...On his first day in America, David, just 20, searches New York desperately for “a man named Zigler who once worked for [his grandfather] and was supposed to be living in Madison Square”. Zigler is to help him find David's father, who did not show up to take the family off the boat from Latvia. Alas, David learns that this Zigler moved away a year ago, and no one knows where.
Advised to simply get a ticket at Grand Central Station, for Ludington, Michigan, where his father is supposed to be, David discovers they sell only first-class tickets, which cost over twice what he has on hand. He dejectedly heads back to the Castle Garden immigration building to find a cheaper ticket.
Hungry and thirsty, he does not want to dip into his precious and few American funds, and attempts to buy a bun for a 10-pfennig piece. Needless to say, this does not pass muster and he is turned away.
While he sits weeping on a brownstone doorstep,
A rather portly and well-dressed man with a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard and gold-rimmed eyeglasses came from inside the building and, approaching him, asked, “Who are you, young man? Whence camest thou?”
A Van Dyke beardI gather by this archaic phrasing that the man speaks to him in Hebrew. David tells him the situation.
He led the way to a Kosher delicatessen store and ordered a large picnic basket to be filled with food and also a bottle of wine, and then told David they must hurry to get the ticket. In ten minutes they were at the ticket office, and man said to David, “Give me that $15.”
David trembled, fearing that the man might rob him, but he handed over the money. Within five minutes the man was back with the ticket and said they must cross on the big ferry to the New Jersey side to get the train. When they reached the depot, the man spoke to the conductor of the train, asking him to take care of the young immigrant and see him safely to his destination. He took David into the car, and when David was seated in a red plush car seat, handed him a $5 bill for pocket money, shook his hand, and bade him a safe journey. He also promised to find Mr. Zigler and see that that family got off the steamer.
Getting up more courage, David asked, “Man, who are you? What is your motive in showing such generosity to a stranger like me in a strange land?”
What follows is scarcely believeable; harking back to a brief earlier episode in the diary, the man says,
“Well, my son, can you remember this?” and he lifted up his left hand which was minus two fingers. “I am the crippled student who played with you after the pogrom in Melitopol when your mother cared for me for a whole week, at a time when I could see she had none too much for her own family. She saved my life then and I have prayed for the time to come when I could repay her for her kindness. I am more than glad for this occasion. I’ll take care of your mother and the children in the morning.”
And with that, David sets off with his five dollars for the wilds of Michigan.
To be continued...
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