In 8th grade, I walked across the flat Ridgewood train station, before it was renovated into a towering, railed structure with strange unexplainable math equations as decorations on the glass windows around stairways. I heard a strong, “Hey, you!”
I looked back my head for a few moments before continuing on my way.
“Hello, nice little Jewish girl!”
That was enough to make me turn. I saw a stooped old man who resembled the main character in Up. His eyes were blue (and one, lazy). He carried a few shopping bags and had on a fireman’s cap that I would later learn was very characteristic. I didn’t understand what he was saying until it was too late to deny that I was Jewish.
The conversation proceeded. To all his questions, I smiled and nodded.
“You are Jewish, right?”
(Smile and nod.)
(Smile and nod…)
“My grandfather saved some Jewish people from the Holocaust once. He hid them in his home! So I understand you. I respect people of all religions….”
I can’t remember the exact conversation, but this man took long pauses as he spoke. He expected acknowledgement for his pluralism and religious acceptance. The train came soon afterwards, and I ended up boarding the same car as him and sitting a few seats away. I heard him singing Italian opera the entire time. This was my first notable train station story, and remains one of the most interesting ones.
Since then, I’ve seen this same old man, usually singing in Italian, a few times at the train station. He has since moved on to characterize me as from India, Spain, and “a tropical country” on three different occasions, told me about his own heritage, and even congratulated my friends on our kindness and good hearts.