The Ties That Bind Us
By Shani Eichler
Her mother placed a bottle of water on the table. Her blonde hair was tied in a ponytail and her fingernails were freshly polished. Rebecca had come over to talk to her parents, but as usual, her mother was hogging the spotlight.
“Did you hear?” her mother asked. “Another one. They’re just going around attacking Jews on the streets now. It’s disgusting. Don’t you think it’s horrible, Rebecca? Something needs to be done. You know, I was speaking with Lena at the supermarket earlier and she’s not even sure she feels comfortable sending her kids to Hebrew school anymore. Can you imagine? Not even our kids are safe.”
Rebecca’s father shook his head. He had always been a man of few words. Forty years as a successful litigator had taught him the power of being silent.
Rebecca reached for the glass water bottle. It was a four-decade-old family treasure. Before that, it had sat in a thrift shop. Her mother still called it a ‘find’ and swore it was worth something. She liked to believe all her ‘finds’ had a story. “It’s a piece of history,” her mother used to say. “And now, so are we.”
“I told your father he should start wearing a cap instead of a kippah,” her mother said. “But I’m not sure that’s right. It’s not like he could go to work in a baseball cap. Plus, we shouldn’t be hiding. What do you think, Rebecca? Have you spoken to your friends, are they wearing ball caps instead of kippah’s?”
Rebecca brought her cup to her mouth. She didn’t have anyone to ask about the kippah / ball cap dilemma. Rebecca hadn’t been religiously observant in years.
“I came to say something, Mom” Rebecca said.
“Oh right,” her mother replied. “You did say that when you asked to come over. You’re always so official—you know you could always just stop by. I actually just heard from Sandra that her married children come over all the time.”
Rebecca’s father placed a hand on her mother’s wrist. She fell silent.
“What is it?” he asked.
Rebecca felt nervous. She loved her parents and they had raised her well. Rebecca never had to worry about being taken care of. But her parents were tough, and Rebecca didn’t know how they would take her news.
“I’m engaged to Allen,” Rebecca said. “We’re getting married.”
Her mother froze. “No, you are not.”
“I am,” Rebecca answered. She kept her voice even. Rebecca knew her mother wouldn’t be happy, she had been prepared for this. But Rebecca was twenty-seven years old; she didn’t need to listen to her mother anymore.
“There are stabbings, Rebecca,” her mother said. “You aren’t marrying that man.”
“It’s terrible,” Rebecca answered. “But that man is Allen, and he has nothing to do with it.”
“He’s one of them,” her mother whispered.
Rebecca stopped. She reminded herself that she had expected this.
“One of them, Mom?” she asked.
“They are trying to kill us, Rebecca. You are either a Jew or you are one of them.”
Rebecca could feel herself begin to lose control.
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked. “You have a profile for Jew haters?”
Her mother’s eyes locked with hers, “don’t be so naïve, Becky. You can spot them from a mile away.”
Rebecca groaned, “I don’t even want to understand what you’re insinuating.”
Her mother leaned back in her seat and turned towards her father. For as long as Rebecca could remember, he had always been their mediator.
“Have you thought this through?” he asked. His tone was even, but Rebecca could tell he was having a hard time. She wanted to cry. Rebecca wanted to run and hug her father, the way she used to as a child.
“I have,” Rebecca answered.
“Is he going to convert?” her mother asked. “What will you do with your children, will you raise them Jewish? Is he religious? What if he wants to raise his children in his religion? What is he, Christian? I will not have Christian grandchildren, Rebecca. I mean honestly, what is the plan?”
“I don’t know yet,” Rebecca said. “We only just decided to get married.”
Her mother folded her arms over her chest and began to tap her fingers. Her brown eyebrows pulled together. “How could this happen? I spent my entire life watching over you, I didn’t even send you to public school. Do you know how much private school tuition costs these days?”
Rebecca’s lips fell into a pout. “This isn’t something that just happened, Mom. I fell in love.”
Rebecca had started dating Allen three years ago. She had been a young intern fresh out of med school and he had been the only doctor not to yell at her. For the first four months, Allen claimed he was too old for her. But Rebecca spent every shift they shared trying to convince him that wasn’t true.
Rebecca thought back to when she told her parents about Allen. Her mother cried like she had announced she was dying. It took her seven months before she spoke to Rebecca again—she still hadn’t met Allen.
“Relationships are built off way more than just love, Rebecca,” her mother said. “Dad and I wouldn’t have made it a year if we hadn’t wanted the same things.”
“But Allen and I do want the same things,” Rebecca insisted. “We both want to be doctors and have children and think that politicians are good for nothing other than their own egos.”
Her mother shook her head. “You can’t do this, I won’t allow it.”
Rebecca’s body tensed. Her mother didn’t have the right to ‘not allow it.’ Rebecca was an adult!
“I’m not asking,” Rebecca said. “I’m telling. I was hoping you would be happy for me.”
“Be happy for you?” her mother asked. “I can’t even believe you! I mean, what do you think would happen if there was another holocaust? You really think he wouldn’t sell you out. You know, with all the anti-Semitism lately, this is really something you should be thinking about. Allen isn’t Jewish, why would he sign up for this voluntarily?”
“I cannot believe you are asking me that,” Rebecca said.
“Why?” her mother asked. “Don’t you think he would protect you?”
Rebecca blinked back tears. She never felt so attacked before.
“Yes Mom,” she whispered. “I think he would protect me.”
Rebecca’s throat felt thick. Allen loved her. He loved her as much as she loved him—more than anything. Allen didn’t care that Rebecca was Jewish and he would never let her die because of it. She had chosen a simple man. Their first date was made up of two-dollar snacks from the hospital vending machines. Rebecca was ready to start her life and she wanted to do it with Allen.
“Becky, you need to understand,” her mother said. “You’re my daughter.”
Her mother reached her hand across the table and Rebecca stared at her open palm.
“Then let me live my life,” Rebecca answered. “Support me.”
Her mother closed her palm and pulled her hand back to her side.
“Enough with the pity party Rebecca, it’s really not becoming of you. You know, we’ve always supported you. God knows how many ballet recitals we sat through over the years. But what you’re asking is for us turn our backs on every belief we have raised you with. We can’t just look the other way on this.”
Rebecca started to cry. She felt torn between herself and her parents.
“We want you to be happy,” her father said. The sound of his voice brought comfort to Rebecca; he had always been her safe place. “But we are your parents, not your friends.”
Rebecca watched her father. He was crying and it terrified her. The only other time Rebecca had seen him cry was after his mother had passed away.
“If you want to be with Allen, then you should be with Allen,” he said. “But you cannot ask us to be okay with it.”
Rebecca stared at her father. He sounded harsh, nothing like his usual self. She struggled to breathe. She didn’t understand why her parents were so angry. They had left the Ultra-Orthodox world years ago. Her mother had gotten to calling her old friends ‘fanatics’ and making fun of anyone who still believed full time Torah learning was an education. To this day, her mother refused to put on a skirt.
“You call them crazy, Mom,” Rebecca said. Her voice cracked.
Her mother looked over at her, wiping away her own tears. “I only say that because I’m one of them.”
Rebecca watched her father push away from the table. His hands were shaking. “I love you,” he told her. Rebecca held her breath, waiting for more.
Her father lifted himself up from his chair, his eyes avoiding Rebecca’s.
“Joe?” her mother asked.
Rebecca watched her father. He turned his back towards her and slumped forwards. Slowly, he walked away. The room stood in painful silence as the truth settled. The ties were broken.