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The crown passed to her daughter, and she was graced with the title “Queen Mother” and the nostalgia of a has-been. The thought of it tugs at Golda’s heart. Slowly, the rebbetzin’s mother makes her way toward the exit
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
T he crown passed to her daughter, and she was graced with the title “Queen Mother” and the nostalgia of a has-been. The thought of it tugs at Golda’s heart. Slowly, the rebbetzin’s mother makes her way toward the exit
EXCERPT There is an envelope tucked behind her Chumash, lodged at the very back of the desk-like compartment in front of her seat in shul, where she stows her eyeglasses and a spare rain hat and, of course, some neatly folded tissues.
It is plain and white and a little dusty. She grips it between her fingers and, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder, slides it out.
There are no eyes on her. Her daughter Dina is standing with her back to her, head tilted to one side so the brown, freshly highlighted layers of her sheitel seem uneven. Dina always does that when she listens. As Golda watches, Dina gives an animated nod and leans forward slightly. Her head is straight now. So she’s talking. Dina talks more than she listens; it’s a while before the sheitel angles leftward again. That makes one thing they don’t have in common.
She checks again, but the shifting crowd of women seem to be either deep in conversation or waiting for Dina. The shul rebbetzin is a highly sought-after person Shabbos mornings after davening. Sometimes some of the ladies head over to her seat — out of pity, perhaps, or nostalgia, or simply respect for the has-been rebbetzin of their community. Not today. None of her granddaughters hanging around waiting — Kaylie and Bella, Tova, Gila, Simi, and little Yonina must already be downstairs in the social hall catching up with their friends and working up an appetite for the kiddush ahead.
That leaves her. And the envelope.
The flap is tucked neatly inside the opening. The passing of time (nearly four years now, Golda thinks in a kind of wonder) hasn’t bent it out of shape. She takes care of that.
There are two crisply folded pages inside. Golda drops them onto her lap and unfolds the first page with hands that tremble slightly, although she’s not yet sixty-five and healthy as she’s ever been. She scans the small print of the outdated notice.
Shabbos Hagadol Drashah — 6:45 p.m.
That’s all it says. No letterheads, no titles, no flowery introductions. Just the facts.
Wasn’t that all that you needed to know?
There’s another page, too. It’s a schedule, the times of davening for Pesach 5772. The handwriting is cursive, perfect. Her own.
Plain black ink, of course. Not like the schedule hanging prominently on the shul notice board — encased with glass as of late —boldly titled “Luach Zemanim shel Kehillas Ohr Yaakov, Chag HaPesach 5777,” showing color-coded minyan times and kabbalas kahal times and simchas hachag times and children’s times and women’s socials and kiddushim sponsored by lists of names. Some of them, at least, are familiar.
It’s at times like this that she thinks of the photograph she keeps in a little drawer in her sitting room at home.
It’s an old picture, older than the notices. A postcard, actually, one that she’d bought on a whim last year when she’d been out in central London with her grandchildren from Israel. They’d splurged on full-color prints of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, of the Queen at 90 and the royal family and Princess Charlotte, the newest sensation on London’s monarchical stage.
She’d found it right at the very top of the stand, behind a set of pictures of the last royal wedding.
An old picture, but one that never quite went out of fashion. A woman with a round face and a soft expression, gray-blue eyes gazing upwards, short, coiffed silvery hair and a tiara that sat quite still and poised atop her head, like it belonged there. Although she was no longer queen. Although the title was removed after sixteen short years, with the passing of her husband, the king. Although the crown passed to her daughter, the current Queen Elizabeth II, and she was graced with the title “Queen Mother” and the nostalgia of a has-been.
The Queen Mother had started out her life as the Honourable Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was promoted to Duchess of York with her marriage to Prince George, and then, unexpectedly, to queen in 1936 with the abdication of Edward VIII. Until, almost as unexpectedly, it was all over. Widowed at age 51, the Queen Mother became a remnant of the past, bereft of her former status for the next 50 years, watching from the sidelines as her daughter reigned.
The thought of it tugs at Golda’s heart.
She tucks the pages back inside their envelope and returns the package to its place behind the Chumash. She stands up and smiles graciously at a woman who’s obviously waiting for Dina’s attention. The woman blinks and slides her eyes away.
Slowly, the rebbetzin’s mother makes her way toward the exit.
Later that afternoon, she sits on the armchair in the corner of Dina’s lounge. The room isn’t small, but with seven grandchildren sprawled across various sofas and chairs, it is rather cramped. Her home, just five minutes and one block away, is large. It is, after all, the rabbi’s house, purchased for them by the community in 1993.
She should be grateful for the house. She could have lost that as well, if not for the community’s generosity in not reclaiming it after her husband’s passing. That, and the fact that Dina and Yossi lived close by. And that he’d been the natural choice to take over his father-in-law’s position.
Golda had been relieved at the time. She still is, somewhere deep down, she supposes.
She sighs. It is good to have her daughter nearby. And of course, the grandchildren. She sets aside the magazine she’s been reading, watching them.
“If I were king of England,” says Avi, stretching himself across the couch to be within kicking distance of his younger sister, Simi, “If I were king of England, then…”
Gila, fourteen months older and immeasurably wiser, looks up with a sniff. “There isn’t a king of England. Only a prince regent.”
“And the queen doesn’t have governing power nowadays,” Kaylie adds, without looking up from her book. “So if you were king of England, you wouldn’t be able to say, ‘Off with Simi’s head’ or whatever else you’re planning.”
“I know the queen doesn’t have any power nowadays! Imagine the country being run by a girl.”
“Ever heard of Theresa May?”
Avi rolls his eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”
“She is running the country, you know.” Bella, Kaylie’s twin, always insists on pushing her point to the end. “And doing a good enough job of it!”
“David Cameron was better.” Avi eyes the spider crawling up the wall, near the window shades. Golda wonders if he’s debating whether flicking it in Simi’s direction would cause more trouble than it was worth. Weren’t spiders muktzeh? “Hey, maybe I’ll be prime minister one day! Sim had better watch out!”
“He’s just like Henry the Eighth! Except it’s six sisters he wants to get rid of.” Tova giggles. “Poor Avi.”
“Poor Avi.” Kaylie flops over to reach for more reading material.
“Poor Avi.” Bella sighs and stretches and wanders off in the direction of the kitchen. “Anyone want chocolate cake?”
“Chometz-free zone! Leave the crumbs at home!” Avi yells after her at the top of his lungs.
Henry the Eighth, indeed. So this family is full of royal family wannabes.
Golda lets out a breath into the suddenly empty room. Chocolate cake, in the kitchen only, does that to six forever-hungry children.
Kaylie pokes her head back inside. “Bubby, you want cake?”
She smiles. “No, thank you, dear. I’m quite full from lunch.”
“Oh, but it’s been a whole hour since we ate!” Kaylie winks. “It’s okay, Bubby, we’ll save you some for later. This is the last chocolate cake till after Pesach — you don’t want to miss out!”
Just like Dina, that girl is. All bubbly and super-friendly charm. More friends than she can keep track of. Bella, her twin, has more of Golda’s character. Quiet. Thought-out. Reserved, in a dignified British lady kind of way.
Where Golda’s personality is serene and unruffled and all emotions tucked deep inside, Dina wears hers with pride and a sparkle for all the world to see.
She wonders which is the right personality for a rebbetzin, Dina’s or hers. Or is it something in between? (Excerpted from Calligraphy, Pesach 5777-2017)
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