Matzah and Bagpipes
By Jeffrey M. Green
Ordinarily Isaac erased emails from the Ivy League university he had graduated almost fifty years ago without looking at them. Going there had been an error. It wasn’t coeducational back then, and he hadn’t understood how difficult it would be to cope with a party weekend social life. The entire patrician ethos of that university went against Isaac’s New York Jewish liberal egalitarianism. His high school years had been marked by civil rights marches, anti-nuclear demonstrations, folk music and jazz. Now the decision to apply to that Ivy League college and attend it when he was accepted mainly showed him how little he had understood about himself when he was a high school senior.
Anyway, he had moved to Israel seven years after graduation. Were he to make a donation to an institution of higher education, it would be to the Hebrew University, which both of his daughters and their husbands had attended, and where his wife taught.
This email was even less relevant to his life in Israel than the others he received, but it arrived during a lull in his day, and the heading was unusual. It was an invitation to join members of his class for brunch at the Maryland estate of Kazimierz Mroczkowski, a football star whom Isaac hadn’t known personally — jocks and serious students were breeds apart. After brunch, the guests would walk across the fields and watch steeplechase races on a neighboring estate. Steeplechase races? He had to look the term up on the Internet to make sure he knew what they were.
Coincidentally, Isaac and his wife, Rebecca (they had heard too many jokes about that pair of names) were going to be in Washington, DC at the very time of the steeplechase race. They were going to visit their son, Dror, who, with his husband, Kenneth, had recently adopted a baby girl, whom they named Ella. The only time Isaac and Rebecca could get away to visit their new granddaughter was during the Passover break from the university where Rebecca taught, so they decided to go, despite what they anticipated as certain Jewish difficulties.
Isaac and Rebecca had moved to Israel together as a couple, but for different reasons. Rebecca had grown up in a very observant home but had had her fill of it. Isaac’s family was completely secular, and for him, Jewish observance was a fascinating discovery. They had agreed that they wanted to live a Jewish way of life, whatever that might turn out to be. For a long time that meant belonging to a category known as “orthoprax,” which meant acting like an orthodox Jew without actually believing in orthodox Jewish theology. That had worked well while Rebecca’s parents were still living, so they could eat in her home.
Observing Passover properly was a major feature of their orthopraxy. During the weeks before Passover, they always cleaned their house intensely and changed over the entire kitchen from ordinary plates, cutlery, and pots and pans to their Passover equipment, and they were quite strict about avoiding food that wasn’t kosher for Passover. So it meant a lot to Isaac to be in Israel during Passover with their daughters and their families and their close friends, and he had deep misgivings, with which Rebecca had no patience, about the timing of their upcoming trip. For her, seeing Ella was infinitely more important than keeping Passover. She bought the plane tickets before Isaac had actually made up his mind.
The steeplechase buffet posed the same food problem for Isaac, compounded by a Sabbath problem, since it was called for the Saturday between the beginning and end of Passover. At home, he and Rebecca avoided travelling on the Sabbath, but she dismissed this scruple when he voiced it. “It will be a great outing for everyone, if the weather's nice.”
Kaz’ invitation had several links, both to the steeplechase race and to the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage website, which told Isaac that “the present owners” had changed the name of the estate to that of lands their family once owned in Poland.
Isaac’s curiosity was whetted. He wrote Kaz an email, introducing himself as a classmate who hadn’t known him when they were in college together, and saying that he might be able to attend the race, but that it would be with his wife, their son, their son’s husband and their adopted African- American baby girl. Would that be okay?
Kaz answered almost immediately, considering the time difference between Jerusalem and Maryland. Isaac and his retinue were welcome, and, if he did come, he would surely be the alumnus from farthest away. The baby would be no problem. If they wanted to leave her at his house while they went to the race, there was always someone there who could take care of her.
A lot of articles about Kaz as a college football star were still floating around the web. In his last year of college he had led the team to stunning victories, been college all-American and was drafted by an NFL team. In addition to his athletic prowess, the articles about Kaz said that he had attended Catholic schools in the mid-western city where he had grown up, that he’d been a philosophy major, and he had written an honors thesis about Kant. Searches for Kaz’ subsequent career as a professional athlete turned up nothing. A profile in the alumni magazine, available online, said that Kaz had turned down a professional career in football, gone to business school after college and pursued a career in finance. No concussions for this smart Polish-American.
The name of the estate still intrigued Isaac. He imagined Kaz as the scion of émigré nobility, who had come with their fortune to the U.S.A. However, the only hit on the name of the estate was from Kaz’ mother’s obituary, which was so moving that Isaac read it again and again. Mrs. Mroczkowski’s family had owned an estate in what is now Belarus. After the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, the Soviets had taken over that part of Poland, confiscated the Mroczkowski estate and murdered several of Mrs. Mroczkowski’s uncles and brothers. The men whom they had not murdered were sent to gulags. Apparently her husband was not taken away, because by 1944 she had two sons, Kaz and an elder brother. Meanwhile, the Germans drove the Soviets out. Then the German army began to retreat, and the Mroczkowski family decided to flee to the west with them rather than wait for the Russians. On her way back to Germany with her husband and two little sons, Mrs. Mroczkowski was shot in the leg. Despite that, the family made it back to Germany, where the adults were conscripted as forced laborers until the end of the war.
After the war the family was in the British zone of occupied Germany, where Kaz’ younger brother was born. Around 1949, a Presbyterian church in a mid-western city sponsored them, and they settled in corn country. Mrs. Mroczkowski, who had been a land-owning aristocrat, and her husband worked at menial jobs but managed to send all three boys to good parochial schools and then on to college. “I’ve always been a saver,” the obituary quoted Mrs. Mroczkowski.
Isaac was stunned by Mrs. Mroczkowski’s heroism and determination. It had never occurred to him that Kaz was anything but a native-born American with a Polish name. Suddenly this Ivy League football star and investment banker was linked to the traumas of World War II, to stories of a kind familiar to Isaac, though the ones he had heard were about Jews — Rebecca’s parents, in fact — not Catholics. The historical parallel between the suffering of Kaz’ family and that of the Jews, the total destruction of a way of life, overlaid a much older historical connection between the Polish estate owners of White Russia and the Jews there, who leased the right to operate mills and taverns in the villages owned by the nobility, and to harvest and sell the trees from their forests. Isaac’s grandparents, who had left the Russian Empire in the late nineteenth century, hadn’t lived far from there. He and Kaz were, in some sense, products of the same Russo-Polish feudal system.
He wrote an email to Kaz: When I saw that you named your estate after the lands your family once owned, I was curious about just where they were, and I came across your mother’s obituary. I was deeply moved by her heroic determination to raise you and your brothers in an unfamiliar world. When you and I were in college, between 1961 and 1966, I would have been totally incapable of grasping the import of a story like yours.
It wasn’t only the immaturity and self-centered nature of a college kid that would have kept Isaac from understanding where Kaz had come from. The horror and cruelty of World War II had been unimaginable in the privileged setting of their college. It wasn’t until he started going out with Rebecca and met her parents that he realized how close those events truly were.
Kaz answered promptly: I couldn’t understand it either. Since we graduated, I’ve been back to Belarus three times to see the place and meet the people. My parents didn’t talk about it at all until my father passed. Then my mother started telling me about her family and its history.
Isaac decided not to share Kaz’ story with Rebecca. Historical parallel or not, the Mroczkowski family could very well have been virulent anti-Semites.
Isaac and Rebecca arrived in Washington about a week before Passover. They had Dror and Kenneth’s comfortable, finished basement to themselves. The neat and informal house was in a well-maintained neighborhood near the Maryland border. Dror and Kenneth had redone the kitchen about a year before the adoption came through; they’d been ready for a newcomer.
Dror was an attorney in his late thirties, doing litigation for a governmental regulatory agency. In his quiet, self-possessed way, he had persistently forced Isaac to re-evaluate his positions from the time he had first announced he was gay — in his last year of high school. Isaac, never homophobic, had not been surprised, though Dror, as far as Isaac could see, didn’t project his homosexuality the way some gay men do. Of course Isaac could see his son only as his son, not the way a stranger would see him, or the way another gay man might pick up on cues to which Isaac was blind. His first response to Dror’s coming out had been to declare to himself that he was no longer even remotely an Orthodox Jew. If he had to choose between his son and Jewish Orthodoxy, Isaac chose his son. So Dror had made him renegotiate his covenant with Judaism.
Rebecca accepted Dror’s homosexuality easily and was glad to see Isaac lower his level of observance. Previously he had focused all of the compulsive aspects of his personality on praying regularly and not turning lights on and off on the Sabbath. Rebecca went along with him, to a point, but she never understood why it mattered to him so much.
“Now what do you have to obsess about?” she had asked.
Isaac had not felt the way some fathers might feel, that having a gay son reflected on their masculinity. He was, however, sorry that Dror would be limiting his potential partners to other gay men. It was hard enough to forge intimate relationships without restricting the field. Isaac also found it odd not to share an important part of his own personality with his only son. He found women attractive, and it was hard for him to imagine the heart and mind of a man who didn’t.
Dror had stretched him farther by deciding to study in the United States after concluding his service in the Israeli army and spending a year traveling in India and working in a Jerusalem hotel. Isaac had hoped Dror would return to Israel after getting his B.A., but Dror had gone on to law school and remained in America, though he had been born in Israel, been an officer in the army, and seemed, at least to Isaac, very Israeli.
Then Dror had entered into a serious relationship with a non-Jewish man, and Isaac had to reevaluate his feelings about that. If his son had had a non-Jewish heterosexual partner, would Isaac have been more, or less, concerned? If he wasn’t concerned, because, objectively, he could see that Kenneth was a fine man, did that mean he wasn’t taking Dror’s romantic attachment seriously, because he was gay? Or was it because he approved of his son’s choice, regardless of his Jewish conditioning? Now Dror and Kenneth had adopted an African-American infant. Would Isaac feel the instant love for the new grandchild, even though she bore none of his genes, that he felt for his other grandchildren?
The answer to that question was simple: yes!
Ella was just four months old, pudgy, active, responsive and friendly. The two fathers were taking perfect care of her and enjoying it. They’d figured out how to share responsibility and hold down demanding government jobs, and they also made a lot of time for Isaac and Rebecca while they were there.
Rebecca and Dror spent a lot of time planning the Passover Seder meal, which would not be kosher, but would be festive — like the Seders Isaac remembered from his childhood, but with better food. Both Rebecca and their son were gourmet cooks, and, on this visit, Rebecca became an enthusiastic member of the Whole Foods sub-culture.
It was odd to be away from Israel for this important holiday. The supermarkets there prepare for Passover weeks in advance, laying in groceries that are kosher for Passover and sequestering the things that aren’t. The manufacturers of household cleansers put out special brochures for their products, knowing that a couple of million obsessive Jewish families will be scouring their homes. The public space is flooded with advertisements for entertainment because the children are out of school for the week preceding Passover and the week of the holiday itself. Bookstores sell new editions of the Haggada. Nature is also festive, as the last rains have fallen, and everything is in bloom.
For Isaac, the atmosphere in Israel at Passover time epitomized the reasons why, despite misgivings and disappointments, he loved living there. He loved sharing the holiday spirit with the whole country. But in Washington, Passover was barely noticeable. The supermarkets had made a bit of space on their shelves for special products like matzah, but unless people were looking for them, they probably wouldn’t have noticed. The stores made an effort to cater to Jews, but didn’t quite understand their requirements. Rebecca and Isaac went to Whole Foods to buy horseradish for the Seder. There was none to be found among the perfectly displayed piles of root vegetables, and the employee whom they asked found none in the storeroom either. Later, at a small grocery store owned by local Jews, Rebecca found a very unsatisfactory clump and bought it reluctantly. The following Monday, after the Seder, they made another trip to Whole Foods and found a huge heap of horseradish on display. The management had misunderstood the peak in demand for bitter herbs.
In Jerusalem, some kosher restaurants close during Passover, but most of them go to the huge trouble of cleaning intensely and changing everything in their kitchens because there’s a demand. In Washington, had any non-Jewish restaurant manager even heard of the dietary restrictions of Passover? Rebecca and Isaac had decided in advance that they would eat non-kosher food but would avoid pork and shellfish and other blatantly non-kosher things. They would also not eat bread, pasta and cakes during Passover, or drink beer or whiskey. Symbolically, at least, they would be keeping Passover, and, after all, it was the symbol that counted, he told himself. But, in fact, that wasn’t true. Judaism doesn’t distinguish between symbols and empirical reality. If anything counted, it was reality.
After several visits to Dror and Kenneth, Isaac and Rebecca had become familiar with Washington and seen most of its sights. Their last visit had been for the wedding, a few years earlier. Dror and Kenneth had planned the event down to the last petal of the last flower, but it was still informal. They had held the ceremony on a Sunday morning in a boutique hotel in downtown Washington and kept it intimate. The event was a vision of a golden age of toleration and friendship. The guests, in addition to small contingents of Kenneth’s mid-western and Dror’s east coast relatives, were homosexual, heterosexual, Christian, Jewish, white, African-American and Asian.
Isaac had given a little talk to bless the event, based on the first line of Shakespeare’s sonnet, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.”
Neither Dror nor Kenneth was religious, and they might have been pleased to have a judge marry them, if they had known someone congenial. After long searches and several disappointing refusals, they found a delightful Reform cantor to perform the marriage. She worked with Dror and Kenneth to develop a ceremony that suited them both, taking universal elements from the Jewish wedding service and expanding them to cover a single-sex mixed marriage. She led the service with humor, grace and great singing.
The wedding had shown Isaac that his son, who had been living in America for more than ten years, had built a solid life for himself — a life that wasn’t connected very closely to Isaac’s and Rebecca’s lives, despite their love. That was a bit sad, but Isaac admired and respected Dror for doing so well for himself.
While Dror and Rebecca were planning the meal, Isaac was thinking about the way he would preside over the Seder. At home in Jerusalem, they never had fewer than fifteen guests when they hosted the Seder, and most of the guests were fluent in Hebrew and knowledgeable about the holiday. The level of discussion was usually high and animated. Everyone had something to contribute. They knew what to expect, and they knew the songs.
But now, Isaac had to prepare himself for a small Seder, mainly with strangers, mostly not Jewish, certainly unable to understand the quirky and suggestive Hebrew text of the Haggada. So he would have to use the archaic and clumsy English translations and try to tweak some meaning out of them. He decided to concentrate on the inclusive aspect of Passover. One of the opening texts says, in Aramaic, “Let anyone who is hungry come and eat.” This would have to be a Seder that welcomed Kenneth and Ella — one that emphasized the universal message of freedom from bondage.
That would mean skipping a lot of the text, because Isaac didn’t want to bore anyone with material so unfamiliar that it would be almost impossible to explain. Yet he did want the Seder to be pedagogical — because it is a pedagogical ceremony. He was somewhat apprehensive. It would not be an easy task.
He enjoyed seeing Kenneth with the baby and cooperating with Dror in household tasks, and the four of them had long conversations after Ella was asleep, narrowing the distance that had naturally opened up after years of living far apart. He knew it was important to Kenneth, too, to get a better picture of where Dror had come from.
Kenneth had a doctorate in economics, and, together with Dror’s law degree, the two of them were well-positioned to provide a secure future for Ella, though they were aware that the openness and tolerance they experienced in Washington, DC was far from universal in the United States, with respect both to race and to homosexuality. Who would Ella turn out to be? How would she be able to put together an identity with her African-American features and her two adoptive fathers: one a mid-western, American Protestant and the other a middle-eastern Jew?
These thoughts about identity led Isaac to bring that theme into the Seder: freedom from bondage had enabled the Israelites to forge an identity, and the Seder, over the millennia since the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, had helped to maintain ethnic identity among the Jews. Now, he suggested, perhaps the exclusiveness of identities was the problem, and the solution could be to create inclusive identities.
This was not the line of thinking that had led Isaac and Rebecca to move Israel!
After the Seder, Isaac and Rebecca continued their DC museum routine, but they had a lot of free time. Isaac found a copy of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 in a bookcase in Dror's basement and decided to finish the huge volume before they returned to Israel. The days passed quickly, and soon it was time to go to the steeplechase race. Isaac still hadn’t told Rebecca about Kaz’ past.
The GPS had brought them precisely to their destination, as they moved from highways to secondary and then to rural roads, from towns and shopping centers to acres and acres of impeccably maintained horse farms, with stately dwellings on gentle hills overlooking their domains. Here, in Maryland, abundant rain nurtured meadows. For someone who had become used to the parched ground of Israel, this fertile, green, rolling countryside was absolutely foreign.
The landscape, unlike Israel’s, was peaceful, uncontested and settled but not scarred or violated by settlement, smoothed out by hundreds of years of farming. It reminded Isaac of the Cotswolds in England, where he had once gone hiking with Rebecca. The Maryland “House and Garden Pilgrimage” website spoke of the “unaltered, rural atmosphere which has not changed appreciably in over two hundred years.” The size of the farms, according to the website, was as much as three hundred acres, a scale inconceivable in Israel, and they were not owned by people who had to scratch out a living from the land. Somewhat disingenuously, Isaac thought, the website described the owners of these estates as “businessmen rather than full-time farmers as were the early occupants of the district.” Adding: “Horse breeding and racing is a very large and lucrative business in the valley.” Here one was seeing not only man working hand-in-hand with nature, but as George S. Kaufman said of Moss Hart’s estate in Bucks County, “This is the way God would do it if He only had money.”
In college Kaz had been a huge, powerful man, and Isaac expected to be greeted by a heavy-set gent whose muscles had run to fat. But Kaz was slim. He greeted Isaac with great cordiality. His house, though not huge, could not be maintained by a couple around the age of seventy without a good bit of hired help. It sat comfortably on a low hill without dominating the landscape. On a grassy area behind the house, under a soft, spring sun, a black man in a uniform was serving drinks at one table, while two Mexican-Americans in similar uniforms were serving rice, turkey, beans and salad. Aside from them, little Ella was the only person of color.
Isaac was swept into a Rip Van Winkle feeling, as if he’d been picked up forty years earlier and then suddenly dropped back into what might have been his present if he’d stayed in the United States. Not that he hadn’t been back dozens of times, while his and Rebecca’s parents were living, to visit friends and relatives, to travel with his children when they were little. He hadn’t lost touch with America, but his America was New York and suburban New Jersey, Boston and New England — not Maryland horse country.
He wasn't foreign in America, but he didn’t feel at home there either. He spoke fluent American English, but a careful listener might hear a hint of a Hebrew accent in it. He had no idea where he might have ended up in the US, or what he might have done for a living if he’d stayed. The unknowns in the equation were so numerous as to make speculation fruitless.
One thing was clear: attending his Ivy League college wouldn’t have hurt his prospects. One of Isaac’s former classmates at the event, a fellow Jew, was a partner in a major law firm. Another, who had been the business manager of the college humor magazine when Isaac wrote for it, had become a real estate developer located in Annapolis. He’d also been an officer in Vietnam, and, as Isaac had served for more than a decade in the Israeli army reserves, including stints in Lebanon, they could compare notes about their military service. Isaac doubted that anyone he’d known at college could have imagined him manning a self-propelled howitzer or patrolling the West Bank with an M-16 in his hands.
One of his freshman roommates was there, now an anesthesiologist. Another man, whom Isaac remembered, told him that he’d been a senior economist in the Defense Department, responsible for budgeting military aid to Israel. Quite a few of the other guests were absolute strangers to Isaac. One of those strangers circulated with a clipboard and collected twenty dollar bets on the upcoming race. The proceeds, after any winnings were disbursed, were to be donated to a scholarship fund. Isaac chose a horse because of its name: “Mollie's Mare.”
While he roamed around in a kind of dream, trying to recognize the young men he vaguely recalled in the elderly but vigorous gentlemen gathered on Kaz’ lawn, he neglected Rebecca, Dror and Kenneth, who didn’t know a soul. But people made conversation with them, and Ella was a big hit with his classmates’ wives. She was cute and responsive and, whatever they may have thought about people of color, she wasn’t threatening in the way she might turn out to be — as a sassy teenager.
Among the friendliest people there was Kaz’ second wife, a smart and sophisticated woman with a strong Texas accent. She was interested in Dror’s marriage to Kenneth and the adopted baby because, as she confided to Isaac’s wife, she had a son “in the same situation” but as yet unmarried to his partner, to his mother’s regret.
Not surprisingly — after all, this was a casual social event, and this was a courteous collection of comfortable people — no one asked Isaac any of the obvious questions, questions which he, coming from a place where people prided themselves on being direct, would have asked: Why had he and his wife decided to move to Israel? What did he do for a living? Just where did he live in Israel? How did he feel about the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza? But how could he have explained politely why he had rejected the America — where they fit in so well, which had treated them so benevolently?
It wasn’t only the Jewish thing though. Maybe, if it hadn’t been for the Jewish thing, Isaac might have sought some other kind of haven from the relentless commercialism and competition of American life in places he'd heard of but never seen like Boulder, Colorado or Eugene, Oregon. Though, in fact, the only place in America where Isaac truly felt at home was Manhattan
On one of his first return visits to America after moving to Israel, Isaac had experienced everything as if it had no depth, like a flat backdrop you could poke through, to reveal nothing behind it. Israel, by contrast, always felt intensely three-dimensional to him, though he didn't love everything about the country by a long shot. Sometimes, in the airport on the way home, when he’d found himself in the departure lounge surrounded by other Israelis, his heart sank. Were these noisy people with bulging shopping bags his compatriots? Politically he was as disenchanted with Israel as he had been with the US during the Vietnam War. He voted for a left wing party, attended demonstrations against the occupation and was appalled at the chauvinism and hatred of Arabs that were increasingly coming to the surface. As much as he loved Jerusalem, he had to concede that it was an impossible city — dirty, choked with traffic, tense with complex ethnic divisions in every direction and hot with friction. Washington was restful, quiet, polite, clean — at least in Dror’s white, bourgeois part of town — and it was good to get away.
At about two o’clock, a bag-piper, dressed in tartans, appeared on Kaz’ lawn and began to play. This was their cue to line up and troop across the soggy meadows to the adjacent estate where the race was being held, about half a mile away. If Isaac were directing a film about the outing, he would have begun it with this scene: about thirty well-dressed, elderly (one had to admit it) people following a bag-piper through wet grass, toward a field full of expensive parked cars and two large, white tents, and a few shiny brown horses being led about.
The race was to be run on a course laid out on the estate grounds. Kaz’ party climbed a slope topped with a stand of trees opposite the flat area where the tents were pitched — Isaac never did find out exactly what was in those tents — to get a view of most of the course. A few hundred people (in casual clothes that Rebecca said were very expensive) were scattered over the slope, waiting for the race to begin. A number of races were scheduled for that afternoon.
After a while some horses were walked from the paddock to the starting line, more than a hundred yards below the guests’ vantage point on the slope. Then, undramatically the race started. A commentator on a platform called out the order of the horses as they rounded the bend and galloped out of sight from the spectators on the slope. No one near Isaac was shouting, “Come on Mollie’s Mare.” The people seemed to be there for the sunshine and fresh air and the chance to rub shoulders with other affluent horse-lovers, not because they cared who won the race. It was a long course, and the race took a while. The horse Isaac had bet on lost its rider about halfway through and came in on its own, last.
Isaac was having a good time. One of his classmates, whom he remembered only vaguely, had found a way of retiring, so he said, at the age of twenty-seven, after getting a PhD in mathematics from MIT. Now he was an artist on Cape Cod, still brilliant (you had to be to get a doctorate in math) and entertaining. Isaac also enjoyed getting to know the anesthesiologist’s second wife, a surgeon, who spoke movingly of the beauty of the human body once it was cut open. He asked another football star, whom he’d never met, whether he had continued in athletics after graduation. The man, tall and trim, hadn’t been a professional, but he had played baseball and tennis as actively as he could until he tore a ligament in his leg and resigned himself to slowing down. “I’m very competitive,” he said, giving Isaac a key to Kaz’ personality as well.
It would have taken a lot more than a series of brief conversations to find common ground with these people, to hear what they’d done in the decades since leaving college. They were polished and easy-going, past the striving that had gotten them to where they were. Isaac had no idea what they might care deeply about and wondered whether he could ever tell them about the things that concerned him.
He thought about the alternative world in 1Q84, with its two moons. The characters couldn't find out whether they were the only ones who thought the night sky looked odd. How could they ask someone, “Were there always two moons?” They would sound insane. And would their familiar world, the one with only a single moon, have been aberrant for the people in the world they were in now?
On the ride back from Maryland to DC, Isaac told Dror, Kenneth and Rebecca about Kaz’ background and how he’d discovered it. Kenneth, who was driving, teased Isaac for web-stalking. Dror and Rebecca didn’t say anything at first.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Rebecca finally asked.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t want to associate with the son of anti-Semitic Polish landowners.”
“It’s not as if his name wasn’t a complete giveaway,” Rebecca replied. “You can’t blame Kaz for his parents’ hypothetical anti-Semitism. For all you know they hid Jews on their estate.”
In less than twenty minutes, they had left Kaz and the steeplechase far behind, as distant as the inner city of Baltimore, not half an hour away. Soon they would be in Dror’s comfortable neighborhood, insulated from the black slums of Washington, where the waiter serving drinks at Kaz’ party probably lived, and an infinite distance from Riverdale, where Isaac had been born and raised, or Jerusalem, where he lived, and from Belarus, wartime Poland and a Catholic school in the mid- west. Infinitely distant but contiguous.