When in a fight



My grandmother fought many fights. She fought against comic magazines. She never bought me a very much desired Mickey Mouse. She fought against my German and especially against my French accent. She was a great fighter, never giving up. But she also was a great believer. She believed in the Enlightenment, in literature, in progress and she believed till the last of her life that her family would come back from there. „There“ meant the camps. But while she and I waited, there was enough room for fights. She fought against Zionism. „I was born a German Jew“, she shouted and “ I will remain so.“ „What does a country in the nowhere mean to me?“ „Nothing“, she bristled with anger. Oh, how angry could she become. She would have made a great promoter for the haskala movement, the Jewish enlightenment in the eighteenth century, but all the Jews were gone whereas her anger still remains awake. She never visited a synagogue in her whole life.  But when she was a child many years ago she heard the men singing lai-lai-lai from the neighbored synagogue, her father never sang so, while her mother never ever would wear a wig. „Stetl“, my grandmother sizzled and shook her hat, every time her friend Shoshana visited her from Israel. She became religious, said my grandmother to me, shaking her head again in disgust. What a pity. Shoshana finished nearly every sentence with Baruch Hashem, but even worse, even like my grandmother born into a German-Jewish family, she gave up German after she returned from „there“. Gave German up for Hebrew. Unbelievable. Hebrew never became a language for my grandmother, it always remained a wild and unlogic mixture of syllables for her. I loved to play with Shoshana’s wigs, they smelled of oil, moth powder and a scent of lavender, the false locks, shiny and heavy under my hands. Shoshana wore long skirts and blouses, my grandmother just laughed but it never sounded funny. It’s all the Rabbis fault, she was sure. Alone her old friend Shoshana would never have had such ideas herself. The rabbi wore a black-hat, he was from the Ukraine for my grandmother it was the same as he would have been coming directly from hell. „Ukraine“ she cried, „no culture, no books, no life at all“. She was a Charedi now, said Shoshana and my grandmother’s face got dark of anger. „Traitor“ she said to Shoshana. „Gentile“, said Shoshana not less angry to my grandmother. And for a very long time, she and my grandmother did not speak with each other anymore. A few years later Shoshana came back for a last visit, the climate was icy and my grandmother stared at the long beard of Shoshanas husband. „Stetl“, she mumbled, and when he took her hands to ask „which one of us is to say the prayer“ my grandmother just remained silent, but it was the most uncomfortable silence to be imagined. Shoshana and her family never came back and my grandmother fought her fights again and again. It was a most and absolute helpless fight against a world and a „there“ that should have never happened. It was a fight she lost and she knew, she would but never gave up. But still today, whenever I am in Israel or in North West London, passing by a woman with a wig I sniff if the wig has a scent of moth powder, lavender and oil.

3 thoughts on “When in a fight

  1. How well you captured the fierceness of your grandmother whose „anger still remains awake“ and the wigs Shoshana wore smelling of „oil, moth powder and a scent of lavender.“ Beautiful writing.

  2. Well my grandmother was a very strong burt also a very angry woman. Sometimes very simple scents can wake up memories from very far away. Many thanks for your kind comment!

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