by A. Makofsky
They were in the living room gathered around the coffee table. Ruthie,
seated beside her mother on the couch, was telling her about the
dinner.conversation with her brother's intended, while father and brother sat
on the other side of the table.
" She's a lovely girl, Mom" Ruthie said "Her parents have accepted Bernie
into their Catholic family. Why can't we welcome Sharon?
"I can't do it, Bernie, " Eva said, turning to her son, tearfully, "How
could you do this to us? Oh God, marrying a shikse!"
Bernie did not answer, but her husband spoke up. "What the hell's
happened to you, Eva? Sharon's smart, she loves Bernie, what more do you
"Harry, " she pleaded, "think of their children--they won't be Jewish!"
"Damn it, the children will be our grandchildren, yours and mine!" He shook
his head. "I've had enough of this craziness" He got up from his chair,
grabbed a jacket out of the closet, opened the street door and walked out,
slamming the door shut.
He was going to walk the streets, but he stopped short after a few steps.
There were no streets now, only highways and cars. He got into his car and
decided to drive to the big mall and look at the shops and the people. After
he parked and began walking, he paid no attention to the shops or the people.
His wife was on his mind: what had brought about this appalling change in her
When he first saw Eva in that Mississippi
Freedom Summer, the leader had to forcibly pull her away from an argument
with several state troopers who were trying to push the out-of -state
invaders back into the bus station. She was the first to volunteer for any
assignment, no matter how dangerous. He smiled as he remembered when their
leader wanted two volunteers to drive with Jim on the night trip to the
Volunteers' Center in Hattiesburg, Eva had leaped up as soon as he spoke, and
Harry quickly followed suit. He just wanted to be with Eva. It was a
spine-tingling drive for all three though nothing happened, except that Harry
decided that he would pursue her until she agreed to marry him. In a little
over a year he achieved his objective.
That was thirty years ago, but for the last ten years, it had been a constant
battle. They were both past 50, had spent their adult lives supporting
liberal causes, so how could she voice that disgusting protest, "marrying a
* * * *
Bernie was their first child,
and three years later there was Ruthie. The boy grew into a tall, lean,
first-rate student--and athlete. Early on, Ruthie's main attributes were
emerging. She was pretty and she had uncommon good sense; whatever the
problem, she tried to help people find a practical, doable answer.
In the city lacrosse league for up to 14- year- olds, Bernie
distinguished himself from the time he was 10, as an attack man with great
potential. Harry was at all of his games. He usually brought along his friend
Don who had played college lacrosse. Eva went along to the first competitive
game Bernie played but expressed dismay when players used lacrosse sticks to
block and, illegally, trip opponents. She told Harry that she could not bear
to watch her son endanger life and limb.
After the first
year of competition, Harry spoke to his wife after dinner one night. "I'm
ready to make a prediction. Next year, we're going to be getting calls, and
maybe visits, from some of the big-name private schools in town. They're
going to want Bernie to play for them when he's ready for high school. And
I'm going to start researching, with Don's help, what the best schools are,
and what perks we should ask for."
"Why does he need fancy
private schools?" Eva asked. "Did you get a good education in the public
schools? I did. Does he have to go to Harvard? You didn't, and you came out a
professor anyhow. It's alright for him to be on the team, but don't make
lacrosse the biggest thing in his life!"
Harry waved off the remark, "You'll see. The schools will come knocking at
our door, and Bernie will love it. So will you."
He was right. By the time the boy was ready for high school, the coaches
started telephoning and visiting. Harry knew what he wanted, and with Don's
help, had figured out what order of preference each school should be
assigned. He achieved his objective in getting him into the most prestigious
high school--and Bernie was becoming the most talked about high school
athlete in the area.
In the second year of their
son's high school career, Harry became aware that Eva perceived an ominous
cloud in the fairy-tale aura that surrounded Bernie's achievements.
"You've met his friends, Harry," she said one evening after dinner, with
Bernie and Ruthie in their rooms, presumably doing homework. "Have you
noticed that none of them are Jewish?"
"What's that got to do with anything? " Harry asked, lifting his eyes from
the book he was reading. "Do you think they drink or are on drugs?"
"But no Jewish friends! He'll forget he's a Jew!"
"Just last year he was bar mitzvah. You insisted on it. He studied with the
Yeshiva student, and he performed like a Yeshiva student. What else do you
want of the kid?".
"Maybe if we joined the Temple," she said, pleading,
"he would go with us and he'd meet boys and girls."
Harry laughed. "You'll never stop. I won't join. You want to join, be my
guest. Go in good health."
"Please, Harry, I hate to do things without you. Why are you so obstinate
about belonging? I have friends who belong and so do their husbands. These
guys are lawyers, doctors, professors, and interested in music, art, into
progressive politics --what more could you want?"
Harry leaned forward. "So we have friends-- teachers, lawyers, steel workers,
secretaries-- I never ask them if they go to a synagogue or church, and they
never ask us if we do. I assume synagogue -goers have some feeling about the
Jewish faith, whether intensely or less so. I don't have that feeling,
although, as you know, I feel strongly about being Jewish."
"Hey, can I get into this?" There was Bernie, leaning against the door post.
"I have been thinking about Jewishness too."
Suddenly, magically, Ruthie appeared. "Me too, me too. What's it all about?"
"Sure, join us, " Harry said. "Your mother has been wondering why Bernie
doesn't have any Jewish friends."
"Not exactly, " the mother said, flustered, " I like your friends but I want
to persuade Dad, that we ought to join a Temple, and you could meet Jewish
boys and girls your age."
Bernie and his sister sat down on the floor in front of them. "There are a
few Jewish kids at the school and some are in my classes," Bernie said. "They
hang out together mostly, but I don't want to do that. It's like telling the
other guys, "We're different, we don't want to be friends with you." Besides,
they say I'm a jock, like only stupid guys play lacrosse."
"The Christian kids keep together too." Harry said. "Does that mean they're
telling Jews or Muslims to stay away?"
"They don't keep together because they're Christian. Some were in the same
lower school classes, some play lacrosse. One of my lacrosse buddies asked me
to eat at the table with his friends. I like them, so I hang around with
"I've got Jewish and Christian friends in my class, " Ruthie said. "Is there
something wrong with that, Mom?"
"How would you both feel about our joining a synagogue?" Eva asked. "Would
you come to a service with us?"
"Don't join because of me," Bernie got up from the floor, and turned toward
his mother. "Sure I'd go. Why not?" He went to his room and shut the door.
"Don't worry about him, Mom," Ruthie said, "I met most of his friends and
they're nice. Anyhow, they only talk about school, girls - nothing religious."
Harry spoke. "You do what you want but I'm not joining and I'm not going, And
I think you're pushing Bernie a little hard."
After a few weeks, Eva phoned the Rabbi for an appointment. The Rabbi asked
if the whole family could come to see him. Eva made some excuse about her
husband and son not being available, but her daughter would come with her. At
the dinner table that evening after seeing the Rabbi, she said she was
exhilarated about how wise he was. Bernie asked what they had talked about,
and his mother said that he spoke of Bible studies and the worship service as
the heart of Jewishness, that only those who participate could understand
their own connections with the history and experiences of the Jewish people.
Harry asked why his own years of studying in secular Jewish schools did not
qualify him to have that connection. Bernie commented that there was a
difference between the Rabbi's standard and his father's: the Rabbi was
saying that it had to be continuing study and participation, and that was
not true of Harry's way. When Bernie was helping her clean up after dinner,
Evie pleaded with him to attend a service and a Bible class with her.
Bernie hesitated but then agreed to go when he had some free time.
After several weeks of prodding from his mother, Bernie spoke to his father.
"Pop, I'm going to go to the temple with Mom and Ruthie. I know how you feel
about attending a service, but I'd like you to come along too."
"Why do you need me? Is it because the family that prays together stays
together? You don't have to worry; Mom and I are not thinking of breaking
"It's not that," Bernie said, with a nervous laugh. " I want to see what goes
on but I guess Mom plans to have the Rabbi and some other powerhouses try to
persuade me to join, and I need someone to help me counter such heavy
"Flattery will get you everywhere. Either this Friday or next Friday will be
okay . Check with Mom and tell me when the great event will take place."
Eva was delighted with the news. Maybe Harry was relenting and they could be
a good Jewish family in the eyes of the One Above. She hastened to talk to
the Rabbi about having prayer shawls, tefilen and yarmulkes for husband and
son, and asked him to find the time to meet with the family after the
service. The Rabbi told her he was not sure that he would be able to talk
with her husband after the service; also, the men would need only the shawl and
yarmulke; it was not necessary to wear tefilen for Sabbath services.
They arrived early at the Temple and Eva stopped to talk to some friends in
the lobby. While Harry and the children were waiting, a boy about Bernie's
age grabbed his arm.
"Hey Jock, whatcha doing here? You're in the wrong place, you know. This is
where the Jews go"
"Hotshot, I didn't think you were smart enough to know the difference,"
Bernie replied." I guess I'll have to move you up the ladder from idiot to
"I'm going to tell the other jocks that you're a closet Jew," Hotshot said.
as he moved away from his schoolmate.
Harry had listened to the brief exchange but thought it best not to question
his son. Eva turned to them and mentioned that she had reserved the ritual
male articles for worship, but Harry accepted only the yarmulke as he entered
the sanctuary, and Bernie followed his father's lead. When the service
began, Harry opened the prayer book and tried to follow the English
translation. After a while he lost interest and began watching the
congregation, but he heard a familiar voice offering the incantations with
deep feeling. He glanced quickly to his right and saw Eva in what he thought
was a trance-like state, her body swaying rhythmically. Both Bernie and
Ruthie were staring at her.
He was dumbfounded by the intensity of her emotion. In the past few years she
had made clear her interest in joining the Temple, but what had brought her
to this immersion in religiosity? A sense of unease gripped him; something
disturbingly different had entered his family life.
After the service was over, Eva asked the family to wait while she checked
with the Rabbi's secretary about the appointment. She came back to tell them
that the Rabbi could not see them until later in the week. For the rest of
the day, Eva seemed lost in thought. After dinner, as Harry sat reading a
book, she told him that she had decided to join the Temple and not wait for
him to take that step with her.
"Taking part in the religious life of my people has become very important
for me," she said. " Don't you feel the emptiness in our lives, Harry? And we
are passing it on to our children too. We need to commit ourselves to the
Almighty, and that will show the way to the children."
"At the service today I could see how deeply you feel about it," Harry
replied, intently. "I don't feel that way. You have the right to stake out
whatever road you want but I hope you won't pressure the kids to follow you."
Eva stared at him for a few moments and then left the room.
When dinner was served a few nights later, Ruthie asked, incredulously, why
her mother was eating her food in a glass dish and using plastic utensils.
Harry and Bernie looked up in amazement. "I have decided to follow the rules
of kashrut for myself," Eva said, staring straight ahead. "Our dishes are
unsuitable for that and I will eat this way until I decide on the tableware I
want. I don't think you noticed that, for the past few months, you have been
eating only kosher food at home. From now on, if you want to eat shrimp or
ham, please eat it on the outside. Nobody has complained about the food I've
served, so I guess it's not a problem. If any of you want to join me in this
dietary change, let me know."
"Do you want me to take sandwiches to school?" Ruthie asked" I 'm sure the
school lunch isn't kosher."
Harry decided to
speak up. "If you're satisfied with the food you eat there, Ruthie, you don't
have to change. And that goes for you too, Bernie. But, Eva, I sometimes like
milk when we're eating meat, and are you telling me that I can't have it
His wife's face reddened." I hope you will have the decency
to drink something else during the meal."
Harry got up and walked away from the table. The children stared at each
other. This was the first time they had seen their parents quarrel.
Throughout his high school years, Bernie carried on an active social life,
but limited himself to weekend evenings. Before he was allowed to drive,
mother or father would drop him off at a mall or a friend's house. When Harry
asked him what happened at these gatherings, Bernie assured him that it was
not a drug-abusing or drinking crowd; the lacrosse coach had warned them that
a violation would get them kicked off the team and expelled from school. He
got his driver's license as soon as he was eligible, and then borrowed one of
the family cars for his social involvements.
Harry and a
faculty colleague, Ben, were eating lunch together one day and the friend
mentioned that he was being quizzed regularly about Bernie and his parents by
a neighbor. It appeared that Bernie had been dating the neighbor's daughter
for some time. Harry wanted to know more about the neighbor and learned that
he was a bank official , Ben was also happy to talk about the young lady,
Sharon, for the families had known each other for many years. The young lady
attended a parochial school, was about a year away from graduation, and Ben
was sure that she was college-bound.
Harry shared that news with
his wife, and one evening after dinner they asked their son to talk about it
Bernie agreed that he had been remiss in not telling his parents that he was
dating Sharon. In response to a question from his mother, he said he saw
nothing wrong with dating a Catholic; she had never asked him if he was
Jewish and also never asked him to go to church with her. Again, in response
to his mother's comment, he said it was not fair to require his parents'
approval if he dated the same person more than twice. He listened but said
nothing when admonished by his father that it would be unfair to any girl he
dated to have even protected sex if she was under 18 years of age.
* * * *
While the parents had some concerns about Bernie's leisure time pursuits, his
progress at school, academic and in sports, was a steady source of parental
pride. He received high grades in all subjects. His academic record dimmed in
luster when compared with his growing fame as a lacrosse player. By the close
of his sophomore year, college authorities were writing, phoning and visiting
the Silverstein household to urge that the player and his parents weigh the
benefits they would reap if Bernie chose their school. Bernie leaned toward
an Ivy League school that was held in high esteem for both academic and
sports achievements. Eva tried, without success, to have him consider a
highly-rated university that had a large Jewish student body and featured
Jewish studies. Her son listened respectfully and then told her that many of
his school friends were going to the college he chose, and he liked keeping
in touch with them. He assured her that he would not go to chapel, and might
even join the Hillel chapter. That assurance did not dispel Eva's
* * * *
Harry did not openly question the household changes that Eva introduced in
Sabbath and holiday observances The emphasis that she brought to the
religious aspects, however, spurred him to recall the secular Jewish studies
of his childhood and to think how he could transmit some central themes to
his children. The Passover Seder struck him as an opportunity to try an
alternative to the traditional Hagadda. Using the Internet, he learned that
there was a national humanistic Jewish organization which prepared and sold
alternative Hagaddas. After he got several copies, he proposed to Eva and
that the first Seder use the traditional text, and the alternative one be
used for the second Seder. She objected strenuously to the second text but
both children said that they liked the idea, and begged their mother to
accept the compromise. Eva gave in but she invited her brother and his
family, to the first Seder. The brother led the ceremony and Bernie asked the
four questions. At the second celebration, without outside guests, Harry
officiated and Ruthie asked the questions. Eva participated and, when it was
over, asked the children to evaluate the two events. Bernie said the first
affair dragged on too long, and the second needed more zip--it was too
preachy for him. Ruthie said she liked both and was glad that her parents had
put aside their differences and kept the family together.
* * * *
Bernie went off to college, and three years later, it was Ruthie's turn to
make her choice. Without the fanfare that surrounded Bernie's achievements,
her high school record and SAT scores were impressive enough to assure her
access to many distinguished schools. At a family conference on the subject,
Eva urged her to consider the highly ranked Jewish university.
"It's a very good school, Mom, but the kind of career I want doesn't need a
glamorous college name, I'm thinking of becoming a teacher in public schools,
or maybe a social worker. I'd like to work with poor kids, poor people. They
need help and I hope whatever I learn at school will teach me how to make a
difference in their lives."
"Where do you want to go to school to become this do-gooder?" Eva asked.
It turned out that Ruth had it all figured out. "Maybe it will surprise
you -- I want to go to the state university where Dad teaches. It can't be all
bad if Dad's there. And remember what the big schools will cost us. I'm not
like Bernie; schools aren't clamoring to give me scholarships, and I don't
want to take loans and owe tens of thousands of dollars when I graduate. I
won't make a lot on money teaching, but I liked something Dad said when
Grandpa wanted to know how we were getting along, "We're surviving on my
" And family of the faculty get a discount, " Harry added, delighted
with her choice.
* * * *
During his college years, Bernie maintained close contact with the
family. He also made a point of calling Ruthie regularly, and their
conversation most often dealt with Ruthie's views of how their parents were
relating to each other. Bernie also invited himself to Ruthie's high school
prom as her beau, though this was a big disappointment to his sister's
boyfriend, Joe, who was also in the graduating class. Ruthie assured the
latter that she would reward his sacrifice in future dates. Bernie also came
home to attend Ruthie's graduation ceremony and they all had dinner at a
At the table, after Ruthie had talked about her plans for college, Eva
asked her son to tell what he had been doing at school apart from winning
awards for his lacrosse skills.
"Two things are happening that I have wanted to tell all of you," Bernie
said, "A member of the Trustees at the college is a lawyer in a big New York
firm. He made a proposition to me: his firm will pay my way through law
school, and pay my living expenses, in exchange for which I would work for
the firm during the summers I'm at school, and after I graduate, stay with
the firm for at least three years."
"Do you want to be a lawyer?" His sister asked.
Bernie hesitated before he answered. "I could like the law, depending on what
kind of law I practiced. I suppose that this firm doesn't specialize in
helping people who are evicted, or where somebody's civil rights have been
violated. So, I'll think about it and talk some more with all of you ".
"That's quite an offer, son," Harry said, "but I'm glad you want to see
whether it's the right way to go. I like what you said about the kind of law
practice you prefer."
"So tell us, " Eva said, "what's the other big news?"
Bernie smiled. "I'm not sure everyone around this table will like it. I have
been going, by this time pretty seriously, with a young woman, and I'm gong
to bring her to the house sometime during the summer. You know about her,
even if you never met her. Her name is Sharon…"
Eva sat up straight in her chair. "That same girl you were going with in high
school? When do you see her if you're way up there in Jersey?"
"She's been going to college too, Mom. She's in Philadelphia, at a Catholic
Eva's face reddened. "But she's Catholic!"
"Look, Mom, she won't threaten my being Jewish, and I won't make her give up
Catholicism," Bernie said , calmly. "We're in love, and it's been that way
for a long time."
Eva started rising from her chair, clearly trying to hold back tears. Ruthie,
seated near her, touched her lightly on the arm.
"Please don't leave," the daughter said. Ruthie turned to her brother "Do you
think it would be a good idea to come here with Sharon soon? Would it make
her nervous to sit down with all of us?"
"She's a big girl and she can deal with it," Bernie said, then turned to his
mother, "Mom, I love you and don't want to hurt you. But this is a different
time and a different place. We don't live in a ghetto, and I had the chance
to meet a wonderful person who is not Jewish. Even though Sharon was raised
in a strong Catholic family, she didn't want to stay inside a closed circle.
Please, Mom, we love each other and want to be together."
Eva her eyes still watery, turned away. "I can' t help it," she said. "I'm
tired. I need to go to my room." She walked away, a little unsteadily. Harry
put his arm on Bernie's shoulder, " I'm with you all the way."
In this last summer before his senior year at college, Bernie had no trouble
finding a paralegal job. The father of a lacrosse team- mate, who was also
planning a legal career, was happy to have both his son and Bernie as
interns. Since he stayed at home, Bernie was busy getting as engaged as
possible with his parents and sister, scrimmaging in lacrosse pickup games
for a few weekends--and seeing Sharon who had taken a job in her father's
bank. Ruthie and Harry met Bernie's intended at a restaurant dinner
because Eva did not want to invite Sharon to her home. Harry was angry about
that, but both son and daughter asked him to try to understand the depth of
Eva's disappointment .
After some initial pleasantries, Harry asked her how she felt about a close
connection with a Jewish family.
"It's not any Jewish family; it's Bernie's family. I love him, and he loves
all of you dearly. I will feel the same way. I suppose that since I've been
in Catholic schools all my life, you wonder how I'll get along in day-to-day
close contact with Jewish people. I just know I'm adaptable."
"Do you two expect to get married right after college?" Ruthie asked
" We haven't talked about it, but I want to do something else for a year or
two after I graduate. There's that federal program, America Corps, where
volunteers serve in inner-city schools, or work with residents in poor
neighborhoods. It's for a year or two, and I want to do that. I want a career
too, and I'm thinking of teaching in public schools. Bernie's heading for
graduate work, probably law school, and maybe he ought to finish that before
we marry But if we decide to get married before he finishes law school, I'll
get a teaching job sooner and I'll support him till he finishes school. "
She said her parents were troubled about a non-Catholic wedding, and the
probability that her children would not be baptized into the faith. The
church will view her as a lapsed Catholic, but she felt she would hold on to
her religious views and express them in some private fashion .She was sure
that her parents would be fully supportive even if she were outside the
"Do you think you'll feel guilty about the separation from the church?" Harry
"That could be," Sharon said, "but there are many people, including priests,
seminarians and Catholic sisters who have lapsed. I know a few around here,
and I could talk with them."
Sharon had her own car and drove home alone. The others came home together.
Eva was in the living room and Ruthie sat down beside her on the couch. Harry
and Bernie drew up chairs on the other side of the coffee table.
"Sharon's a lovely girl," Ruthie said, "and her parents have the same
* * * *
Just before his graduation, Bernie's parents and sister were invited by the
university to attend two ceremonies: his induction into the Phi Beta Kappa
chapter, and their Sports Hall of Fame. Sharon was invited too, and Ruthie
and Bernie sat with her at a separate table for each event. At first, Harry
wanted to voice his irritation at the division, but he could see that Eva was
trembling. He took her hand in his own, and said, "We have wonderful
children, and you have been a wonderful mother."
When Bernie started law school in his hometown, he lived at home. Ruthie was
also there, commuting each class day to the state university. Harry could see
that his wife was happy to have them all together-- and he was happy too. The
children were busy, Ruthie with school work and frequent weekend engagements
with her high school beau, now also attending the same university. And apart
from his studies, Bernie had become a consultant to the state university's
lacrosse coach. He offered only limited hours, but they were pleased to have
him and paid him well.
Sharon enrolled in the America Corps, and was sent off to a faraway city. She
and Bernie phoned, wrote letters, emailed, and saw each other for a brief
holiday season. After her visit, Bernie announced to his family that Sharon
would come home at the end of her year's commitment and they planned to get
married shortly thereafter. In the period before Sharon's return, Harry and
Ruthie tried again and again to persuade Eva to take part in the wedding
"I have talked with the Rabbi often," Eva said, sadly. "He doesn't tell me
that I should not go. I asked him if he would go if he were the parent
involved. He tried to avoid that question but I persisted, and --he would not
"But you're not the Rabbi's wife," Harry said, "and you can't hold yourself
to his standard."
"Mom, it's your life and it's your son we're talking about, "Ruthie entreated.
Eva shook her head, "It's my commitment to my faith, and what my parents and
their parents believed and struggled to hold on to."
"You didn't feel that way years ago," Harry said. "I think you felt like I
did--and still do. Religious feeling is fine, but we can't let it build an
iron barrier against others. Bernie and Sharon love each other; why must they
be kept apart?"
"Please, I love both of you and I don't want to argue," Eva pleaded. "This is
how I feel."
The future bride and groom made the arrangements about the ceremony, and only
Harry, Ruthie, and Sharon's parents were there. The latter four also made all
the decisions about the party that followed. Sharon's folks asked if having a
kosher caterer might win Eva's attendance. Harry said he felt the parents of
the bride ought to decide about the food. Bernie prepared his list of family
and friends he wanted to invite, and Harry added his brother and family, and
Eva's sister and family, but he planned to telephone them to explain why Eva
would not be there. Sharon said her parents would also be selective since
the absence of Catholic tradition would offend some close relatives and
Despite the many sensitive issues, both ceremony and party were delightful
affairs The clerk said he was proud to officiate at a ceremony involving a
nationally known athlete, and added that he admired his choice of a mate.
Sharon hugged Harry and Ruthie with great affection, and her parents welcomed
Bernie as the son they had thus far lacked. Almost everyone invited to the
party came, including Eva's sister. Bernie's lacrosse friends brought their
youthful enthusiasm and it was infectious. Ruthie boyfriend , Joe, got upset
how often the lacrosse players came over to ask her for a dance and cut in
when he was dancing with her. Bernie and Sharon stayed together and mixed
with both families, and Harry did the same. The affair began in mid-afternoon
and lasted until late into the evening.
When the party was over, the bridal couple went to their new home, an
apartment they had rented some weeks before and furnished with bare
necessities obtained from parental homes, and a few purchases at second-hand
stores. They had told their families that their honeymoon would be delayed because
of Sharon's teaching job and Bernie's final year as a law student.
Eva was in their bedroom when Harry returned but she was not asleep. He did
not talk about the wedding and Eva asked only whether Ruthie had come home
with him. He told her that their daughter had decided to prolong the party
evening , and gone to some night places with youthful relatives, both old and
new, as well as Joe and some of the lacrosse players.
* * * *
Change is inevitable, especially where young people's lives are the subject
of interest. One year passed after Bernie's wedding , and he was now a
full-fledged lawyer, having passed his bar examination. Prestigious firms in
town invited him to join their practice, but he chose to work in the public
defenders office. He visited the house infrequently; he told his father that,
with his wife not welcome, and the time he needed for his new job and his
part-time lacrosse consultations, other social engagements had to take
Ruthie graduated from college and immediately applied to the city for a
teaching job in the public schools. Her "steady", Joe, also graduated, and he
chose to go to a school of social work for a master's degree. Ruthie lived at
home, and it was clear to Harry that she remained there in order to provide a
cheerful presence for her parents. Eva went to services at the synagogue , at
times with Ruthie, and less frequently with her husband. Harry was himself
depressed with a sense of Eva being in constant mourning.
Another year passed. One Sunday morning, Ruthie told her mother and father
that two important events affecting the family would be happening soon, and
she wanted to have the whole family to talk about it together.
"To me, my whole family includes Bernie, Sharon and Joe too, Mom."
"Why do you torture me?" Eva asked, in a feeble voice. "Do you want to drive
me out of the house?"
"I want to tell you that Joe and I are going to get married," Ruthie said.
"Will that drive you out of the house? And we want the full wedding package,
chupa, Rabbi and all. And it could even be your Rabbi. But I also want Sharon
here to talk about it and, for sure, to come to the wedding. And I also
intend to invite her parents."
Eva and Harry walked over to their daughter and took turns hugging her.
"Mazeltov," Eva said, happily, "it's a Jewish wedding, honey. That's all I
want. It will be a beautiful wedding. So, what's the second event?"
"I went to see Sharon last night. She told me she's pregnant," Ruthie stopped
speaking. Harry's face lit up in a smile. Eva's body stiffened. Ruthie
continued, "This is why I wanted to talk with you both today. If I waited
until Bernie and Sharon came, things might be said that would make for bad
"You mean," Eva said, "that I would get people upset. Don't worry, I won't
come. The Bible says that intermarriage will lead our sons and daughters to
follow other gods. This will break up the family. That's what is happening to
us. Does Bernie come to this house? Hardly ever."
"Bernie isn't breaking up our family." Harry said. "You are. If you won't
welcome Bernie's wife, Bernie feels he isn't welcome."
"You think it's all my fault, don't you?" Eva said, bitterly. "You blame me,
but you're wrong, I'll tell you what mishegas started it. You began this, You
sent him to that fancy school when he was an impressionable child. Did he
have any Jewish friends? No. He wanted to be like those rich Christian kids.
And then, he wants a Christian wife, and now he wants Christian children.
That's your fault, Harry, and it will be your punishment."
"Stop it!" Ruthie almost shouted. "Both of you only talk about who's to
blame. What we have to talk about is how to become a family again. Nobody
forced you two to get married. You loved each other, so you married. I think,
I hope, that some part of that love is still in you. What each one of you has
to do now is to feel in your heart and your mind that there's a little bit of
truth in what the other is saying. Remember this: Bernie will not leave
Sharon, not now, and I hope not ever. And if you want him, you will have to
take his children too. He is your child and they will be your grandchildren."
Eva cried. Harry came over, gave her his handkerchief, and sat beside her.
"Maybe I shouldn't have decided by myself that he should go to that school.
But you are proud of him, aren't you? Maybe not for lacrosse, but Phi Beta
Kappa? Tops in his law school? Maybe he'll be a Supreme Court Judge!"
Eva smiled through her tears. " He doesn't have to be a judge for me to
love him. Maybe I should have gone to his wedding."
"They need us, and their children will need us." Harry said "And we need
them. We need Sharon too, and she wants her parents and her Catholicism. We
must try to understand that."
"Is it settled, Mom?" Ruthie asked. "Are we going to have that meeting with
everybody here? And can I tell Joe's mother that you will; be in touch with
her about the wedding?"
Eve got up from her chair and hugged her daughter lovingly. "How could I
say no to you? You're a sweetheart; I hope the One Above will forgive me. At
least we are offering a magnificent Jewish wedding!"
Harry took his turn hugging his daughter and said "You're a beautiful
doll, honey. From the bottom of my heart I thank you."
Ruthie asked Harry to drive her to Bernie's home . They were waiting for
her, as she danced into the living room.
"I did it, I did it," she said. "A special invitation to Sharon and
Bernie, and we meet next week in the Silverstein Senior household. Everybody
must be there."
"How'd you convince Mom?" Bernie asked.
"I knew I had to offer something dear to her heart. And what could be
dearer than a daughter getting married in a full-scale Jewish wedding? After
that she could listen to the tough part. And she did, and with Dad's help we
won her over."
"But you and Joe weren't going to get married until he got his social
work degree, and that's a year from now," Sharon said.
"I didn't have a hard time persuading Joe" Ruthie laughed. "I just said
that I would support him until he got his first paying social work job. I
heard someone else using that gimmick to get her man, and, Bernie, that
worked, didn't it?"
She stopped for a few moments. "Forgive me, I want to
get a little serious now, and I am saying this to you, Dad, as well as Sharon
and Bernie. In one important sense, Mom was right. I think Jewish people have
an obligation to maintain, for ourselves and for our children, some
connection to Jewishness. Dad, you used a Yiddish phrase years ago that I
have always remembered and liked. You called it Der Goldener Kait -- The Golden
Chain that binds Jewish people together through history. I'm sure you feel it
Bernie, as I do. And I hope you will give your children some sense of that
too. I think Sharon will accept that as your commitment, as Bernie will
accept what Sharon sees as her obligation to the history of her people."
"Hear, hear," Harry said, as he applauded.
Bernie got up from his seat, went over to his sister, hugged her and
said, "Maybe we all need to carry the golden chain, but you're the one who
keeps it handy to put it back in our hands when we let it drop."
Ruthie laughed, " You see, Sharon , I'm not as smart as my brother, but
he knows I'm smarter than I look!"
The author is a retired professor of social work and anthropology who writes stories dealing with social issues. This story is
written with the assistance of a small grant from the Puffin Foundation
from the October 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine