How can I describe my joy at having my family reunited? I always believed we would be together one day, but the years passed and it seemed as though I would miss their whole lives. My little girls are all grown up. Skinny little Tzeitl has filled out and now she’s the mother of three beautiful children. I am amazed at how much she looks like Golde when she was a young mother. Her hair is combed the same, she speaks to her children the way Golde spoke to ours, she even has some of the same gestures, like throwing her hands up in exasperation at Motel, and looking heavenward to make a remark to the Almighty.
My thoughts of her and Motel have been haunted by the memory of their wedding being interrupted by the Russian hooligans. It was difficult to imagine her happily married, even with the man of her own choosing, but, despite the hardships, she says her life has been wonderful.
Motel is still thin and looks sickly. Something has changed though. He walks upright instead of slouching. When he speaks, it is not with the stuttering uncertainty of his youth, but with confidence and authority. He used to nervously polish his glasses all the time, now when he does it he looks thoughtful. I always believed he was a good man, even if he was penniless, because he had an inner strength. And that strength is what must have allowed him to survive in Poland, and to feed his family.
And what a family. Those children are like the pearls of an oyster. When I first laid eyes on Rebecca, I couldn’t help thinking I was seeing Tzeitl. Not only does she have her looks, but I’ve already discovered she shares her mother’s willfulness. You can’t tell her anything without getting an argument.
“Rebecca, why don’t you comb your hair?”
“I like it the way it is.”
“But it’s a mess.”
“No, it’s stylish.”
“But your eyes are covered.”
“I can see fine.”
Most conversations with her go the same way. Tzeitl insists Rebecca is going through a stage. Wait till she finds out how long it lasts.
Leah has more of her father’s looks. Hopefully, she’ll grow out of it. But she couldn’t be smarter if she’d eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. Whatever you ask her, she has an answer. And, if she doesn’t have an answer, she asks questions to help her find one.
My grandson will be like me. Handsome, smart, agreeable, a friend to man and beast. For now, Aryeh loves to build. He takes pieces of wood and turns them into a stable or a cabin or a birdhouse. To his mother’s chagrin, his favorite game is what he calls “army.” He builds a fortress and pretends to have battles with little toy soldiers.
Tzeitl and the children are having a difficult time adjusting to the separation imposed by the kibbutz. She is working with Golde in the kitchen and cries all day. It will take time, but she’ll get used to our lifestyle.
It’s been easier for Motel. The geniuses on the Work Committee originally assigned him to the barn. It didn’t take long for them to figure out he didn’t know which end of the cow to milk. After great deliberation, they decided his talents could best be used in the clothing department, especially now that the chaverim are allowed to own their own clothes. The biggest problem then became Motel’s desire to show off his talent. He had to be told we want things simple, the plainer the better. The last thing the elders wanted was to let people have clothes of their own that would arouse envy.
“You mean you want me to purposely make peasant garments?” Motel asked, with his eyes peering over the top of his glasses like a tortoise peeking out of its shell.
“That’s right,” I told him. “We want you to use all your talent and creativity to design the drabbest clothing you can imagine.”
I have to give him credit. He has done just that. When I put on his clothes, I feel like I should be sitting on a street corner in town asking for alms. I think I was better off in the clothes that didn’t fit.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevye Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.