Michal's Destiny, p.1Roberta Kagan
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Copyright © 2016 by Roberta Kagan
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events are purely coincidental.
A Jewish settlement in Eastern Siberia, June 12th, 1919
Fifteen-year-old Michal Habelowsky sat on the bed in the room she shared with her sister, Rachel, and studied the beading on her wedding dress. The dress had been handed down through four generations of women in her mother’s family. Michal knew that the tiny beads had been painstakingly sewn on by hand. It was a beautiful dress, modest enough to wear standing under a chuppah (wedding canopy) in front of a rabbi. She had only three hours of freedom as a single woman remaining before she would see the man her father had chosen for her to marry. Avram Lippman was his name. He was seventeen years old and apprenticing as a shoemaker. That was all her father had told her about him, nothing more, not the color of his hair, or if he had a gentle temperament. She took a deep breath and wished that she could shake the feeling that she was about to be trapped, caged, forever. But she dared not refuse the marriage, dared not ask any questions. Her father’s violent disposition was a secret in the village where they lived. No one suspected that he ruled his wife, son, and two daughters with an iron fist. If Michal had protested his choice of husbands, he would have beaten her until she agreed. Even though her father was a religious man and he knew that the religious text firmly stated that his daughter should have the final say in whether she would marry the man he chose or not, in his own house, Soloman Habelowsky made the final decisions, and no one dared to ever question his choice. For Michal, the only good thing about being married was getting away from her father. After all, from the time she was a child, she had been told that Jews did not marry for love. That was not something she was groomed to expect. Jews married for practical reasons. Most of the girls that she had grown up with spent their time dreaming of their future husbands. When they had a few moments to talk amongst themselves, the girls would giggle and talk about the characteristics they hoped for in a future groom. It was an honor to marry a Talmud scholar or a rabbi. Of course, for most of the girls in this small village it was a dream that would never be fulfilled. In order to marry a learned man, one would be required to support him so that he could continue his studies. The only girls able to provide such a life were girls with rich fathers who were willing to support their sons-in-law or send their daughters to school to become teachers, thereby enabling them to provide for their families. Since they were very young, the girls knew that the most important expectation of them would be to bear many children. Michal was different from the others. Sometimes her mother would worry and say, “Michal, stop being such a dreamer. You sit staring out the window and I wonder what it is that you’re thinking about.”
“I’m wondering what God has in store for me. I want so much more than what the other girls seem to want. I would love to go to exotic places. Maybe someday even Kiev or Saint Petersburg.”
“Michal, listen to me. You will live here in our village, have children and raise them, just like my mother before me and her mother before her. It’s a good life.”
Michal nodded. She didn’t care that her father didn’t have enough money for her to marry a rabbi; she had no desire to spend her life serving a pale scholar who sat studying the Torah all day. And after he’d sat in shul (synagogue) for hours, he would come home and she had better have his dinner ready, serve it to him, have all of his clothes washed, and the children fed. It was a high price to pay for bragging that she was married to a scholar. Michal also held secrets in her heart. No one knew that she had done things that were forbidden, things that filled her with guilt and shame. Like an impious woman, she had allowed strange feelings towards a boy, Taavi, to crawl into her mind. If only her father were a different type of man, she could have told him that she would have liked him to make a match for her with Taavi. Taavi was only the son of a carpenter and his father’s apprentice. He was no better or worse than a shoemaker. The match would have been acceptable, within her grasp, in fact. Except for her father. The father she’d dared not ever question. The first time Michal saw Taavi she was at the market buying produce. As she was choosing tomatoes from a street vendor, she glanced into the open door of Taavi’s father’s shop. There he was, deeply immersed in carving the legs of a chair, his forehead lined with seriousness as he carefully whittled the wood. A horse whinnied, distracting him, and he looked up; she turned her head just at the same moment and their eyes met. A strange feeling came over her. It was so coincidental, the way they’d both looked in the same direction at the very same moment. Michal was dr
Tonight she would lay beside her husband and fulfill her wifely obligations as her mother had explained them to her earlier that day. The very thought of what she must do terrified her. To allow a man to penetrate her body frightened her. Would it be terribly painful? What if Avram Lippman was just as rough a man as her father? What then? Her father was not only harsh, but his fits of anger were unpredictable. An accident such as spilling a glass of milk could send him into a frenzy. However, when she’d lost her grandmother’s mezuzah (a piece or parchment with specified Jewish verses from the Torah in a decorative case hung by an exterior door as a sign of faith), she was terrified that her father might be so livid he would kill her, but he wasn’t. In fact, he’d been kind and sympathetic. His inconsistency only made him more fearsome. She hated that her father made her feel weak and inconsequential, but she hated to see her brother mistreated even more. Her father had reduced her brother to a sniveling nervous boy who bit his nails and could not concentrate on his lessons at the yeshiva (Jewish institution focused on religious texts).” When the rabbi came to talk to their father concerning the fact that her brother was having trouble in school, her father had promised the rabbi to talk with her brother and help him to find out what he needed or what was bothering him. Instead, once the rabbi was out of sight, her father had beaten her brother until he promised to study harder and never to bring such shame upon the family again. If only she could postpone this marriage for another six months, or maybe a year … But there was no postponing; tonight she would be married. She had already been to the Mikva, where she had spent an hour going through the prenuptial rituals. The Mikva lady had greeted her then escorted her to another room where the woman cut Michal’s nails of both her fingers and toes. Next Michal was instructed to try to relax in a tub of warm water before being inspected by the Mikva lady. Inspection was required before entering the holy Mikva bath. Michal was embarrassed, as she had never been naked in front of anyone before. The Mikva lady seemed used to this behavior from young brides. So, she just smiled and quickly finished the inspection. Once Michal was deemed ready, she was led to the bath. Three times, Michal had been fully immersed in the water all the way to the very top of her head. Three times because the word Mikva is mentioned three times in the Torah. She’d repeated the blessings after the Mikva lady, as she was instructed, and then she was allowed to dress and leave. The experience left her unnerved as she walked home on wobbly legs. It had been uncomfortable exposing her body to an old woman. If that had been difficult, tonight, when she would lie with a man, would be horrific. Her heart pounded with anxiety when she thought about what the next several hours would hold for her. Tonight she was expected to perform an unspeakable act with the stranger who was to become her husband.
Again she thought of Taavi, of his bright laughing eyes, which were the color of amber, of his smile. Would she feel differently if it were Taavi she was meeting under the chuppah tonight? Michal couldn’t help but wonder if Taavi was betrothed already and, if so, which of the girls in the village would be his wife? The idea of him marrying someone else struck a nerve, and Michal felt tears sting the back of her eyelids. Right now, she hated her father for not even considering her feelings in his choice. But no matter what her new husband, this man whose name she knew was Avram Lippman, was like, she would belong to him. And he would be free to do with her as he pleased for the rest of her life.
Avram Lippman sat outside on the back stairs of the yeshiva with his friend Eleazar. They were taking their lunch break before they would return to their studies. A cool breeze embraced the leaves of an old oak tree. The boys were enjoying the summer weather. It was sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit, and beautiful days like this were rare in the frigid lands of Siberia.
“Are you nervous?” Eleazar asked.
“Yes, of course. How can I not be nervous? Nu*? Tomorrow my life will change forever.”
“What will you do if she is ugly?”
“Eleazar? What’s the matter with you? If the rebbe (rabbi) heard you he would be very disappointed. You can’t judge the heart of a person by their physical appearance.”
“Oy, Avram, you forget who you’re talking to. I’m your best friend. For years, we tell each other everything. Today, you can’t be honest with me?” Eleazar said.
“All right then. Of course it is important to me. If she is ugly, I will have to look at her for the rest of my life. Getting married is a monumental event. It’s even a little bit scary. Next it will be you.”
“I know. My father has been hinting that he might have a possible match for me.”
“My heart pounds when I think that tomorrow, for the first time, I will see the face of the woman who will be my wife and bear my children. For months, I have thought about her before I would fall asleep at night. Will she be kind? Will she be easy to talk with? Maybe … will I even be able to love her?”
“A woman is a wife, for bearing children, not for love. You sound like a goy.”
“I know. But you are my best friend. You are the only one who will ever know the secrets in my heart, Eli. So I am telling you. I want that maybe I should have love in my life the way that the goyim do. It is nice to think that a wife is not just a wife, but a companion, even a lover.”
“So, I was right, the goisha (non-Jewish) books that you have been reading have been putting crazy ideas in your head. You want a romance. Oy, Avram a romance can be nothing but trouble. Just look at all the problems the goyim have with their marriages. Infidelity. Oy vey.”
“Since I know you will never tell anyone my secrets, I will share something with you … Yes, it’s true; I do want a romance, a love story.”
“You should stop these crazy thoughts before you get yourself into trouble.” Eleazar shook his head.
“Yes, maybe you’re right. But how should I do that, Eli? It’s my heart that wants this, not my head.”
“You’re expecting too much. When you see her, if she doesn’t meet your expectations, you are going to be very disappointed. There is a possibility that you won’t like the way she looks at first. But, Avram, it doesn’t matter. You have to do what is expected and, in time, you will get used her. That’s what everyone says. You know this as well as I do.”
Avram nodded his head. “I know. I know you’re right.”
But all through the afternoon, Avram’s thoughts drifted to the following day when he would be married. As he walked home from the yeshiva, he whispered her name softly, “Michal Habelowsky, Michal.” She bore the name of the first wife of King David. Would she be as lovely? Eh … he should stop this right now; Eli was right, what if she was not attractive at all? Well, no matter what happened, he would have to get used to her anyway. There would be no going back after the wedding. Suddenly, he felt his stomach turn. He’d created such a fantasy in his mind that he’d been sure that he was going to be happy in his marriage. But, while creating this illusion, Avram had forgotten the possibility that he might not like his new wife. Today, Eli had brought that to his attention, and now Avram was quite terrified. After all, he was not a scholar and was certainly far from rich. In fact, he had been training in his father’s shoemaking shop for the past two years. He was to be a humble shoemaker in a small village. So, what kind of a shidduch (arranged marriage) could he expect? If he was to be truthful with himself, he could assume she would not be pretty or smart. But he could hope that at least she would be kind. Even that was not guaranteed. What he could be pretty sure of was that she would be from a lower class family and all of the attributes he had given her in his dreams over the last several months would prove to be nothing but daydreams. Now Avram began to allow his imagination to run away with him. He saw
Still, he was ashamed to admit it even to himself but, more and more as he grew older, and then especially when he turned seventeen, something had happened inside of him that made him like an animal. He had become hungry to do the things that a man and woman did in private together. When he thought about that desire that had taken hold of him, he felt ashamed. And because of that shame, he had never spoken of these growing needs to anyone, not even his best friend Eleazar. In fact, something had come over him and he had sinned against himself. After it was over, he felt sick and swore to God he would never do it again. But then, almost against his will, he repeated the sin. When the need of this sin came over him, he felt that he lost control of right and wrong. He knew better; he knew it was wrong to spill his precious seed without the possibility of a child being created. But then that driving desire would come over him and, although he knew he would regret his actions, he still repeated the sin.
Late in the night before the day of his wedding, Avram tried not to think about the upcoming marriage. Since his conversation with Eli, the thought of the permanence of being married had become repugnant to him. There were too many possibilities of a lifetime of misery.
In the morning, Avram and his father went to the synagogue to say their prayers. Then, as was expected of him, Avram began to prepare for his wedding.
Evening was upon them. Tonight was the wedding.
Once Michal was dressed and ready, her mother came into her room. She was a timid waif of a woman, with darting eyes that were always filled with trepidation. She was like a prey animal, gentle, frightened, and ready to run if the predator appeared.
“You remember what we talked about, Michal?” her mother said, softly caressing her daughter’s cheek.
Michal's Destiny by Roberta Kagan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes