A Secret Grave 157: A Person of the Book

 

The truth was that Betsy couldn’t stand one more minute in the small, cloistered house of their step grandmother, Hattie. The old woman telling her what to do, trying to act like a parent. The rules. The airlessness. The smells of kitty litter and stale food. The horror of having to behave as if everything was okay. Worst of all, the advances of their mother’s ex-husband, Hattie’s son, who ogled Betsy whenever they were in the same room and sneakily pinched at her breasts and bottom. Yes, she knew Janet would face the same problem with the ex after she left. But Janet had a better relationship with Hattie, whom she actually really liked. And Janet, at fourteen, needed the security of a home where she was cared for, had her own bed, and a relative who looked after her, calling the shots.

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hattie

Hattie with Betsy’s little brother Donny

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Betsy, on the other hand, was about to start a journey into the unknown, and there was no way she could bring an adolescent with her. Her plan was to return to Detroit, where she had lived happily until she was thirteen before her mother had moved them to New Orleans. She had kept up with her old BFF, Cindy Radnor, over the years and wanted to find her. She figured the Radnors, whom she had known since birth, were her truest family and would help her out with love, advice, and possibly even money once she arrived at their house.

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betsy-cindy

Betsy (left) & Cindy, IMG_3584, Sean Sheridan, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

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Only that’s not the way it turned out. The Radnor house still existed, but the Radnors themselves had moved to Florida. Betsy visited their old synagogue to see if she could get any details. Oh the joy of attending a service! The familiar sight of men in their prayer shawls, davening, and beautifully dressed women with frilly little handkerchiefs covering their hair, reciting prayers in Hebrew – Hebrew! A language she actually still remembered – how she loved the sound of the words – and the cantor with his soaring voice, and the rabbi on the bimah talking of love and generosity and the importance of learning. Betsy, who was staying in a cheap motel and wearing her best clothes, a black skirt and sweater with a string of fake pearls, was brought to tears by the wonderful familiarity of it all: the majestic sanctuary, the elegant congregation, the smells of expensive perfume, the sound of voices raised in prayer, the sense that in this place of worship one would be safe forever and the mysteries of life would be explained logically, one by one, by a rabbi reading from the Torah.

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bimah

around the bimah, Karen Green, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

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On that day, in that service, she realized she wasn’t a poor black girl whose mother had been murdered and who had only $458 saved up from a crummy job at a dry cleaner’s; she was a Jew, a person of the Book who spoke Hebrew and was trained in the ways of her religion. Now all she had to do was figure out how to move forward.

 

To be continued…

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Cover photo ~ https://jewsdownunder.com/2017/03/29/oz-torah-torah-reading-vayikra/

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