Esther visits her in-laws, learns that Mutty wants her to join him in Eretz Yisrael, and realizes that she is ambivalent about leaving New York. She and Mama differ about the correct course of action. Esther questions Mama’s meekness, suggesting that sometimes a woman’s intuition can be beneficial her husband. Papa walks in and overhears the end of the conversation.
Esther had the good grace to blush.
“Papa! I… I didn’t know you were standing there!” she stammered
“I would hope so,” Papa snapped.”
“I’m sorry Papa, I’m just surprised by Emanuels’ telegram, that’s all.”
“Why should it surprise you that a husband wants his wife by his side?” asked Papa.
“Of course, a husband and wife should be togther. It wasn’t my idea to be separated by an ocean in the first place, you know. Now I’m being asked to join him across the ocean. It’s a big change, to say the least. It’s out of the blue. Papa, you know that I have been helping my family. It’s so shocking to think of dropping them and leaving, just like that. If only Manny didn’t go to Eretz Yisrael,” Esther mumbled under her breath.
“Esther!” Mama interrupted, cautioningly.
“Thank you, Mama. I can always rely on you to defend and support me,” said Papa, in a tone whose unstated meaning was clear to all in the room. He turned to his daughter-in-law. “What would you have proposed instead? You were given the opportunity to refuse, and you agreed to let Emanuel go.”
“To find his brother! Not to remain there indefinitely!” said Esther, emphatically.
“It looks like you have another decision to make, then. I cannot help you. Mama and I have enough problems of our own, as I’m sure you do as well. I don’t know anyone who will come out of this financial crisis unscathed.”
Esther swallowed hard. “Baruch Hashem, we are unscathed. “My husband trusts me to keep an eye on his business while he is away. We were very fortunate that, in Manny’s absence, I was able to implement our decisions to be extra cautious just in the nick of time, b’ezras Hashem; we sold off all our holdings right before the crash. We made our decisions together. We realized the boom of the stock market was too good to last forever, and we didn’t get blinded.”
“I don’t know who you are,” Papa responded icily, and walked out of the room as quietly as he had come.
Esther turned to look at Mama, who sat frozen, wearing a sad and shocked expression. Then she quickly went to sit beside her on the sofa. She took Mama’s soft, worn hands into her own.
“Mama, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to speak to Papa that way. I don’t know what came over me. Will you forgive me?”
“It’s not my place to forgive you. I didn’t know you … like this, Esther. You are a different woman than I thought you were.”
“I am, Mama! I am different! It’s all too much! What would you do if you were me?”
Mama smiled wanly. “You’ve already made it clear that you would not do what I would do.”
“I didn’t mean it, Mama! Papa seems to bring out something in me that I don’t recognize.”
“Even the hidden part of a person is still a part of them,” said Mama. “You can’t just write it off and excuse yourself. You have to try to fix it.”
“I know, Mama, but I don’t think I will ever be able to fix me and Papa. And I am sorry for what I said.” She decided to say what she thought Manny would say. “You know that we will take good care of you Mama. We will never let either of you want for anything.”
“I’m sure we appreciate that,” said Mama. “And I hope we won’t have to take you up on your offer. But nothing will ever take the place of a man making his own living, with Hashem’s help. I doubt Papa’s pride will ever let him take a penny from his own son.”
“I truly hope you have a choice, Mama.”
“Don’t underestimate Papa, Esther. Despite his pride, he was never afraid to get his hands dirty. He’ll shovel coal if he has to.”
“Mama! No! It won’t come to that!”
“Even if it does. This is not the first time we have faced adversity, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Despite the fact that you think I am spineless, we have always stood together through everything. That might be the best advice I could give you.”
“So I should go to Eretz Yisrael? Without a debate about the pros and cons; without a second thought?”
“You could see it that way,” said Mama. “Or you could see it as a mission. When you put it the right way in your mind, it’s not as hard.”
Esther smiled. “Are these some of Mama’s secret survival tips?”
Mama nodded. “And there’s plenty more where those came from.”
Esther sat quietly next to Mama, their hands still entwined. Her gaze turned downward, staring at them.
“I’ve misjudged you,” said Esther.
“It was not your place to judge me at all, let alone misjudge me.”
“I’m sorry,” said Esther.
“It’s been a long day,” said Mama. “Perhaps the longest I’ve ever had in my life. I’m going to have a rest now. But I’ll look forward to seeing you for dinner.” Esther shook her head and started to protest. “Esther,” Mama said firmly, taking the younger woman’s face between her hands. “You are our daughter, and you will always be our daughter.”
“As long as I live you are welcome here,” said Mama.
“We’ll see you for dinner,” she said, and sailed out of the room.
To be continued . . .