It’s 11:43 on a recent Friday morning, and the 4 train — free from rush hour congestion — is flying downtown to 86th Street from 125th Street.
Ab’shalom ben’ Yisrael, 40, and Zu Naftali, 36, bow their heads and say a prayer to the powers that be to keep them safe as they start a day of drumming on the trains.
By the time their fingers hit the drums — Yisrael’s on the conga and Naftali’s on the bongos — a woman has plugged her ears. Others have pulled out their earbuds and started recording the act on their phones. Some straphangers carry on conversations, a baby in a stroller still sleeps as the tones bounce off the Bombardier's train's walls. Pulling into the station, more riders clap than abstain, and few reach for their wallets.
If you’ve taken a ride on the 4 or 5 trains in the last six years, chances are you’ve seen Yisrael and Naftai, who perform as “Fresh 2 Life.” They drum, rhyme and riff in an effort to inspire New Yorkers to be a little more kind to each other.
“Can I get a good afternoon?” Yisrael asks the train, in between automated announcements (Union Square is the next stop). “Instead of an ‘excuse me,’ how about a ‘hey, how you doing, can I sit down?’ We make things so hard for each other, and for one another, and then we wonder why we go through the things we go through. I don’t have a lot of problems — I have 99 blessings, a problem ain’t one … 40 years old and I’m still doing backflips. I’m loving life. Can you say the same for yourselves? Why you ain’t smiling then?”