Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Iyar 5760 - May 31, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Trip to South Africa

The Trip to South Africa

Three long decades ago I left South Africa. It had always been my dream to live in Israel, for as long as I can remember. I am satisfied with my choice. Yet each time I return to visit my family I feel drawn into the life I left behind, a part of it, as if I had never traveled away from so much that is dear to me.

In the years that I have been away I have seen many different Jewish communities, different countries, different towns, yet I still feel a strange fierce pride in the Jews who chose to settle in a land filled with so many contradictions.

The first contradiction that hits the visitor is that so many families have left, to settle in so many different places around the globe. There is hardly a family that isn't affected. The other side of the coin is the vibrant Jewish community that remains, firmly rooted in its dual Litvak and African heritage, bravely carrying on with day-to-day living in the face of much that is insecure, building new shuls (three in Johannesburg are under construction), showing a growing trend towards the stricter observance of mitzvot.

While I was there I found a renewed interest in the lives of those who had left Europe so many years ago to travel to a country then considered (and in fact) wild and dangerous, on the very outskirts of Jewish life.

I spoke to old people who had remained behind, alone, whilst the rest of their family had gone to different countries. I spoke to young people returning to visit their parents, taking an interest now, as never before, in their great-great-grandparents who, like they, had immigrated to a new land.

All these stories swirled around in my head. As I thought about the men who had arrived penniless, and the women who had come out to meet them, to marry them without having ever met them before, I reached an understanding of many things.

I began to understand why some became fabulously wealthy, and yet others, with the same opportunities, simply made an acceptable parnossah. I understood the courage of those families who chose to remain in a less than secure environment, and the adventurous spirit of those who set out for distant lands. I understood the reason for the community having the lowest rate of assimilation in the Western world. I was once again struck with admiration for these pioneers, who lived far from Jewish centers and yet were able to instill in their children and grandchildren and great- grandchildren a pride and knowledge of matters dear to us.

I came back wanting to tell others of these things, that I had learnt. The problem arises that these were private conversations told to a friend, not suitable for emblazoning to the world in a newspaper.

I hit on the solution of amalgamating all these stories into a piece of fiction, unreal, relating to no one in particular, yet containing all the elements of the story of going to an unknown land, of carving out a living, of meeting and marrying on the basis of a word from a shadchan or a cousin, in a land far away.

Each small element in the following story is true. Some men were successful and others were not. Some shidduchim were successful and others were not.

I ask you to read the words I have written and to consider as you do, these Jews on the tip of Africa, and the life they led and the life they lead now.<P>

The story of the Jews of South Africa is different, in some ways, from the story of the settlement other countries. The Jews of Lithuania who chose South Africa, rather than England or America, did not have the option of going to live amongst a large host of their own people. There was no large city in South Africa filled with Jews and Jewish institutions. The land they went to was a vast land, a sparsely populated land, and a land needing great courage and self-reliance.

The Jews who came to South Africa -- fleeing conscription in the Tsar's army, poverty, or pogroms -- soon found that if they wished to make a living, they would have to go to the country areas, places where there was little existing commerce and where they could fill a need.

At first they went from farm to farm, selling their goods. Then, once they had accumulated a minimal amount of capital, they opened shops in the villages, general stores, selling brightly-colored blankets and chewing tobacco and food and patent medicines.

The shops were quite often attached to their homes. The women usually went from shop to home and back again. `Women's lib' came early in the South African Jewish community. From the earliest days, the women were in every sense equal partners in the new world they were building together.

Today I sometimes hear about small communities, struggling to maintain a viable Jewish life. Then I hear the numbers that are considered small and I laugh to myself. When I was a child, a community that could gather together a minyan on its own, without having to rely on outsiders, was considered large.

Such a community built a shul and hired a rebbe who also had to function as shochet and cheder teacher. Each week the woman's charity group would meet. Every simcha would be celebrated together, all the woman baking, contributing their specialty.

There were, in this brave new land, no restrictions on what Jews could do. So Jews became farmers, and Jews became diamond prospectors and Jews filled the vast areas of opportunity in a new land.

In South Africa, particularly in the country areas, land was cheap. So there is no story of crowded tenement houses. Even where there was little money, families lived in homes with space, surrounded by gardens, where fruit trees grew and vegetables were planted and chickens and turkeys ran around in a large fenced in area.

Another difference in the pattern of immigration compared to America is that few people thought that a whole family could safely immigrate to such a wild place. Men came out first. The men who came were sometimes married, and they would send for their families later. However, it seems to me, listening to my grandparents as they talked of old times, it was mainly boys and young men who came out alone. When they had carved a niche for themselves, at least enough to know they had a home and some sort of income, they would write to their family and ask for a shidduch, for a bride to be sent out to them.

So, allow your mind to float free and think of a young girl in a small shtetl in Lithuania, and suddenly she is told that a young man overseas in South Africa wants to marry her. She has never seen him. She will have to marry him upon arrival. She will not see her family again. Not only this, but she must first face a long and dangerous sea journey.

Why did these young girls agree to such a thing? How did they summon up the courage to go to a strange wild land and embark on a new life with a stranger?

This is the story of two such girls.

Esther was helping her mother knead the dough for challah when the stranger entered the house. Her mother washed her hands and went to the woman, made some tea and sat by the table. Esther heard their voices, but did not absorb what they said.

This time, of kneading the challah, was a time when she could let her thoughts wander, when she could dream her dreams.

She imagined herself in her own home preparing Shabbos for her family, perhaps inviting guests.

The dough rose and fell as she hit at it and then let her hands rise into the air, just as her mood rose and fell. It was all very well to dream, but she was already eighteen. Not only were her friends married, but now even their younger sisters were marrying. Soon there would be no young man of the right age. Besides, how could she marry, with no dowry, nothing to recommend her to any suitor? She had neither beauty nor prestigious background.

She thought of how the bread would rise and then bake golden brown. On Shabbos everyone left the table feeling satisfied. During the week, both her mother and she surreptitiously gave less to themselves, more to the others, knowing full well that the food on the plates would not satisfy their appetites.

Esther became aware that she was being scrutinized by the woman, and she returned to her work, plaited the dough, placed the tray in the oven and turned to go to the yard to take down the dry clothes.

"Esther, stay here. Come sit down. Come talk to us," said her mother. She was bemused. So much work to do before Shabbos and her mother sitting and talking -- and now she was asked to do the same. The woman held in her hand a creased letter. "My son, he went to Africa you know. Oh, how I miss him. But he has done well. He has a shop. He has a house. Now he needs a wife.

"He asks for no dowry. The girls in my town are afraid to go. What is there to be afraid of? Will my Motke not care for them? They talk of wild animals. They are afraid of the sea journey.

"My cousin visited us last week. He told me about you. So here I am."

Esther looked at her mother. Her eyes were blank, giving no clue as to what she wanted.

Her mother looked down at her hands, not wanting her daughter to read her thoughts. She felt torn in two. One the one hand she could not bear to think of her dear child going so far away, over the seas, never to be with her family again.

On the other hand every shidduch they had tried had failed. Her husband was a good man. His work as a shochet should have provided enough for his family. However he was so kindhearted that if a family had little money, he would find an excuse not to take his full fee. Who was prepared to take a girl without a dowry?

There were some who were, but each time she and her husband discussed them, they felt that they were not right for their precious daughter. This woman had told of her son, how good and kind he was, of the fine shop and house he had, of how well her daughter would live.

The woman had been watching Esther at work, seeing how deft and graceful were her movements. She could not remain forever in her mother's home. Surely this girl would accept her son. She said:

"My son works hard in his shop. He needs a wife to care for him, to cook for him. There are nine other Jewish families in the village. He is invited out every Shabbos. But that is not the same as making your own Shabbos, is it now?"

The woman spoke gently. She had a quiet pleasant manner.

Esther thought to herself, "The woman seems good. Probably her son is good too. What can I lose? Can I spend my whole life in my mother's house making challah for her? What if I don't like him? What if he doesn't like me? Will I be able to come back?"

There seemed to be a never-ending silence. The three women sat and the silence pervaded the room, creeping through it. Esther heard someone say, "Yes I will go."

The voice seemed to come from far away, but it was her voice. Then both her mother and the woman began to sob silently. Her mother was relieved that her only daughter would at last find her besherte, but she was already mourning the loss of her cheerful company. The woman was sobbing tears of relief. At last her Motke would have someone to care for him in that wild unknown place. Esther remained dry-eyed, quite calm, wondering at the step she was about to take.

Some time later, not many doors away, a similar decision was made. Ruth was holding the letter, looking at it, looking at her step-mother and thinking, "At last I can escape. I nearly accepted the son of the shoemaker to get away from here. Now I know I was right to reject him. Now I know this is what I want, to get far away, not to see my father with this new woman in the place where my mother should be, not to see the little ones call her `mother.'"

The bitterness welled up inside her, but she kept her voice even as she said, "He talks of farming, of owning many hectares of land. I hope this is true. I hope it is not just idle boasting."

The shadchante said, "It is true. The letter comes from my brother. He has been to his place. He has stayed there with his family. The man is good and kind, just as he says. He has many hectares of land and many workers, just as he says. You can rely on my brother."

Ruth considered all the facts before her. She thought of living in a large house, away from the crowded rooms, away from the crowded alleyways, away from this stranger who had taken the place of her mother. She said, "Yes, I will go."

There were no tears around the table. The shadchante felt she had done a good day's work. All the other girls had been afraid of living alone on a farm. The woman who was Ruth's stepmother thought, "Maybe now the younger children will allow me to love them. If only Ruth had tried to see my side of things. If only she hadn't such a temper, then we could have found a suitable match for her long ago. People have heard her tantrums from the time she was a child, right till now. Even with a dowry, we have had no success. Perhaps, far away, she will have a new start and she will be happy and calm and a good wife."

Ruth thought, "I will write to them. I will tell them of how good life is there. I will have no regrets."

It was arranged that the two girls travel together. By fortuitous coincidence the two young men lived not too many miles apart. The girls would land at Cape Town and then they would be escorted to the train station by a landsleit, who had left their shtetel many years before. The journey from the boat would take two days and they would be met at the station by the two young men in a place called Bloemfontein.

This was an established community with a rabbi and he would find somewhere for the girls to stay and he would perform the wedding ceremony. It took some time to arrange, as the mail took many weeks to cross that vast distance, but in due time it was arranged and bags were packed and the girls left, clutching onto each other, leaving behind all that was familiar to them.

The journey took many weeks. The boat swayed and creaked. The food was unpleasant and the sleeping conditions primitive. The girls passed the time by talking to one another of their hopes and dreams.

Ruth told of the rich man who was waiting for her. She spoke of the fine clothes he would give her. She spoke of the many hectares of land that he owned.

Esther spoke of her family, and how should would miss them. She told of how she would have to learn a new language to be able to help her husband in his shop.

Neither girl spoke of their fears, of the wild animals that other girls had spoken about, of the worry about meeting for the first time and then going straight to the rabbi.

It simply had to turn out well. Their besherte must be kind and good. For if he was not, what could they do? Their tickets had been paid for by these men, though they had not met. There was no return ticket. Besides, how could they face the shame and humiliation of going back, without a husband? Their friends already had children of their own. No, there could be no going back.

The ship had left Europe in autumn. They had been told that the seasons were reversed in the land they were travelling to and they would arrive in summer. Early one morning there was a loud banging and they were told to gather their belongings and come onto the deck.

They saw before them a large flat mountain and, as the ship came closer to land, they saw little houses dotting the mountain base and trees along the sea shore, and the boats already in the harbor.

They felt the early morning sun, hot and fierce, as it beat down on their shoulders. The beauty of the place took their breath away and momentarily they lost their fear.

The crowd at the docks frightened them as they stepped ashore, but quite soon they heard a friendly voice asking them in Yiddish about their town, confirming their names, and loading them into a small cart that he drove at a rapid pace through the town.

They passed people in all sorts of dress, with all hues of skin color. They passed sailors and soldiers. They came to a stop in front of a large house surrounded by a green lawn.

They were taken to a room and given a tub of water for bathing and a small dark girl came in and asked for the clothes they had been wearing, to be laundered. She took them out at arm's length. It became clear to the girls that the unsanitary conditions of the boat had left their mark on them. They cringed with embarrassment, but said nothing.

Only the man who had collected them spoke Yiddish. His wife and children spoke quite a different language. The girls felt strange and when it was time to leave the next day, they were pleased to be away.

The railway carriage seemed luxurious after the accommodations of the boat, with green leather seats and a bunk that folded from the wall in the evening, while the lower seat became a bed too. There was a small wash basin in the corner and a table that could be folded from the wall. They had a food hamper with all sorts of delicacies from their host. They began to feel cheerful and optimistic.

The train went through a wonderful plain of green and then climbed up towering mountains. It came down into a vast valley filled with vineyards and large white houses with curly front gables. It seemed like a wonderland.

Darkness came suddenly, and they ate and soon slept, rocked by the lulling sound and movement of the train.

They woke in the morning to see a different countryside, brown and yellow and dotted with dull green bushes.

As the day wore on they found themselves covered with a fine layer of dust from the countryside and soot from the coal of the train. The girls felt the grittiness and saw the unchanging landscape and the vast empty spaces and began to feel fear again.

Moshe Levy had put on his suit and clean shirt. The previous day he had issued strict instructions to his African foreman so that the farm would be well looked- after in his absence. Finally, after three long years, his friend had managed to arrange a shidduch for him.

A year before he had nearly given up the farm, moved into the village and found something else to do.

'Look Moshe, don't be so stubborn. I am trying, but for a girl to come to Africa, well, that is really something. Then to tell her she must live on a farm, miles and miles away from anyone else, well . . . you can see why my sister is not succeeding.'

A great loneliness had welled up in Moshe. He had looked at his friend, at his family surrounding him and decided to follow his advice and give up the farm.

However, late that night when he galloped into the farm, his horse pounding rhythmically on the hard earth, the moon shining over the great rows of corn waving in the breeze, he knew he could not leave this place he had created.

Now, only one year later, he laughed quietly to himself. His stubbornness had paid off. A girl had been found who was prepared to live on the farm with him. She must be a fine brave girl to agree to such a thing.

Now he must prepare carefully, to make a good impression on her. He was wearing his Shabbos suit. He took the scissors and began to trim his beard.

The shrieks of the child came through the window. He looked and saw the dam and its high wall and the child spluttering in the water, thrashing his arms and legs wildly, going down under the water and then up again. Moshe ran to the dam, vaulted over the wall, felt the cool water of the dam wash over him and he pulled the child, lifted him clear, and took him out of the water.

They stood for one moment looking at each other: a small child who had disobeyed instructions, his black skin glistening in the sunshine and a large man, his one and only Shabbos suit clinging to him.

The child quickly got his wits back and turned and fled, running towards the huts where he lived.

Moshe stood in a daze. He had warned about the danger of this deep water that the windmill poured out from the ground. In this dry and parched landscape the children were fascinated by the water, but had no experience with it. He had told them to keep away or to come supervised by adults, but never alone.

He would have to fence the area in to prevent future mishaps. Then he realized that his suit was ruined. He would have no time to go to the village to buy a new one. He would have no time to try and dry out the suit and repair the damage. He could not be late for his kallah. He ran to the house. He pulled out a pair of work trousers and a clean shirt -- a weekday shirt.

His Shabbos hat, black and shiny, lay on the bed, but it would look absurd with his workday clothes. He took the large khaki colored hat that he wore in the fields and pushed it down on his head as he walked towards his horse and rode off to the station. He left the horse with the station-master, just as the first puffs of smoke from the train became visible on the horizon.

Moshe settled down on the train with a sigh of relief. He would be at the station, in Bloemfontein, on time.

Motke Levy was giving last minute instructions to young Yosef, who was to look after his shop while he was away. It was good of the boy to do this for him on his school holidays.

Yosef's father was waiting outside in the horse and cart to take him to the station, some miles out of town. Motke felt good in his `Shabbos' suit and his sparkling white shirt. He had trimmed his beard carefully. He was wearing a smart black hat. He felt quite as smart as anyone in the town of Bloemfontein. They arrived at the station in good time and he boarded the train.

The two men met, as arranged, under the large clock in the station. Some moments later the train from the Cape pulled in and the men watched the passengers disembark. Two girls came, each carrying a small carry-all. The first one had honey blond hair. Tiny curls escaped from it though it was carefully pulled back. The second girl was smaller, thinner. Her dark hair hung down her back in a plait.

Ruth looked at the two men and then walked towards Motke. Clearly this grandly dressed young man must be the rich landowner that she had crossed the sea to marry. She walked up to him.

"Shalom Mr. Levy," she said and looked up at him.

Esther saw the other man, saw his workday clothes, more like a peasant than a shop-keeper, and then thought, Well, such a harsh land, perhaps that is how shopkeepers dress here, and she walked towards him.

She stopped in front of him and looked up. They stood, staring at one another.

They heard behind them the conversation.

"Welcome my dear Esther."

"What, I'm not Esther. My name is Ruth. Are you not Moshe Levy?"

"Who is Moshe Levy?"

Moshe turned around slowly and faced her. She looked at the tall man, his unruly beard, his rough work clothes. The man was an imposter. He had nothing, not even a decent set of clothes. She said in a flat dull voice, "I will not marry you."

Motke looked at his girl. Though he said nothing as he looked back at Ruth, the regret was clear in his eyes.

Esther looked at Motke and saw his thoughts as clearly as if he had spoken them. Esther heard the words uttered by Ruth and saw the hurt in the eyes of the big bushy stranger. Esther was a quiet girl, not given to talking much, not given to forcing her will upon others, but the hurt in the man's eyes pierced through her, almost as much as the disappointment in the eyes of the man she had traveled to marry.

She drew a deep breath and said to the big man, "It appears that neither of us is wanted. If you are willing to marry me, then I am willing to marry you."

She closed her eyes, waiting for his protest, waiting to hear that it was her companion who was the one he would accept -- and no other.

Moshe looked at the girl. He marveled at her courage. He marveled at her quick thinking. His pride would not allow him to beg any woman to marry him. He looked at Motke and saw how he looked at the girl and how she looked at him.

"Very well. That is what will be done. Now we will go to the house of the Rabbi."

It was some months later that two letters arrived at the shtetl.

My dear family,

You will be surprised to receive a letter from this address. Both the men that were to meet us had the same surname, that you knew. Also their first names are so similar: "Moshe" and "Motke." What could not have been foreseen was that there would be some confusion. The result is that I married Moshe Levy and Ruth married Motke Levy. However you are not to worry as we are both happy and feel that it was besherte and all for the best.

I am living on a farm. At first it was hard to be all alone, so far from any town. But now, after a few weeks, I find I like it. Our home is simple, but comfortable.

It is built of sun-dried earthen bricks. It has a large room in the center, and this is the room that we eat in and we sit and talk in, and entertain visitors when they come. On one side there is a door that leads to our bedroom and on the other side a door that leads to our guestroom.

The kitchen is at the back of the house, a little distance from the house. My husband grows corn on the farm. He has many helpers. I too have a helper, a young girl. The helpers here have black skins and they talk a strange language, but this girl understands me by signs and now we are learning each other's language.

Your daughter Esther

The second letter said: Dear Father and children, and step-mother,

I did not marry the man I was sent out for. Let us just say that someone made a big mistake in their descriptions. I married the man Esther was to have married instead. She didn't seem to mind the exchange. I hope she is not unhappy.

My husband is a fine handsome man. We live in a village a day's ride away from the town where we married. I have a fine house with many rooms and a great garden with fruit trees and in the front of the house is a shop selling many different articles. Such things it sells you just cannot imagine.

The men who work on the farms in this area come in each week to shop. They wear colorful blankets wrapped around themselves, and these blankets we sell. They wear great conical hats made of straw, but these their women weave for them. The women sometimes come to the shop and they carry their babies strapped on their backs. They bring all their children and when they have finished buying their goods the children come to us and clap their hands and say "pom- pom pacella" and that means they want a gift as a reward for buying in our shop and not in another one down the road and we place cheap sweets in their hands and then they are happy.

I have servants now. I have a cook who helps me in the kitchen and a young girl who cleans the house and a young boy who sees to the garden.

Send my best wishes to everyone, Ruth.

Both letters were more notable for what they did not say. Esther's letters did not tell of her fears in her new home.

Ruth's letter did not tell that she worked long hours in the shop, that the heat was oppressive, that the shop was on the outskirts of the town and they only attracted customers by selling at low prices for small profit.

Still, at least they did have a shop and a house. Poor Esther, she thought guiltily, was probably having a much harder time. But the arrangement was her choice and so she had only herself to blame.

The letters went back and forth, the only contact. Within ten years Ruth was writing of their move to Johannesburg, where her husband worked in a shop for someone else. It meant that there was a regular salary with no worries, Ruth wrote, but she was filled with bitterness that their business had not been successful, and that her husband must work to make another man rich.

She would not have accepted the fact that her own impatient nature had something to do with their lack of success. She had managed to calm her temper, to some degree. But serving in the shop and standing by while the customers fingered carefully one fabric, then another, before spending their small sums of money, exasperated her. The women felt this and were reluctant to come into their shop.

However, Ruth had great hopes for the future. Her children were doing well at school. Her sons would become doctors; her daughters would marry well. Her home was small but much better than any house in the shtetl. She had meant to write to Esther but never had, and they had lost all contact.

Esther wrote home that on their tenth anniversary her husband had presented her with a large envelope and in it were architect's plans for a large new house. She wrote of the many people that came to visit them. She wrote of her children. When her husband had given her the plans she had been filled with joy at his thoughtfulness.

She never asked for anything but he was always giving her gifts and now this: a wonderful place he was hoping to build for her. Now, after all these years, she spoke to him of her deepest thoughts.

Later that night, before Esther turned off the spluttering lamp, she spoke to her husband about her dearest wish. He agreed, and so the house was not built that year but instead the money was sent to her family, so they could join her. Now they too would not suffer from hunger.

Muizenberg is a beach resort on the southern tip of Africa, about an hour away from Cape Town. It is on the side of the Cape, where the warm Indian Ocean falls in great breakers down onto white sands.

For many years it was the place where Jews went on holiday. They stayed in kosher hotels, in kosher boarding houses. They rented rooms or they rented houses. A few very lucky people, bought holiday homes and once a year these were opened up and the family stayed the whole summer.

Esther liked to be the first person on the beach, when the sand was untouched by footprints. She enjoyed the sea breeze after the sultry heat of the farm.

She enjoyed this time to herself, to think of her children and her grandchildren. She was used to the silence of the farm and this quiet time on the beach, in the early morning, was important to her.

She had brought a book with her and sat down and began to read. She didn't notice that she had stayed later than usual and the beach was now filling up with holiday makers.

A woman recognized her, touched her, pulled her attention from the book.

"Esther, surely it's Esther! Remember me? Ruth? Remember how we traveled out together, how I took your man and you took mine?"

Esther looked at the woman, saw her immodest beach attire, and saw too that her hair was not covered, that it had turned white and was now dyed an artificial blue. The woman was heavily made up. Her eyelids were also covered with blue. Surely this could not be Ruth. Surely all the values they had learned as children could not have been so completely discarded.

Yet the woman had recognized her, had called her name. Surely such a story could have happened to no one else. Certainly, she had spoken to no person of the event.

Ruth, for her part, looked long and hard at Esther. The poor woman, she thought. She was dressed in a simple cotton dress, unfashionable, with a high neck and long sleeves. Esther looked very little different from the day she had left the shtetl, in very similar clothes.

Ruth studied Esther more closely. The years had brought some changes. After all, neither of them were young girls any more. Esther's hair no longer lay behind her back in a long braid, but was tucked invisibly into a simple straw hat.

Ruth suddenly felt guilty. South Africa had been good to her. It had freed her from the narrow constraints of shtetl customs. It had allowed her to become a quite different person. True, she wasn't wealthy, but they were comfortable. They had their own home, and she was able to buy the latest fashions.

The man she had fobbed off onto Esther, had clearly been a man of no substance. "Owner of many hectares"! What nonsense. How naive she had been to believe these things. How sensible she had been to reject this man. How well things had turned out for her. Poor Esther.

Then Ruth spoke of the people and the place they had left and Esther had no more doubt as to her identity. The two women began to talk of those times, long ago. They spoke of the journey out and of the place they had left behind.

Then Ruth talked about her children, and how well they had done, and how this year, because of her son the doctor, they had stayed at the big smart hotel on the beach-front, instead of renting rooms.

Esther said little, listening. Ruth, thinking back to that wild unkempt man, and looking at the simple way her old friend was dressed, felt it better not to pry, not to ask. What if all that Esther would ever be able to afford were some rented rooms? Maybe it was all her fault. No, better not to pry.

"Today is the last day of our stay here," said Ruth at last. "Look here is our address. Contact me any time you want to. You're still on a farm? Yes? Well, any time you come to Jo'burg, please contact me."

Esther stood up to go. In the distance she saw a large white house, with an ornate gate, bordered by large columns. The gardener was seeing to the roses. Another man was moving around the pool, cleaning it, while his helper was pushing around the screens which would keep the bathers out of sight of passersby.

Ruth watched her glance, and followed it.

"Yes, that's the way to do it. They call it a holiday `cottage.' They only use it during the summer, so people say. Hah! Cottage? `Mansion' is more like it, more money than sense I think." The bitterness tinged her voice.

Esther bade her friend farewell. She walked away, down a side street. She thought about the way Ruth had changed. She wondered at the fact that Ruth had never once mentioned her family in Europe. In these troubled times, if nothing was said, then it was better not to ask. What terrible pain could lie behind these facts not spoken about.

Esther thought back to that happy day when all her family had arrived and had squeezed into the simple farm house.

Soon her father had obtained a post as a Reb, shochet and Hebrew teacher, in a village not far away. True he didn't have smicha, but his skill at shechita was clear to all and he could lehen the Torah and lead the service, and teach the young children their aleph beis. Most of all he was a kind man and the community knew that they could speak to him on any subject and find a sympathetic ear -- and receive wise advice. The community had been more than satisfied.

All these years Esther had been pleased that she and her dear husband, had been able to help her family leave behind fear and hunger.

Now she thought, "I always knew they took away my loneliness when they came. Perhaps I never realized before the influence they had on me, to keep true to our traditions. Could I have done this without their presence? I should be more grateful."

Esther was still deep in thought as she turned the corner, away from the beach now, parallel to it.

"Was it wrong of me not to tell Ruth more?" she thought. "Should I have been more hospitable?"

Esther walked into the back gate of the large mansion. She walked in through the kitchen and saw the startled looks of the staff.

"I met a friend. I walked a different way because of that. This was the easiest way in. I'll take breakfast by the pool, as usual."

Now the screens were all up and the staff had left the garden. Esther sat by the poolside watching the sunlight dancing on the water, sending glistening lines across the blue pool. Soon the rest of the house would wake up. The girls would come out first: her grandchildren and her nieces, and they would all enjoy the cool water.

Then they would all go indoors, and the men and the boys would have returned from shul and they would use the pool.

How could she have invited Ruth? It would be so obvious to her the great mistake she had made that day on the station platform. Ruth was so satisfied with herself, so content. No, better to leave her in ignorance.


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