Separation Barrier

Separation Barrier

Brenda Naomi Herzberg, Jerusalem, Israel

 

 

West Bank – November 2008

                  Jackie always slept badly in her daughter in law's bed. Disconcerting and unwelcome fantasies about her virile warrior son and her slim, small daughter in law disturbed her rest. Five of her grandchildren were conceived between these sheets.

                   There was a sense of being on a different planet in Noam and Miri's house, where joy and prayer were of a higher value than keeping the place clean. Life was danced, sung, and prayed, all with exuberance.

                  She must have eaten something greasy at the lavish Friday night meal because she had woken in the night with indigestion. It was Shabbat so she was prohibited from switching on a light, and anyway the globe in the bedside lamp was broken. She had to rummage around in the dark for her antacids.

                  The baby had woken twice in the night disturbing her sleep with his earsplitting screams. Jackie was an accountant and her planet had mathematical certainty.

                  Sparrows were chirping and a blackbird sang. The house was strangely quiet.

                  "Where are the children?" she wondered. It was almost 8.30.

                  Her husband, Robert,  had already left for morning prayers with Noam and the two older grandsons.

                  She got up, shivered and put on a sweater over her nightdress. She set out for the bathroom, hoping it would be free.

                  Miri, her daughter in law, called out when Jackie opened the door. She was propped on pillows on a mattress on the living room floor, feeding the latest baby who was suckling strongly, his dimpled hand stroking her ample breast.

                  Miri in fluent and heavily accented English dictated rather than requested,

                  "Jackie,  'ave only a short shower! Dzer is 'ot water but dzer are many of us!"  

                  “I'm not a recruit in the Israel Defense Force and she is not my officer,” Jackie reminded herself.

                  "Good morning, Miri. How was the night?"

                  "Dzank God, it was good!"

                   The young woman squeezed the baby to remind him to feed.

                 

                  The bathroom floor was wet and littered with crumpled jeans and T shirts, damp towels, a bucket with something that looked like bloodstained bandages soaking in it and plastic bath toys. A scrunched tube of toothpaste and assorted well-chewed toothbrushes of adult and child sizes were on a plastic shelf above the grimy washbasin.  The shower curtain decorated with Disney characters was torn and there were spots of mould. She was tempted to check out the medicine cabinet for birth control pills, but was apprehensive that it would fall off the wall.

                  The tepid shower and brisk rub with a loofah warmed her. She returned to the living room, dressed in her tracksuit. A thermostatically controlled platter and an urn of hot water stood on the sideboard.

                  She remembered visits to the beloved and gentle grandparents who had been part of her family life when she was a child. They were observant and tolerant. In their broken English they told her,

                  "Ve live our lives in de vay ve know. You must live your life in the vay you know is rright for you, but it must alvays be rright for de ozzer people as vell."

                  It was a mark of respect to remember them on Shabbat.

                   "Where are the little girls?” Jackie asked.

                  "Dzey vent to the synagogue vid dzer father. Dzer is 'ow you call it ... an activity for young children vich dzey love.”

                  Jackie swore silently.

                   "I'm here from the States," she fumed, "Most of the year I'm lucky if they say one word to me on the phone. They hardly know who we are. We are staying in their home on this damned settlement for one Shabbat. They have school, yeshiva, daycare, youth group, camp, tiyulim or friends, all of which are apparently more important than us! Would it have turned them into heathens if they stayed here with me for a few hours?" 

                  Miri put the baby over her shoulder, patted him and was about to put him into the crib.

                  "May I hold him while you shower?"

                  "Later. Better dzat he sleeps." Miri rocked the crib gently, and hummed a lullaby with oriental cadences.

                   Jackie needed  activity to calm herself.  She went into the kitchen where dirty dishes were stacked randomly near the sink and pots stood soaking on the cooker. The floor needed scrubbing. But today was the day of rest so she wandered to the terrace with a cup of coffee. 

                  Warmed by the winter sun, she sipped her coffee and looked at the view. The soft rolling terraced hills and scattered villages with minarets were evocative. These were pastoral scenes, at first glance unchanged through the centuries. Sheep and goats dotted the hillsides and the muezzins' call had broken her light sleep some time before dawn. The tranquility was an illusion. Red roofed Jewish settlements were like fortresses on the hilltops. The only way one went for a hike in these hills was with an armed guard. The settlements were seen by the local Palestinian villagers as outposts of a colonising and suppressing force. The Zionists were hated foreign intruders. 

                  For Jackie, the clash was not just between Arabs and Jews. It was the clash between interpretations of justice and security. Noam and Miri were inspired by a sense of Jewish destiny, which had its roots in the Biblical land of Israel. They saw the territory conquered in the 1967 Six Day War as part of the ancient homeland, restored to Jewish control by divine intervention. Justice for the Jewish people who had suffered appalling persecution through the centuries meant living in the homeland and defending its security by military strength. Jackie's idea of God did not allow for the prolonged military occupation of another people's land and she could only see trouble ahead. Her musings were interrupted by children's voices and she heard Robert asking Miri where she was.

                   He joined her on the terrace and kissed her cheek.

                  "Shabbat Shalom to my lovely wife," he beamed, towering over her and putting his left arm round her shoulder.  "Look at that view. Restoring our people to our land. It's beautiful here."

                  "You see what you want to see," she said, smiling and reaching up to kiss his cheek, “Shabbat Shalom to you, too.”

                  Jackie went to the kitchen and watched Miri and the two little girls. They were slightly built like their mother, pretty children with dark silky straight hair, dusky skin, and brown eyes. They were arranging slices of tomatoes and cucumbers on a plate, the little one standing on a stool and picking away at the food. They chatted in Hebrew to their mother and Jackie could only understand a few words. She guessed they were talking about the songs they had been learning with the youth leader at the synagogue.

                  She asked in English, "Were you learning those songs  this morning?" and resisted the urge to hug both of them.

                  Tami, the two year old giggled and put up her arms to be lifted by her mother. Her four-year-old sister stood still and stared at her, mouth open.

                  Jackie asked, "Can I help?"

                  Breakfast was a huge Israeli spread of everything. Jackie sat next to Tami who suddenly clambered on to her knee. The little one snuggled into her and they fed each other small portions of food. As she stroked Tami's hair and kissed the soft skin of the nape of her neck, she was happy.

                  Three generations of males were grouped at the head of the table. Robert, with his rim of grey hair, bushy grey eyebrows and thin rimmed spectacles had a patriarchal look. He was a big built, slow moving man, who had done well and was content with his business and his family life.

Noam, the older of her two children was also powerfully built. He had been a hefty infant, a tyrannical toddler, and an uncompromising child. She had worried about his future when, as a teenager, he challenged any authority except that of his father. Thanks to Robert's encouragement (and in the face of Jackie’s strong opposition), Noam made aliya in his late teens and moved to the West Bank settlement when he married. He was stroking his dark untrimmed beard as he talked in English to his two sons, aged 11 and 9, teaching them about rituals in the Temple. The older boy, Yossi, was concentrating, biting his lip and keen to please his father. His dark eyes and slender build came from Miri's Iraqi family. His younger brother, Shimon, a redhead, freckled and strong, looked like an American kid. He had a graze on one knee and he fidgeted.

                  The younger of Jackie and Robert's two children, Judy, had been a sweet natured child from her first moments. She lived with her husband and two children not far from her parents in Chicago.

Jackie did not share her husband's and her son's ideology. She believed strongly in the need for Tikkun Olam and her days were filled with practical involvement and generous philanthropy in the city in which she lived. She had a sharp mind and a nimble, fast moving body. She had been a very pretty young woman with raisin dark flashing eyes and dark curly hair. She was still good looking with well cut short steel grey curls.  Her practical  style of dress matched a practical style of life. Substantial wealth helped. She had grown up in a demonstrative extended family, which spanned the spectrum of American Jewish life in the later decades of the 20th century. Family was the central pillar of her existence.

                  During breakfast, Miri invited her to take part in the women's discussion group at midday. She would be going with the baby and the two little girls. Jackie thought of about a hundred things she would have preferred to do but out of courtesy agreed to join them.

                  The synagogue hall was brightly lit. It had pine paneling, colorful woven wall hangings, and stained glass windows with scenes of the life of Moses. Little children were running around, shouting at each other. The hall echoed. The discussion was in Hebrew. Miri sat next to her with the baby in a papoose and translated intermittently so that it was impossible, even had she wanted, to follow the different points of view. Why did they all have to shout, she wondered, especially the woman in the green felt hat, which with its wide brim and thin grey satin ribbon seemed out of place. The woman was probably about her age. She was pale and large. She leant forward on the edge of her seat all the time, as if waiting to pounce and frequently broke in when others were talking. Miri told her as they strolled back to the house,

                  "''er daughter and 'er youngest granddaughter vere killed by a terrorist. She is alvays sad and full of 'ate."

                  Jackie shuddered.

                  During the endless afternoon, Jackie felt frustrated rather than fulfilled. Miri's parents, who lived on the settlement, came over. Miri's mother fussed over the little granddaughters who responded noisily, the three of them chuckling and playing in a private little world. Robert was immersed in a discussion with Noam and Miri's father. Miri and the baby slept.      

                  As they drove back to their hotel at the close of Shabbat, Robert talked enthusiastically

                  "Amazing, that's what they are! Wonderful young people. Real pioneers. They've got vision, energy and faith. I envy them, you know that. I envy their youth and their dedication. That's what we should have done at their age, Jackie, come out here and build the land. We got caught up on a treadmill, in the rat race. I'm proud of them. All of them."

                  She shook her head and stared out of the window at the night.

Chicago – December 2008

                  Not long after their return from Israel, Robert overheard two men in the changing room at the gym where he worked off the effects of too many business lunches. 

                  “Hundreds of decent people have been caught in his net. A Ponzi scheme, like pyramid selling, a con man on the biggest scale. Billions of dollars is what they're saying...”

                  Bernard Madoff, one of North America's most reputable top financiers faced jail for the rest of his life for investment fraud on an enormous scale. Robert sat on the marble bench, elbows on his knees, head buried in his hands, his heart racing.  

                  “It's a lie. It's media gossip.,” he whispered to himself.

                  Back in his carpeted office which had floor to ceiling glass windows so that the view of the city and the lake was unimpeded, his secretary announced,

                  “Your wife is here. She wants to speak to you urgently,”

                  Jackie threw her fur-lined jacket on a couch in the conference area of his office and paced up and down on the opposite side of the vast, cluttered desk. She looked down at her seated husband who rubbed his chin.

                  "Robert, how is this going to affect us?  The business? Our retirement plans?” she shouted.

                  His face was grey and it crossed her mind that he might be about to have a heart attack. He paused before he said in a measured tone,

                  “You didn't have to come here. What they're saying on the news is distorted. The media are having a field day. They've caught a big fish, a Jewish one, too.”

                  He shook his head in disbelief. That annoyed her.

                  “Robert, I'm not a fool. We need to find out how we are affected. What can we do? We're wealthy people with a lot to lose and we're not young. We have to act quickly.”

                  The phone rang. Robert listened expressionless. Jackie continued to pace.

                 As he slammed the phone down, it rang again. Before answering, he said slowly,

                  “It is too late to do anything. That man, curse his name, has caught us in his net.”

                  The phone continued to ring and he let out a long groaning sigh.

                  She walked round to his side of the desk and he rested his head, which whirled with questions, against her.

                  “Oh, Robert, it's like being sucked into a hurricane.”

                  He lifted her hand and kissed it.

                  “I started out with nothing and I made it big time. It will take more than Madoff to destroy this business. You'll see, Jackie. This is a bad patch but it will pass.”

                  Neither of them was convinced by what he said.

                  It did not pass. It got worse. Lists of Madoff's wealthy victims appeared in the newspapers. The story remained in the headlines.

                  Robert's response was to withdraw into himself. Messy piles of newspapers and journals mushroomed on tables, desks, floors, and sofas. He watched TV incessantly wherever he was. 

                   Jackie was unable to stop asking questions.

                  "Leave it to me, Jackie! When I know something,  I'll tell you. We still don't know what's going on."

                  Her questions echoed those he constantly asked himself.

                  Two weeks after the news broke, Jackie collected her two Chicago grandchildren from school. Twice a week she took them to swimming classes and then home with her for the evening until their mother finished work.

                  Elliott, freckly and redheaded, was an athletic nine years old. The similarity to his Israeli cousin included the bruises and grazes on his legs. He threw his schoolbag into the car, clambered in and asked,

                  "Did Poppa record the game on Saturday? It was great and I want to see it again with him."

                  "Hey, handsome, give Grandma a kiss and tell her about your day."

                  "It was fine. But did he record the game?"

                  "I'm not sure, Elli. Poppa's not well at the moment. He might have forgotten."

                  "Yeah, I know. He's mad at that guy who swindled loads of people. Did he swindle Poppa?"

                  "Shut up, Ell," Angela who was 11, and a budding ballerina, snorted at her brother.         "Grandma we got our projects back and I got an 'A'.  Elli's such a dope, Grandma, he doesn't know what's going on."

                  "Grandma, did Poppa lose some money because of that guy?" he persisted.

                  "Yes, Elli, he did but we've got enough to live on. The worst thing is that the man got people to trust him. They thought he would look after their money for them."

                  "But Poppa's got loads of money, hasn't he, Grandma. If that guy stole some, he's still got loads left. Won't the police get all the money back?""

                  Angela was quiet, but finally she said,

                  "Grandma, Poppa was crying on Friday evening. I've never seen him cry before,"

                  Later that evening, Jackie's daughter and confidante, Judy, held her mother's hand and stroked her moist forehead. Judy, married to a professional musician was a furniture designer. She rushed and swayed on stiletto heels, a hyperactive organizer of family and career, constantly brushing her long chestnut coloured hair out of her eyes. 

                  Jackie rolling imaginary crumbs on the large pine table, whispered,              

                  "Sometimes I don't understand your father. I've spent hours going over  our personal situation. I think we'll manage but we'll have to make drastic changes, and I can't talk to him about them at all."

                  "Will you keep the house?"

                  "There's no market for a big house like this at the moment. I don't remember it ever being so terrible. The market has gone down the drain."

                  Jackie's mouth was dry.

                  "As bad as that, mom?"

                  "I won't know how bad until I get Robert to talk with me about it. I'm worried sick about our future.”

                  Robert's depressive ruminations slowly transformed into religious reflections.

                  “Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.” was a quote from Ethics of the Fathers, two thousand years old but it resonated with him.

                  Jackie's fixation with balance sheets, investments, income, and expenditure seemed trivial.

                  “I think I could find a buyer for the landscapes. If we can get a decent price, we'll have enough for a year or two, until the business picks up again,” she announced.

                  He looked at her, his grey eyes half closed.

                  “I'm 63. I ask myself what do I want to do with what's left of my life. Running the business is not one of the answers.”

                  “What the hell is?” she slammed her hands on the table. Some sheets of paper slid on to the floor.

                  He said quietly,

                  “I think I'm beginning to understand you. You think that when we're in our 70s, we'll look back and see this crisis simply as a bad patch, an obstacle that we managed to overcome. Business as usual but some belt tightening for a while. Is that what you really think?”

                  “What kind of life style do you want for us, and how do you think we're going to finance it?” she shouted.

                  “Jackie, you're asking the wrong questions. The question is what has this crisis taught us about the meaning of our lives.”

                  He may have a point, she thought, but there was no way she could find the energy they had when they were younger. All the same, she was furious that he was leaving her to deal with the problems of getting through the mess.

                  “That's not going to pay the bills or explain to the people who've depended on us for help that we have nothing to give them!”

                  He adjusted the kippah that he had started wearing.

                  “We have enough, Jackie. We'll have a roof over our heads and food on the table for the rest of our lives.”

                  “I'm glad to hear it, “ she snapped. “I'd like to know how you worked that out.”

                  “We'll get nowhere with you in this mood, Jackie.”

                  “And we'll get nowhere if you bury your head holy books.” she retorted and felt mean.

                  Jackie was only comfortable in her large farmhouse-style kitchen where the bay window overlooked the leafless, frozen garden. The rest of the large house with its pale cream marble floors, the irreplaceable oriental rugs and the sweeping staircase with high white walls that provided the perfect setting for a collection of modern landscape art, mocked and frightened her.

                  Work and her grandchildren saved her sanity.

                  Robert moved into one of the spare bedrooms. Each of them, frozen in their sense of loss, yearned for comfort from the other. Neither was able to reach out. They avoided any physical contact, and if there were an accidental brush, an apology would follow as if one had touched a stranger. 

                 

 West Bank - July 2010

 

                  “I’ve got some funds. Not much. I want us to use them to go to Yossi's Barmitzvah.”

                  Jackie's voice sounded like it was filtering through a dense cloud of dust. She stood between Robert and the TV screen in the den where he was watching the late night news. There were grey shadows under her eyes. Robert thought she looked like a starved street cat.

“My grandparents left me five thousand dollars. I opened a savings account and never touched the money. We never needed it. It’s enough for a trip to Israel in July if we fly economy.”

Robert adjusted his kippah, rubbed his chin, and muted the TV.

We go as grandparents, not philanthropists. No luxury hotels, no red carpet receptions from those who want our money, no tours.” he said firmly, “We will stay with the family.”

Jackie's face and voice had little expression but ideas flashed through her mind. It was her chance to show Miri that she was, in spite of their differences an exemplary mother in law. She would clean until the place gleamed, cook according to Miri's instructions, and fold laundry into precise rectangles. She would keep her mouth tightly closed and allow critical glances and remarks to bounce off her thickened second skin. She would radiate her love for all of them. And she would take a supply of the latest educational books and toys for the smaller children.

She fired instructions in her sharp tone,

  Fine then. I’ll phone the travel agent tomorrow and you speak to Noam,”

They arranged to sit separately on the plane to Israel.

                  Noam phoned two days before they left Chicago.

“Miri's sister and her family will be staying with us. There won't be room for the two of you. You’ll be staying with Rachel and Meir. They’re friends of ours, an older couple. It's better. You’ll have your own space there, and they live close by.”

Jackie, furious at the rejection, swallowed hard and remarked that it was kind of Rachel and Meir.

It’s how we live here. Rachel said you’d be welcome to stay on with them afterwards. They have room.”

                  They arrived at Noam and Miri’s home two days before the Barmitzvah. In the hired car on their way from the airport to the settlement, Robert told her that he would be be staying in Israel for a while after the Barmitzvah, "to see about a few things". She was numb. Was he really thinking about moving to this place?

                  Miri welcomed them into the house and smiled as if tumult and disorder were some kind of enjoyable sport.

 “Maybe there's a commandment to wear a plastic smile?” Jackie thought cynically.

The two year old was dismantling an old vacuum cleaner. He looked at Jackie and a big grin broke out across his face as if she was one of his best friends. He lifted up his arms for a hug. She picked him up, squeezed and kissed him. He chuckled and she was content for a moment.

The older children were not yet home from school. Miri carried the toddler and took her in laws to where they would be staying. It was a two-minute walk.

Rachel opened the door. She was much taller than Jackie, about the same age, a solidly built woman with pale eyes and high Slavic cheekbones. She seemed too big for the doorway and the passage behind it. The first impression was that she had faded. Her face, eyes, and lips were like grey wax. A white scarf wound round her hair emphasized the pallor. She smiled in welcome but the smile, like Miri's, did not reach her eyes.

Come on in. We’re from Chicago, too,” she announced.

She was holding a cleaning cloth and there was an appetizing smell of some kind of onion and potato bake through the house.

There are only the two of us living here now so it's good to have guests.”

She had a rather deep voice and spoke softly. The flatness of her spoken voice matched her faded look. She had taken Jackie’s suitcase and was wheeling it into a room,

Here’s the spare room. There’s a sofa bed, which is not very wide. I’ve also made up a single bed in the small bedroom so the two of you can have a bit more space. I’ve cleared out one drawer for you and there’s some space in the closet to hang clothes. Not much, I’m sorry. I haven’t got round to getting rid of the clutter. The bathroom is the second door on the left. Let me know if you need anything.”

In the small room, the bookshelves were crammed full with paperbacks by Anita Diamant, Naomi Regan, Howard Fast and Joseph Heller. Jackie had seen bookshelves with volumes of Talmud in the passage and the dining area. On a lower shelf were children’s story books in Hebrew and boxes of toys, dolls, tiny tea sets, dolls’ clothes and jewelry suitable for a little girl. The closet was full of suits, coats, hats, and dresses. Rachel was right about the clutter. Lace curtains were bright white and the small window with ornate bars to deter intruders was crystal clear. A few pink and purple anemones brightened the room.

Robert wheeled his suitcase straight to the second bedroom. Jackie slumped on to the sofa bed where there were two well-worn towels precision folded and non-matching. She had a lump in her throat and she was lonely.

There was a soft knock on the door. Rachel said in her toneless voice,

Would you prefer to rest or to sit with me in the kitchen and have a coffee while I cook?”

Give me a moment,” Jackie called through the closed door. She blew her nose and went to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face.

In the kitchen, she immediately began to scour cooking pans while Rachel placed cooked food into dishes. Rachel’s soft voice and the familiar domestic tasks calmed her. The two women began to chat about growing up in Chicago and they felt comfortable with each other.

Rachel said softly,

Thank you for your company and your help. There’s a lot to do this week.”

Jackie replied, “I needed to be busy. I wanted to help Miri with the preparations for the Barmitzvah but she said there was no need. I feel a bit pushed out though the truth is that I’m not that comfortable in my daughter in law’s kitchen. It’s so much easier with my daughter who lives near us in Chicago.”

Rachel said,

They are all delighted that you both came. Miri thought only Robert would come. She’s different from you, Jackie, and she’s not sure how to relate to you.”

Jackie blurted,

The main difference is that she’s observant and all that stuff doesn’t do anything for me any more.”

She suddenly stopped herself and said,

I’m so sorry. I just didn’t think. I hope I didn’t offend you.”

Rachel’s lips flickered into an expression, which was almost a smile. She touched Jackie's arm.

The world is made up of all kinds of people and we need to learn how to tolerate if not exactly love each other. Some of the time, I find living here on the settlement is a bit too homogenized if you know what I mean.”

Jackie was drying a pan. She sat on one of the ladder back pine chairs.

I’m interested, very interested. What do you mean?”

Not now, Jackie. It's a big subject.  We’ll find time to sit and talk if you want.”

Around 4.30, the barmitzvah boy Yossi, came to greet his grandparents. No longer a little boy and not quite an adolescent, he hesitated before giving his grandmother a kiss and a hug. He carried what looked like a rolled up poster. He said in a voice that threatened to break,

Here’s the English translation of what I’ll be saying on Shabbat when I discuss the portion of the Law that I will be reading.”

She was touched. She lightly ran her finger down his still smooth olive-skinned cheek and he smiled at her.

That’s so thoughtful of you, Yossi. Thank you. Are you nervous?”

She knew immediately that it was the wrong thing to say.

He laughed.

It’s not such a big thing for me. I’ve been studying Torah for years. It’s all in Hebrew which I speak most of the time.”

Savta Jackie,” he added, “I’ve brought over the family tree that I made. It’s rolled up but I want to show it to you specially because you sent photos and gave me ideas about how to put it together.”

Yossi carefully unrolled the paper on the dining-room table. The project was beautifully set out. Small clear maps showed how his father’s side of the family had moved from Polish and Ukrainian towns to Chicago and then to Israel. Without making the chart confusing, he had added a timeline to indicate the wider context of what was happening in Russia, Poland, Germany, and America.

As he was leaving, he kissed her again and said,

All the kids do projects on their roots for their barmitzvah, and mine won the prize.” he hesitated and then added, “It’s great that you came.”

Well,” said Rachel when he left, “that’s one hell of a gorgeous grandson!”

At the Barmitzvah, Jackie sat with the women behind the dividing screen. As a young woman, she had accepted this segregation. Now it annoyed her.

But after the ceremony, as she soaked in the congratulations and admiration that guests expressed for Yossi, she was aware of being deeply moved, almost to tears.

This is our glue,” she thought, “ these traditions and ceremonies make us a people.” 

She smiled to herself and she had the strange feeling of being blessed.

A little hand suddenly tugged hers. Tami, now aged four, asked her something she didn’t understand, so she beckoned to Rachel who translated.

She wants to see where her Savta is staying,”

I'd love to bring her back to your house if you and Miri agree, Rachel.”

 

At the house, Tami picked up a picture book, gave it to Jackie, and clambered on to her knee. 

Rachel, help!” Jackie called. “She wants the story of Little Red Riding Hood and I can only show her the pictures and read it to her in English.”

That’s exactly what she wants.”

The language barrier dissolved. Tami appeared to understand what Jackie was saying and repeated some of the words. They laughed together at the pictures and Tami giggled at Jackie's fierce wolf-like growls. She slithered from Jackie's lap and began playing with the dolls’ tea set. Jackie sat on the sofa bed and watched her. Rachel peeped in for a moment.

In the early evening, Shimon came to collect his little sister. Meir and Robert were at evening prayers. It was dusk. The house was quiet. Jackie thought she would make a coffee for Rachel and herself. She found Rachel sitting upright on one of the pine chairs, completely still, eyes closed.

Please don't go, Jackie. Sit here with me.” Rachel whispered, not opening her eyes.

They sat in silence. There were occasional indistinct voices from the street. Very faintly in the distance, there was the sound of people singing.

Rachel murmured,

It never heals.”

Jackie said nothing. She was not sure what Rachel was talking about.

It’s hurts as much now as it did four years ago. They’ve gone and I still expect them to walk in any moment.”

Jackie suddenly recalled that she had recognised the green hat with the grey satin ribbon in the clothes closet.

When I saw Tami looking at the books and playing with the toys, for a second I thought it hadn't happened. It was just as if my granddaughter was here and my daughter would walk in any moment to collect her.”

Jackie looked into Rachel's grey eyes. She shook her head.

It's too awful to understand,” she said.

I don't understand anything anymore,” murmured Rachel.

Jackie nodded.

Rachel continued,

We have two sons but they don't live in Israel. One is in India on an ashram and the other lives in Brazil with a partner. They don't have children. Neither wants to live here. My daughter and I were very close, like you and your daughter. Meir and I came to live on the settlement because of her. But now… “

There was another long silence.

And now, I don't know what to think.  Have we stolen their land? Should we be here? Should we stay here?”

Rachel stood up and walked to the window. She looked out at the street and continued,

                  “I've met Palestinians whose children have been killed. You know there's an organization that brings bereaved parents together. There's a couple there who lost a son and I find I have more in common with them than I do with some of my neighbors.”

Jackie said quietly,

Is there anything I can do?”

Rachel turned and held out both hands.

Yes, there is. I used to teach young children. It was more than a job to me. I loved helping them learn. I could teach your little granddaughters to speak English. Do you think you could talk to Miri about letting her little girls come here?”

Jackie grasped Rachel's cold hands and pulled her close.

You have no idea how much that will mean to me.” she said.

 

 

Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal Spring 2011 Volume 8 Number 1

ISSN 1209-9392

© 2011 Women in Judaism, Inc.

 

All material in the journal is subject to copyright; copyright is held by the journal except where otherwise indicated. There is to be no reproduction or distribution of contents by any means without prior permission. Contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors.

 

 

 

 

 

 



© 1997-2017 Women in Judaism, Inc. ISSN 1209-9392

Women in Judaism, Inc. is a registered not-for-ptofit organization.

THORNHILL, ONTARIO CANADA

 

If you enjoy this journal, please consider donating.