A Jewish Story: TWo Roads


A Jewish Story: TWo Roads


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Two Roads

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 want?"

"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 values?

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 shikse!"

* * * *

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 them."

"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 up."

"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 artillery."

"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 moron."

"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 here?"

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 disappointment.

* * * *

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 modest salary."

" 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 kosher restaurant.

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 school there."

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 church.

"Do you think you'll feel guilty about the separation from the church?" Harry asked.

"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 problem…"

* * * *

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 activities.

"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 go."

"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 friends.

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 precedence.

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 feelings."

"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




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