They buried my oldest friend this week. At least, I think they did. I’m uncertain because neither I nor any other woman was allowed to go to the cemetery. Her family belongs to a very orthodox Jewish sect and they have very rigid rules. NO WOMEN in the cemetery!
I did, however, attend the chapel service; we women were welcome there as long as we sat separately, of course, and did not speak and had no part in the ceremony. The other side of the aisle was crowded with heavily bearded men in black suits who talked freely. While I, too, come of an orthodox family, mine was American orthodox. My father was observant and clean-shaven.
The men said their Hebrew prayers and then, at last, a clean-shaven nephew, her executor, gentle in mien, offered brief praise in a eulogy.
What it must have taken to get them to allow him do that!
He was right. She was generous, loving, kind, thoughtful. She was also very sensitive, smart, fair, and she loved people.
A spoken eulogy is not necessary. My heart can offer its own farewell.
Old friend. It’s a long time since 1941, but I remember just how you looked when I first saw you in the Eastern District High School newspaper office. You had luxurious brown hair locked into two thick tight braids. That hairstyle in 1941 in Williamsburg and your absolutely correct, grammatical, slightly accented English marked you: refugee. I was a cub reporter; you’d already been there for a year. We became fast school friends though we never went to each other’s homes. We understood that our families would not like each other and would not approve of our friendship. We loved to read; we loved terrible jokes and bad puns and long walks and great music and the Andrews Sisters too. We never had any spending money.
We adored the gentle, smart English teacher, Seymour Risikoff, who advised the paper. And when the war came, he went and we missed him. And you moved in with his wife and small son as babysitter and that made it possible for her to work and for you to go to Brooklyn College (which was free). And when he died, we all mourned and you comforted.
And when my own family objected to my going to college, I followed your suit and found a job nearby as babysitter and I, too, went to college free! Through all those wonderful complicated difficult years we sustained one another and we prevailed. We went on to graduate schools, you to Columbia to study social work and I to Iowa to the Writers Workshop. Afterward, there was Greenwich Village and working and building our lives. I married and you eventually headed for California and made your life there. But you came back often to visit. You even visited us on an anthropological field trip in an East Indian village in the swamps of Trinidad, no running water and an outhouse. You learned on that trip how to make callaloo and a great chicken curry.
My dear good friend, knowing you enriched my life greatly. I believe that one day women will sit wherever they please and speak freely and go to college if they want to. Rest in peace.