very long, and you can reach the window frames. Do that three times. Do you understand?" Harrison explained.

That was Rocco's first lesson in Windows on the World, when he had just started, and Rocco understood every single word Harrison had said.

"People ride all the way up to the 107th floor just to see Manhattan from these windows. I don't want ketchup, mustard, chewing gum, maple syrup or plain old fingerprints to block the scenery," Harrison continued.

Skinny and limber, Rocco, who had the face of a child, nodded his head to indicate that he had understood this time too. It was no wonder that Harrison called him Baby Face.

"$120 dollars for a trial week. A deal?"

At home, Rick had given Rocco a pep talk, telling him that he had landed a good job, and that Harrison would apparently be a decent boss. "Just one glance at New York from above, Rocco, and you'll be hooked. Baby Face isn't an insult, Rocco. It's a cute nickname. I guess Harrison likes you."

On Rocco's first day at work, Harrison gave him a ladder. Then he told him: "Climb it carefully. Pick up the brush, and clean until the top of the window."

Then as he watched the short, yet agile Rocco scale the ladder, he cried: "Higher, higher. Great! But don't splash a lot of water."

In Windows on the World they cleaned the topmost windows only after the restaurant had closed. At that time, Harrison would distribute the tips to the waiters and tell Rocco to begin.

Ever since Rocco had begun to work as Windows on the World's window washer, Manhattan seemed tidier and brighter. Rocco was a devoted fellow who didn't try to cheat Harrison or the windows. He had strong hands and a feline agility. He wasn't like the guy who had preceded him who had laughed at the entire world from atop the ladder. Rocco was efficient and competent, and Harrison was pleased with him.

Yes, Rocco Nelson, from the Bronx, who didn't have a bank account, and would collect his wages at the end of the week ($120 not including subway fare, and $150 after the raise) was the most dedicated window cleaner Windows on the World had ever known.

Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end!

* * *

"We have a special today: garlic toast. Wanna try it?" Jimmy asked a customer.

Many of them were permanent customers who preferred to begin their day at Windows on the World with toast n' coffee. Windows on the World's kitchen hands knew precisely how to whip milk so that it tasted like cream. They also knew exactly when to remove the toast from the toaster so that it would be crisp, but not burnt.

Jimmy the waiter, who had hoped to get a raise that week, proceeded from table to table serving his customers and asking them if they wanted anything else.

But when he reached the corner table, he merely smiled. Jimmy knew that Jacobs, the man who always seated himself at that table never ordered anything besides a cold Coke in a disposable cup. That was it. No specials, no coffee -- nothing!

Jacobs was a Jew in his fifties who looked a bit older then his age. His beard was short, his eyes bright, and his suit well-tailored.

That morning, Jacobs lingered a bit beside "his" table. Jimmy saw him opening the financial section of the Times, and reading it carefully. He had a laptop computer into which he fed data. At times, he would answer calls on his cellular phone and then look at his watch.

It was obvious that Jacobs was waiting for someone.

"Another Coke?" Jimmy asked, as he recalled that Harrison had told the waiters to pay special attention to customers like that.

As Jimmy was about to bring another Coke, he heard Jacobs say: "Yes, I'm waiting for you."

Jimmy knew that Jacobs was the owner of Electro-Telcom, a communications firm located on the 103rd floor of the Twin Towers. He also knew that the firm manufactured electronic parts.

Jacobs placed the cellular phone on the table. Then he took out another cellular phone and began to speak in what seemed to Jimmy like a secret code. "I guess he's talking to brokers and doesn't want anyone else to understand," Jimmy figured.

Jacobs was very rich and every morning he conducted large business deals from his corner table in the restaurant. At the end of the day, he would rush to issue his orders before sunset, when he had leave.

Suddenly, a Jew of about sixty appeared at the entrance to the restaurant. He was wearing a black coat and had a long beard. He surveyed the tables rapidly and then walked over to the corner table, Jacobs' table.

Jimmy saw him shaking Jacobs' hand and sitting down.

"See if he wants anything," Harrison told Jimmy.

Many Jews visited Windows on the World, and the Orthodox ones could be identified immediately. However a Jew like that elderly man was a rarity there. Even without hearing the conversation Jimmy knew that he was a man of great integrity.

Jimmy inched over to the table and asked if they wanted some Cokes. Jacobs said that they would be leaving soon and that everything was fine. Obviously, Jews like that never ate in restaurants.

Jimmy perked his ears, and learned that the man was called Rabbi Meizlish. Then he heard him say, "We have twenty-six now. Four more asked to join, but I need your approval before accepting them."

Jacobs nodded and the elderly man continued.

"The air conditioners are working fine now. But there were problems in the beginning of the summer. We called in a technician who fixed them. You know how it is in the summer. It's hard to concentrate. The material isn't easy."

Then he took out a receipt book and said. "I kept a record of all our expenses. We also needed more books. Over the years, books wear out and new books appear on the market.

"I wish we had a few more rooms, so that the men won't have to go home for lunch and then rush back at four. We have thirty-four fellows now, but not all of them go home in the afternoon. Some of them prefer to stay in the building, in order not to interrupt the continuity of their studies. When they want to nap they put their heads down on the table. Some of them lie down on benches. But only for a few minutes. After dozing lightly, they get up and continue to study. Only six of them remain in the building.

"But that poses a problem. If we turn off the air conditioners during lunch break those six young men wouldn't be able to rest or even to study. However according to our contract with you, we aren't supposed to keep the air conditioners on during lunch break, but only when all of the men are there. The question is: can we keep them on for six young men who don't go back home for lunch? I need your permission for that, otherwise it'll be gezel."

"Gezel? What's that?" Jimmy wondered as he tried to figure out what was going on. "That rabbi went all the way up to the 107th floor in order to speak with Jacobs, who wants to know how every dollar is spent. He can't be running a school, since it has so few members. The men he is talking about must be masterminds who are devising new inventions for Electro-Telcom. They say that Harrison owns stocks in Electro- Telcom! Maybe I should buy some too. After all, I've saved up a few thousand dollars and wouldn't mind striking it rich. Then I wouldn't have to wait on customers all day."

* * *

"How's work, Baby Face?" Harrison asked cheerily.

Harrison always took an interest in his workers. As manager of a large staff, he tried to be on everyone's good side.

"Look outside, Baby Face," Harrison then said after a brief pause. "Do you see that guy washing the windows on the building across the street?"

"Man alive, how does he do it? Isn't he afraid to stand outside. See how fast he's working, 36 feet a second," Rocco gasped.

"It's a robot, Baby Face. But for some reason, it can't attach itself to the upper windows of Twin Towers. Would you like to wash the windows from the outside too?"

"Wha . . . t?"

"All you have to do is step out onto a special platform and then spray the windows with soap suds and water.

Rocco paled. "But I might fall!"

"Don't worry; we'll fasten you to the platform with tight ropes. It's not a hard job. But you have to be brave. You have to keep your eyes on the windows, and not on the view below. It's interesting and exciting. What do you say?"

Rocco became dizzy. But Harrison didn't relent: "Until now, another brave fellow did it for us. His name was Koppy. Everyone knew him on the upper floors. He only cleaned the windows from outside twice a year. But each time, it would take a number of weeks to complete cleaning from the 103rd floor to the 107th . He was very agile and would wriggle out of the window like a cat. People would toss him balloons and candies. Last week he was killed in an accident. Now they're looking for a replacement. If you decide to take the job, tell me and I'll recommend you. Okay?"

Rocco blinked, like he always did when he was tense or excited.

* * *

The next morning, Jimmy once again offered Jacobs a Coke in a paper cup. This time, Jacobs was talking to the rabbi on the cell phone. Jimmy heard Jacobs ask:

"He says that he's not sick. If so, why has he been absent for two months?"

"So what's the problem, Rav Shaul. He takes all the tests, and completes his studies at home. What's the question?

"Ah you want to know whether you should deduct money from his salary? How old is the child? A year! Pneumonia? Poor thing. Eight children and the oldest is only nine? I can understand why his wife finds it so difficult to cope."

Jimmy listened to the fragments of the conversation. He understood that a team member had been absent. "Now, I know for sure that it can't be a school. Who pays students for studying? My guess that these guys are working on a special project and are the brains behind Electro-Telcom is probably right. Very interesting.

"I'm a pretty good sleuth," he then snickered to himself. "A regular Sherlock Holmes. I hardly understand their secret code, yet I've already figured out that Rabbi Meizlish, or Rav Meizlish as Jacobs calls him, is into big business. That brain pool seems to be Jacobs' pet project and perhaps his main one. They must have grand plans. Ah, it'll be great to strike it rich."

Jimmy scanned the restaurant. The tables were occupied and Harrison hadn't come that day. Waiters in uniforms made the rounds of the tables and he knew that he had to begin work soon. It was his shift.

Suddenly, his cell phone rang. His good friend Ronald was on the line. He wondered whether he should answer. Harrison didn't like his workers to converse during work hours. It made a bad impression on the customers. But Harrison wasn't there that day.

Jimmy answered the phone excitedly. He hadn't seen Ronald in ages.

"Here? On the ground floor?

Jimmy didn't realize that he was shouting.

"Okay, I'll be with you in fifteen minutes."

What a great day. Harrison isn't around, and Ronald's right here, in the large shopping mall. A perfect opportunity to see him and to blow a bit of money too..

Jimmy surveyed the restaurant again. "His" tables were occupied and the customers were waiting for him to take their orders. Harrison had recently given him a raise and life was a bowl of cherries.

If he sneaked out of the restaurant after he had brought the customers their orders, no one would see him and Harrison would never know. He wouldn't punch out either.

In order not to be seen leaving, he went out through a side door near Jacobs' table. As he passed it, he heard Jacobs approving a purchase and knew that Jacobs had just clinched another big deal.

At that moment Jacobs' cell phone rang and Jimmy heard him say: "Rabbi Meizlish, its Doniel Jacobs. I'm glad you accepted those four. You can accept four more. I rely on you. Yes, with the same conditions. I want everything in writing like we agreed -- the full names and all the details. I need that information. Electro-Telcom is in a bit of trouble. My competitor is breathing down my neck. More members will help me. I can only accept three now. Okay?

"Regarding the air-conditioner, I approve. You can keep them on during recess too. Those young men are very important to me, and I want them to maximize their potential."

* * *

The next time Rav Meizlish came to Windows on the World he walked directly over to corner table and sat down opposite Jacobs. This time his gait seemed a bit brisk. Jimmy noticed that as rich as Jacobs was, he treated the rabbi very respectfully. The rabbi didn't want a Coke. Only water, in a paper cup.

Jimmy had always thought that Jacobs was a bit unlike Windows on the World's other customers. "But that rabbi? He's really different and his questions are so puzzling. I don't understand them at all."

At that moment Jacobs was handing Rav Meizlish dollars -- thousands upon thousands of them. Rav Meizlish counted the money carefully. Then he fastened the bills with rubber bands and put them into his black briefcase.

Rav Meizlish placed a number of lists the table. Then he looked at them, erasing a line or two every now and then, while commenting or advising with Jacobs on certain points. Jimmy saw that the list was made up of names and personal details. But there were also other papers written in codes -- perhaps COBOL, or some other computer language.

Jacobs went over each name, and dwelled on certain ones.

"They're reviewing the salaries of the team's members," Jimmy figured. "The rabbi knows each one of them, and Jacobs wants to hear more about their achievements and potential. These people seem very important to Jacobs, even more important than his brokers."

Jimmy tuned around, trying to maintain eye contact with the table. Meanwhile Baby Face moved towards the table, brush in hand. But Harrison motioned to him to wait. Even Harrison sensed that it wasn't nice to wash a window in Jacobs' presence.

Rav Meizlish cleared his throat and Jimmy heard him say: "The father of the child with pneumonia started coming again, but not every day, and he can't maintain continuity. The child is in the hospital and the father has to be there quite often, or at home with the other kids. He's not absent every day, and he's not to blame. But now we don't have an even number any more and we need an additional member. One group consists of three members. But that's not good. Pairs are best. The question is, should we take in someone new in the meantime, and continue to keep that father on the list, or should we remove him from the list until his baby is better?

"There are a number of considerations but it's your money, and you're the one who must decide. I can testify that the father is very earnest, and if he could come he wouldn't miss a day. However, there are complications and the doctors think that the child might need a lung transplant. The father is very worried and it's impossible to be strict with him. But he asked me to tell you all the details, so that he won't be guilty of gezel.

"Ah Doniel, there's no place like this in all Flatbush. And its all in your merit. I get telephone calls from all over the city. Young men want to join, perhaps because of the good terms you offer them and also because of the special atmosphere. You have to visit it and see for yourself, Doniel. I repeat: it's all on your merit. We're studying new material now. Difficult subjects."

As Jimmy listened, he noted that these conversations followed a steady pattern. Every month, Rav Meizlish would visit Windows on the World, show Jacobs lists, report on achievements, and receive wads of dollars. Without a doubt, this was a prestigious brain pool whose every step was scrutinized by Jacobs.

From the content of the conversations, Jimmy figured that the members of that brain pool were planning an international project and that Jacobs attributed far more importance to the brain pool than to Electro-Telcom.

"I have to find a fitting time to speak with Jacobs about this. Perhaps he can offer me financial advice. After all, I've been his loyal waiter for years. Jews know how to make money, and I want to cash in, too."


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.