The Books of My Numberless Dreams

How a prophet became a voyeur

Posted on: May 8, 2007

Somewhere during the couple of millennia that I’d been commuting between heaven and heart, I, Elijah the Tishbite — former prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, translated to Paradise in a chariot of flame while yet alive — became a voyeur. Call me weak, but after you’ve attended no end of circumcisions, performed untold numbers of virtuous deeds and righteous meddlings in a multitude of disguises, your piety can begin to wear a little thin. Besides, good works had ceased to generate the kind of respect they’d once commanded in the world, a situation that took its toll on one’s self-esteem; so that even I, old as I was, had become susceptible from time to time to the yetser hora, the evil impulse.

That’s how I came to spy on the Fefers, Feyvush and Gitl, in their love nest on the Lower East Side of New York. You might say that observing the passions of mortals, often with stern disapproval, had always been a hobby of mine; but of late it was their more intimate pursuits that took my fancy. Still, I had standards. As a whiff of sanctity always clung to my person from my sojourns in the Upper Eden, I lost interest where the dalliance of mortals was undiluted by some measure of earnest affection. And the young Fefer couple, they adored each other with a love that surpassed their own understanding. Indeed, so fervent was the heat of their voluptuous intercourse that they sometimes feared it might consume them and they would perish of sheer ecstasy.

I happened upon them one miserable midsummer evening when I was making my rounds of the East Side ghetto, which in those years was much in need of my benevolent visitations. I did a lot of good, believe me, spreading banquets on the tables of desolate families in their coal cellars, exposing the villains posing as suitors to young girls fresh off the boat. I even engaged in spirited disputes with the apikorsin, the unbelievers, in an effort to vindicate God’s justice to man — a thankless task, to say the least, in that swarming, heretical, typhus-infested neighbourhood. So was it any wonder that with the volume of dirty work that fell to my hands, I should occasionaly seek some momentary diversion?

You might call it a waste that one with my gift for camouflage, who could have gained clandestine admittance backstage at the Ziegfeld Follies when Anna Held climbed out of her milk bath, or slipped unnoticed into the green room at the People’s Theatre where Tomashefsky romped au naturel with his zaftig harem, that I should return time and time again to the tenement flat of Feyvush and Gitl Fefer. But then you never saw the Fefers at their amorous business.

From “The Sin of Elijah”, in the stories collection The Wedding Jester, by Steve Stern

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