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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder): Oranges (Zalmen Pt. 3)

Oranges (Marantsn)

from Zalmen the Cobbler: Chapters about his 70 years of Life in America (Zalmen der shuster: kapitlen vegn zayne zibtsik yor lebn in Amerike) by Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder). Los Angeles: Chaver-Paver Book Committee, 1955: 208-211.
Translated by Caroline Luce, edited by Hershl Hartman.

After so many years in California, I am still in awe of the golden fruits, which keep growing so simply in Los Angeles, even in the yards of poor people.
It’s likely because of the first orange that I tasted in my life many, many years ago in my childhood. I was sick, I don’t remember with what, so my father the cobbler brought me an orange whose aroma filled the entire household. My little brothers and little sisters gathered around with big eyes and looked on as my mother peeled the orange with great ceremony. I, the sick one, the chosen one of the house, so to say, sucked down an entire half orange. My mother divided the second half between the rest of the family so that they could make a blessing over it. But the peel, however, was as precious as the orange itself. My mother took the peel and squeezed a drop of juice into each of the children’s eyes, as an assurance of good eyesight. Afterwards, she set aside the peel in a saucer in the little kitchen cabinet until it was well dried out, and Friday she ground it up and added it into the dough of the khale [challah].
You may therefore well imagine my wonderment when I caught sight of entire groves of trees running past the train window, branches laden with oranges that looked like round pieces of gold among the dark green leaves. The leaves of the oranges are somehow always dark green.
And even greater was my wonderment, when, at with my landsman Noah the Baker’s, on Ganahl Street, I found an orange tree growing in his front yard, as well. I stayed for the first few days with my landsman Noah the Baker on Ganahl Street. He owned a small wooden cottage — a bungalow, they call it — and resided there with his wife and two year old son. The little one had been born in Los Angeles.
And precisely as the orange tree in the yard of this poor little cottage was a wonder to me, so too was my landsman Noah himself.
Noah had been a baker in New York, lived with his wife in a tenement house somewhere on the East Side, and all his years in America he was an angry man, a pale and angry man. In our tiny little shtetele [townlet], he wasn’t angry; quite to the contrary, he was a very cheerful man, my friend. But when he arrived in America and began to work in a bakery, he become an angry man. I realized that because he had to sleep by day, not by night, he was angry at the world. And perhaps he was also angry because his wife had not borne him any children. Meanwhile, the years kept passing by and, in Nashville, I would hear news of my landsman Noah, that he had become still more pale, still more angry, and they still didn’t have any children. Later I heard in Nashville that the baker had caught a serious cold and developed sick lungs, and for that reason had quit his job and went with his wife to Los Angeles and that in Los Angeles his wife, who had been thought thought of as a permanently barren woman, or that he was a permanently barren man, had given birth to a child. We, his countrymen, were totally astonished and concluded that the climate of California was conducive to having children.
I fell in love right away with his child, a little boy of two years. Such a handsome boy, with golden curls, laughing little blue eyes, and chubby little legs. They were already a pair of old folks, my landsman Noah and his wife. Her hair was already going gray, like a dove’s. Noah himself I could not recognize, not only because it had been so many years since we had seen each other, but I didn’t recognize him essentially because he wasn’t an angry man anymore. I never imagined a smiling, contented Noah.
And just as much as he was proud of his baby, who was born in California, so too was he proud of the orange tree that grew in his yard. Right after he had brought me to his little house on Ganahl street and first of all showed me his baby, he then took me outside to the yard to show me his orange tree.
In Los Angeles, he hadn’t gone to work in a bakery; instead, he bought a horse- cart and began peddling vegetables and fruit. Back home we had been very close friends, and here in Los Angeles, sitting on a bench in the yard opposite the orange tree, somehow our friendship of old was reawakened. He told me with joy about his suffering in New York. He hated everyone in New York, he told me, even his own wife, all on account of the fact that when the sun shone outside, he had to be asleep. And when he became sick in New York and couldn’t work at the bakery any more, he still couldn’t sleep a wink all night, because he had grown so accustomed to sleeping during the day. It was only when he came to Los Angeles that he was able to sleep at night. He slept so well that when he would wake up everyday before sunrise, he wanted to kiss the entire world, especially as the golden oranges on the tree shone through the window into his bedroom...
I, too, slept through the entire night. Oh, how I slept! In Nashville, you can’t sleep so well on account of the mosquitoes. The wire screens we fit into the windows couldn’t save us. Somehow the mosquitoes got through at night and drew blood from us. My Goldie had to place little bits of cotton dipped in kerosene near the windows.
Yes, here in California I slept so sweetly.
When I woke up in the morning after my first night in California, I was amazed by how fast the night flew by.
And then, when I awoke, the golden fruits of the orange-tree came shining in on me through the window, and my heart became filled with great love and I, too, wanted to kiss the entire world. But here I had no one to kiss, as my Goldie was far, far away in Nashville, and I sat myself down and wrote her a letter, in the following words:
“My Dear Wife Goldie:
You smell to me like the golden oranges on the tree in my landsman Noah the Baker’s yard. You will ask me: how can I smell, when you know that my nose has been completely clogged the past few years. So I will reply that here in California, it opened up for me. Oh the aroma, so delightful, in this land. One should only live to see it when it isn’t a necessity. That is, one should travel to California not only when one is sick and needs it as a remedy, but also really when one is healthy."
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