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The Southern Jewish weekly. [volume] (Jacksonville, Fla.) 1939-1992, October 15, 1943, Image 2

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Page Two
A Fascinating Short Story
The Shoeblack And
The Penny
“It is a rash one who will lav his finger
on the map and say: ‘ln this town there
can be no romance what could happen
here?’ ”
0. Henry A municipal Report
They are a strange sect of
Israel —the Jew of the kingdom of
Yemen. For the most part, short
and spindling, the biological ef
fect of innumerable generations
of underprivilege and malnutri
tion. of rickets and other diseases,
they are swarthy almost to the
hue of deep bronze or coffee, and
fiercely segregated from the rest
of Jewry. The]/ do not often inter
marry with their white co-re
ligionists—an indefinable color
bar seems to exist. Their religion
is of the puritan kind, fanatically
observed to even - minutiae of
Diligent and industrious, scrap
ing penny upon penny; working.
from early morning until late at
night: possessors of flashing
brown eyes and handsome ear
curls. they may be seer, in every
town and settlement in the Land
of Israel, to which they have mi
grated in large numbers from
their native land at the south
eastern tip of the Arabian Pen
insula whither they went in the
great dispersion. They have gone
too. farther afield than Palestine
in their search for new homes.
But in Palestine they have their
spiritual home. *
One such hardworking sectar
ian was Ovadya—the “Servant of .
God" is the translation —who pol- i
ished shoes and did other sundry
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odd jobs for his twenty dollars a
week. Yes. it was princely pay.
four times more than he earned
before the unaccountable war
which had sprung up in Europe
and defeated the humble purposes
of such as he who only sought to
live a comfortable inch away from
the brink of starvation.
You would have liked Ovadya.
swart though he was. His frank
and engaging countenance, his
merry grin showing incredibly
white teeth, the small ear-curls
tucked away from the sight of the
scoffer, his unfailing quips, his
sing-song chant as he spoke He
brew. Look at Ovadya before
passing: he is only fourteen.
Ovadya had his pitch in one of
the main thoroughfares of Tel
Aviv. When he tired of sitting, he
hoisted his box of brushes, polish
ing rags and polishes over his
thin shoulders, spat upon his
hands, and wandered off in search
of custom. Although he produced
a mighty fine polish on the shoes
of his clients—so glinting a shine
that the passing traffic could be
mirrored in each shoe cap—he
wore no boots of his own. Like the
hundreds of other gamins of his
sect, he was barefoot.
But do not for a moment waste
undue sympathy upon him. His
shoelessness was part of his stock
in trade, just like the brushes he
plied so briskly. That was how
he enlisted custom, corralled and
cornered a passer-by who might
be unwilling to waste the time on
a shoeshine if a well shod shoe
shiner touted him. On Sabbaths,
when he relaxed. Ovadya proudly
wore as neat a pair of shoes as
any of his weekday patrons.
Above all. Ovadya, for all of his
fourteen years and meager ap
pearance, was a Philosopher of
the Streets. He loved to watch
the passing parade and comment
upon the foibles and shortcomings
of hig more prosperous fellowmen
to the coterie of shoeblacks a
mong whom he sat.
“Whew: What a fat man.” he
would say with a grin. “He must
eat beef seven times a day seven
times a week. Someone should tell
the Food Controller that he has no
respect for the meatless days.”
Or. seeing a well padded lady
with the inevitable perky fox ter
rior on a lead, “Poor dog! Look at
the load it has to pull along.”
Some of his observations on
life were more profound. He had
the facile cunning of the street
waif, although he was in no sense |
a waif —as his parents were alive
and housed him in return for a
share in the household expenses, j
Certified Public Accountant
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Hecould tell the differences at a
glance between a poet and a piker,
a benfactor and a brute. He once
had the honor of shining the May
or’s shoes; and he ever after
boasted that he did it for nothing,
refusing the coin proffered by
that amused functionary.
Ovadya spoke English of the
pidgin variety. He liked soldiers,
especially British. Australian.
South African and American sol
diers. They were easy prey to his
forlorn appearance. Their tips
were lavish. His greatest ambition
in life was to be appointed Shoe
black-in-Chief to an English
speaking army camp. In a year
or so. he reasoned, he could re
tire to a life of sumptuous ease
■ for the remainder of his time on
But all his luck he attributed
to a penny. It was funny, the way
that penny came into his posses
sion. An English soldier, fishing
in his pocket for coins, dribbled
some copper ones into Ovadya's
ready palm. When the soldier had
gone. Ovadya examined one of
them which struck him as un
usual. It was not Palestinian or
of any other mintage that he
knew, it had the effigy of a broad
beamed, middle-aged lady, seated
on a handsome chair, carrying a
trident in one hand and holding a
shield in the other.
He asked one of his buddies
who it might be. The other
scratched his black poll dubiously.
“Maybe it was that soldier's wife,”
he ventured. “English soldiers
like their wives. Perhaps he had a
picture made of her.”
Ovadya scorned the suggestion.
He kept on asking people about
the bronze coin until he struck a
wise one. “It's Britannia, which
Britain is named after,” said the
other, a Keren Hayesod villager
who had travelled abroad. “The
English call themselves her sons.
That coin is a penny, worth four
From that time on Ovadya
: plugged the penny for all he was
worth. He showed it to English
soldiers as proof that he was
faithful to their symbolical
Britannia; he showed it to
Australians as a token of his es
teem for their mother country;
he parader it before Americans
as an instance of his own cos
mopolitan touch. They responded
with varying degrees of munifi
“I very much better like to use
this penny in London than Tel
Aviv,” he would tell a British
trooper, having his shoes shined
as a leave treat. Rather unfair to
Tel Aviv and Ovadya’s fierce
Palestinian pride, but it always
served. So he waxed fat and grew
rich on his oft-displaved penny.
He found it better advertisement
than many a sovereign or Ameri
can gold twenty-dollar piece.
It was his vehicle to romance,
too. For at fifteen, Ovadya craved
a wife, and was well within Yem
enite Jewish custom to do so. He
heard in the pulpit
i One of the most remarkable j
addresses ever made by the head j
of a national Jewish organization ;
of repute was heard from the pul- j
pit of San Francisco's Temple
Emanu-EL headed by anti-Zionist
Rabbi Irving Reichert, when Mrs.
Maurice L. Goldman, president of
the National Council of Jewish
Women, gave her impressions of
the American Jewish Conference.
She said that she was “confused,
saddened and fearful" as a result
of the Conference. These are some
of the reasons:
"I was completely confused be
cause over half of the speeches
were in Yiddish and to me that
was not American- It seems to me
that in any conference held in
America by American Jews, the
nroceedings should have been in
“I. a loyal and devout Jewess,
felt strange and confused in this
gathering which had been called
for one of the most serious pur- \
poses which has ever affected.
Jewish life in the 4,000 years of
»cur Jewish history—” because the
Hatikvah was sung three times
during the period when there was
fervent discussion of the Palestine
“I was saddened because I mis
sed the spiritual Jewish note. I
missed the fact that there were no j
prayers except in the beginning."
. This sentence must be read in con
nection with another; The entire
— -
had the money for a dowry: he
had a trade and was earning a
stream of doubloons at it. His
father conducted the negotiations
and concluded the deal. Ovadya’s
fancy had romantically pinned it- :
self on a shy. fawn-eyed, shrink-'
ing maid of his own size and years. '
He had furnished a comer of the 1
family bedroom for their joint *
household. There were only six in
the room—commodious under ex- j
isting conditions in the Keren !
Yemenite Jewish ’
quarter on the border of Tel Aviv
and Jaffe.
■ Came the great day, the ro
mantic day. when Ovadya was
married. The entire neighborhood j
I attended the rejoicings. To the
wedding guests Ovadya displayed j
his luck-piece, his charm, the
English penny. One of the guests,
who was a money-changer, ex
amined the coin and laughed.
“Ovadya. you have been cheat
ed." he said. “This is a bad penny.
Look, it is of lead with coloring.
It has no value at all.”
“I always knew it was bad,*
Ovadya replied. “But do you think
that if it had been a good penny I
wouldn't have changed it for real,
buy-something money?”
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■ memorial service to oar <
• dead was in Yiddish, with the ex
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i and one Psalm which was
English.” The memorial service
was the most impressive period
in the entire Conference with only
Hebrew spoken, except for asap
English words. . .
“I say to you. the Congregation
of Temple Emanu-EL you can no
longer be indifferent to these
paths of Judaism which are chart
ing their way across the histor
ical lives of our people, for we are
fashioning the mold which win
stamp the pattern of Jewry in this
world for generations to come.
You cannot be different any
more. I charge you in this con
sideration of what kind of Jewry
you want for the Jews the world
over, to use as your basis for
thinking the teachings of social
justice which were taught to us
by our Prophets, and not the
mystic passions and emotions
■ which guide most of us in our
thinking today.”
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