«Jewish Observer»
August 2002
5762 Elul

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Recently I have happened to start talking to an elderly woman on a bench under a shady tree in the yard of the Zhytomir synagogue. An obviously former beauty, the woman had just marked her 80th anniversary and came to the synagogue to pray for all her nearest, dearest and friends - alive and those passed away. Her seemingly cheerful eyes concealed traces of a deep sorrow. She was aware her children, grand - and great grandchildren around a jubilee table is the result of her worthy life. She lacked her husband who had left the world several years before. She was grieving for her husband, but this grief was often joined by another one. They were madly in love - a young man Joseph and a girl-teenager Estherka. They went to the same school and shared the same neighborhood. Their love began in the very childhood. Joseph had left the school several years earlier. A slender stately youth, physically hardened in his grandfather's forge, he was called up to the Navy. And then... then a war broke out and fascists came. The life happened to separate them but a hope to meet each other in the unknown future remained. There were letter, lots of them, full of dreams... Joseph got lost, vanished in the fiery whirlwind of the war. Estherka passed through all those years with her failed dreams longing greatly for perished Joseph. She created her family with her beloved's cousin who remained safe after the war. Her husband, aware he was not her first favored one, could never forgive that, though their married life provided no grounds for jealousy. Past several years, when they already had two children, Joseph showed up... A one-legged culprit of war, he feared her pity, feared becoming a burden to her. After long treatment in different hospitals he left for a big Russian city where he was admitted, as a merited was veteran, to a law department of a higher institution. Only after three years at the institute, having established himself in life, he dared to come to his beloved one. But Esther, torn by enormous tortures of soul, rejected all his entreaties to abandon her husband. For her family's sake, for the sake of her children... Though, she went on keeping his letters. When the children grew up and her husband passed away, she would often open two caskets. One contains her husband's triangles in fine letters from the frontline, the other - similarly yellowed pages and the sole small photo of her beloved. Both caskets harbor infinite love. She reads and cries, cries and reads...

She herself finds it difficult to determine a true reason of tears: pain from a frustrated fate, grief for a passed-by love, sorrow for a loss of her husband she had been together with for so many, though not easy, years. Or, probably, because she has long not received greeting cards of a familiar handwriting, this time too. The children knew about a man their mother had lost her personal life due to. They loved their father and gave no thoughts to their mother's feelings being sure in her sincere attitude to him. After the jubilee festivity when all her children were present she decided to vent herself, "I don't know whether you will understand or condemn me but I would like to know if he is alive..."

The answer to the inquiry appeared brief and she accepted it as a verdict, "...resides not... Date of death ...". "He passed away long ago but for me he has been alive all this time", - occurred to her. And her lips whispered, "I regret...". For long onwards she was whispering as if weighing much in the past, "I regret..., regret..., regret...".

They both are alive in her heart. To go on living she at times opens one or the other casket... But never two of them at a go...

Such a sad story I heard from the elderly woman on the bench in the synagogue's yard.


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