(cross-posted on My Machberet)
Every once in awhile I read a book that, as the cliché goes, “speaks” to me. It’s a book I am grateful to have discovered and purchased, a book I will reread for years to come. It’s a book whose nearly every note–historical, emotional, stylistic–strikes some chord within me. It’s a book that, as a writer, I wish I could call mine.
Last week I read one such book: Margot Singer’s prizewinning collection of linked stories, The Pale of Settlement.
You can learn more about Singer and her extraordinary work at Nextbook, among other places.
But here’s a single paragraph, from the third of the book’s nine stories (titled “Lila’s Story”) to give you a sense of why I’m so enraptured.
So you could say that they survived, but they were not survivors, not exactly, not in the new sense of the word. They were never in the camps. They never had to hide out in a gentile’s barn or forage in the forest with the partisans. They were not displaced persons—not officially, anyway—even though they were among the refugees, the dispossessed. They were immigrants, among the lucky ones. Lila had packed their belongings in trunks and crates—a wooden angel that had hung over her boys’ crib for luck, an oil painting of the Weinerwald, her dolls, her gilt-edged dinner service for sixteen, a Gallé table lamp, their goose-down quilts, the bedroom set her parents gave them when they were married, several reels of sixteen-millimeter film containing footage of ski trips to Kitzbühel and Zürs, her jewelry, a gold watch, her silverware engraved with her initials, a box of photographs, thirty-two Moser crystal goblets—and they set sail for Haifa, as if they were going on a holiday. They were Europeans, not exactly Zionists, but there was no escaping being Jews. Now they were yekkes, German-speaking Jews, with their poor Hebrew and assimilated Prussian ways. They were always punctual, drank Kaffee mit Schlag in the merkaz cafés, kept their jackets on even in the stifling summer heat. The old Russian socialists, who had been in Palestine for generations, made fun of the yekkes, of their stiffness and bewilderment and fear. Everyone was talking about the new Jews, the pioneers, which all their children would doubtless be. The posters showed blond, blue-eyed, snub-nosed kibbutzniks grinning in the sun. The yekkes had never seen Jews like these before. These boys and girls had sun-bronzed skin and calloused hands. They worked the land. They would fight back. They would show the world.