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May 9, 2003


• Since most Jews in America are no longer religious, it seems odd that the market for tefillin and prayer shawls is much more active here than in Europe. A salesman of religious articles explained why: A religious Jew only needs to buy a prayer shawl and phylacteries once, and he uses them six days a week for his entire life. In America, Jews only use their prayer shawls a few times a year, on High Holy Days and on yahrzeits. So he goes and looks for his tallit bag and sure enough, he can’t find it. Maybe it got lost when he moved or his wife hid it to give to their son as a bar mitzvah present. Or maybe he finds it, but it’s been eaten by moths and it falls apart. For these reasons, American Jews buy more prayer shawls than their more pious European relatives.


• Krakow is the city of Poland’s kings, with its beautiful churches and long, winding streets. But once you enter the Jewish quarter on Kazimierz Street, the picturesque town disappears and is replaced with hardscrabble poverty. The Jews of Krakow are a poor lot. There is barely any Jewish cultural life at all. Not long ago, the Bundist representative on the city council managed to obtain funds to build a Yiddish theater. But it was a financial disaster: The Jews of Krakow are too poor even to go to the theater. There isn’t a single Yiddish newspaper in Krakow — something that even small towns in Poland have. There are no Yiddish schools either. In a word, Krakow is like an empty desert for Jewish culture.

• More than 3,000 people attended a mass meeting this week at Carnegie Hall to protest the subway price hike from 5 cents to 7 cents. The meeting, called by various socialist organizations, was called in the name of the working masses who cannot afford an extra 4 cents per day in order to get to and from their jobs. Speakers thundered against the Transit Authority, which, they argued, made more than $13 million in profit last year. It was also argued that riders are packed into cars like sardines and that the Authority treats its workers poorly.


• Yosl Leibstein, known to his customers as “Papa Joe,” sat in the corner booth at the New Campus Restaurant on West 32nd Street, where he has worked for the past 35 years. Papa Joe, at 88, is believed to be New York’s oldest waiter. Sitting with a paper hat on his head and a fat cigar stub in his mouth, Papa Joe was celebrating his birthday at a party thrown at a table full of his regular customers. Some of them have been his lunch customers for 25, 30 and 35 years. This time, however, they served him his meal. But they didn’t do so good a job. “You cripples!” Papa Joe yelled. “You oughta know that I drink bourbon straight up — so don’t bring me any ginger ale!”

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