A Rabbi's Daughter
(Excerpt from a Novel)
By Avigail Graetz
Translated from Hebrew by Shira Atik
“What you want and what you get are two different stories.” Grandma’s motto. That’s what went through my mind when a call from Abba stopped me on my way to the university, just as my dilemma between two ideas for a screenplay — one that can expose my Jewish identity that was perpetually smothering me from birth, the other about my burning desire for a boyfriend — was starting to clarify in my mind.
The last time I heard him say “Come home” in such a brusque tone was in 1995, when Rabin was assassinated. Four years ago. And now, again, in a trembling and lonely voice, an uncharacteristic voice, he is asking me to come home because it looks like Grandma is truly approaching the end. He’s taking her to the hospital. Death, it seems, can bring people together, but it can also drive them apart. It may be hard to believe, but that’s exactly the premise, the framework, of one of my scripts. Perhaps both.
I’m glad I reconciled with Grandma the day before yesterday. She was complaining, again, about my absence, about Ida, her caretaker, about her heart that was betraying her, about how we had agreed that if I got the car while Ima was away, a period of several months, I’d be able to visit her from alien, alienating Tel Aviv more frequently, and, of course, about how I hadn’t held up my side of the bargain. With Grandma, every day was a new opportunity to disappoint her again. She was always looking for ways to fill up her little black notebook of complaints.
She had asked me countless times to document her memories, her stories, her ironic insights. She had asked me to film her. She was convinced that anyone who studied film turned into Fellini. I refuse to accept that I’ve missed my chance with her, and I make a u-turn towards the south, towards home. As if this small pivot has the ability to stop time, to affect it.
“Come home.” A pair of words that everyone wants to hear. First from their parents, then from someone they love. For me, that someone is so overdue, it’s beyond frustrating. And no mouth has ever uttered the precious words I longed to hear. Grandma — who, ever since I was a child, on her visits would squish over on her gold armchair to make room for me — is dying. Now, what am I to do? It’s not like I was the oldest child who is supposed to feel responsible in a situation like this, but was I perhaps trying to be the perfect oldest child? The Midrash tells us that Reuven, Jacob’s oldest child, knew that his father expected him to put himself out, to search the whole world for his younger brother Joseph. If he was in the pit, he could at least have brought home the body, and said to his father, with all sincerity, “Behold, he is dead, a wild animal has eaten him.” But because the plan had changed, Reuven didn’t know what to do. Was he supposed to travel to the ends of the earth to find Joseph?
I always thought that some indomitable force inside my grandmother had turned her into an old woman against her will. A woman who was always comparing herself to the biblical Joseph who, in her opinion, suffered all his life just to please his family. She used to say that someone should start a religion in which the first and only commandment was “Honor your father and your mother.”
What kept me from documenting her? My conviction that she would live forever? My fear that I would uncover more of her weaknesses? Grandma always manages to take up space when Ima’s away. Just like she did “back then”.
If I were strong enough, maybe “back then” would be the subject of the script that would get me into the screenwriting program. What I do know is that I don’t need a third option. We always think we’re trying to decide between only two options, and we’re not conscious of the fact that there is a third option, the option to waver, to not decide. That’s the option that I almost always choose: the option of wavering, without realizing that I’m stuck there. Just like my mother was stuck in the bathroom of the university library when she was nine months pregnant with me. There came a point when she no longer had the strength to scream and push the door, so she just sat down and started reading one of her books. Luckily for her, and for me, the custodian came by and smashed the broken lock. Nonetheless, I have always been angry at her for her intransigence, her lack of effort, which continued to surface after I came into the world. I was angry until what was revealed was revealed. “Then”.
I stop to buy coffee and Bissli snacks, grill-flavored, and to call my beloved sister, who is to give birth imminently. A girl this time. She and my adored nephew, Evyatar, an only child for now, are already driving south. Evidently, this really is the end for Grandma.
How things have changed since then. I traveled the world and became a doting aunt. I learned that you can exchange your childhood friends for friends who like you because they choose to, not because of some mythical “how could I not.” Unfortunately, I also saw how incomprehensible and inaccessible love was to me, and I also started to understand the meaning of death. Yes, I’ll stick to the script I’ve already started. About a first, much-anticipated date that gets cancelled because of a Saturday night phone call from Binyamin, with news of a death. This time Binyamin will play the role of a real best friend. I don’t know how I’ll bring to life all the spiritual confusion I felt. Still feel?
I’m glad I’m heading down to Ayalon South – the long stretches of driving will give me time to think. But just as I’m contemplating my favorite Woody Allen technique – the heroine’s voice-over – I notice a woman standing at the junction, looking out of place. That’s another thing that’s changed since high school and the army: I no longer pick up hitchhikers. Nonetheless, with the instinct of someone who grew up ina small town , an instinct that’s hard to shake, I slow down. Perhaps I am subconsciously searching for another story. Suddenly, something in her gaze scares me, and I stammer an apology and drive on, quickly, afraid, trying not to let my conscience torment me. The look on her face obliterates all my thoughts about the film, and despite my best efforts, the “then” joins me on my journey.
The “then”, which is a little like a curse, I remember in great detail. “Then” began, when one afternoon, a few days before the holiday of Shavuot, we heard a thundering knock at the door. It must have been thundering, because Abba was in the middle of making popcorn in that air popper that he loved, and I was sitting in the hall upstairs contemplating my toenails and wondering how people used to trim them in biblical times. Abba turned off the machine and looked up at me from the stairwell, silently asking me if I was expecting anyone. I shook my head: I had no idea. Nobody knew better than he that when my friends came to pick me up, they honked for me, even on Friday nights, in spite of the fact that I’d been asked again and again to make sure it didn’t happen. I guess my friends were mirroring my confusion regarding the rules of a conservative’s Rabbi’s house hold.
The “then” was during the last days before Shavuot, during the counting of the Omer, but I was countingthe matriculation exams (in Hebrew called bagruyot, literally maturity) that I had to pass before being crowned a full-fledged graduate, mature enough for my age, and thus set free.
I remember that my curiosity wasn’t strong enough to lure me down the seventeen steps from the second floor, but I did stand up and peer down: Who would be coming at this hour? I must have been hoping that, just like the story of Rapunzel locked in her tower, Eren Shonsky would come to rescue me from my awful label: the awkward daughter-of-the-rabbi, whose chances of staying a virgin, at least until the age of thirty, were increasing every day. My aunt used to say that this was the problem with self-definitions: unlike dictionary definitions, which are designed to simplify life, self-definitions don’t fully encapsulate anything. On the contrary, they are bogged down with a complicated story, like a muddy swamp.
My wish wasn’t granted, for there in the doorway stood a pretty woman, white as an almond blossom, her hair brown and disheveled like mine. Her clothes reminded me of Grandma’s clothes: they tried their best to look elegant, but even from the top of the stairs I could see the stains that had taken up residence in the material and embroidered themselves into the cloth. Around her neck glimmered a chain that gave her a kind of aura. Behind her we could hear the rumbling of a taxi’s diesel engine.
“Rabbi Levy?” she asked with a gleaming smile and an American accent. Abba nodded.
The woman shook his hand politely and announced that she was Amy, the wife of a colleague, Rabbi Abe Solomon from Minneapolis. She was sorry she hadn’t called ahead, and could she come in and explain everything?
Abba, despite having grown up an only child, was gracious by nature. He opened the door wide and went outside with her to send off the taxi driver. Chivalrously, he carried in one of the suitcases belonging to Amy Solomon, the rabbi’s wife.
These kinds of visits weren’t unusual in our house. Lots of American rabbis and their wives boyfriend — or their children who were spending a year in Israel to strengthen their Jewish identity boyfriend — came over for Shabbat, but these visits were usually scheduled in advance, and they were always contingent on Ima’s being home. It’s not that she was a stellar housekeeper, but there was something about her openness, her candor, the pleasure she took in talking about herself to anyone who happened to be present, that created the illusion of empathic, respectable hospitality, even if the food left something to be desired.
Abba turned on the light in the dim living room and invited her to sit down. I decided to use this opportunity to take a break from my schoolbooks and rushed downstairs and introduced myself as the youngest daughter who still lived at home. I asked her politely if she would like some water or coffee, and I told Abba I would turn on the machine and make fresh popcorn.
“Elisheva.” She rolled the word out of her mouth in her foreign tongue, with the same soft intonation as my mother, but then she lifted her hands and said, in an ethereal and surprising voice, “Elisheva, wife of Aaron the Priest, sister of Nachshon son of Aminadav, do you have the same great spiritual strength as your biblical namesake?”
Abba and I looked at each other.
Amy, too, paused for a minute. Then, without waiting for a response to her peculiar question with its references to ancient ancestries, blinked and said, “Water would be great, Eli.”
“Elisheva,” my father corrected her, with faint traces of the accent that he struggled with in his sermons. “Elisheva likes her full name.”
“Actually, I think your Eli is kind of cute.” I smiled at Amy, who was perched stiffly at the edge of the old chair, and at Abba, who was sitting comfortably on the couch, and went into the kitchen.
Seconds after I turned on the popper, Abba ran and banged the kitchen door shut behind him, smiling sheepishly. It was odd, because nobody in our house ever closed the kitchen door.
When the noise was over, Abba rushed back to the kitchen to open the door, eager to explain. “The noise from the popper was bothering her.”
From my spot in the kitchen, I could hear Amy explaining that actually, she and her husband were going through divorce proceedings, and I wondered if this was one of those cases where people turned to Abba as they would to a priest.
Tentatively, I approached with the snack – I knew Abba wouldn’t have any qualms about telling me they needed some privacy – but Amy turned to me, oblivious to Abba’s request, and said, “Come, Eli, sit with us for a bit. I was just telling your Abba about this wonderful position I’ve been offered.” She took a small tin candy box out of her bag and fished out two capsules, then swallowed them with the water I’d brought her earlier. I noticed that, like my only aunt, Ora, her face occasionally twitched.
Amy said that the only reason this trip was possible was that she’d gotten an incredible offer at the last minute, which was why she and her husband hadn’t had a chance to call ahead of time and ask if she could stay with us for a few days. She didn’t describe the offer but went on explaining how as soon as her husband heard that the hospital, Soroka, was in Beersheva, the capital of the south, he immediately mentioned the renowned Rabbi Levy, who lives in a small town just outside the city. Her husband told her that Rabbi Levy had miraculously brought the Conservative Movement to Israel in the 1970’s, and the way she talked about him – the way many Americans talked about him – made my father sound as important as David Ben-Gurion.
I cut her off. Not only because I didn’t want to hear, yet again, about how the movement came to Israel and how Ima and Abba moved here after the Six Day War, but also because amidst all her weirdness, I still couldn’t figure out what this brilliant idea was, and what kind of doctor she was. The fact that Abba had been quiet for so long indicated that he was as lost as I was.
Amy didn’t seem thrown off by the question. She just cleared her throat and said she was a child psychologist, thus confirming my suspicion that she and my psychologist aunt had a lot in common. Maybe in the United States, all therapists are required to have tics so their patients don’t feel quite so screwed up.
She also told me that she’s a practitioner of integrative therapy, in which the therapist spends time in the child’s natural habitat. She asked if we’d heard of the famous article “Ghosts in the Nursery.”
I thought it might be a good idea to hear about it. If it was famous, it might show up in the “unseen” section of my English bagrut – so I shook my head no, I hadn’t heard of it. Abba, as he always did when something “important” was being discussed, put on a knowledgeable, enthusiastic expression, and said that the article would be of interest to me because it was about traumas that parents experienced in childhood, which they then passed down to their children: ghosts from the past that intruded and created situations that mimicked the parents’ earlier traumas.
That’s what was so special about Abba: he really did know everything, except, as it turned out, what concerned his own family members.
Amy’s “incredible, wonderful, bizarre” idea was basically nothing more than bringing family therapists to the patient’s bedside. She’d thought of it because of the Iraqi attacks, when it had become clear that the hospital staff wasn’t equipped to treat families. The war taught us, she said, that when an entire family was in a traumatic situation, under one roof, for an indeterminate length of time, a multitude of ghosts emerged and made things even worse.
“Hey, Ima wasn’t home during the Gulf War, either.” I don’t know why I associated this with Ima, as if she were the weak link in our family.
“Do you think it’s possible that your mother’s absence wasn’t a coincidence?”
I couldn’t believe that she had the nerve to speak that way about my mother, to make such outrageous assumptions, and I said I didn’t like it when people who lived outside of Israel expressed their opinions about what it was really like to live here, or when they thought they knew how to solve all of Israel’s problems. Amy wasn’t here during the Gulf War, and the only thing Ima missed by being at a conference in England was that Abba decided to shave off his beard in order to wear the gas mask.
Abba ignored the potential drama and said that later he would show her the photos we took in our sealed room, and that she shouldn’t be upset by my belligerence, which was nothing more than teenage rebelliousness. “You know how it is. She belongs to the Scouts, and they can’t understand how a person can live outside of Israel and still be a Zionist.”
“Abba!” I wanted to tell him that as someone who was the living embodiment of Zionism, he was going overboard in trying to impress her. But before I had a chance to say all this, Amy smiled and gracefully took charge of the conversation.
“It’s fine. I have a lot of experience working with all kinds of kids from diverse backgrounds, because Abe is one of those rabbis who moves to a new congregation every three years, with no regard for his children or his wife and what language they do or don’t speak. We spent three years in Mexico City. In the beginning it was hard. Mexico City’s such a tense and overcrowded place, it was no picnic, but slowly I fell in love with the language and the culture, and when I came back to Gringo-land, I found myself working with Mexican immigrants.”
Maybe Mexico served as the icebreaker for us, because again I found the courage to break into her serious, somewhat rambling monologue and ask if she knew the painter Frida Kahlo. and I also said I’d never thought of Mexico as a particularly Jewish place, and asked her if there was any Jewish community there at all.
“There are Jews everywhere,” Abba laughed. I had the sense that despite his abundant knowledge, he had never heard of my favorite painter, and it made me happy to think that there were things I could teach him, too.
”People say her father was Jewish,” she said, and went on about her experiences, with a look that seemed close and distant at the same time, and every time she said the word “Mexico,” I felt a tremor, like the unexpected shock of static electricity. Like the current that flowed through me. Amy, too, had something off about her, something I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Maybe she had made herself too comfortable too quickly. I thought that perhaps I should listen to her a little more carefully. But she must have been reading my thoughts, which were wandering like a disappearing train because she stopped, and smiled a heart-melting smile that wiped away every trace of doubt.
“Anyway, if you don’t mind my staying here, I have all sorts of meetings tomorrow, and my big interview is on Sunday.”
Even though Abba was always happy to perform the mitzvah of hospitality to strangers, for a minute it looked like he was going to use my mother’s absence, and the fact that he had to prepare for Shavuot and for the all-night study session by himself, as excuses to turn down her request. So I quickly said, “We can give her Avigail’s room. Avigail’s my older sister. She’s getting married this summer.”
I interrupted Abba, who was telling her about the upcoming wedding and how it made it difficult for us to host people right now. I suggested, or more accurately dared to ask, that Amy stay and help me, because I was studying so intensively for my bagruyot, and in the next few days I had exams in both Bible and English.
Amy closed her eyes and laughed a chirping, slightly frightening laugh. Weren’t these, she asked, my strongest subjects? Her tone was unclear. Was she angry that she wouldn’t be able to help me and that I was exposing my ridiculous effort to make her stay?
When the last traces of her laughter died down, she gave me a piercing look and answered her own question: “No. You remind me of my daughter. You’re not the first rabbi’s daughter, and certainly not the last, who hates Bible, or, more precisely, feels the need to prove that she’s not genetically inclined towards Bible. And despite your genes, I’m sure that it is in fact your hardest subject, even if it’s out of spite.”
I was surprised that she was allowing herself to speak so openly, and I was eager to decipher more of what she said, but clearly Abba didn’t like where this conversation was going. From his vantage point, she was pressing my teenage buttons, and because it affected him, too, he suggested we go upstairs to show her “the rabbi’s children’s kingdom,” where Amy would be staying. To his credit, Abba was always able to use humor when relating to issues he didn’t want to discuss.
Standing at the door of the room that had been designated for Amy, we heard a beep that made our guest cover her ears and stare at us in anger and shock. Abba ran downstairs while I tried to reassure her, telling her not to be afraid, it was just my father’s alarm clock reminding him to count the Omer. Despite her attempt to smile, I could see a trace of fear in her eyes, like someone who has come upon a run-over cat at the side of the road and was trying to look away, but couldn’t stop staring, fascinated by this life cut short.
“I’m still very sensitive to noise,” she said. She picked up her bags and went into my sister’s room. “I’ll rest here for a minute,” she said, “in my new room.” And with exaggerated confidence, perhaps in an attempt to cover up the tremendous distress she’d exhibited moments before. She went in and closed the door with surprising force.
Doesn’t Amy care about counting the Omer? I wondered. And what did that mean: “still”? Had I missed something? Had she told Abba about something besides the divorce? And as if she heard my thoughts, she came out of the room and, although she looked exhausted, she said, with forced lightheartedness, “All that racket and we’re not going to count?”
The truth is that I had never participated in the counting of the Omer, and when it came to anything relating to Jewish law and commandments, I was generally considered the black sheep of the family. They say that from the day I was born I didn’t like going to synagogue.
Amy didn’t know that of course, so we joined Abba and recited the blessing in unison: “Today is four and forty days, which is six weeks and two days of the Omer.” It seemed to me that even the ancient chairs and tables took notice of the sense of belonging I was feeling. A feeling that, until then, I’d only experienced during our Scouts assemblies, with their pep cheers, military drills, and hugs. Not that they’re comparable.
When we were finished, Amy dove into the depths of psychology and explained that the kabbalists saw the days of the Omer as an opportunity for spiritual work and self-improvement. Each day of the Omer expressed a particular aspect of the soul. I wasn’t sure I understood but I didn’t say anything. Especially since there was no chance that a subject like Kabbalah would show up in the English exam or in the next day’s Bible exam. All I could do was surrender to Amy’s quiet, raspy voice as she explained that every day of the Omer we had to improve ourselves by one letter.
“Today was the letter taf, and we counted the goodness of kingship, which is the counting of abundance and love that are constantly erupting all around us. Like the goodness you have shown me by welcoming me into your home.” She must have sensed that I was getting lost, and she tried to explain further, which only made things more incoherent.
“Our sages identify the counting of goodness with our patriarch Abraham, who was famous for his hospitality. By the way, Sarah our matriarch was also hospitable, but she is nonetheless portrayed as a woman who is stingy with her love. It doesn’t matter what women do; they will always be judged more harshly.”
At that moment she sounded like Ima, who studied and wrote about feminist midrash. It was probably the similarity between them that made Abba break away and immerse himself into the world of his siddur, until he said, surprised, “Wait a minute, it says here that the letter nun is the courage of kingship.”
Amy opened her siddur– I could see that she had scribbled comments in a whole spectrum of colors – and said, “Shit,” which is what Ima says when things aren’t working out for her. “I got mixed up. Courage is Isaac, that’s a whole different story, about the receiving end, the side that soaks up the kindness, the erupting love. When you think about it, that’s the story of our lives, isn’t it? The sacrifice and the sacrificer, like Hamlet and his father. And here I am, subconsciously ignoring Isaac, tied and bound for sacrifice, the person whose life was dictated by fear. At least I was right about this week being a sign of kingship. In feminist commentary, it is Queen Esther who symbolizes royalty, and she also didn’t….” Amy shivered again and covered her ears, and then – it seemed like a few seconds later – Abba and I heard the phone ring. I ran to Ima’s study to pick up the cordless phone.
It was Binyamin, wanting to know if I needed a ride to the bagrut. I reminded him that my mother was in the States and I had her car all month, until after Shavuot. He wanted to talk more but I told him I had to fulfill the “Honor Your Parents” commandment in a practical way.
“But you said your mother’s away, and besides, your scatter-brained father has to respect you, too, and to help you prepare for tomorrow.” And before I had a chance to respond, he continued, “Yeah, yeah, I know what you always say, about how even though the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, the taller the tree, the more the apple turns into sauce. Anyway, you have to admit, it’s ironic that the rabbi’s daughter has to struggle so much to get a decent grade in the Bible exam.”
I hated it when he called me “the rabbi’s daughter,” and the name he and his friends had come up with was even worse: “the blind rabbi’s daughter,” an amalgam of the titles of two stories by Yaakov Steinberg which we had learned for the literature bagrut, “The Blind Girl” and “The Rabbi’s Daughter.”
“Yes, Beni, apparently this is how I rebel,” I said without conviction. I was more interested in what was going on in the living room.
“So where did you grow up?” Amy asked my father.
“I grew up in the corn capital: Nebraska.”
Whenever anyone hears Abba say Nebraska, you can see them conjuring up a map of the United States, then smiling in bewilderment as they wondered about his Jewish identity. The look on Amy’s face didn’t let us down, but she didn’t ask him about his upbringing. All she said was, “So you ran away as fast as you could.”
Rude as her comment may have been, it wasn’t far from the truth. Grandma Edith, my father’s mother, always told us how she took a train to New York with her only son, who was only eighteen, and he never came back. I, on the other hand, thought of Nebraska as a wonderful place, even though it was usually described as “the middle of nowhere.”
Abba was also quick to defend his roots. “Actually, there was a lot of goodness in Nebraska. You can’t really grasp what it means to preserve your Jewish identity until you’ve lived in a place where kosher meat is shipped in once a month in a delivery freezer truck.”
“I bet there was some big rabbi there who influenced you, right?”
I was disappointed by the banality of Amy’s question. It must have been a classic question for psychologists.
“Actually, not there. One of my uncles is a real Torah scholar, a Conservative rabbi. Maybe you’ve heard of him: Rabbi Jacob Heller. He’s the one who influenced me.”
“And me,” I cut in. “Uncle Jacob is known as a brilliant speaker, and you know what he said at my bat mitzvah? He said that I was always asking, ‘When will I be possible?’”
I was so happy that Amy — unlike my father — didn’t laugh. And even though it wasn’t necessary, I explained, “Because all my life I’d been told that I was impossible. The truth is, I don’t really remember ever asking that.”
“Yes,” Abba said, moving the imaginary microphone back to himself, as if we were competing for Amy’s attention, the way we kids used to fight for the guests’ attention. “The truth is that after I got my bachelor’s degree in New York, I was debating between the rabbinate and, believe it or not, psychology.”
I’d never heard this before. All my life I’d wished that Abba had remained a photographer, like he was when they were living in Jerusalem, right after they moved here, but a psychologist? That was hard to imagine. Binyamin would have said that even if my father had been a psychologist, I would be just as complicated as I am now, because being the child of a psychologist is also hard. But at least it would have freed me from that semi-official irritating title, “the rabbi’s daughter”, that I carried with me everywhere.
“I did well on the admission exams. The problem wasn’t my analytic skills; it was my personal interview. I talked a little about my infancy, and at the end of the meeting they told me I sounded cut off from myself, from who I used to be, and that while I was clearly very sensitive to my community and to everything around me, I wasn’t sensitive enough to myself.”
I couldn’t believe Abba was admitting this so openly, even though she was married to a colleague, so putting himself at a disadvantage, as if Amy’s hippocampus had hypnotized him and changed him into someone else.
“The truth is, I’m glad they spared me all the pain that goes with studying psychology. Once they gave me the seal of approval affirming that I was sensitive to other people, I enrolled in rabbinical school.”
“What did you say in the interview?” asked Amy.
I was glad Amy was pressing him for more information.
“It’s been thirty years, you think I remember?” Abba tried to make a joke out of it, but Amy’s penetrating look made him elaborate. In the earliest years of his life, he said, he’d basically grown up without his father, who was a soldier in World War II.
I had never heard about this, either. I mean, I knew that Grandpa was an officer in the American army, and we all loved the pasta he’d learned to cook from the Italian prisoners of war – you actually rolled out the dough, hung it up to dry, and cut it up into strips of spaghetti – but I’d never thought about the fact that my father had spent the first years of his life alone with his mother.
That was the first time I really understood the extent to which war could shape our personal lives. I knew that our victory in the Six Day War was what had brought my parents here. Whenever I complained to my mother that they should have just stayed in America, she would tell me, cruelly, “You should be thanking us. If we had stayed there, I would have had only two children and you wouldn’t even exist.” And it was because of the Yom Kippur War that Abba lost his photography shop and was reminded that he had come here to find spiritual fulfillment, and that’s why they moved to the south. Ima always says that Abba, who served in the Chevra Kadisha in Sinai, preparing dead bodies for burial, came home shell-shocked and told her they had to have more kids. And she replied that that wasn’t a reason to bring kids into this world, children weren’t ammunition. Still, two years after the war, I was born.
“It wasn’t just that my father was in Europe, it was also that we lived on an army base, and for two years we were cut off from my mother’s enormous family in Lincoln. But how can you complain about a little isolation in the face of all the suffering and turmoil of the European Jews?”
I felt like I was listening to a story from the Tales of the Arabian Nights about a family I’d never met. Luckily my father said, “Enough of this, let’s get back to what’s really important: dinner!” Now I recognized my father once again: the primary way our family connected was through food. “Let’s order pizza.” He had gone back to being the father I knew, who would leave us money to buy falafel downtown whenever he was responsible for feeding us.
Amy said pizza would be great. She didn’t seem to think our lifestyle was disorganized. She told us she was going upstairs to rest for a bit and we should call her when the pizza came. I watched as she took the stairs with ease, and I was glad she felt so at home, even if I was a little disappointed that she didn’t stay downstairs to trade more stories with Abba.
When she reached the top of the staircase, she called down, “If Dr. Silber calls, tell him I arrived safely.” She didn’t explain who Dr. Silber was, and she disappeared in a way that left Abba and me flustered. I went back to my loathsome textbooks, lost in thought about this strange encounter with my father whom I hadn’t really known until now. I had to process Abba’s history that had sentenced me to be “the rabbi’s daughter.” Binyamin claimed I was obsessed with this title, but I showed him that a lot of writers and poets were interested in the concept of “the rabbi’s daughter,” and that it wasn’t just me.
I had memorized the opening lines of Steinberg’s “The Rabbi’s Daughter.” When Sarah, the rabbi’s daughter, reached her twenty-third birthday, she was already exhausted from meeting so many prospective husbands. From the corner of her mouth, she would chuckle bitterly, the kind of laugh you might hear from someone who had been clenching his teeth for a long time. I felt bad for Sarah, and every time I clenched my teeth, I thought that once again I was suffering from “The Rabbi’s Daughter” Syndrome.
I looked around my messy car and giggled to myself. The uncertainty returned that I’d felt at the beginning of my drive regarding the script I wanted to write. Maybe I could adapt the story into a modern film about a rabbi’s daughter from the old country who is overcome by lust and, finding herself in an unwanted pregnancy, is marginalized by her community because of societal norms. That kind of adaptation could be the perfect choice.