Illustration by Paul Rogers

Nothing in his listless history (or anyone else’s he knew of) had prepared him for such an event, and it seemed to him that prior to the rabbi’s resurrection nothing of note had happened in his life at all. It was as if he’d only been marking time, waiting all his 15 years for the rabbi to come forth from his retirement. While the old man lay in bed regaining his strength, or sat sunk in his chair by the window in a shaft of sunlight that made his paltry bones appear as nearly pellucid as the ice he’d emerged from, Bernie would coax him to converse. Normally reticent if not downright fractious, the boy was at times a little stymied by his own uncharacteristic behavior, but his newfound curiosity had acquired a momentum that would not turn around. It was an awkward process in the beginning, since neither understood the other’s spoken language; in addition, the old man, who appeared perpetually vexed from his rude awakening, could be moody and not always inclined to indulge Bernie’s efforts to draw him out. But in the end he tolerated the kid’s graceless gestures and crude indications and with a little persuasion would return them in kind, until they’d commenced an exchange that passed for communication. At length, each had gathered enough scraps of the other’s mother tongue to allow for a tentative dialogue. Bernie was delighted by his gradual acquisition of his guest’s fruity idiom, but even more than with his own, he was impressed with the rabbi’s rapid and seemingly effortless progress. Of course Eliezer ben Zephyr—it had taken the old man a while to recall his own name—had the added advantage of exposure to the TV, which had captivated him from the moment he’d tumbled out of the freezer.

It had been Bernie’s inspired idea to lead the rabbi, once his stick legs were ambulatory again, back across the covered walkway into the basement whose ground-level entry was at the rear of the house. Not only did the television in the rumpus room give the old man a leg up on the language, but it also introduced him to a culture he might have been ill equipped to apprehend at first hand. It was a culture that seemed to intrigue him as much as his own murky origins interested Bernie, who pestered the rabbi for information about his past at every opportunity. Such opportunities had to be taken more often than not during commercial breaks, though commercials could provide their own brand of entertainment, discouraging interruptions. But over time the two developed a kind of quid pro quo, as Rabbi Eliezer put more questions to the boy about America, which he’d come to understand was the place in which he found himself.

It seemed to fascinate him, this America, or at least the part of it that he viewed through the bowed window of the cabinet that was the centerpiece of the rec room, the passage to and from which was Eliezer’s only exercise. Having initiated the rabbi into this passive orientation to his new world, Bernie was a little chagrined that, fresh from an immemorial slumber in one box, he was so quick to be transfixed by another. But whatever pleased Rabbi ben Zephyr (and subdued somewhat his crusty exterior) was also gratifying to the boy. In the omnipresent news broadcasts the old man showed little interest: The relentless advance of the Horsemen of Apocalypse was already a stale subject on earth even before the rabbi had entered his suspended condition. But about the splenetic woman who conducted a daily din toyreh, splitting hairs over laws concerning two-timers and clip artists with the perspicacity of a Daniel; about the smug gentleman who encouraged public loshen horeh (gossip) and orchestrated encounters between parties guilty of mutual betrayal; about the portly schwartze who invited intimate confessions from her guests and wept openly over their Job-like afflictions; about antic surgeons, garrulous chefs, faithless couples, deceitful castaways, teenage exorcists, and the Jew repeatedly duped into fornicating with shikses, old Eliezer was deeply inquisitive. He was especially interested to observe the willingness of citizens to air their indiscretions in public forums.

“If a man to other men will sell his wife,” he might ask in the crossbred Yinglish to which Bernie was starting to grow accustomed, “is not obliged Reb Springer to cleave open his breast and tear out his farkokte heart?” “When they shimmy, these daughters in their supple skins in the orgies of the MTV, do not their fathers say already Kaddish for them?”

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