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Bom Retiro

O Bom Retiro não me deixou

Nasci e me criei no Bom Retiro, bairro central da cidade de São Paulo, aonde meus avós maternos chegaram, diretamente da Polônia, nos anos 1920 do século passado, fugindo das perseguições aos judeus e da vida dura na Europa do período entre guerras.

 

Em busca do Eldorado Tropical e embalados pela lenda do dinheiro que dava em árvores, os judeus aportavam em grande número no bairro. Naquela época o Bom Retiro ainda mantinha alguns de seus numerosos imigrantes italianos, mas a maior parte estava prosperara e se mudara para as regiões mais nobres da cidade. O judeu era seu novo habitante e transformava o bairro à sua feição: escolas, lojas, restaurantes, sinagogas, mercearias e açougues kasher, quase tudo era judaico, o iídiche era língua corrente em suas ruas e nomes como Jacob, Sara, Ester, Isaac etc os mais ouvidos. Nos anos 1950, quando nasci, todo o entorno era judaico.

 

Meu mundo ia da rua Bandeirantes ao Jardim da Luz, onde brincava e pegava girinos nos laguinhos existentes na época; e da rua Afonso Pena até a rua Silva Pinto com a da Graça. Neste quadrilátero de aproximadamente dez ruas, vivíamos entre judeus e poucos brasileiros. Era nossa Terra Prometida. Aos meus olhos de menino o Bom Retiro era o mundo todo, tudo o que fazia e queria estava ali: a papelaria Mildina, a livraria Weltman, a Mercearia do seu José, que não era judeu, mas batizara seu negócio de Menorah e vendia strudels, beigales e comida kasher. O beigale que seu José vendia – o nome -devia ser bagel como seu similar nova-iorquino, mas chamávamos de beigale – guardava (e talvez guarde, pois a casa Menorah ainda existe na rua Guarani) uma particularidade que o distingue de seus fartos primos ricos americanos. Era (e talvez ainda seja) muito estreito, levemente duro, ainda que seu trançado salpicado de semente de papoula e gergelim fosse igual a alguns tipos de bagel. Esta iguaria apetitosa – nas tardes em que flanava pelas ruas do bairro, carregava-a comigo num saco de papel e comia-a aos nacos – ficou para sempre na minha memória gustativa e nunca a encontrei fora do bairro. Havia ainda um campinho de pelada à frente da adjacente escola Politécnica da USP, onde meus amigos e eu jogávamos futebol e vez por outra fazíamos um jogo judeus x católicos, com cartazes, torcida e tudo, pois na nossa inocência infantil não tínhamos a menor idéia da conotação discriminatória e bélica que poderia haver numa partida como esta.

Mas nem tudo eram flores. Minha família era ligada a um setor progressista-laico da comunidade, que aos poucos foi se estabelecendo no bairro, co-dirigindo o ICIB, Instituto Cultural Israelita Brasileiro, e sua filiada à escola Scholem Aleichem. Ambos ocupavam um prédio na rua Três Rios e eram redutos importantes do pensamento de esquerda-integracionista. Ao contrário dos mais sectários, nos sentíamos amalgamados à cultura brasileira e, seguindo uma vocação secular dos judeus progressistas, queríamos nos integrar ao lugar que escolhêramos. Ser brasileiro era um sentimento genuíno. O ICIB, também conhecido como Casa do Povo, numa clara alusão ao jargão socialista de seus congêneres soviéticos, era muito atuante em São Paulo, extrapolava os limites do bairro e foi um foco importante de resistência à ditadura no final dos anos 1960 e princípio dos 1970. Mas obviamente naquela conjuntura, aliada ao começo da decadência do bairro, o Instituto minguou e a escola fechou. Hoje o prédio da rua Três Rios só não virou escombro graças ao esforço de alguns antigos fundadores voluntários que ainda vivem no bairro. Paralelamente a este fato, muitos prosperaram e deixaram o bairro num movimento parecido com o das comunidades anteriores. Em meados dos anos 1970 vieram os coreanos, sobrepondo-se à presença judaica no Bom Retiro, já de certa forma pouco numerosa. Criaram, a exemplo de seus antecessores, um bairro com identidade nova sobre os sedimentos da herança judaica – um caldeirão sincrético muito curioso e singular, talvez improvável em qualquer outro país sem as características da propalada tolerância brasileira.

 

Recentemente, numa das raras vezes que fui passear pelo Bom Retiro de hoje, guiado por meu primo Jacques Grinspum, remanescente no bairro, sentei com ele em uma mesa do delicioso restaurante de comida judaica, Shoshi Deli Shop, de dois israelenses, Shoshana e Yeuda, falantes e simpáticos contadores de piadas e causos, que fizeram o movimento inverso ao de muitos outros judeus pelo mundo e aportaram por aqui nos anos 1980. Dali pude ver a nova ordem enquadrada pela portas e janelas da casa onde se encontra o restaurante: coreanos passando ao lado de judeus ortodoxos e bolivianos, uma nova onda de imigrantes que começa a ocupar o bairro. O progresso coreano é grande e inesperado, e é um prazer estar em um lugar com tanta vida nas ruas, ao contrário de outras regiões da cidade, por onde circulo mais e onde a vida acontece dentro de casas superprotegidas e, por isso mesmo, menos alegres.

 

A atmosfera de minha infância vivida no Bom Retiro colou-se de tal forma ao meu sotaque, à minha personalidade, que gosto de lançar mão de uma piada politicamente incorreta que se refere ao sujeito suburbano que ascende socialmente: "Fulano deixou o subúrbio mas o subúrbio não o deixou."

 

Comigo é assim: eu deixei o Bom Retiro mas o Bom Retiro não me deixou.

Bob Wolfenson

Bom Retiro

Bom Retiro has never left me.

 

I was born and raised in Bom Retiro, a central neighbourhood in São Paulo, where my maternal grandparents settled when they arrived from Poland in the 1920s as they ran away from the persecution of Jews and from Europe’s hardship between wars.

 

In search of their tropical Eldorado and packed with stories about the money that grew on trees, the Jews settled in large number in the neighbourhood.  At that time, Bom Retiro was still filled with Italian immigrants, but most of them were prospering and moving to the more “noble” areas of the city. The Jews were its newest habitants and they transformed the neighbourhood as to their customs: schools, shops, restaurants, synagogues, grocery stores and kosher butcher shops were created and almost everything was Jewish. Yiddish became the language heard on the streets and the names Jacob, Sara, Ester, Isaac etc. were the most heard. When I was born, in the 1950s, my surroundings were entirely Jewish.

 

My world was limited from Bandeirantes street to Jardim da Luz and from Afonso Pena street to where Silva Pinto street met with Graça street, where I would play and hunt tadpoles in the existing small lakes of the time. In this square of approximately 10 streets, we lived amongst Jews and a few Brazilians. It was our promised land. To my young boy’s eyes, Bom Retiro was the whole world, everything I did or wished for could be found there: Mildina stationary shop, Weltman bookshop, José’s grocery shop, which was not Jewish but was named Menorah and sold strudels, baigales and kosher food. The beigale that Mr. José sold – it should actually be called bagel as is done in New York but we would call it beigale anyway – had (and maybe still has as Menorah’s place still exists at Guarani street) a certain particularity that would distinguish it from its American cousin. It was - and maybe still is - very thin and slightly hard even though its shape and its surface filled with poppy seeds is the same as other types of bagels. This delicacy has remained in my taste-recognition memory and I have never found anything like it anywhere else. 

 

There was a peeled field near the polytechnic federal university of Sao Paulo where my friends and I would play football and sometimes we would naively separate the teams between Catholics and Jews. We would have posters, a crowd and we would have no idea about the discriminating and aggressive connotations of such an act.

 

But not everything was positive. My family was connected to community’s secular progressive movement that had slowly established itself in the neighbourhood, co-directed by ICIB (Brazilian-Israeli Cultural Institute) and affiliated to the Scholem Aleichem School. Both resided in a building at Tres Rios street and were important organizations to the leftist-integrationist thinking. Opposite to what secularists believed, we felt part of the Brazilian culture and thus, following the secular vocation of progressive Jews, we wanted to integrate ourselves with the place we chose to live in. Being Brazilian was a genuine feeling. ICIB was also known as the “People’s Home,” a clear allusion to socialism and it’s Soviet congeners and it was very active in São Paulo. It was not limited to the confines of the neihbourhood and was an important body of resistance against the dictatorship in the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s. Yet obviously, amidst that conjuncture and added by the beginning of Bom Retiro’s downgrade, the institute and the school closed down. Today, the building at Três Rios street is only intact thanks to the efforts of some of the founding volunteers who still live in the neighbourhood. Concurrently, a lot of people prospered and left Bom Retiro in a movement similar to that of the former communities who lived in the area. In the 70s, a lot of Koreans came along, overlying the Jewish presence, who at that point had already decreased significantly in number. They created, as did their predecessors, a neighbourhood with a new identity over the sediments of Jewish inheritance – a very curious and unique syncretic caulderon, perhaps improbable in any other country without the characteristics of the propelled Brazilian tolerance.

 

Recently, I was wondering around today’s Bom Retiro guided by my cousin, Jacques Grinspum. We sat down together at a Jewish restaurant, Shoshi Deli Show, owned by two Israelis, Shoshana and Yeuda. They were talkative people and pleasant storytellers, who participated in an inverse movement as most of the Jews of the world and settled there in the 80s. From their restaurant I witnessed the new order of things framed by their doors and windows: Koreans and orthodox Jews walking side by side and there were also many Bolivians, a new influx of immigrants that started to occupy the neighbourhood. The Korean progress was huge and unexpected and it was a pleasure to be in a place with so many lives on the streets, a contrast to the other regions of the city where I’m usually at and where life happens in overprotected houses and are thus less happy.

 

My upbringing in Bom Retiro stuck permanently to my accent and to my personality in such a way that I find it relevant to put forth a politically incorrect joke about suburban people who ascend socially: “he left the suburbs but the suburbs has not left him.” It is the same for me: I left Bom Retiro but Bom Retiro has never left me.

Bob Wolfenson