BY: SUSAN SOFAYOV
Life-long Jewish friends Naomi, Miriam, and Becky are approaching middle-age gracefully and are content—despite a few hot flashes and mood swings—until life tosses each woman a crisis…
When Becky, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, learns of her only son’s engagement to a non-Jew, she rallies against the marriage and becomes obsessed with finding him a Jewish bride.
Naomi—whose husband left her for a man, crushing her small amount of self-confidence—is stuck with a dead-end job and a big house in a neighborhood filled with couples. She hates the loneliness of weekends and the empty side of the king-size bed.
Miriam, an only child of parents who were also only children, struggles with the fact that she has no blood relatives besides her children. She recognizes that it’s siblings who connect the past, the present, and the future, and the closest thing she has to sisters are Becky and Naomi.
Then a dusty discovery delivers a potentially lethal blow to their friendship. While two of the women fight to save the relationship, one desires nothing more than its demise.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Kiddush Ladies by Susan Sofayov, Naomi, Miriam, and Becky are life-long friends until a dark secret, discovered as they approach middle age, tears that friendship apart and destroys two of the women’s relationship. The other one is determined to bring her two friends back together and end this silly feud, but the one who feels betrayed is adamant and she won’t even consider any other explanation.
Sofayov has crafted an intense and poignant tale of friendship, loyalty, and pride that will have you weeping and laughing, sometimes on the same page. Very well done.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Kiddush Ladies by Susan Sofayov is the story of three Jewish women who have been friends since childhood, but when they’re in their forties, one of them discovers what she feels is a betrayal by one of the other women. This starts a feud between the two women and tears their friendship apart, leaving the third woman caught in the middle. The story follows these women through crises in their lives, as each one struggles to cope and come to grips with her situation in her own way. Before when something bad happened, the three women had each other to lean on, but now that solid wall of support has been shattered and no one is quite sure what to do about it.
The Kiddush Ladies gives us a glimpse into the life of Jewish women and how strong these women’s faith is. It’s a touching, thought-provoking tale that will warm your heart one minute and break it the next. A wonderful read.
If the soul of their small shul, B’nai Israel, rested in the sanctuary, its heartbeat emanated from the kitchen. Naomi always said that the service brought them to the synagogue, but the food and the lunchtime fellowship made them a community.
As she passed through the doorway into the stainless steel mecca, the tension in her neck and shoulders eased, just a bit. A brief respite from the loneliness and stress, which began each Saturday evening and peaked every Friday afternoon when she opened her wallet, praying her bank account held enough money to pay for groceries. Inside the kitchen, surrounded by her friends, life became more bearable. She didn’t feel alone.
Two of the four women who bore the bulk of the synagogue kitchen duties stood along the big steel worktable. In a rhythm honed over years, they chopped, diced, and sliced, preparing the kiddush luncheon for the congregation sitting inside the sanctuary.
Naomi washed her hands in the commercial-grade stainless-steel sink. The tepid water running over her dry skin reminded her of the empty tube of hand cream sitting at the bottom of her purse, and a quick glance at her chipped finger nail polish highlighted her inability to afford a manicure. While drying her hands on a paper towel, she made a mental note to buy nail polish remover.
She pulled her favorite knife from the drawer and moved to her post on the north side of the table. She opened a bag containing two dozen bagels, pulled out the first one, and began slicing, listening as her friends, Esther and Laurie, discussed a new type of quinoa salad.
The morning sunshine shone through the huge windows of the eastern wall. It reflected off the stainless surfaces, giving Naomi the sense that the kitchen was smiling. Across the room, lanky Miriam leaned against the countertop, sipping coffee and appearing bored with the subject. She joined them in the kitchen each Saturday. She didn’t help, just talked, which was completely okay with Naomi. Miriam never learned to cook anything more complicated than boiling noodles and opening a jar of tomato sauce. Her excuse, a long story told with the flourish of a stage actress, involved a traumatic childhood incident with a frying pan and a burn.
Naomi never believed her story. Miriam’s mother was a neat freak who didn’t allow Miriam to touch anything in her kitchen. A frying pan in Miriam’s hands guaranteed a grease-splattered stove top. In fact, her mother refused to allow Miriam to put ketchup on her own sandwiches until eighth grade, claiming ketchup would stain the countertops red.
Naomi laid the last sesame bagel into the napkin lined basket. As she turned to place it on the serving cart, she breathed in the warmth of the atmosphere.
“Somebody has to fish it out,” Laurie, the newest member of the group, said, gesturing with her head toward a giant jar of pickled herring sitting in the center of the table. “And it’s not going to be me. I did it last week. I’ll plate the lox after I finish this salad.”
Laurie’s voice pulled Naomi from her reverie. “I did it the week before. I think.”
“That’s not true, Naomi.” Esther lobbed a handful of egg shells into the trash can. “I got stuck doing it two weeks in a row.”
“Please, Esther,” Naomi said. “You know that stuff makes me gag. The smell…”
“Hey, Miriam, why don’t you plate the herring? You’re the only person who actually eats the stuff,” Esther asked.
“Really,” Laurie asked, plugging her nose. “How do you swallow that slime?”
At that moment, Becky strolled into the kitchen. She lifted an apron from the back of the door, pulled it over her head, and smoothed it over the front of her cream-colored Michael Kors suit. Then she placed her designer black hat on the shelf. “What’s going on in here?”
“The weekly herring fight. We’re trying to convince Miriam to plate it, since she actually eats it,” Laurie said.
Becky snorted. “That’ll be the day. She’d drag Joe out of the sanctuary and make him do it. I’ll plate the herring.”
Only Becky laughed at the zing. Laurie shifted her gaze from Becky’s face to the package of lox she held. Esther turned and opened the refrigerator doors. Miriam sipped her coffee. Naomi noticed the deepened furrows above her brow, the only sign indicating she felt the sting of Becky’s cooking statement. Naomi understood why Miriam put up with it, but she still didn’t like it. Miriam remained silent, as she had the last six million times that Becky threw barbs at her. Becky exploded, Miriam imploded, and Naomi negotiated the peace treaties between her two childhood best friends.
“Every week, it’s the same.” Laurie rolled her eyes and shook her head. “My husband does too many l’chaims with the Crown Royal and eats that disgusting fish. The minute we get home from the synagogue, he starts with the ‘Shabbat mitzvah’ talk. Ugh, I hate the car ride home because of his horrible fish breath. There’s no way in hell I’m crawling between the sheets with him.”
Naomi listened and struggled to fight off the pang of jealousy that swept through her. Fish smell or no fish smell, she wished she had someone willing to crawl between her sheets. She hated the empty side of her king-size bed, which her ex-husband, Jake, was kind enough to leave behind the day he hauled half their furniture down the steps and into a U-Haul.
The fish discussion ended. The women began updating each other on their plans for the upcoming week. Rosh Hashanah loomed only three days away. Esther grumbled while she doused Italian salad dressing into a bowl of romaine lettuce because none of her kids could make it home. Laurie tried to convince them to enroll in the new Pilates class at the Jewish Community Center, insisting it would burn off the extra holiday calories in no time. Naomi listened, unable to add anything to the conversation. Her life was as exciting as tying shoelaces.
Becky cleared her throat. “Did I mention Noah is bringing home a friend, who is a girl, for Rosh Hashanah?” The work halted as all attention moved from the stainless steel table to Becky’s face.
“You didn’t tell us he had a girlfriend! What’s she like?” Laurie asked.
“My bubbeleh with a girlfriend!” Miriam squealed, twiddling her fingers together in front of her chest, joy lighting her face.
“This is thrilling news,” Naomi said. “He never brought a girlfriend home before.”
Becky’s body stiffened as her gaze moved from one woman to the next. “Don’t get excited. She’s not a real girlfriend.”
Naomi recognized the stance–straightened spine, shoulders back and taut facial muscles combined with a lifted chin–as Becky’s I’m-really-pissed-off posture.
“What do you mean?” Esther asked, her words tinged with a Hebrew accent.
“Her name is Maria. She’s Catholic.” Becky harpooned a long knife into the herring jar. “I have nothing against having fun in college, but this is his third year of law school. Fun time is over. He needs to find a job and start hunting for a girl with wife qualifications. Besides, I’m not spending tens of thousands of dollars for him to be distracted by a shiksa, even if she is just a friend.”
Awkwardness polluted the space between them as the women continued working in silence. Naomi pulled a bag of bag of potato chips from a tall metal cabinet and emptied the contents into a napkin lined basket. While placing it on the metal serving cart, she met Becky’s gaze. The look in her friend’s eyes confirmed her fears. This girl wasn’t just a friend. Naomi ached to slice through the tension in the air, but couldn’t find the words. Instead, she moved to Becky’s side.
She placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Noah’s smart, and he’s a mensch. He’ll do the right thing.”
Becky reached up and patted Naomi’s hand. “You’re right.”
The Jewish social service agency where Naomi worked relied on community donations to achieve its mission. Each year the agency did a major fundraising push during the High Holidays. Her job description didn’t require her to engage in what she referred to as professional begging, but the completed pledge forms piled up on her desk.
She shifted her gaze from the computer screen to the five inch heap of forms. A feeling of disgust washed over her. Each moment of this job contained a handful of dirt tossed on the grave of her writing career, which died the day she accepted the position over twenty years ago. With each task she completed, the memory of her former dreams faded. Now, she could barely recall writing anything more than an email or an office memo. The journalism degree, lying at the bottom of the cedar chest that once belonged to her grandmother, was as much an antique as the chest.
The only word to describe her job was dull–assistant to the president, a glorified beck-and-call girl. She reached for the next pledge form on the stack, exhaled, and typed the name into the first line on the screen. The next hour consisted of pulling pledges from the stack and entering the information–pull, type, file, repeat.
The professional staff, including her boss, ditched out at noon, leaving the office empty and silent. Her boss wished her L’Shanah Tova, sweet new year, as he passed her desk on his way to the elevator. She hoped he would give her permission to leave early, but no such luck.
But, now the clock read four o’clock. She shut down the computer and grabbed her bag. At last, the work day was over, and the holiday would begin in a few hours.
Naomi smiled to herself, grateful it was starting on a Wednesday evening–four days off. She walked down the corridor, checking the office doors to make sure everyone remembered to lock them.
She checked her boss’s door last. Of course, it was open. Why would he bother locking it–trivial matters were her job. Before locking the door, she stood in the threshold of the office and remembered…
Pages of Help-Wanted ads spread across Naomi’s tiny kitchen table and reading them frustrated the hell out of her. There were no new listings from the ones she read last week. In fact, only two new ads appeared in the last six weeks.
She mailed resumes to every newspaper, magazine, and TV station in Pittsburgh–no reply. Journalism jobs were nonexistent, causing her to spend too much energy daydreaming about moving to a more exciting place like Los Angeles or New York.
After she closed the paper, she stared at Jake’s bare back, watching his muscles ripple as he washed the breakfast dishes. Most of the time she complained about their postage stamp sized kitchen, but there were moments when it wasn’t so bad. She inhaled the musky scent of his cologne while running her finger down the length of his spine. Instead of the motion giving him chills, it made her shiver.
Jake turned, wiped his hands on the towel, and opened his arms. Naomi rose from the chair and let him engulf her. No place on Earth was better than being in Jake’s arms.
“Naomi, maybe you could take a temporary position until a reporter job opens. And if you don’t have a job in journalism when I finish medical school, we can move anywhere you want.”
They desperately needed the money. He spent every waking hour in class or studying. She knew that keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table depended on her. Student loans only went so far, and neither of them wanted to move in with her parents.
“Okay, Jake. I’ll find something to hold us over. But promise me, it won’t be forever.”
The phone on her boss’s desk rang, pulling her from memory lane. No. She shook her head, pushed the lock button in the center of the knob, and pulled the door shut, letting the phone continue ringing.
The bus came late, and by the time she reached home, her son, Ezra, had finished showering. “Hurry up, Mom. We’re gonna be late.”
They were spending the first night of Rosh Hashanah with Miriam and Joe. Kitchen phobic Miriam always hired a chef and a waitress to oversee special events. Naomi never said it out loud, but eating holiday meals at Miriam’s house made her feel like she was living the life of the rich and famous.
She stared into the closet, deciding what to wear.
“Speed it up, Mom,” Ezra yelled from the bottom of the steps.
She smiled while reaching for a navy silk blouse and a camel colored skirt. When her older son, Josh, lived at home, he would rush through his shower to be the first person dressed. He loved to complain about his slow-moving parents. Now, Ezra continued the tradition and grabbed every opportunity to repeat the admonishments she dished out to him on school mornings when he over slept his alarm.
She missed Josh. Since the holiday started on a Wednesday evening, he couldn’t come home. It would be too hard to make up two days of missed classes. He stayed at Penn State and planned to celebrate the holiday with his cute girlfriend. They met at the Hillel Jewish Center on campus freshman year and had been together ever since.
Miriam greeted Naomi and Ezra with outstretched arms. “L’Shana Tovah!” she said, before slapping a pink lipsticked kiss on Ezra’s cheek. Naomi closed the ornate oak and lead-glass front door behind them.
Miriam led them to her huge cherry-paneled dining room. “Hurry, everyone is having cocktails in the dining room. Joe wants to start in a few minutes.”
Naomi breathed in the scent of apple strudel and brisket that permeated the house.
A lanky teenage boy dressed in black pants and white shirt extended the tray of miniature sushi rolls balanced on his palm as they entered the room. Naomi reached for one and popped it into her mouth. Ezra plucked two rolls from the tray and struck up a conversation with the waiter. From what she could overhear, the discussion revolved around a “completely stupid English assignment.”
She nudged Ezra, who was still chewing and engrossed in the waiter’s opinion. “Talk to him later. Let’s go.” She pulled him by the hand toward the far side of the table.
A couple of the guests already sat in their assigned seats, but most lingered around the perimeter of the room, finishing their cocktails and munching on hors d’oevures. She knew from experience that Joe’s family took up eight of the twelve chairs. Miriam suffered the misfortune of being the only child of two people who were also only children. She didn’t even have a cousin, which was the reason Naomi never turned down her holiday invitations. Tonight, she and Ezra played the role of the family Miriam lacked.
“It’s time to start,” Joe announced, and the guests moved to their spots.
He gestured for Ezra to sit on his left and indicated that she should sit on his right, between Miriam and his older brother, Simon.
Simon had a great smile and a permanent impish twinkle in his eyes. For a brief moment, until his wife gave her a slight wave from across the table, she found herself wishing he was single.
Joe rose from his captain’s seat, at the head of the table, and everyone followed. He lifted the silver kiddush cup. It reflected the soft light from the crystal chandelier hanging high above their heads. In a clear voice, he chanted the blessing over the wine. Rather than passing the cup around the table for each person to sip, he pointed to the pre-filled tiny silver kiddush cups sitting at each guest’s place setting.
Joe passed his cup to Miriam, watched her take a sip, and then kissed her cheek. “L’shanah tovah, sweetheart,” he said.
Miriam leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Happy New Year, my love.”
Naomi smiled in admiration of their relationship, bashert–a true match made in heaven.
“Time to wash.” Joe led the group to the kitchen, filled the two handled ritual washing cup, and recited the Hebrew blessing while pouring water over his hands. One by one, all twelve of the guests repeated this act.
When they returned to the dining room, the blessings continued. First over the challah they dipped into honey and then the apples. She loved listening to his deep baritone chant the ancient words. But she was even happier when the waiter finally served the first course–gefilte fish, served with a dill sauce, Israeli salad, hummus and cucumber salad, a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions. She flipped open the burgundy linen napkin and set it across her lap, excited to begin the feast.
As they ate, Simon and Joe launched into stories from their childhood. It didn’t take long for her and everyone else at the table to become absorbed in the hysterical images their words conjured. She couldn’t stop laughing when Simon told a story about getting caught stealing doughnuts from the back of a delivery truck. He stood, waving his arms to imitate the driver, screaming in Yiddish, as he chased him and Joe down Murray Avenue.
“Don’t even think doing something like that,” she mouthed to Ezra who rolled his eyes in response.
Joe could barely contain his own laughter while telling a story about a poker game gone bad. On a hot July night, he, Simon, and a few other friends were playing poker and drinking beer behind the high school. When they saw flashing lights approaching, they all started running. Joe thought he made a clean get away, until he tripped over the curb and heard his ankle crack. The police found him, with his beer can still in his hand, and called for an ambulance. His parents met him and an underage drinking citation at the hospital.
The crowd laughed through the first course and continued until the matzo ball soup bowls were removed from the table.
The more wine they drank the louder the laughter grew, until the main course was served. The crowd went silent while eating the melt-in-your-mouth brisket and an overabundance of side dishes. As much as she hated doing it, Naomi stopped eating before all the food on her plate was gone.
She turned to Miriam. “This is the point in the meal where the entire group should either run around the block or do a group nap.”
“Run now and nap after dessert.”
As if orchestrated, the moment Miriam finished saying the word dessert, the waiter pushed a cart of apple strudel into the dining room. The waitress trailed behind, carrying an artfully arranged fruit plate. She leaned in between Naomi and Miriam and set it on a trivet in the center of the mahogany table. Once it was perfectly situated, the waitress walked to the buffet and picked up two silver pots of steaming coffee.
“It’s lovely!” Simon’s wife said, stabbing the silver serving fork into an out-of-season piece of honeydew.
The lanky waiter slipped a slice of the powdered sugar covered strudel in front of Naomi.
“Regular or decaf?” the waitress asked from a point behind Naomi’s shoulder.
“Decaf,” Naomi replied, inhaling the rich scent. It tasted even better than Starbucks. “Miriam, what kind of coffee is this?”
“Jamaican Blue Mountain.”
Naomi nodded, appreciating Miriam’s love of luxury, and her ability to afford it.
“I hope everything went okay at Becky’s house tonight,” Miriam whispered into Naomi’s ear halfway through dessert.
Naomi shrugged. She wanted to be optimistic and believe the girl really was just a friend. Unfortunately, Becky’s expression and Naomi’s intuition said otherwise.
“I’m going to call her after everyone leaves,” Miriam whispered.
Naomi shook her head. “Don’t–you’ll see her tomorrow.”
Miriam reluctantly agreed to contain her curiosity until morning.
The evening ended with hugs and well wishes for a sweet new year. Naomi and Ezra were the last to leave. Miriam escorted them to the door. Ezra gave his “Aunt Miriam” a big hug before lumbering to the car. Naomi kissed Miriam’s cheek and whispered, “I love you and thank you.”
The joy of the evening must have overwhelmed Miriam. As Naomi stepped back from the kiss, she glimpsed tears escaping from Miriam’s eyes. Naomi hugged her friend again.
The next morning, Naomi woke early, a bit hung over from the wine and massive amount of food. Streams of sunlight, shining through the sliding glass door to her deck, greeted her when she entered the kitchen. The beauty of the day should have made her smile, but instead it emphasized the fact that her windows desperately needed washing. She opened the door and walked onto the deck. The sun’s rays burned hot, like a July afternoon, not a September morning. She sniffed the air. The wind didn’t even hint of fall yet. A perfect morning for walking to the synagogue. She took a few sips of her coffee and watched two rabbits nibble clover in the backyard…
Naomi gingerly lifted the omelet from the pan whispering to herself, “Please don’t burn, please don’t burn.” She flipped it and exhaled when it didn’t break. This was a special Shabbat breakfast, not their usual bowl of cereal and coffee.
She loved Saturday mornings with Jake.
He stood behind her, nuzzling her neck. “Wow, that looks awesome.”
She turned and smiled. Then their lips met briefly.
“What’s the occasion? Omelets don’t usually make the menu.”
“Do you want coffee?”
He stepped toward the cabinet. “Of course.”
Quickly, she reached over and playfully pushed him toward the kitchen table. “Sit. I’ll get it for you.”
Jake followed her instructions and sat down, smiling. She opened the cabinet, pulled out a mug that read “World’s Greatest Dad “and set it in front of him. She waited–no reaction from Jake. Her pulse quickened as she dumped the omelet from the pan to the plate. “How’s the coffee?”
“Good. Really hot.”
Naomi placed the plate in front of him and retrieved a mug from the cabinet for herself.
He held the mug at eye level. “Hey, where did you get this mug? A garage sale?”
The look on his face said it all–clueless. Time to be direct.
“Read the words,” she said, excitement pounding through her.
They had been trying for a baby for months.
He woke up. His eyes widened. The smile on his face and in his eyes said everything. He whipped his long, lean form out of the chair and swung her around. “Really?”
“Baby Feldman! When?”
He kissed her hard, picked her up, and headed toward the living room. Two hours later, the omelet ended up in the trash, and the clock said it was too late to go to the synagogue.
The two rabbits lost interest in the clover patch and hopped away. She went into the house. The clock above the stove read eight-thirty. Synagogue services began at ten.
Time to wake Ezra. She climbed the steps, walked a few feet down the hallway, and banged on his bedroom door. “Get up, get up.”
She kept pounding until her disheveled, lanky, son opened the door.
“I’m up,” he croaked. “Now, I’m going back to bed.” He turned and closed the door.
Naomi pushed open the door. “No, you’re not. Get dressed. If we don’t get there early, I’ll lose my spot.”
He smashed the pillow over his head. “You’ll live.”
“Fine, I’m walking without you. But don’t complain when you get stuck sitting in a folding chair against the back wall.”
He tossed the pillow to the ground. “Fine, I’m up.”
She smiled. Ezra always sat next to Becky’s son Noah. Like her, Ezra hated when someone took his spot.
The one-mile walk to the synagogue was the best time of the week to talk to him, a distraction-free twenty-minutes–no phone, no computer, or homework. Surprisingly, for a teenager, he still seemed to enjoy talking to her. Today, he babbled excitedly about his senior year in high school and college applications. Then the subject changed. “Do you think Sarah will go to the prom with me?”
“I don’t know, and you won’t know until you ask her.” She tried to hide her smile. The idea of him taking Laurie’s daughter to the prom sounded like a great idea.
“What if she says ‘no’?”
Naomi bumped her shoulder against his. “Ask, that’s all you can do. If she says no, I’m sure it will be the end of life as we all know it.”
Ezra shook his head. “Fine, I’ll ask, but not until April.”
They walked across the parking lot, looking at the strange cars belonging to people who attended services twice a year–Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They entered the vestibule. Naomi stopped, but Ezra continued walking. He opened the heavy glass doors to the sanctuary, stepped inside, and pulled the special Rosh Hashanah Siddur from the bookshelf.
As Naomi adjusted her cloche black hat, the fingers of a hot flash crept up her neck. “Damn,” she mumbled under her breath. Why did she even bother with the makeup? One hot flash sent it rolling down her cheeks with the sweat. She turned away from the sanctuary and headed to the ladies’ room.
As she wiped the sweat from her upper lip, sadness washed over her–menopause. Between it and the gray hair, she felt old. Why didn’t that son of a bitch, Jake, walk out when she was thirty-five? Then it might have been possible to find someone else. In a year, Ezra would go to college, leaving her with a dead-end job and an empty house, in a suburb populated by couples. She scrunched the tissue in her fist and slammed it into the flapping lid of the trash can.
When she finally entered the small sanctuary, her mood lifted a bit when she saw that her seat was still empty. She settled into her chair and shuffled through the pages of the siddur until she located the prayer the rabbi was reading.
When the door opened, she twisted to see who arrived. Esther, wearing the new hat her mother sent from Israel, kissed the mezuzah attached to the door frame before entering sanctuary. She grabbed a prayer book from the shelf then headed to her regular seat. A few minutes later, the door opened again. This time Naomi looked back, did a slight wave, and pointed Laurie to the seat beside her.
Laurie slid into the seat and smoothed her plaid jumper. She taught third grade at the local elementary school and occasionally wore her “school clothes” to shul. Naomi leaned over, held out her siddur, and pointed to the page number. Laurie glanced at it and nodded before quickly flipping through the pages of hers. Within seconds, her friend’s clear voice joined in the prayer, chanting along with the rabbi.
Fifteen minutes later, Miriam waltzed into the room, greeting Naomi and Laurie with air kisses before taking the seat next to Esther.
Naomi continued glancing back at the door every few seconds.
A half hour passed–no sign of Becky. Odd. Becky always arrived first during the High Holidays, often beating the rabbi. She staked out their spots and shot vicious looks at anyone who tried to sit in them.
Naomi elbowed Laurie and gestured with her head toward the double doors at the back of the room. The two women walked out of the sanctuary into the vestibule. Once the glass doors closed behind them, they turned toward each other.
“Where is she?” Laurie asked.
“I don’t know,” Naomi replied, shrugging. “Ezra and I went to Miriam’s for the first night. I didn’t call Becky this morning because I just assumed I’d see her here.”
They began hypothesizing reasons for Becky’s absence. Tired? Sick? Just running late? Naomi looked into the sanctuary and noticed Esther holding her index finger in front of her mouth. Naomi mouth the word “sorry.”
“Come on.” Naomi pushed open the windowless wooden door of the kitchen and stepped inside, immediately spotting Becky, standing in the back corner, staring out the window, crying.
Naomi rushed to her side. “What’s wrong?”
Becky fell forward, pressing her head against the plate-glass window, and began sobbing–body-racking sobs.
“Sh, sh.” Naomi patted Becky’s back the same way she consoled her sons when they were toddlers, but her friend’s tears didn’t stop.
“He brought her home to meet us because he’s marrying her.” Becky spoke the words, but they were barely audible. “She already has a ring on her finger.”
Laurie shook her head, staring at the floor. “It can’t be.”
Naomi didn’t know what to say, so she reached around Becky’s waist and tried to pull her close. Becky pushed her arm away, rushed to the sink, and clenched the rim of the stainless steel bowl. For a moment, she rocked back on her spiked heels. Then, with a shudder, she let go of the sink dashed to the refrigerator and yanked open the double doors. After one loud exhale, she slammed them shut.
Naomi feared the look of madness glazing her friend’s eyes.
“Yes, it can be.” Becky moved back to the sink and pounded the stainless steel draining board with her fist. “He’s marrying her.” This time her words came out as a shriek.
“Oh, my gosh,” Laurie said. But it sounded more like a loud exhale than formed words.
The door swung open. Miriam glided into the room. Her eyes flitted from face to face. “What’s going on in here? A meeting and I’m not invited?” She continued walking unaffected to the coffee pot.
Naomi couldn’t move or speak. Laurie stood next to Naomi, shaking her head and biting her bottom lip.
Miriam, Styrofoam cup in hand, finally turned to face her friends. Her smile faded as she became aware of their stunned expressions.
“Noah is marrying a shiksa.” Tears rolled down Becky’s cheeks as she spoke the words.
Miriam rushed to her, wrapping her long arms around Becky. Within moments, Miriam sobbed in tandem with her lifelong friend.
Naomi couldn’t look at either woman, meeting their eyes would trigger her own tears. She stared at her shoes, remembering…
The nurse removed the blood pressure cuff from Becky’s right arm and strode out the door. Naomi sat on an old metal chair, holding Becky’s left hand, as a monitor beeped over their heads.
“Why, Naomi? How many more times can I go through this?” Becky asked, between sniffles. She hadn’t stopped crying since Naomi arrived at the hospital three hours earlier.
Miriam dozed in the high-backed chair against the wall. She’d spent the night. Naomi searched for words to console Becky. But how could she say things like next time, or you can try again, after four miscarriages? If only David would agree to adopt–such a hard head. Who cares about the genes, just get a baby. Naomi stroked her friend’s hand. Becky looked away.
The sound of Becky’s voice wrenched Naomi’s mind from the memory. “I have to stop him,” Becky said. “My son will not marry a shiksa. I’ll find him a good Jewish wife.”
A week later, Becky strolled into the sanctuary with a girl. A single Jewish girl who just happened to be of prime marriageable age. The young woman wore a dress that was a bit too slinky for a synagogue service. It was obvious to Naomi that the young lady spent a lot of time applying what the magazines called “smokey eyes.” Her lips were precisely outlined with a dark mauve lip liner and filled in with a lighter mauve lipstick. Naomi watched as the young woman tried to peak between the cracks in the mehitza–the great divide that separated the men’s side from the women’s–to get a look at Noah.
When the setup for lunch began, Becky dragged the girl over to Noah and pointed to the seat across from him. The girl sat down, leaned forward, and began chatting with a young man who obviously found the lox and bagels more interesting than her words.
“Look at that poor girl,” Naomi said to Miriam. “I bet Becky failed to mention that Noah was engaged.”
“Do you think he’s figured out what his mother is doing?” Miriam asked.
Naomi shrugged and continued watching the young woman employ all her wiles to get Noah’s attention.
It was a struggle to focus on the conversation between her friends. Her eyes continued to float down the table toward Noah and the girl. A half-hour later, she watched as Noah finished the food on his plate, swiped the napkin across his mouth, and stood up.
“Nice to meet you,” he said.
The young lady wilted like a flower when Noah turned and walked out the door. No request for her phone number or email address.
She was the first in the parade of young women, Becky dragged to shul under false pretenses. Naomi hated listening to Becky describe tapping into all of her email contacts and Facebook friends. Rock bottom occurred when Becky began contemplating the idea of creating a page for Noah on JDate. The insane hunt went on for months.
“Enough, Becky,” Naomi snapped while dishing out hummus. “The wedding is scheduled. They’re getting married in the spring. Stop bringing these girls. Do you hear me? That young lady sitting all alone out there is the last one. No more. Noah loves Maria. Can’t you get it? And these poor girls, you drag them here like they’re baby dolls for Show-N-Tell. It’s cruel–just plain old mean and selfish. They get all dressed-up and made-up, believing Noah wants to meet them. When they get here…Hell, it’s worse than going to a single’s bar and having no one hit on you. You’re probably crushing their egos!”
Silence bounced off the stainless steel appliances. She looked around the table at the rest of the women, waiting for someone to speak–to back her up. Ironically Laurie, the only convert in the group, broke the silence, but not with the words Naomi hoped to hear. “I’d kill Sarah if she brought home a non-Jew. I want Jewish grandchildren.”
“Let it go, Becky.” Naomi shook her head in disgust. “He’s going to marry her.”
© 2016 by Susan Sofayov