For Chaya Under a Blanket of Earth
Tonight, I am an American
tourist having the most authentic
Israel experience of all
– Hamas missiles from Gaza.
In no real danger, in Tel Aviv,
I wait nervously for the siren,
strain to hear the whistle of incoming
bombs. Burrowed under too many
blankets, I strive to be casual
like an Israeli, not the soft American
I am. Sleepless and sweaty,
I count the cars that go about
their business undeterred, listen
to voices of people enjoying an
evening by the sea.
Yesterday, at my cousins’ table,
as they plied Steve and mewith
salmon and bourekas, I learned
that during WWII, the family fled
Kiev for Tashkent. And that Chaya,
my cousin’s grandmother, died there,
was buried under a blanket of earth
in a mass grave. I studied her
picture, this great grandmother
I never knew, she looked familiar,
my mother’s face in her. As I lie
in bed, I think of her, pray to be strong
for Chaya, strong enough for whatever
part in Jewish history is coming my way
this long restless night.
After my divorce, since I don’t drive, friends told me there was a kosher
butcher who would deliver to my neighborhood miles across Brooklyn.
On the phone, he asked no questions about me, didn’t care if I was religious
or even kosher. The next day, a Russian looking delivery guy rang my bell,
grunted, and handed me a brown bag of meat as if it was a drug drop.
Dave called me every week. “Mrs. Rob? This is Dave da butcheh.”
Rob was his version of Robbins. He called my boyfriend Mr. Rob,
even when a different boyfriend answered the phone. Do you want
a “hengah” he would ask, suggesting a hanger steak or “I have a deckle.”
I never did learn what a deckle was. Delicately, he referred to chicken
breasts as “cutlets.”
After I remarried, my husband and I visited Dave at his storefront,
in Sheepshead Bay. As we expected, it was a small shop with sweet
smelling sawdust on the floor. I had pictured a little guy with a newsboy cap
but Dave was handsome with perfect posture, neatly trimmed white hair.
Under his apron, he wore a spotless white shirt and tie, a gentleman
butcher. He was from Romania and came to the U.S. in the 1940s.
Of the butchery he survived, he didn’t speak.
He brought out fresh breaded chicken wings at no charge, made us eat them
right away while they were warm though it was eleven in the morning.
He was a man with a calling.