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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder): The Loving and Devoted Husband (Zalmen Pt. 7)

The Loving and Devoted Husband (Der liber un getrayer man)

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: 224-227.
Translated by Caroline Luce, edited by Hershl Hartman.

I once again encountered here that woman with the sad and angry black eyes. I encountered her near an Odessa restaurant on Temple Street.
You know whom I mean. I mean that small woman who cursed me on the train on my journey to Los Angeles, because I was alone, because she imagined that I had abandoned my wife and had run off to California, as her husband had done. She stood on Temple Street near the Odessa restaurant and peered into the face of every man who passed by, to see if perhaps it is the brigand who left her some years ago. When she saw me, she turned away her face in scorn. She apparently still believed that I also had abandoned my wife and escaped to California, living here high on the hog.
The place she had chosen to look over the migrant men was one of the most feverish quarters of Temple Street. Yiddish language dominated here, just like a Jewish shtetl in the old country. People here sold everything that the Jewish stomach might crave and be homesick for: various salty and peppered treats, kosher meats, home- country breads, even hand-stuffed cigarettes filled with Turkish tobacco. But the main attraction was a market of live chickens. Big shops, many crammed with cages of chickens, and nearby a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], who did the deed right there on the spot.
But by the time I arrived in Los Angeles, Temple Street was losing its birthright as the Jewish market-center, and young Brooklyn Avenue, which they’d just begun to pave at the time of my arrival, began to grow and before long was soon the street and a mother among Jews in Los Angeles. And when I say mother I mean a mother of the old country, who bakes bread and cookies with the tasty flavor of home, and who pickles cucumbers and tomatoes in the same manner as her mothers, grandmothers, and great- grandmothers. In a word, to such a street one came to buy all such foods as one had eaten at one’s mothers’.
I will reveal the truth: all those good homey things that one might obtain in the stores on such streets, I had not really tasted with my mother in our poor home, except a little bit of herring here, a crumb of halvah there, and other such trifles. I first began to taste the full measure of all those flavors after I got married to my wife Goldie.
I went to the Odessa restaurant on Temple Street because people had told me that you could really get the true taste of a home-like meal there, and it was cheap too. Around eighteen or twenty cents for five courses.
The proprietor, a buxom woman with a ruddy face and beaming, piercing brown eyes, who had also managed a restaurant in Odessa, somewhere in the Moldovanka area, greeted me with a loving warm smile. There were few diners then at the restaurant, so she sat down next to my table and struck up a conversation. She of course asked me immediately where I came from, and what I did, and I said to her that I was a cobbler and came here with the inclination of saying here, and she began to forcefully persuade me that I really should stay here. Every one here in Los Angeles with whom I happened to talk tried to convince me to stay. I myself, some months later, tried to persuade newly-arrived people to stay here. I imagine that it was the same way some hundreds of years ago when Jews had just migrated from Germany to Poland and they immediately began to bring over more Jews, and tried to persuade every newcomer to stay there and even helped him with what they could.
But I have already run on too long. I want to tell you about the woman who stood outside peering into the face of each passing man to see if he was not her husband. And then as I sat and ate and I talked with the proprietor of the Odessa restaurant, we heard screaming and yelling outside. We ran out; a crowd had already gathered, and in the middle — the same woman, who was holding on tight to the jacket coattails of a terrified man, crying:
“Jews, here is the bandit, my husband, my Vigder.”
He, whom she identified as her man, her Vigder, holding him tight by the coattails of his jacket, was struggling desperately, and protested that she had made a mistake, that he was not her husband, and that his name is not Vigder, and that he had never seen her in his entire life.
And the Jew, who was supposedly called Vigder, was an entirely stately man, except that his eyes seemed to be somewhat crossed. He was elegant and tidily dressed with a finely trimmed little beard.
In the end, a policeman came running up and escorted them both to the police station to clear up the matter. Two days later, I found out that in the police station they really did clear up the matter and that he really wasn’t her husband, and that he wasn’t called Vigder, rather he was called Abe, but why the mix up then? He had the same tell- tale sign as her husband — he looked a little cross-eyed.
I later saw the same woman on Brooklyn Avenue, and near the entrances of meeting halls, continually standing for hours and hours peering into the face of every man.
Time went by and she was not seen anymore. I actually inquired about her, but no one knew what had happened to her in the end. Then, years later, I was sitting one time with some “old timers” and talking about those years in Los Angeles, and I mentioned the woman, and one of them said that he was her landsman and knew what had later happened with her. She had indeed found her runaway husband, but in the cemetery. She had met someone here who knew her husband, and that person told her that he was already long gone to the True World. And just as she had stubbornly searched for him among the living, now she began searching for him among the dead who lacked tombstones. She eventually found her husband, placed a headstone there and ordered it to be engraved with the following words: “The Loving and Devoted Husband, Vidger Ben Sorah, who left this world so young.”
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