“And change your shirt. You look like such a goy.”
“We’re just having Shabbat at bubbie and zaide’s. You don’t need to dress like you’re going to church or something.”
“I like this shirt,” Danny said, dejectedly tugging at the tails of his collared shirt, “And besides, I wanted to look nice. This is the first time they’re meeting Claire.”
“I know, I know,” Danny’s mother, Hannah, responded, “But they’re your grandparents. You don’t need to work hard to impress them.” She planted a kiss on the top of Danny’s head, which he responded to with a sour look. Giving up in her attempt to force her son to change clothes, she exited his room, shouting downstairs, “How’s the kugel looking?”
The voice of Danny’s father, Ken, called back from the kitchen. “It’s a little under-done!”
Walking to the kitchen, Hannah yelled back, “That’s good! Don’t Rachel and Menachem like it a little under, so they can chew it?”
Danny stood alone in his bedroom, facing the mirror on the inside of his closet door. First, college apps, and now this. Why couldn’t things be easier? He unbuttoned his collared shirt and instead chose a more casual, long-sleeved thermal. As he finished pulling the new shirt over his head, the cell-phone in his pocket buzzed. He removed it and saw a single text-message notification: “Here (:”.
He shoved his phone back into the recesses of his pockets and zoomed out of his bedroom, tripping over his feet as he rushed down the stairs. “Claire’s here,” he called out to his parents, so they wouldn’t worry about the noise and rush to conclusions like all neurotic Jewish parents do. After stomping down the entry hallway, he threw open the front door to see Claire in front of him, blonde hair shaped around her grinning visage, dressed impeccably, as expected.
“Hey!” she squealed as she threw her arms around him in an embrace.
“Uh, hi,” Danny responded, kissing her quickly on the lips.
She pulled back somewhat and cocked her head, her blue eyes behind glasses giving him a nervous glance. “Is something wrong?”
“No no no no,” he replied, giving her an anxious smile. “Just nervous, you know?”
“Oh, don’t be! I’m excited to meet your grandparents! I know I’m going to like them.”
“I’m not worried about you liking them.” Danny reached his hand to the golden crucifix around his girlfriend’s neck and hid it between her cleavage. Why can’t I just stay in there for eternity? He kept his hand between her breasts little longer than he anticipated. Claire gave a single, sharp cough and Danny removed his hand from under her shirt.
“Dan, we’ve been together for three years,” she said, “How long is it going to be until you tell them that I’m not Jewish?”
“Honestly?” Danny replied, gesturing for her to enter the house, “Not until after we’re married and you’ve converted.”
She scoffed and giggled at the same time as she walked through the threshold, in that same cute manner that Danny fell in love with the first time they met. “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Goldman!” she called out.
Hannah skipped out from the kitchen and hugged Claire. “Good to see you again, Claire. Would you mind helping me with the dishes?”
The two women walked into the room Danny’s mother had just exited out of. Danny, on the other hand, slumped against the wall, one hand in his pocket, the other running through his curly brown hair. I’ll have to tell them eventually. Or I can wait a little longer. He imagined, instead of an arguing angel and devil on his shoulders, a magen david and a cross. “You know how they are, especially bubbie,” the cross said to him, “Maybe keeping this from them a little longer will work out.” “But you’ve been dating for a while now,” the star compelled in reply, “Regardless of her beliefs, Claire’s a nice girl and bubbie and zaide will accept her because they love you.” Danny waved the symbols off of his shoulders and walked into the kitchen, to see if his assistance was required.
The car pulled up to the house shortly before the sun dropped behind the hills. Hannah and Ken exited the minivan first, carrying trays of piping hot food, followed by Danny and Claire, who held a bouquet of flowers.
“We’re going to want to hurry,” Ken said, “Mom hates starting Shabbat late.”
As his parents jogged towards the door, Danny tapped his girlfriend’s shoulder. Claire turned and Danny asked, “Did you…?”
Claire sighed, tucked the flowers she was carrying under her left arm, and reached into her pocket, pulling out the gold crucifix she had removed from her neck. Danny nodded, satisfied, and she replaced the chain back into her jeans. “I just wish you wouldn’t lie to your grandparents,” she balked.
“Trust me, you have no idea how they can act.” Danny placed his arm around her, holding her close, and then squeezed her hand. “One time, my bubbie freaked out at a woman handing out Gospels at the supermarket. Called her an ‘intolerant shiksa,’ and that was the nicest thing she said. Not to mention that time zaide called a couple who were walking out of a German restaurant ‘Nazi sympathizers…’”
The two walked hand-in-hand up to the door as Hannah pressed her finger on the doorbell. The bell chimed and shuffling footsteps could be heard. After a moment, Rachel’s wrinkled and smiling face greeted them. Hugging her son and daughter-in-law, she gestured them inside and turned to her grandson. “Eynikl!” she cheered, throwing her arms around him and giving a sloppy kiss on his cheek. “Oh, you’ve grown so much since the last time you were here!” She grabbed both sides of his face with her withered hands and took a long look at him. “My grandson’s becoming all grown-up. I can’t believe it.” She turned to see Claire standing next to him. “Is this the girl I’ve heard so much about?”
Blushing, Danny introduced them. “Bubbie, this is Claire. Claire, this is my bubbie, Rachel.”
Claire extended her hand towards Rachel. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Goldman,” she said sweetly.
“Oh, please call me bubbie,” Rachel replied, her voice like honey on Rosh Hashanah, shaking Claire’s outstretched hand. “Danny’s told me so much about you. Please, come in.”
Rachel stepped out of the doorway and let the young couple enter. Danny’s nose was instantly greeted with the scents of warm challah, that musty “old-person” smell which oddly gave him comfort, and the faint odor of kosher wine being poured into glasses. A typical Shabbat at bubbie’s. Menachem rounded the corner and came into view, beaming widely, a kippah on his head covering his bald spot. “Good to see you, kiddo,” he said in his thick Polish accent, clasping his grandson firmly on the shoulder. Having fought in the War, Menachem was always much stronger than Danny expected and the force of the hold made his knees buckle slightly.
“Good to see you, too, zaide,” Danny said, smiling as he recovered from his grandfather’s assault.
“Come, let’s go to the garden.”
“But the sun’s about to set,” Rachel called out, closing the door behind her.
“It’s been long since Danny was here. I want to show him the harvest.”
“Can’t you wait until after dinner?”
“It’ll be just a second. Come!” Without waiting for a response from either his wife or his grandson, he skipped to the glass sliding door that led out to his famed garden.
Danny nervously frowned as he turned to Claire. “You going to be okay?”
She smiled. “Why wouldn’t I be?” She was too damn cute for her own good. Danny’s frown turned into a smile and, after pecking her lightly on the cheek, ran off to follow his zaide.
The dark-orange sun silhouetted the various vines and trees in Menachem’s garden. Danny turned to see his zaide rustling with some cucumbers. Even in the slowly darkening light, he could see the tattoo on Menachem’s forearm, a grim reminder of his past in Poland. After running the cucumber under water from the garden’s spigot, Menachem handed it to Danny.
“Have a taste,” he said, “Not even the farmer’s market has such good vegetables.”
Danny crunched on the cucumber, grinning as the cool taste filled his mouth. “It’s great, zaide.”
“I’m sure your girlfriend likes cucumbers, eh?” He laughed wheezily as he asked.
After a moment, Danny understood the innuendo. “Ugh, gross, zaide,” he grimaced.
Menachem continued to chortle. “She seems nice. You’ve been together long?”
“Yeah, nearly three years.”
“When I was your age, if a man was with a woman that long, they get married. What choice did we have?” The somberness in his voice struck a chord with Danny. “We didn’t have much choice in anything when Hitler was in power. No one wanted to be without love in such a dark time. No one.”
“Is that why you married bubbie?”
“Well, that, and she was quite the looker back in the day. Still is.” He winked and laughed once more. This time, Danny chuckled alongside him. “We should probably get back inside. Shabbat’s about to begin.”
Having just completed the HaMotzi, Ken carved into the challah with a knife and passed pieces of the bread around the table. Menachem was already delving into his matzah ball soup when Rachel, sitting next to her husband, turned her head towards Claire, who sat next to her boyfriend.
“So, Claire, Danny tells me you want to study astronomy?”
“Yes, I’ve always found the universe so interesting. It holds plenty of mysteries just waiting for us to explore.”
“HaShem has provided us with such beauty in the heavens. There’s a passage in Psalms, which says, ‘The heavens declare the glory of HaShem, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.’ Isn’t that lovely?”
“Actually…” Claire began, but Danny, who had been silently sipping on his soup, nudged her foot under the table with his own. He gave her a muted, knowing look, before Claire turned back to Rachel. “Yes, lovely.”
“When did you become interested in the stars?”
“My dad used to take me out to the countryside when I was younger, and we’d use his telescope to just look at space and everything it had to offer.” Danny loved how Claire would expound on her fascination with astronomy. A similar effect seemed to be had on Rachel, who sighed wondrously at Claire’s statement.
“And where is your father from?”
“He was born in New York, but my grandparents came from Germany.”
Danny, inhaling his soup much too quickly at this utterance, kicked her lightly under the table and Claire realized what she had said after the words exited her mouth. She squealed, her eyes bulging slightly. Menachem, who had been silent this entire time, suddenly gazed down the table at Claire.
“Germany, you say?” he asked.
Danny, coughing but having recovered from his battle with Rachel’s notoriously delicious soup, spoke up before Claire could continue. “They escaped before the Holocaust. You told me their last name was Osterberg, right?” He turned to Claire as he said this, giving her another knowing
“That’s right. They left for New York in…1938?” Claire said, looking back at him, her expression a mixture of confusion and annoyance. Her voice was unsure, worried if what she was saying was acceptable, but Danny gave a short, difficult-to-see nod which assured her. “Yes, 1938. My…bubbie and zaide…came to New York, and he became a…lawyer.”
Menachem continued to stare at Claire for a moment which lasted for an eternity, before softening his gaze. “I see. Rosenfeld…strong name” He ruminated on the surname for a moment longer and returned to his meal.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Claire said politely, standing up from the table. “I need to use the washroom.”
“Down the hall and to the right,” Rachel pointed the way. Claire nodded, smiling, and exited the table. As she disappeared from sight and sound, Rachel turned her attention now to her grandson. “So polite and intelligent. My little eynikl’s chosen a nice girl,” she said with her honey voice, smiling at Danny. He smiled wide at this statement, before feeling a buzz in his pocket. He pulled out his phone under the table and saw a text-message from Claire.
“What the hell?”
He quickly typed back, “I’m sorry, I just don’t want them finding out you aren’t Jewish.”
“Danny!” Ken exclaimed sharply, “Not at the table.”
“Sorry, dad,” he replied before putting his phone away. The rush of water could be heard from the distance and soon after, Claire returned to her place at the table. Ken was now passing around the large dish of kugel for everyone to dig in to.
“So how did you and Menachem meet?” Claire asked Rachel, in a gleeful voice that was not indicative of her sour mood towards Danny.
“Well, after the Shoah, Menachem came to England to find a job, and I was the secretary at the government office he first came to,” Rachel began. Claire sat intently listening, leaning in as to not seem rude. Danny grinned to himself. Get her talking about herself and act interested. It was something he had done with Claire when they first met in Mr. Sorenson’s algebra class. Menachem caught Danny’s gaze and, seeing his grandson smiling, winked that familiar wink.
“God, I’m stuffed,” Ken said as the family walked back to the car, the stars glistening overhead. “Mom always knows how to fill us up.”
“Have you ever thought that it’s your mother’s cooking that’s making you gain weight?” Hannah asked, a joking nature to her question.
“Hey, if that’s the case, I’d rather be happy old fart than a starving one any day.”
Claire and Danny lagged behind, walking hand-in-hand as they watched his parents exchange jokes and loving glances. “See?” Danny said, gesturing towards his parents, “That’s the type of relationship I want us to have.”
“I think we already do,” Claire responded softly. The two kissed gently as they approached the minivan. After they pulled back, she looked at Danny, her eyes giving off a sly and seductive gaze. “I’m sorry about how I acted during dinner. Can I make it up to you when we get home?”
“Hmm,” Danny considered, “I don’t know…you’ll have to try extra hard.”
“I can think of a few things. ‘Extra-hard,’ huh?” She giggled at the suggestion and nuzzled her head onto his shoulder, reaching into her pocket. She stopped suddenly, standing straight, jerking Danny as he attempted to walk forward.
She turned to face Danny, horrified. “I think I left my cross in the house.” Danny returned the frightened look. “It must’ve fallen out of my pocket when I texted you.”
“Shit, shit, shit,” Danny swore under his breath. “Maybe they didn’t find it yet. I’ll run and get it.”
Danny sprinted back towards his grandparents’ quaint house and knocked feverishly on the door. Rachel slowly opened the door, tiredly smiling at him. “Dan, did you forget something?”
“Not me,” he replied as he entered the house and started for the bathroom. “Claire did.” He stepped into the restroom and inspected at the floor, but didn’t see the glint of gold on the shining white tiles.
“Oh, her necklace?” Rachel responded. “I put it on the table.”
Danny froze, his eyes widening in terror. Slowly, he turned around and walked to the dining room table. Sure enough, the cross was there, lying on the table as a magen david looked down on it from the wall.
“Yes, eynikl?” she responded, her voice as sweet as ever.
“Do you…what do you think of Claire?”
Rachel looked at her grandson and winked assuredly. “Oh, she’s a lovely young girl. Very smart. And great taste in jewelry.”
I sighed in relief.
“So when am I going to get some grandchildren?”