Jewish World Review Oct. 27 1998 / 7 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Remembering Mechel the Provider

Every human life has value and every downtrodden person has a story --- if we only choose to open our eyes.

By Aaron Hirsch

THE CREAKING OF THE WHEELS makes ruin of my sleep every morning. It is the 1970s and try as I might to slip back into my twilight zone, the sandpaper rasping of the delivery cart thrusts me into the real world.

As reliable as clockwork, the annoying squeaks never fail to reach me in the stillness of dawn, for Mechel the delivery boy, has set out on his appointed rounds with bags of groceries for the sleepy natives of my island paradise --- Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Yes, it is an island of calm and cordiality in a harsh and turbulent city.)

Stumbling to the window, I catch sight of the delivery cart, really an oversized tricycle supporting an odd tin-enclosed wooden box. The wagon lists to one side, while Mechel is supporting the overloaded end with grunts and muscle strain. ... Axle squeals, paroxysm, and labored muscle wheezing are a poor accompaniment to my half-lidded recitation of Modeh ahni, the Jewish prayer said upon opening one's eyes after nocturnal rest.

But all is forgiven, because "Mechel the Provider" is the source of the cacophony.

Mechel guards his covered wagon jealously. Rain or shine, he inspects the silver-hued exterior for hairline fissures, as if it were his orbital capsule; the thoroughness of his daily ceremony shames the count-down procedures of space program engineers.

After completing his inspection, Mechel drops off bags of groceries into its interiors as if it were a safe deposit vault needing no further safeguards. He then climbs aboard, his egg-shaped figure perched on the seat of the tricycle; to watch him pedal his overloaded pyramid away is to marvel at the miracle of the wheel.

As the morning continues, Mechel becomes the star in a scene borrowed from the Pied Piper. Children are attracted to the unnatural sounds emanating from his barrel-chest and are transfixed by his balancing acts. His gestures and Atlas-like postures seem to provide endless delight to school children waiting at their bus stops. When he gleefully raises one of the tots, places him astride the mountains of bags and "blasts off" down the block, a spontaneous cheer and chorus of song peels forth from the other children --- and the crescendo reverberates off the brownstones of my island sanctuary.


MECHEL HAD HIS OWN LANGUAGE -- a collection of notes of varying pitches -- yet everybody seems to understand him. When he distributes candy to children he knows from their grocery visits, the loving glint in their eyes need no words for amplification. When he bends down so the children may feel his bulging arm muscles (with tattooed concentration camp number prominently showing), and he ughs and ahs to them, they fully understand.

And when they ask him pleadingly --- "Gib meer a ride (Give me a ride) and he delivers, the smiles on their faces need no expressive words.

His delivery knock on the door strains the hinges, and echoes fusillade-like throughout the house. Yet, homemakers don't cringe in fear, but rush to open the door to the overladen courier and offer him a fresh kichel (cookie) or a piece of fresh, home-made challah. The beat on the door is totally his own and no ballaboste (homemaker) hesitates to answer.

MECHEL WAS A MUTE. He didn't speak in decades --- since that day in the concentration camp when the Gauleiter ordered him to snitch on the individual who had "stolen" a bit of food to give life to the starving.

Mechel chose not to speak, and after the beatings he sustained, he could not if he wanted to.

The adults who knew him from that epoch speak about him in hushed tones of reverence and listened to his grunts as if it were wisdom eternal. The new generation, unknowing of his past, intuitively accepted him, admired him, and hailed his latter feats as if reflecting some past heroism.

And Mechel continued to bring food --- food for his people ... people who have families where he had none ... people who continue to enjoy economic success, while he had his delivery cart.


THE TURNING WHEELS grate away with the dawn,and my initial annoyance never failed to turn into solace: Mechel provided for his people, when some others have forgotten so quickly.

Aaron Hirsch lives in Brooklyn, New York.


©1998, Agudath Israel of America