This story has its roots in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, a long time ago. The stolen girl, if she is still alive, is now an old woman.
Let me start at the beginning, at least the beginning for those of us who spent our summers in Parksville, New York, a tiny hamlet in the Catskill Mountains. Our place was a kuchalein (literally: cook alone) known as the Bauman House, a longtime fixture owned by my mother’s family. A kuchalein was, in those bygone days of the 1940s and 50s, a rooming house which was occupied during the summer by mainly New York Jews who came to escape the city heat. They would each rent a bedroom, usually shared by their entire family. The bedroom would have a sink but no toilet. Toilets were down the hall, shared by many families. In our case, showers were outdoors in a shower house.
The kuchalein piece referred to the shared kitchens in which each family had meals prepared, always by the mother. She worked under stressful conditions with a shared small refrigerator, shared stove, and kitchen table all her own but submerged in the small pond of other such families.
Most of these folks, our summer tenants, were not of New York’s elite. Many of their children, however, became educated and successful. So successful that I imagine they don’t boast about their rather primitive childhood summer vacations. But, and it’s a big but, those were halcyon days, especially for the kids who could have cared less that Mom was hardly on vacation at all. The kids had wonderful times. And shared many things, particularly a very casual approach to Judaism. Meaning: it was basically ignored. Everyone was Jewish. Everyone ate kosher. And that was it.
Until the Glicksteins (names changed) arrived one summer. They were different. They came from Borough Park and Shimmy Glickstein, the father, was never without a black yarmulke. Nor were their five sons.
The mother, Channie, was a giant, well over six feet tall, and with a pronounced limp and a deep mannish voice. She cursed like a stevedore although she was fastidiously attentive to the laws of Judaism, shocking us mightily one summer when a friend brought free ice cream for all of us kids and Channie wouldn’t allow her kids to partake since the ice cream had traveled on Shabbat.
The Glickstein kids didn’t blend in with the rest of us. They mainly kept to themselves and Channie had the rarest of luxuries, her own kitchen. So in our midst was this family of Shabbat observers, kippah clad males, surrounded by assimilated Jews. I never knew why they chose to rent at our place but they came back for many years.
Channie’s vulgar mouth and often screaming voice did not seem to be logical extensions of her love of her religion; but she was what she was.
This story, however, is not about Channie and Shimmie. It’s about Miriam, Shimmy’s sister.
Miriam was a single woman. She had been married and divorced. She had a job of some sort but she was basically a lonely woman, living on her own. So, Shimmy’s brother David, who stayed at another kuchalein, gave Miriam his middle child, a daughter named Mindy. I mean he actually gave his sister his child. There were no papers signed. Nothing legal about it at all. Miriam was lonely and Mindy would become her child. .
As I write this I hardly believe it myself. How could this have happened?
Yes, Mindy had a mother. She also had an older sister and a younger brother. Sometimes they would actually be seen together. No one thought this was strange.
Except Mindy’s mother. The tears flowed. She wanted her child back. Desperately. Years went by and she could not or would not fight with her husband. She was totally miserable and yet, she allowed the situation to continue. No lawyers. No divorce. Inexplicable but true.
Miriam, for her part, took Mindy willingly and eagerly. And then deliberately she raised Mindy by poisoning the girl’s mind against her mother. This was a total success. Mindy hated her mother.
She and Miriam were a team. A mother and daughter.
Supporting this all the way were Channie and Shimmy. They saw nothing wrong. David had an extra child. Miriam needed a child. Channie, with her five sons, would not be expected to donate a boy. A girl was more dispensable.
And so it was.
I remember my mother’s angst. She was not one to interfere into anyone else’s life. But this family tragedy moved her. Probably today she would have interceded. Maybe DYFUS. Some other child welfare organization. Then, there appeared to be little she could do.
And I remember Mindy. A few years younger than I, she would often relate to me how she reviled her mother. How lucky she was that Miriam had become her new mother.
Perhaps strangest was that the family unit, two brothers and their wives, Miriam, the eight children, would still see each other as if things were normal. I can imagine them together at holidays. Sharing smachot.
And the mystery? Eventually the Glicksteins stopped coming to our kuchalein. Their kids grew up. One is now a prominent Orthodox rabbi. I Google him occasionally. The other boys I cannot find on Google or anywhere else.
But, most of all, where is Mindy? I can find no trace of her. I want to know how the story continued. Did she stay with Miriam? Did she have a reconciliation with her mother? Did she forgive her father? Did she have her own children? Did she give any of them away?
Yes. Most of all, I’d like to know if she gave away any of her own children. I’d really like to know.