Art, cropped, by Lau­ra Junger

Join Steven Volynets and Paper Brigade’s edi­tors for the sec­ond meet­ing of Paper Brigade​’s new Short Sto­ry Club. Togeth­er, we dis­cussed Steven Volynet­s’s​“Shaare Emu­nah.” Watch it here

Stan had often joked that the Irish girl he mar­ried was the most Jew­ish woman he’d ever met. You break my heart,” he lied to her, and Eliz­a­beth got up to leave the cof­fee shop with her eyes red. She would cry lat­er the way she always had, half-laugh­ing­ly: I can’t believe I’m cry­ing about this, she’d say, wip­ing her eyes with the heels of her palms, how ridicu­lous! It was either a spec­ta­cle, he thought, that cry-laugh­ing, impro­vised like their short-lived child­less mar­riage, or one of the things that made her seem so Jew­ish. Laugh­ter from the edge of the grave.

Soon after their divorce, Stan moved into his mother’s sub­si­dized apart­ment in Trump Vil­lage, those high-ris­es at the south­ern end of Brook­lyn shaped like an open book. It had been emp­ty since he arranged to have her admit­ted to the Ocean View nurs­ing home. The last home­care aide, her sixth in as many months, last­ed only a day after his moth­er smashed her TV set and bar­ri­cad­ed her­self in the bed­room. No one knew what she saw on that screen that made her attack the thing with its own remote. But the agency refused to send any more home atten­dants and ter­mi­nat­ed her case.

By then she was the only per­son Stan still spoke to in Russ­ian, or some­thing that was once Russ­ian but had since mutat­ed into their own pri­vate dialect, terse and phar­ma­co­log­i­cal, deformed by years of Eng­lish, mem­o­ry loss, and resent­ment. For a time, Eliz­a­beth took an inter­est in learn­ing it, but that curios­i­ty quick­ly fad­ed when hard con­so­nants had to be rat­tled and words divid­ed into female and male. Love, for exam­ple, was female; fear, male. A city was a he, and so was God. But some Russ­ian words were neu­tral, for rea­sons Stan couldn’t explain. They seemed to describe things with no real shape to them, like the sky or sea. Or mon­ey — espe­cial­ly mon­ey, a word unal­ter­ably plur­al. Every­thing was neu­tral in Eng­lish. It was old­er than Russ­ian and had more words, but it was eas­i­er to learn because it didn’t take sides between men and women.

Raised in Brook­lyn, Stan painstak­ing­ly carved his Amer­i­can image in defi­ance of all those words to find him­self, two decades lat­er, at the trad­ing desk of Bernard L. Mad­off Invest­ment Secu­ri­ties. High above Mid­town East, there was no fero­cious Wall Street roar to any of it. But four years lat­er, just months before the One Big Lie shook the world mar­kets, a small earth­quake shook Madoff’s offices at the Lip­stick Build­ing. Stan would remem­ber that bril­liant morn­ing, but not for the minor tremor. He was on the phone with Carmine Coral­lo, a retired san­i­ta­tion truck dri­ver, when a scaf­fold with two men appeared out­side the win­dows. Sus­pend­ed from net­ting and rope, the ris­ing plat­form was like a creaky fish­ing boat afloat in the wind. Some­where, on the oth­er end of the line, Coral­lo laughed about some­thing, but Stan had put down the phone. With swift­ness and prac­ticed calm, the men dipped squeegees into buck­ets of liq­uid and glid­ed them across the glass in cres­cent swivels, mak­ing the plat­form see-saw under their feet. Stan couldn’t make out their faces behind the soapy blur, but he knew that he had nev­er glimpsed free­dom so assured, so ele­men­tal. It was the clos­est thing to flight with­out wings.

Art by Lau­ra Junger

Of the twen­ty-four traders, Stan was the only one who rose from his chair. He tried to get the win­dow clean­ers’ atten­tion by point­ing to the small dot. Fixed above the play­ful glints of Mid­town tow­ers, it looked like a plane head­ed direct­ly for the Lip­stick Build­ing. But then one of them swiped it across the glass into a smoky ves­tige. Stan tried to see them bet­ter, to make out their faces. But their sil­hou­ettes were like two human-shaped eclipses suf­fused by the late August sun. Could they see him? They worked in tan­dem as the scaf­fold rose, slow­ly but inex­orably, until it final­ly dis­ap­peared above his win­dow. Even after they were gone, Stan peered into the emp­ty sky. It took an earth­quake to return him to his senses.

CNN said it was only a tremor, but they all spilled out­side — ordered to leave for safe­ty — hordes of besuit­ed traders, lawyers and legal assis­tants, wait­ers and din­ers and postal work­ers from the USPS sta­tion across the street. Look­ing over this amor­phous mass from the building’s steps, Stan guessed that he made more mon­ey than most of them. Dwarfed by colos­sal struc­tures, which sud­den­ly seemed rick­ety and unsafe, they hud­dled in front of the Lip­stick Build­ing. Net­work news vans were already there, extend­ing cable-wrapped anten­nae for satel­lite sig­nal. The far-off yelp­ing of police sirens was bro­ken by the electro­mechan­i­cal gong of a fire truck, which sent a throb­bing buzz across brains and bones. There was no smell of burn­ing ash or elec­tri­cal fire in the air; the warm, dry wind was fresh with soap and fra­grance from the thick­en­ing crowd. Stan scanned the plaza for peo­ple from his office, but couldn’t rec­og­nize any­one among all the faces dis­tort­ed by fear of some unknown doom. Some, who already knew it was an earth­quake, were thank­ful, as if vio­lence caused by nature was some­how more mer­ci­ful than that of men. Oth­ers, old enough to remem­ber 9/11, called and texted in pan­icked, rep­e­ti­tious ges­tures while smok­ers clus­tered in small, self-exiled groups and sought dis­trac­tion in gos­sip and child­ish pranks. Con­fused and on the verge of hys­te­ria, a woman with pale bare knees crouched beside a flowerbed and rum­maged inside her purse. Was she look­ing for her cell phone? It sat right next to her on the embank­ment. Stan was struck by an urge to com­fort her, to tell her that it was all over, but felt his own Black­ber­ry vibrate in his hand.

Hey, big shot.” The grainy, high-pitched Brook­ly­nese sud­den­ly remind­ed him that he’d hung up on Carmine. I know I’m just a san man, but…”

Did you feel that?” Stan looked up at the Lip­stick Build­ing. He’d nev­er real­ized how beau­ti­ful it was.

Feel what?”

The earth­quake.”

There was a pause. Is my mon­ey safe?”

More than once, Stan had tried to explain risk cap­i­tal to Carmine, the only client who called every few days. He’d placed more mon­ey with Mad­off than one would expect from a retired trash col­lec­tor and Stan had long sus­pect­ed that, unlike hedge funds and bil­lion­aires, Carmine had pooled cash from his entire fam­i­ly, and maybe friends, too, for a total of $145,000.

Big shot, you deaf?”

Stan assured him that his invest­ment was safe, espe­cial­ly from minor earth­quakes, and that he’d call him back from the office as soon as he could. But all he could think about were the two men, high above the chaos of street life, breath­ing crisp air and wip­ing dirt from glass. He took a step back and tilt­ed his head upward, then took anoth­er step. He kept walk­ing back­ward, far­ther and far­ther away from the tow­er, strain­ing his neck to see the upper floors, until the gust of Third Avenue traf­fic tugged at his back. He halt­ed at the curb, inch­es away from speed­ing taxis. Some­body shout­ed an obscen­i­ty and called him blind.

His phone buzzed again: Eliz­a­beth. She must have seen the news. Stan ignored her call. The crowd began to dis­perse. He decid­ed to head back up to the office, but was stopped at the revolv­ing doors. The Lip­stick Build­ing was closed until fur­ther notice. The man­agers were unsure if the quake would be fol­lowed by aftershocks.

There are work­ers up there,” Stan called after the three men in dark suits. Win­dow clean­ers.” But they were already reced­ing into the lob­by, sum­moned by the chirp­ing of their two-way radios. Stan watched them dis­ap­pear behind the sign that list­ed the office tow­er tenants:

Bernard L. Mad­off Invest­ment Secu­ri­ties LeClairRyan

Lath­am & Watkins, LLP

Crim­son & Rye

Chabad’s Chil­dren of Cher­nobyl (CCOC)

He’d known about them all, except the last one. Every day he had passed the sign as he crossed the vast atri­um of glass and berry-tint­ed mar­ble, and he’d nev­er noticed it. He was thir­ty-sev­en — the same age his father was when he went from being a man, the lead­ing light of Sovi­et engi­neer­ing, to a pool of tox­ic human waste. Stan had nev­er thought of him­self as a child of Cher­nobyl nor had he been any­where near Chabad.

Chabad’s Chil­dren of Cher­nobyl (CCOC)— Evac­u­at­ing Chil­dren from the Radioac­tive Zone for Crit­i­cal Med­ical Care, New Homes, and Excel­lent Educations.

He won­dered if Mad­off Secu­ri­ties was man­ag­ing their money.


Stan met him only a few times, at firm-wide meet­ings, and once with Eliz­a­beth at a ben­e­fit din­ner for some form of can­cer. It had been held at Lin­coln Cen­ter on a Fri­day evening and lat­er that night, when they got home, he and Eliz­a­beth drank more wine and ridiculed his zei­de accent, the crook of his nose, how he tried and failed to light a cig­ar; they role-played the ass jokes that Frank DiPas­cali told right in front of the school chan­cel­lor, sound­ing more like Carmine Coral­lo, the san man from Brook­lyn, than the CFO of Mad­off Invest­ment Secu­ri­ties. Eliz­a­beth fell on top of him and shook with fits of laugh­ter. He cra­dled her flushed ears and they made love.

In the morn­ing they stirred awake on the same couch where they’d fall­en asleep, hap­pi­ly queasy from the cut­ting sun­light, then ordered in and lazed around until their Sat­ur­day movie night at sun­down. Stan bragged that they had the largest flat-screen TV mon­ey could buy. But it was Eliz­a­beth who pro­vid­ed the enter­tain­ment — advance screen­ers that she snuck back from movie sets. She nev­er became an actress. But some­time after 9/11, fol­low­ing a string of unre­quit­ed audi­tions, she final­ly got a call­back: the pro­duc­ers had offered her a job as a loca­tion scout. She’d always called it use­less,” her knowl­edge of the sites of movies and nov­els set in New York. Sites that meant one thing to most peo­ple, but some­thing else entire­ly to her. Stan’s South Street Sea­port was where he drank with traders from Smith Bar­ney. But hers was from Moby Dick, where she took him once on what Melville described as a dreamy Sab­bath after­noon … from Cor­lears Hook to Coen­ties Slip, and from thence, by White­hall, north­ward.” Hotel St. George in Brook­lyn Heights was just a hotel to most, but to her, it was where The God­fa­thers Luca Brasi sleeps with fish­es”— just blocks from a brown­stone that wasn’t a brown­stone at all but a fake facade con­ceal­ing a secret sub­way hub. Some­how she knew it all, a girl from sub­ur­ban New Jer­sey, and with each sto­ry she told, she returned him to that awestruck Sovi­et nine-year-old who first glimpsed New York City on his tip­toes, mid­way across the Man­hat­tan Bridge — the end­less city ris­ing beyond the Q‑train win­dow before it rolled back into darkness.


Less than a year lat­er, the upper floors of the Lip­stick Build­ing became a crime scene and only the SEC offi­cials, fed­er­al agents, and lawyers were allowed inside. Their faces war­like and deter­mined, they wheeled their suit­cas­es and car­ried their box­es, unim­pressed by the structure’s ele­gant curves or the dar­ing of men who scaled five hun­dred feet of glass in acro­pho­bic spi­rals for no oth­er rea­son than to make it shine. By then, most news sta­tions had also lost inter­est in the Lip­stick Build­ing and instead camped out­side Madoff’s pent­house on Lex­ing­ton Avenue. Each time he emerged from that art deco fortress, they swarmed him with shoul­der-mount­ed cam­eras and shout­ed if he had any shame. Stan mut­ed the TV and watched the mob tight­en around a sev­en­ty-year-old man who held his grin while being poked and prod­ded and once shoved into a build­ing wall. Some­body knocked off his Mets hat and Eliz­a­beth snorted.

You think that’s fun­ny?” Stan said. You have no prob­lem spend­ing his Ponzi scheme mon­ey at Saks.”

She faced him, lips slight­ly part­ed in breath­less shock.

A blond girl from North Jer­sey,” he shout­ed, stunned by his own rage. What would you know about the plight of the Jews?”

She watched the rest of the news fight­ing back tears.

Did he bring down the Twin Tow­ers?” Stan kept shout­ing at the mut­ed screen even after Eliz­a­beth had left the liv­ing room. Did he cre­ate the euro­zone? Did he trick peo­ple into sub­prime mortgages?”

Stan was nev­er offi­cial­ly fired. But every­thing had to stop: his rent pay­ments, cred­it card pay­ments, pay­ments for his mother’s home care. Traders who’d been drunk and back­slap­ping at hap­py hours now didn’t return his calls. The scourge of secret, almost mys­ti­cal glob­al finance had gone from a won­der to an out­rage to a rea­son for venge­ful glee. In the weeks to come, Stan and Eliz­a­beth spoke only through their blar­ing tele­vi­sion, until one day she came back from work and told him that she was leaving.


Stan wasn’t con­tact­ed by any­one from the firm until three months after the divorce. Fac­ing evic­tion from the River­side Dri­ve apart­ment he used to share with Eliz­a­beth, he received a call from Frank DiPas­cali. His New York snarl cut through the dis­tant car horns and sirens, and Stan’s stom­ach tight­ened. But right away DiPas­cali said it was okay to talk with­out lawyers — he and Mad­off had made sure that the traders were safe­ly iso­lat­ed from any­thing that wasn’t strict­ly kosher,” that he and Mad­off alone were to take the blame. But that wasn’t why he was call­ing. He want­ed to meet. He had some­thing for Stan, some­thing from Bernie. He would explain, but it had to be soon. More indict­ments are com­ing. I don’t have much time.”

Here, in the shad­ows of mono­liths adorned with gar­goyles, they were still New York­ers, dri­ven against final­i­ty by some hid­den light.

DiPas­cali, who also lived on the Upper West Side, didn’t want to risk the local Star­bucks — too many bro­kers and bankers and var­i­ous whales, all of whom read The Wall Street Jour­nal and watched CNBC. So they decid­ed on a Dunkin’ Donuts, the one on Ams­ter­dam and 86th Street. Ear­ly the next morn­ing Stan walked out­side and reflex­ive­ly hailed a taxi, but then remem­bered that the place was only a block away. Already his stretch of side­walk was awake with roast­ed aro­mas and the shrill of the street. Deliv­ery trucks were dou­ble-parked in front of delis, their dri­vers rais­ing and slam­ming metal­lic doors. He stopped at the cor­ner of Broad­way and wait­ed for the light to change. Bun­dled and still fight­ing sleep, pedes­tri­ans on both sides were rest­less to cross the street and dip into the rum­bling warmth of the sub­way. Down there, bar­rel­ing along south­bound tun­nels, they would shed their pecu­liar ways to reemerge some­where south of Cen­tral Park as pro­fes­sion­als. But in these ear­ly hours of half-sleep, will and ambi­tion were still a func­tion of mov­ing feet. Here, in the shad­ows of mono­liths adorned with gar­goyles, they were still New York­ers, dri­ven against final­i­ty by some hid­den light. The traf­fic box on the oth­er side of Broad­way turned green and Stan obeyed, cross­ing toward Grist­edes, where he and Eliz­a­beth used to shop, and away from the Sol­diers’ and Sailors’ Mon­u­ment, that vaunt­ing lantern of white mar­ble on 89th Street, where he’d tak­en pic­tures of her laugh­ing and mak­ing faces. Soon their apart­ment with its win­dows fac­ing River­side Dri­ve would be repaint­ed and rent­ed, prob­a­bly to anoth­er cou­ple, breath­less, if only in those pre­cious first weeks, at the lazy arch­es of light over the Hud­son. Eliz­a­beth had found a place in Queens. Stan was mov­ing back to Brook­lyn. But Man­hat­tan would remain, a self-heal­ing wound, stub­born­ly mag­nif­i­cent even when every­thing was falling apart.

When he got to the Dunkin’ Donuts, DiPas­cali was already there read­ing the New York Post, large cof­fee and half-eat­en French cruller next to him. The table was speck­led with crumbs. They could have met at Cipri­ani or Union Square Café, but DiPas­cali would be imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized and Stan sus­pect­ed by asso­ci­a­tion. Here they were just a cou­ple of guys.

Why are these places always so orange?” Stan said, sit­ting down across from him. How are you hold­ing up?”

DiPas­cali low­ered the news­pa­per. His face, always dark and vig­or­ous, was now pal­lid. Not so great,” he said. Got the big C.”


Yeah, they think it’s in my lungs.” He smiled. Got an appoint­ment next week at Sloan Kettering.”

Frank, I’m sor­ry, I don’t know what to say.”

Guess we’re all doing what we can to stay out of prison.” DiPas­cali laughed. Any­way, here, this is for you.” He took out a small brown enve­lope from his coat pock­et and nudged it across. Go ahead, it’s open.”

Stan part­ed the paper flaps and pinched out a small gold ring.

Relax, I’m not propos­ing. Take it. It’s from Bernie.”

It looked like an old engage­ment ring. The tiny prongs were emp­ty, but set wide enough to have once housed a mas­sive gem­stone. He turned it upside down with his thumb and index fin­ger and nar­rowed his eyes: the under­side of the met­al plate that had once held the jew­el was engraved with a swasti­ka. He looked up at DiPas­cali then flipped it over. The inner rim read For Love, Eter­nal.

It’s from a cer­tain heiress.” DiPas­cali took a bite of his cruller. She gave it to Bernie after her hus­band died.”

Wait, what heiress?”

Doesn’t mat­ter. She had almost thir­ty mil­lion with us. Guess­ing she couldn’t stand her Nazi prick hus­band so as soon as he plotzed she gave it to Bernie as a birth­day gift. And Bernie, he said he’d kept it because it remind­ed him of what was done to his peo­ple, to the Jews. But after the last round of sub­poe­nas he’s get­ting rid of things, valu­ables, what­not. He gave it to me, but I fig­ured what do I need it for, right? So I’m giv­ing it to you.”

Mad­off was fac­ing 150 years, DiPas­cali at least half that. If word got out that either owned Nazi-era jew­el­ry, it could anger the judge.

Stan rubbed his tem­ples. Why me?” That’s exact­ly what I asked my doctor.”

DiPas­cali smirked and wiped his mouth with a nap­kin. Look, I don’t know how you’ve land­ed, but I thought maybe you could use it more than the oth­er guys. I mean, it’s his­toric, right? A muse­um piece. Not the love for­ev­er stuff, that part was added lat­er. So I fig­ure even with­out the rock, it’s got­ta be worth, what, twen­ty, thir­ty grand?”

Stan looked out the window.

I know this ain’t the kind of sev­er­ance you were hop­ing for,” DiPas­cali said. But maybe you can sell it. Or maybe get that scratched off. Not the love part. You know, the oth­er thing. Put a peb­ble in it and give it to your lady. You’re still mar­ried, right?”


A year after Bernie’s One Big Lie shat­tered the world mar­kets and end­ed his career in finance, Stan knew that he would nev­er again trade a share of stock or be allowed near a Bloomberg ter­mi­nal. It didn’t mat­ter that he kept Madoff’s name off his resume — some­how every­body knew. At times, des­per­ate­ly miss­ing Eliz­a­beth, he thought of call­ing her and beg­ging for­give­ness. He con­sid­ered sand­ing down the swasti­ka, like DiPas­cali had sug­gest­ed, and giv­ing her the ring. She would read the inscrip­tion, For Love, Eter­nal, kiss his face through tears, and come back. But then he would remem­ber that with­out that Nazi cross the ring was worth­less, a fifty-dol­lar pawn, and come to his senses.

Now liv­ing in Brighton Beach, his work prospects beyond leas­ing cars or sell­ing ware­house fur­ni­ture quick­ly dwin­dling, Stan got up every morn­ing and went to the local Star­bucks where the Wi-Fi sig­nal was strong enough to browse the web and look for a job. And once there, it was amus­ing and absurd but also some­how endear­ing to catch snip­pets of chat­ter dur­ing the after­noon stam­pede — a strange mix of Russ­ian and Eng­lish from local store keep­ers and den­tal assis­tants; from mail-order wives, scorched-blonde and ram­bling on their bejew­eled iPhones; from retired tran­sit work­ers, all Sovi­et-born Jews, curs­ing and argu­ing about Putin. And then, when­ev­er some­one came or left, to hear the street dis­rupt this frag­ile peace­time, this covenant among the weary, the rest­less, the insane, and now Stan, wedged awk­ward­ly among them.

He had always fan­cied him­self above this shout­ing, mum­bling ship­wreck of peo­ple. He was sim­ply too Amer­i­can. But with Eliz­a­beth gone, his future in finance shat­tered, and his moth­er in a nurs­ing home, he could at last admit that there was some­thing restora­tive in its aban­don, its dai­ly parade of tacky appetites and filthy jokes. They were like dis­tant rel­a­tives who embar­rassed him in front of strangers but whose com­pa­ny he had secret­ly missed. In the years since he immi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States, only one of his Sovi­et child­hood friends, a boy he’d gone to school with named Yarik, had reached out to him via Skype, but Stan had nev­er both­ered to respond. The two had not been in con­tact since Stan’s fam­i­ly left in 1987, when leav­ing meant leav­ing for­ev­er, like dying only to be reborn in some unknown world, as some unknown crea­ture, nev­er to be seen by those left behind. No one on either side of the Atlantic could have pre­dict­ed in those pre-Gor­bachev times that one day the Iron Cur­tain would final­ly lift, much less imag­ined a thing like Skype. But now, instead of look­ing for work, Stan decid­ed to recon­nect with his old class­mate, and before long the two were look­ing at each oth­er on a split screen — scruffy and bari­tone, yet some­how still the same — con­verg­ing at the speed of light across the ocean with­out exit visas, charges of trea­son, bribes to cus­toms agents, and anti­se­mit­ic taunts.

Mar­ried with two kids and liv­ing in Moscow, Yarik had a sparse goa­tee and a buz­z­cut. He was a web devel­op­er for the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment. He lived mod­est­ly but in suf­fi­cient com­fort; he owned a car and an apart­ment and took fre­quent vaca­tions in the Ural Moun­tains with his fam­i­ly. He even saved enough mon­ey for some flight lessons. Some dreams do come true,” he said, smil­ing and shar­ing a pho­to of him­self at the con­trols of a small plane, green patch­es of Moscow sub­urbs below him and slight­ly tilt­ed. They recalled their Kharkov grade school, their teach­ers, and their class­mates, espe­cial­ly girls, mus­ing about how they had turned out, whom they’d mar­ried and where they were today. For Stan, those mem­o­ries had long since turned into dreams and the peo­ple in them now spoke Eng­lish— all except Dontsov, an old­er boy who even in dreams still called him a zhyd in a rough, street-cor­ner Russ­ian. Stan had for­got­ten his first name, but he remem­bered how Dontsov had ambushed him on the stair­case or in a hall­way almost dai­ly, hit­ting him on the head with what­ev­er he held in his hands.

Which was it, The Polit­i­cal His­to­ry of the Com­intern or World Geog­ra­phy?” Yarik quipped, refer­ring to the time when the thing Dontsov hap­pened to be car­ry­ing was a hard­cov­er textbook.

Geog­ra­phy,” Stan said. Knocked me pret­ty hard. Right upside the North Pole.”

Yarik smiled back. Not hard enough to make you for­get it.”

He kept ask­ing about New York City, but Stan was too embar­rassed to recount the last five years of his life, espe­cial­ly to some­one who lived in Putin’s Rus­sia. How does one account for earn­ing almost half a mil­lion one year only to become com­plete­ly unem­ploy­able the next? How could he talk of trick­ing his moth­er into the Ocean View nurs­ing home where she now sat by the win­dow in the haze of demen­tia, star­ing at the far-off strip of ocean and wait­ing for her week­ly bath? Yarik want­ed to know what it was like to live in a city where a man was in charge of his own des­tiny. But he was sev­en hours ahead of Stan, on Moscow time, and he had to put the kids to bed.

So, what is it like?” he asked. Your glo­ri­ous New York?”

Stan took a long, exhaust­ed breath. It’s every­thing you’ve heard, and more.”


He may have been there all along and Stan just hadn’t noticed. But when Stan returned to Star­bucks the next morn­ing, and was wait­ing in line for cof­fee and look­ing around for an avail­able seat, he rec­og­nized the spawn of his Sovi­et dreams. Only unlike the Sovi­et teenag­er who had tor­ment­ed him, taller than Stan and Yarik but just as under­nour­ished, the man at the end of the long table bulged with mus­cle — not the sea­son­al kind, inflat­ed by water and pro­tein shakes to last the sum­mer months, but the kind that has been tem­pered like steel, over years, in a box­ing gym or in prison. It was Dontsov. It couldn’t be him, a mod­icum of rea­son. Even if by some cru­el mir­a­cle this was Dontsov, he couldn’t pos­si­bly, not after three decades, rec­og­nize Stan’s grownup face. And even if he did, why would it mat­ter if, by the same cos­mic cross­ing of wires, a Jew hater had been trans­formed into a pious Jew?

Anoth­er block and Stan could smell the ocean. He felt its deep envelop­ing boom. When he final­ly made it to the board­walk, his tem­ples qui­et­ed. Breath­less, he climbed the stairs. The first few wood planks rat­tled under his feet. He could see it now, just past the san­d­line, the foamy surf swelling and reced­ing like the breath of an ancient mon­ster. Not even Dontsov would dare fol­low him into those secret depths.

He stopped to admire the temple’s efflo­res­cent brick­work, its roofline ledges, sun-blast­ed and red, and the tur­ret-style win­dows stained with Stars of David. Kak trevo­ga tak do Boga, he thought, sur­prised that it came to him in Russ­ian — why only in mis­for­tune do we turn to God?

He took the long way back to Trump Vil­lage, past the Shaare Emu­nah of Brighton Beach. There he stopped to admire the temple’s efflo­res­cent brick­work, its roofline ledges, sun-blast­ed and red, and the tur­ret-style win­dows stained with Stars of David. Kak trevo­ga tak do Boga, he thought, sur­prised that it came to him in Russ­ian — why only in mis­for­tune do we turn to God? By the time he was back at his mother’s apart­ment he felt calm enough to hold down a meal and fall asleep.


The next morn­ing Stan woke up ear­ly and signed into Skype.

I saw him,” he said as soon as Yarik’s face popped up on the screen.

Saw who?”


In Amer­i­ca?”

At Star­bucks.”

That’s impos­si­ble. Last I heard he was mar­ried with kids and liv­ing in the same flat, the one on the cor­ner of Heroes of Stal­in­grad and Taras Shevchenko.”

While Yarik was speak­ing, Stan uploaded the pho­to. Yarik opened the file and brought his face close to the mon­i­tor. After study­ing the blur­ry image, he leaned back in the chair and rubbed his chin.

I told you.”

It looks like him, but…”

I know.”

Maybe he has an Amer­i­can twin.” Please.”

And we just talked about him.”

You’re telling me.”

Yarik, who wasn’t Jew­ish, had nev­er suf­fered Dontsov’s harass­ment. He couldn’t do much to help, either — they were nine and Dontsov fif­teen — but even as a boy, Yarik real­ized that what he saw was wrong. For Sovi­et school­child­ren, moral­i­ty wasn’t sub­ject to scruti­ny. Why was it wrong to hurt the weak, to harm the defense­less? Sim­ple — because it was. But Dontsov was shame­less, and since shame­less­ness com­mand­ed respect, he incit­ed oth­er boys and girls to pick on Stan, or to stand by and laugh. Some did it out of fear or def­er­ence, oth­ers out of some hid­den hate, which Dontsov freed in them by show­ing them the thrills of small untram­meled vio­lence. This spe­cial kind of hate did count on a rea­son, name­ly that Stan was nei­ther weak nor defense­less, but some­thing else — a Jew.

Gestapo Genie,” Yarik said, knuck­ling his close­ly cropped head. We talk about him and he shows up.”

It could have been a one-off, Stan thought, half-dressed, try­ing to decide if he should go back to Star­bucks. Then again, who­ev­er this man was, he clear­ly wasn’t a ran­dom beach­go­er from Park Slope with milky thighs and per­fect teeth, just off the Brighton Q stop and grab­bing a lat­te. He had to be a reg­u­lar at the Star­bucks, and his pres­ence didn’t depend on Stan’s state of mind. The mere knowl­edge of his exis­tence was now immutable, which made avoid­ing the neighborhood’s only Star­bucks as child­ish as the belief that you can make some­thing van­ish by shut­ting your eyes.


There was always the ocean,” Stan kept repeat­ing to him­self like prayer as he set out against the tor­rent of Brighton’s down­cast faces. When he final­ly made it to Star­bucks he spot­ted the man through the win­dow even before walk­ing in.

The seat­ing area was emp­ty except for a cou­ple of stu­dents bent over their text­books and a pair of scruffy seniors play­ing chess. Stan bought a cup of cof­fee, sat down across from the man at the long table, and opened his lap­top and pre­tend­ed to work. From there he could watch with­out being noticed. But the more he stud­ied him, the less cer­tain he became that this was Dontsov. One minute he could swear it was him, with that bat­ter­ing-ram fore­head and twitchy scowl. But when­ev­er Stan looked away, afraid to be caught star­ing, and then glanced up again, this amal­gam of human fea­tures seemed to embody a total stranger.

Peek­ing over the top of his screen, Stan kept try­ing to extend these glimpses until, sud­den­ly, their eyes met.

Push­ing against the table with his mas­sive hands, the man stood up, moved back his chair, and looked direct­ly at Stan.

Mind watch­ing my stuff while I go smoke?” he said, walk­ing out with­out wait­ing for an answer.

Through the win­dows, Stan watched him smoke in the weak day­light and thought about what to say. When he saw him light a sec­ond cig­a­rette, skill­ful­ly flank­ing it from the wind, he real­ized it was Fri­day, just before Shab­bat, which, along with forced rest, brought the pro­hi­bi­tion of cur­ren­cy and fire.

After the man final­ly came back inside, smoke waft­ing from his clothes, Stan said, You go say Mincha and you don’t invite me?”

You’re Jew­ish?”

Stan smiled timid­ly. Afraid so.” Afraid?” He shift­ed his weight from foot to foot. What’re you afraid of?”

He spoke with the assim­i­lat­ed flu­en­cy of some­one raised in Brook­lyn. Still, his voice car­ried the echoes of an Odessa ghet­to — he was a man who said more with his neck and shoul­ders than he did with words.

I guess I’m not a very good Jew.”

That voice you have inside.” The man glared. You hear it?”

Stan felt his eyes blink uncon­trol­lably. Some­times.”

Is it real or is it just guilt?”

I don’t know,” Stan admitted.

Then do some­thing about it!” the hulk near­ly shout­ed, which would have sound­ed like a chal­lenge if not for a ras­cal­ly grin.


When Stan woke up on Sat­ur­day morn­ing, Yarik’s Skype icon already glim­mered, indi­cat­ing that he was online.

I talked to him.”

What about?”


Yarik squint­ed into the eye of the camera.

Then he left to get ready for Shab­bat.” The guy we knew from school, the one who slapped you around and called you a Jew?” He paused. Is a Jew?”

If it’s him.”

So ask.”

That’s crazy!”

What could pos­si­bly happen?”

I don’t even remem­ber his first name.” Kostik, or maybe Rostik.”

Wasn’t it Vitalik?”

Lis­ten,” Yarik stopped him. What’s the worst he can do, call you a Jew in the school­yard? Hit you with a text­book?” And then he added in bro­ken Eng­lish: Be not afraid!”

Be not afraid,” Stan repeat­ed. Who said that?”

Pope John Paul II.” Yarik smiled. On his first trip back to Poland in 1979.”


It was pre­cise­ly the assur­ance that he didn’t have to go back, didn’t have to ask ques­tions, that gave him the con­fi­dence to do just that. So the next Sun­day morn­ing Stan returned to the Brighton Star­bucks. He was the first one there besides the grog­gy baris­tas who raised the met­al gate. He sat wait­ing for sev­er­al hours, close­ly watch­ing the com­ings and goings, but by two in the after­noon, when Stan’s mind was rac­ing with caf­feine, Dontsov hadn’t showed. He didn’t show on Mon­day either, nor on Tues­day or Wednes­day. On Thurs­day Stan him­self took a break to vis­it his moth­er at Ocean View, but returned on Fri­day, hop­ing to find the man chain-smok­ing before Shab­bat. By then Stan had grown undaunt­ed by the prospect of learn­ing who he real­ly was. So much so that dur­ing the after­noon fury of bean grind­ing, Stan felt, after a sec­ond refill of black cof­fee, that he could con­front him with­out much ado. Sit­ting by the win­dow, he des­per­ate­ly scanned the passers­by. It was almost Decem­ber. Soon there would be a meno­rah on that win­dowsill, plugged into the same out­let as the Christ­mas tree, its elec­tric can­dles count­ing down to the short­est day of the year. Stan checked his watch. He knew Dontsov wasn’t com­ing back.


When Stan got home, his cell phone rang. The caller ID read pri­vate,” but he answered anyway.

Big shot, how’s my money?”

Carmine?” Stan hadn’t heard that Brook­lyn drawl since Madoff’s firm dissolved.

Coral­lo tried to laugh, but instead it sound­ed like he was strug­gling for air.

Carmine, I am sorry.”

You’re sor­ry?”

Stan looked around the room. What if I gave you some­thing, a gold ring, it must be worth like twen­ty thou­sand dol­lars, maybe more?”

A gold ring,” he wheezed.

You don’t under­stand, it’s … ”

You soul­less fuck­ing kikes,” Coral­lo laughed mis­er­ably. You and your Mad­off. Every­thing I had, my fam­i­ly, all down your Ponzi rat hole.”

Carmine, please. ”

What kind of name is Mad­off, any­way?” His voice rose. I’m going to find him and kill him.”


And then I’m going to kill you.” He hung up.

Stan fran­ti­cal­ly searched for some­thing to fix his eyes on — a smudge on the wall, his mother’s old TV, his father’s Star of David pen­dant on the dress­er, the Nazi ring. What did you say?” he cried and kicked a chair. What did you call me?” Pac­ing the room, he made polem­i­cal points about the Sovi­et Jews who fled from being Jew­ish, forced to betray their God. And just beyond some invis­i­ble edge, in a dark­ened the­ater, an audi­ence explod­ed in roar­ing applause. They cheered as he quot­ed poets, took posi­tions, and assert­ed claims — until, his rage final­ly spent, he found him­self alone in the emp­ty apart­ment, talk­ing to a bro­ken TV loud enough for the neigh­bors to hear.

Enjoyed this sto­ry? Join JBC and Steven Volynets on March 2, 2022 12:301:00 PM ET for a dis­cus­sion of​“Shaare Emu­nah” at the sec­ond meet­ing of Paper Brigade​’s new Short Sto­ry Club! Reg­is­ter here.

Steven Volynets, born in Sovi­et Ukraine and raised in Brook­lyn, is a writer and jour­nal­ist, and the win­ner of the 2016 Moment Mag­a­zine-Kar­ma Foun­da­tion prize for fiction.