I used to dislike shopping, the rushing here and there, and all the details to remember. Now it's almost pleasant. I shop in the morning when the stores are uncrowded and the early light gleams off the beige brick and glass of the storefronts. Since Joshua and Miriam are grown and gone, there's less to do and I can see the young mothers, some of them harried and embattled, with a sympathy that will soon, very soon, become nostalgia. I like the silence and order of the house now that I'm used to it. Saul and I sit close together at his end of the table. We thought we would have less to talk about when the children were gone, but it turned out not to be so. The daily happenings still interest us and we are able to pay more attention to the greater events.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, has just passed; these are the Days of Awe, the days between the New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In the old times, people faced this week in terror. They cried aloud in the synagogues, they ran weeping to their neighbors, pressing unpaid debts upon them before it should be too late and their measuring by the Lord be over and the mark against them made and blotted. We don't weep now. Debt is fashionable and we are decorous, rational, and fearless, but it's still possible to dream old-fashioned nightmares during the week of Awe. I am forty-eight and the freedom and wealth of my life here are shadowed during this week with smoke whispering from the chimneys of Camps I have never seen. I was thinking when I got out of the car, suddenly, of a fragment of a memorial poem in our prayer books, and this day about me, so paradoxically blue and golden, makes me pause. My grandparents' villages are gone. This Gilboa is in Pennsylvania and it's autumn with the mellow warmth of late summer still in it. I go in to my shopping.
The stores are in a covered mall but the mall is lit by skylights and it is pleasant. Down the long center gallery are places to sit and there are trees and shrubbery planted under the skylights. The people on the squad know that Thursday I'm out of service until noon, so my pace is leisurely but not idle. Store to store, steadily. I'm a good housewife. With a list.
But when I come out of the supermarket, the sadness from that poem, which has been standing off like the rain over the hills to the west of us here, has moved back in on me. Our New Year is a poignant time. So I change my mind. Instead of going directly to the car and home, I go to one of the mall's benches and sit down. I want to think about the holiday a little more, to give it its time.
There's a young man approaching the bench. I smile a little, in acknowledgment, and move over. To my surprise, he comes up to me and I see that the basket he is carrying is not for shopping but has flowers and leaflets in it. He takes one of these leaflets and hands it to me. There's a picture of a boy and a girl on it.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he says politely, "but did you know that millions of our children are hooked on drugs?"
My hand almost starts for my purse and the donation I think he wants, but then I remember and my heart sinks.
"You're not the Salvation Army or the teen center or any drug program," I say, and the words come out as tired and sad as I feel them. "You're the Unification Church."
"We do a lot of good," he says. "We have programs in all the major cities for drug addicts and runaways."
"You steal Jews," I say.
He has been taught to answer such things, but he misguesses me.
"We're not anti-Semitic," he says. "I myself had a Jewish background. My parents are Jewish."
We are both surprised and he is mortified when I begin to cry. The tears are so sudden and so overwhelming that they have come up into my eyes and flowed over before I know it, as though they had been waiting in ambush for this boy's arrival. My glasses are steaming over but my voice is still steady, and while I have it, I have him.
"Hitler killed one-third of us. A language, a culture, a way of life. Only our dispersion saved us from complete extinction. Now, through that awful tear in our people, more are flowing away. Don't you see that?"
"We don't seek--"
"You don't, you poor sap," I cry, "but they do. Somewhere in Illinois my son is dressed in yellow and is chanting someone else's ancestral language. His head is shaved for ritual reasons. He and you eat and don't eat for ritual reasons. You are burlesque artists, parodists!"
"Judaism is a bankrupt faith!"
"When did you invest a moment of yourself in it?"
It's no good and I see it. He can't see my visions or understand my pain. Free and equal, I know, I know. "I am I and you are you."
My voice is compromised now. I'm crying outright. Blushing wildly, he leaves me. Like any good American, he is unnerved by the public demonstration of emotions, except in groups. A Jewish mother weeping is his metaphor for hell, a banality he cannot endure. And I, too, am American. I can't sit blubbering and blind in a shopping-center mall at eleven in the morning for no visible reason. So I blow my nose, dry my eyes and my glasses, and drive home.
No more about the Illinois renunciate! But my mind drifts as I drive. He has given over his name, an ordinary Jewish name by which other Jews can know him and Christians too, as one of a people, a ine, a tradition, a curse, a sorrow, a glory, a law. His new names are Sanskrit. He doesn't realize it but he comes two generations too late. How popular he might have been in Munich in 1934. He is that once most enviable of forebears, an Aryan. It is an irony I cannot share with him or with Eichmann or with Hitler, ghosts with whose ghosts I am saddled. It occurs to me that it has been three days since I last thought of Joshua-Sanjit. Three days without anguish and now the anguish returns.
Miriam also has gone into a world where Jews disappear. She is liberated from her husband and works at a women's center in California. I admire her commitments to battered wives and rape victims and the exploited of the Third World. Sadly for me, none of her commitments involves the continued existence of her own people. The blacks and Chicanos with whom she castigates me multiply in all their variety and rich profusion. The poor of the world are not an endangered species. Her former husband was not Jewish and she laughed at me when I begged her to consider raising Kimberley, who is legally so, as a Jew. It wasn't for me, I said, but for the people, so that Hitler would lose again, would lose forever.
"Everything has to change," she said, "some things have to die out, I guess."
Did I tell her that about Biafra, about the American Indians, that she should say it about my minority? My people? Is there anyone more lonely than the champion of an unfashionable cause?
Unaccountably, as I ride, the day opens outward. The autumn smells its briny apple-smell, but the sun is still in summer. I have the windows open and though I was angry and sobbing twenty minutes ago, there was a relief in the tears and I feel better for them, close to the day and the center of my life. Saul and I didn't die when Miriam met a man and moved in and then married without our presence. I made apologies to the family, to my mother who blames me for the loss, to all the aunts and uncles, and went on living. Joshua quit college and found the tide that carried him so far away, and we didn't die then, either. We only spoke a little more quietly when we sat together at dinner. We live like modern nobility, in the ancestral castle. There are certain rooms shut off for warmth and because of the upkeep. We remember those rooms, every inch of them, and everything with which they were furnished, but we don't often unlock them and we try to live all the more warmly in the rest of the house. Try.