The changes in Motel and Tzeitl all have been for the best, but how can I explain what has happened to Hodel? The years in Siberia took a toll on her physically. She was always pale, but now her skin is ashen and wrinkled. Her hands are more worn than mine. She walks with a slight limp, but refuses to explain what caused it. Tzeitl was born almost two years earlier, and certainly has not had an easy life, but Hodel looks ten years older than her sister. Her hair has already turned gray and some has fallen out.
But the most disturbing thing about her appearance is in her face. The bright smile that she used to have whenever I read to her, or took her with me on my rounds, is long gone. Even the night she arrived, Hodel looked as though it was a strain to grin. I know that she was happy to see me, but it was as if she could not feel joy.
The emptiness is in her eyes also. The sparkle is gone, replaced by a lifelessness that frightens me. It was the look Shoshana had after the “wedding.” I know that Hodel will not do anything rash, though, because she is strong, maybe stronger than any of us. She has survived Pertschik’s murder and pursuit by his killers. She has reached the Promised Land. Now Hodel has an opportunity to fulfill Pertschik’s dream of living in a worker’s paradise.
Until Bernice told me about Jonathan’s attempt to visit Pertschik, I had no idea my daughter was considered a living legend. The young chaverim never said anything to me, but it turned out they had all heard of Pertschik and the woman who stood by him during all his years in prison. They welcomed her as a hero.
Such praise was heaped on my Hodel that I was filled with pride. No one would have blamed her if she had basked in the adoration like David after he felled Goliath, but she was totally unaffected by it all. The mask that now hid the face I had loved since birth was frozen in pain from events in another place and another time.
Hodel reluctantly accepted the nomination to the Executive Committee, but I’m told she has said nothing at the meetings so far. She has thrown herself into her work, demanding the opportunity to work on the crew building the road from our kibbutz to the others farther north. I have tried to talk to her, but she says nothing about the past. I asked Tzeitl, but Hodel would not even share whatever dark secrets she keeps with her sister.
“Dear Lord, what did the Russians do to my baby to wound her so deeply? I know they murdered her husband, but I think there’s more. Can You ease her burden? I would gladly take it upon myself.”
Perhaps after Hodel’s been here longer, and realizes she has the chance to complete Pertschik’s mission, the spell will be broken.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevye Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.