Элинка (elinka) wrote,

Шаббат шалом

Avital's article finally published.

Талечка порадовала публикацией статьи в The Jewish Week. В нашем городе газета появится только завтра, поэтому перепечатка из сети:

Over Tea And Sunflower Seeds
by Avital Chizhik

It’s funny. Sometimes the uneven street of little White Lake, N.Y., seems smoother than the wide, modern avenues of the New Jersey suburbs. Maybe it is the summer sun that caresses the asphalt or the little feet of children playing that make the surface less sharp. Or maybe the village men’s cigarette smoke melts it or the smell of baking kulyebakas and frying blintzes softens the road.

It was on this little road that so many of my childhood memories formed. Seven years ago my mother decided it was high time we children had a dacha, a summer cottage, just like she did in Ukraine. A month in the mountains would give us just enough fresh country air to last us the year; if
we looked at enough greenery our eyes would become brighter and the sun would make our skin golden.

And so we found a private bungalow in the Catskill Mountains — just around the corner from the lake and crowded Russian colonies, giving us both a social life and some relative privacy. The rather spacious two-bedroom cottage, which we would return to every year, with a large kitchen and lovely deck to the side, at first seemed small, compared to the suburban proportions we were used to.

And it wasn’t just the bungalow that was strange; at first we felt like we were dropped onto an alien planet. We had seen these loud babushkas and their Gucci-parading daughters on trips to Brighton Beach, but never in such large doses. Mornings, we were awakened by the eccentric Russian sculptor’s rooster crowing from across the street. Evenings were spent gossiping over tea and sunflower seeds and listening to the latest imported pop from Moscow.

We quickly adjusted to the familiar Runglish thrown around in the street, “Da, Mama, I’m coming home, odnu minutku” and the tough Brooklyn kids who raced each other down the street. It was a novelty to have friends with the same heritage, where the Russian culture wasn’t exotic anymore, just a private joke.
Our side of the lake teems with characters: our landlady, a Russian peasant-type who built her house with her own bare hands, the Satmar chasidic women who power-walk in beat to their Yiddish chatter, and the sick beggar who asks for clothing donations for his girlfriend and scares all of the children away. The tiny, local shul’s rabbi is constantly running between colonies desperately looking for a 10th man among indifferent Russian Jews.

Much of the social life in the mountains takes place on the veranda. Social calls with tea and berries, Shabbat meals with political discussions and divrei Torah, Saturday night parties with loud music and salad dips. We learned to spend all of our time outside, spending lovely afternoons with our grandmother and great-grandfather who stay around the corner from us, watching the grazing deer and swaying trees, creating badminton tournaments and playing with the landlady’s husky dog. When we’d return to Highland Park, N.J., a month later, we’d laugh at the unnecessary luxuries of home — living rooms, TV, air conditioning. Everything was so much nicer and simpler in the mountains.

Those who appreciate the simplicity of the mountains the most are the older generation who don’t like to step foot outside of these holy verandas. It’s easy to get confused about where you are when you pass by the verandas and hear the Moscow satellite TV playing and see the floral housecoats waving off the clotheslines—you forget that this is the Catskills, not the Urals.

The parents, the middle generation, only come up to the mountains on Friday nights
once the work week is finished to return to waiting children, grandparents and nannies. After a week of working as business managers, doctors and lawyers, it’s time to relax by the pool and drink margaritas while the kids splash around. And Saturday nights, once the kids and grandparents are supposedly asleep, the real party starts and out comes the vodka and music. The verandas of the bungalow colony’s elite fill with cigarette smoke and laughter as the night unfolds.

And then there is the youth, the “new” generation, who watch their parents revel and laugh at how silly they are and how these parents don’t even know the beginning of what a real party means. Days are spent hanging around at Candy Cone, playing ping-pong and endlessly flirting. Most Russian teenagers would rather speak English than their mother tongue and to them, pizza is much more appetizing than herring or borscht. The older people sigh as they watch their children stroll and drop their heritage like a glove onto the street. Is this why we came to this America? So the children would forget the richest and most beautiful language in the world? They shake their heads sadly.

Like the typical product of two cultures I had trouble connecting with my Russian heritage. I wanted to be like my American yeshiva friends, wear long polyester skirts and run around with lollipops from the shul’s candy man. Yet I was stuck with my long braid and short jumper. I often complained to my parents that the other kids teased me for not being American and how I tearfully insisted that no, really, I was born in Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J. And as I deliberately spoke Russian less and less often, my tongue had to work harder to form the silent vowels. My mind had to be quick to snap a charming joke in a language that had grown rusty in my mouth.

It’s ironic that just when I finally blended in with the other yeshiva kids, I began to understand the old Soviet songs and literature. Maybe it’s an acquired taste because after spending those first summers in the mountains, the culture of my parents was no longer some antediluvian past of colorless photographs and guitar-playing nonconformists, but a thriving culture that was never more alive. The more time I spent those summers engulfed in the culture, the more I began to appreciate it. By now I’ve come to love the black humor and the language’s rolling “zhs” and “rrrs”. When someone turns on the nightclub music, my heart catches and I’m swept away by the beat, the movement, the breeze.

Yet just when I enter this society I’m surprised to see that with all of my well-intended appreciation, I’m different. I’m the religious girl, the one who doesn’t drive one day a week and who wears skirts and eats according to a strict diet. Daily prayer? Fanaticism. Such backwardness, such old-fashioned ways of the shtetl, the older generation clucks its tongue. I want to tell them that it’s different, that one day a week is set aside for rest, for gleaming candlesticks and chillingly beautiful song. That skirts are a symbol of dignity. That strict dietary laws enhance food, that prayer completely transforms my day.

The images and sounds of these colorful summers are overwhelming. I sometimes find myself desperate to get away from all of these petty problems, these scandals and rude comments.

Summer evenings therefore often find me strolling down our small, uneven country street. The night sounds are comforting, and the soft breeze welcomes me to a spare moment of freedom. It’s good to be alone sometimes, not having to worry about others’ disapproval and being able to focus on oneself, on one’s dreams and goals. It’s such a good feeling that I can’t help but smile.
The chirping cicadas laugh along.

Avital Chizhik is a senior at Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth, N.J.


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Tags: avital, bragging, catskills, identity, хвастаюсь

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