I was at a Labor Zionist meeting the night my mother died. We danced an ecstatic hora, whirling and stomping until the walls shook in empathy.
Teenagers, we were starving from stomping, so we stopped at a deli and made a great show of tossing coins into the table’s center, the kupah that guaranteed no one would go hungry for lack of money.
The February snow in Michigan crunched under my boots; tiny cloud breaths like cigarette puffs preceded me. Every window in my house blazed as if for a party.
Everything, for which I had escaped to my meeting, the camaraderie, and the warm hands around my shoulders, vanished.
I knew my mother was very sick, but death was a stranger to me. Slowly I made my way up the carpeted stairs to her room.
She lay on her bed, hair bound in a white cloth, a faint smile on her lips and a bubble of saliva overlooked when the women washed her. Winter billowed the curtains at her open window, and a brother would sit at her side through the night.
The triple mirror of my mother’s vanity was shrouded, some say so the spirit of the dead won’t encounter itself as it leaves the body.
The next day we began the formal shiva, seven days of mourning. I readied myself, wearing a plaid school dress, and I waited for my Zionist friends to arrive with awkward condolences. But not a single one of them came.
Several weeks earlier, I had been introduced to a young man outside the Movement. He came to call in a belted storm coat, a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology under his arm. His name was Jack. My Zionist friends laughed when I called him “so bourgeois,” our favorite epithet for anyone not committed to life on a kibbutz.
So guess who came to sit with me every day of the mourning? My bourgeois friend, Jack, came, and each day he brought me a little present to amuse and distract me from the seven days of confinement. I only remember one of those gifts, a cunning cigarette rolling machine with tissue-thin wrappers, loose tobacco, and a final product, a fat cigarette.
Jack chatted up my mother’s grieving sisters and brothers, even my bewildered father and my two brothers, aged six and twelve, now half-orphans. My mother had been 40 when she died.
I never went to live on a kibbutz. Instead, I married my Jack six months later when the official mourning period ended. That was in 1948. This year, 2019, we celebrated 71 years together.
Faye Moskowitz is an author and professor of English and Creative Writing at George Washington University. Jack Moskowitz died on June 3, 2020 at the age of 93. He and Faye had been married for 72 years.