Authors: Eishes Chayil,Judy Brown
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #People & Places, #United States, #Other, #Social Issues, #Sexual Abuse, #Religious, #Jewish, #Family, #General
For those who said I shouldn’t,
For those who said I couldn’t,
For those who said I wouldn’t—
And for the children who suffer.
Devory, can you hear me?
It is hard to write a letter to the dead. It is easier to talk with you directly, as if we are having a real conversation. Sometimes, though, writing is strangely reassuring. When I finish the letter to you, I fold the paper into an envelope, tape it shut, and drop it into the mailbox. There is no address on it, no stamp or anything. It’s just a small, white letter, and I can pretend it gets to you.
I am already seventeen. Do you know that? Soon I will be getting married. We all will. Sarah Leah, Chani, all the girls in our class. Do you remember us? Can you see us in heaven, or is memory a curse for only the living?
I know. I am already seventeen and I should not be talking to the dead. But still, it is the only way I can reach you.
My father is afraid no one will want to marry me. I heard him tell my mother that the
, the community matchmaker, told him people would be scared to marry their son off to a girl like me after all that had happened. My mother said it was nonsense. She told him to stop annoying her and that no one thinks of you anymore. Everyone has long forgotten what happened.
It is true. Nobody thinks of you anymore. Even I forgot. They said it was better that way, not to remember. I don’t know why I am speaking with you now, why I suddenly began thinking of you. But when I do, can you hear me?
I am not afraid like my father is. I am not afraid, because I believe in Hashem—G-d. They say there are three things that only Hashem controls: birth, death, and
—matchmaking. So I will get married soon, when I am eighteen. There is a
up there, a perfect match, which was made in heaven just for me. I know it.
Do you believe in Hashem still? That is a ridiculous question. You are in heaven with Hashem. Right?
I am almost eighteen. You…you are still nine.
Please don’t be mad at me.
Devory, can you hear me?
In my house there was a hat. The hat was made of black fur, and it was tall like my father, round as a pancake, and holy as Hashem. The hat was called a
, and it was worn by all righteous Jews in the world. All
-wearing Jews were
, and all
Jews belonged to a sect called
. There were a few Jews that were righteous even if they didn’t wear
—Moses, for example, who took the Jews out of slavery thousands of years ago, and King David, and Abraham. That’s because there was no
yet in their days, so it really wasn’t their fault they weren’t one of us.
I never knew that such a wise, divine, and stubborn hat could kill; that it could build such a pure vision and then destroy it so brutally. All the Jewish men I knew wore a hat, and though not all of them wore the
, their sacred hats kept the world secure and warm.
There were many kinds of hats roaming the streets of Borough Park, where I lived. There was the taller, black fur hat called a
, worn by the
; there was the short, wide, brown fur hat, also called a
, worn by all the other
; and the bent-down—a regular, non-Jewish fedora of the 1950s that the non-
was the holiest. Its style was over one hundred years old and had begun in Poland with the founder of our
sect, the first
. He was a saintly man who had a direct relationship with Hashem. But then he died, and they found they couldn’t pass down his holy relationship with Hashem, so they passed down his hat and had a direct relationship with that instead.
was originally worn by all
during the harsh European winter. But then the
commanded that for the Jews to survive, they must set themselves apart from the world in every way. This was a fundamental belief of the entire
movement, and the clothing of that day became the
’s safeguard against all evil. When the Holocaust scattered them, they carried their style of dress overseas to the new lands of Israel and America in the form of the
and the long, black belted overcoat called a
, who were Orthodox but not
, came from Lithuania and also settled in large numbers in Brooklyn. Their dress was frozen in time too, but they wore the more modern bent-down hats and even ties.
Everyone knew that the
, being over a century older than the bent-down, was much holier, but my father always said that nobody could match the
’s intense devotion to Torah learning. It was they, he explained to me, who had turned every Yid into a potential
. We were the spirit and heart of the Jewish nation, Totty—my father—told me; the
were the mind. Together we form the soul.
My brother disagreed. He told me it was the
that were the holiest—in heart
mind. And he was already
, so he knew what he was talking about.
was so holy it was worn only on
. Every Friday evening, my father would carefully take down the tall hatbox from its sacred place in the walk-in closet in my parents’ bedroom. He would hold the
in the middle, then gently turn it around and around as he pulled it out so that all the fur would lie in one direction. Then he placed the hat on his head on top of the big black-velvet
—skullcap—and I knew that if King David had only worn the
he would have looked almost as tall and majestic as my father. He would kiss me
and leave to walk to
—temple. I would watch him out the window, his
bobbing regally down the street, until I could see it no longer.
was worn every single
, winter and summer. Even in the August heat of Brooklyn, the fur hat was placed faithfully on his head, and I knew that my father was not hot, because Hashem was somewhere inside the satin lining cooling him off.
The hat was completely holy because if a man was wearing it he carried Hashem on his head. It made the world a clear and safe place. And it taught me all I needed to know about right and wrong. If a man was wearing that hat he was right; if he wasn’t, he was wrong.
The goyim always made trouble. That’s why all the Y
lived together in Borough Park, where goyim were scarce. Borough Park, like all of New York, used to be filled with goyim, but then about forty years ago the Y
started moving in from the Bronx and Williamsburg and wherever else. Slowly at first, and then more quickly, the community grew. Every block had its own
, every group its own school. The original ten blocks the community had crowded into was stuffed and squeezed until it burst. So families began moving farther out, closer and closer to Flatbush. Eventually Borough Park was so big it took up the whole world. Well, maybe not, but it certainly filled up most of it.
Borough Park was not a beautiful place. My aunt from Queens called it The Ghetto. She said she didn’t know why
communities seemed to think there was an eleventh commandment that said, “Thou shall overcrowd and stack on top of one another, and there shall not be a blade of grass in sight.” But she was impressed by the way we all took care of one another.
“Why, Gittel,” she said to me, chuckling, “there must be two charity organizations on each block.”
I proudly agreed. I had never been outside of Brooklyn, but all Jews knew that Borough Park was the most holy Jewish place after Jerusalem. Hashem was right there, hovering in our midst, because that’s where all the
(and okay, even
were. There were other Jews who lived outside of Borough Park, and even outside New York, but there was no place like Borough Park. This was the center of the world. There were some other countries on the map, like China and Russia and Australia, but they were merely decorations.
The strange thing is I didn’t even live in Borough Park. I lived right near it, barely two blocks away, in Flatbush. Living two entire blocks away from Borough Park was a complicated matter, and I was the only girl in my class to do so. On the other hand, I was also the only girl in my grade who got to live in such a large white house, with a spire that reached the heavens, a chimney, and a garden all around.