Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5766 - May 10, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by Gita Gordon

Serializing a new novel.

Chapter 21: Belem, November 2001 — Part 1

A road has been built to the isolated patch of jungle in the Amazon where Eli and Fay spent more than a year, and they have managed to get out and onto a boat bound for the port city of Belem in Brazil.


The boat journey was slow and lacking in comfort. Eli managed to obtain a small private cabin by paying an additional sum from their dwindling small bundle of dollars. Food had to be bought at riverside stops, of which there were many. It was three weeks before they saw the jungle gradually give way to houses, at first spaced far apart, and then closer together.

High-rise buildings appeared quite suddenly, massed together on the horizon. Soon they were docking in the city of Belem.

The captain of the ship came from this place and at each port of call he had sighed and wished aloud that he was back in Belem. "Soon we will be in a proper city, not a collection of tin huts like this place. Do you know how many people live in Belem? Two million I tell you. You think I am exaggeration? No, just wait and see."

This monologue was heard each time new passengers came aboard.

Now, as the boat came into the dock, Fay and Eli realized that there had been no exaggeration. Here, where the Amazon split into tributaries as it entered the Atlantic Ocean, on the very edge of the Amazon Forest, was indeed a great city.

They were carrying only two worn bags with the remains of the clothing they had taken for their anticipated short trip into the jungle. The bags had been used for carrying produce from the gardens, fish from the stream and the firewood that they had gathered daily. Their clothing was faded and creased. They had very little money left, but enough for the bus that took them from the docks up the Avenida Presidente Vargas where, after some minutes of travel, they saw they were in a commercial district, with shops and offices and banks.

Eli and Fay got off the bus and walked joyously into a travel agent. Some time later they stumbled out dismayed. Their appearance had worked against them.

"Come back and make the booking when you have cash money in your hands," they had been told. The proffered travelers checks had been rejected with a sneer. "Where did you steal that?" was the reaction.

Next they went to a bank. The reaction there had been a bit more courteous. "Please take a seat and wait while we call your bank in New York."

However, when the clerk returned he was less than polite. "Those travelers checks you gave me — they are no longer valid. You had better leave now before I call the police," he said.

Eli responded, "We have been away a long time. If you call this number in New York you can speak to my lawyer. He will speak to my bank to renew the checks or else arrange for my bank to send the money here."

The bank clerk laughed. "What? And who will pay us for yet another wasted call?"

The suggestion that the call should be collect was rejected.

Eli said, "Perhaps there is an American consul in this city? Perhaps you could call him?"

However the ragged couple did not impress the clerk, though they were clearly foreigners, clearly Americans. Their appearance was against them. "Go waste someone else's time. Look, there is a line behind you. Go now, or I will call the police."

Once outside the building Fay pulled out a chain from beneath her dress. "I placed this here for safekeeping when we arrived in the jungle," she said. "I was afraid that if Pedro saw it he would demand it, just as he demanded our dollars. We could sell it to a jeweler. Remember, when you bought it you insured it for ten thousand dollars."

They walked to a jeweler but they were offered a derisory four hundred dollars — not even enough for a trip for both to Sao Paulo, the nearest airport.

They began to walk as they talked, aimlessly, not following any particular direction. Suddenly they saw before them a blue and white building with a large dome and three Magen Davids on the imposing facade. They walked up to the door and found it open. They entered the cool building and found themselves in a shul of great beauty. A few moments later a man came up to them.

"Welcome to the Shaar Hashamayim shul," he said.

He listened to their story and then took them to a small office.

"Sit here while I call the Rabbi," he said. "He will know what to do."

Two weeks later, after calls to their lawyer and money being transferred, Fay and Eli, wearing new clothing and carrying heavy coats to face the inclement New York weather, traveled first to Sao Paolo and from there to New York.


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