“Born Only Yesterday, and Already She Speaks Like a Perfect Mensch”

12.14.17

Dear Dianne,

I think this is the 4th time I’m reading Meshugah. It was originally serialized in the Yiddish Daily Forward. Because I’m reading it with you, and because Hedy is on our minds, in our hearts, I am paying more attention to the voices, the dialogue this time around. I marked the following passages, see what you think. Imagine twenty-five-year-old Hedy amidst such characters in NYC in 1949!

MA= Max Aberdam
AG = Aaron Greidinger
IS – Irka Shmelkes
M = Miriam
P = Priva

“Don’t be frightened, I haven’t come back from the Great Beyond to strangle you!” MA

“I’m alive, I’m alive.” AG
“You call this living?” MA

“My friend, I may have lost everything, but a bit of sense I still have. Though I’m in debt over my head, I owe nothing to the Almighty: as long as He keeps sending us Hitlers and Stalins, He is their God, not mine.” MA

“Where have you been all during the war?” AG
“Where have I not been? In Bialystok, in Vilna, Kovno, Shanghai, later in San Francisco. I experienced the full range of Jewish woes.” MA

“In all America you cannot get a decent cup of coffee. Hey, waiter! I ordered coffee, not dishwater!” MA

“In New York I found I was home again—they are all here, our people from Lodz and Warsaw.” MA

“I live on pills and faith—but not in God but in my own crazy luck.” MA

“Most of my clients are women, refugees from Poland who haven’t learned to count in dollars. They were driven half-mad in the ghettos and concentration camps.” MA

“The world is turning meshugah. It had to happen.” MA

“How many troubles I’ve endured because of these infatuations, and how much sorrow I‘ve caused only He knows who sits in Seventh Heaven and torments us.” MA

“A visit from Aaron Greidinger himself! For her you’re only one rung below the Almighty.” MA

“You can divorce a wife, but with an institution you are stuck. She swears that in Russia she stood in a winter forest at twenty degrees below zero and sawed wood.” MA

“Don’t joke, Max. My thoughts at night are poison.” P

“She came here after the war, in 1947. She speaks an excellent Yiddish. She knows Polish and German and speaks English without an accent. What she has lived through she will tell you herself.” MA

“Every Jewish family in Poland has its own saga to tell. But we ourselves are mad, and are driving the world to madness. Taxi!” MA

“These people are careful with their money, but they are also stingy—frightened that today or tomorrow famine will spread over America.” MA

“Our Jews are always the first in the line of fire. They simply have to redeem the world, no more and no less. In every Jew resides the dybbuk of a messiah.” MA

“People who have known hunger consider food the greatest blessing.” MA

“Our Yiddish men of letters do not respond to their mail. Some of them, perhaps, cannot afford the postage.” IS

“Flowers again? Oh, I shall have to kill you!” M

“I want you to know that I’m your greatest fan in the whole world. I read every word you write.” M

“How do you like that? Born only yesterday, and already she speaks like a perfect mensch.” MA

“Well then, I am done for already. What do they say in America—my goose is cooked. Let him say about me whatever he wants. After I’m dead you can both cut me up and feed me to the dogs.” MA

“I was nine at the time and reading Yiddish books. My mother scolded me. She said, ‘If you keep reading these books, you’ll grow old before your time. You may also forget Polish.’ I promised not to read them, but as soon as she left my room I returned to them. Whom did I not read? Sholem Aleichem, Abraham Reisen, Sholem Asch, Hirsch Nomberg, your brother Segalovich.” M

“I asked you what it was that you wanted to be?” AG
“What did I not want to be? Rockefeller, Casanova, Einstein…” MA

“I don’t know how it is with you, but I am quite willing to do without God, His wisdom, His mercies, the whole religious paraphernalia that goes with Him.” MA

“Really, Max, you are wrong. We Jews must never entertain the notion that there is no morality in the universe and that man may do whatever he likes.” M

“I did it in remembrance of my parents and my heritage. One can be a Jew without believing in God.” MA
“If God were to grant me one wish before I die, I would ask that you and Max move in with me, so that we three could be together.” M

“You are too young to be speaking of death.” AG
“Too young? I have stared death in the face for years.” M

“For me the whole world is an insane asylum.” AG
“For these words I must kiss you!” M

“I read everything I can find about Jews and Jewishness. I am especially fond of Yiddish. It is the only language in which I can express exactly what I want to say.” M

“You left Poland in the thirties, but I went through all the seven hells, as my grandmother used to say. If I could tell you what I experienced, you would not need to invent things.” M

2 Comments

  1. There was a time when I devoured IBSinger’s stories and also Native American stories. I found stories from other cultures enjoyable and enlightening. Once when camping out West I met a Jewish woman who was going to the Mesas to visit traditional Hopis as she felt that in the distant pas t there was a cultural relationship between the Jews and the Hopis. She was quite an interesting person. This is all from a long time ago.

  2. There was a time when I devoured IBSinger’s stories and also Native American stories. I found stories from other cultures enjoyable and enlightening. Once when camping out West I met a Jewish woman who was going to the Mesas to visit traditional Hopis as she felt that in the distant pas t there was a cultural relationship between the Jews and the Hopis. She was quite an interesting person. This is all from a long time ago.

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