Friday, September 16, 2011

The Tale of the Wandering Star

The star Savta and Saba bought me.
I remember the day you bought me my magen david. It was hot and dusty and you were pressing my hand hard against your heart like you always did. We were laughing about something I had just said and your laugh lines were twinkling all over your face. We were always laughing about something. Outside, the hills leading up to Jerusalem were rushing by in a blur of green, white, and hazy blue. As we climbed higher and higher my ears kept popping and I had to yawn to clear the air out.You were still healthy then and looked much younger than your 70 years. I must not have been older than 15 or 16. Back then I thought I still had a lot of time with you, that you would be there at my college graduation and to see me get married, that you would meet your great-grandchildren one day. I didn't know to cherish the moment.

At the store we scrutinized over all of the choices, making the jeweler take out more and more pieces. We fingered the intricate silver carvings, studied chains, and held stones up to the light. Then suddenly one star in particular caught my eye. It was silver, no larger than the pad of a finger, and had a single white jewel in the center surrounded by a gold leaf ring. The silver was hammered to give it an antique look and the edges of the gold leaf were pinched into petals. We looked at each other and knew this was the one. Afterwards, we leaned against one another, shoulder to shoulder as we wound through the narrow streets with our dripping falafel.

I was wearing the star the day you died. It was hanging heavily from my neck, swinging silently as I hunched down on my new classroom's bright blue carpet sorting through the last of what felt like hundreds of books. It was already dark out, the Friday before the first day of school. Down the hall, I could hear my colleagues dragging boxes and feverishly running to the supply closet to finish setting up last-minute bulletin boards. I lifted my head to survey the room, studying each corner to make sure it met my high standard. I had just noticed that I had forgotten to prepare a bin of materials for one of the table groups when the phone rang. Minutes later my friend found me sobbing on the floor uncontrollably, grasping the star in a tight fist.

Three years later as I moved from my stuffy east side apartment to the new sunny one on 96th and Amsterdam, I remember carefully putting the star in an old, jeweled box that my Bubbie once owned. Many of the blue and red stones had long since fallen out and the carefully chiseled crevices had rusted over. But it was antique, had made it across the ocean from Ukraine almost a century ago, and it seemed like a fitting place for your star and the dainty silver flower bracelet you had given me. I had planned to use the box as a place for my most special pieces and to place it on my bureau when I settled in, but with the frenzy of packing, moving, and unpacking I must have forgotten and quickly the whirlwind routine of another school year took over. Every now and then I searched for the star but after a month I bitterly resigned myself to the fact that it had gotten lost in transit. Once, about a year ago, I had a sudden inspiration to search methodically through my old jewelry drawer in the room at my parent's house but it never turned up.

Then two weeks ago it was time to move again. Three months before I had packed up my last classroom, pushing supplies and materials I had made over the years at my friends that I just couldn't bear to throw away. Charts and bins and books scattered throughout the building and I was able to find something I had made in almost every room of the school when I visited one last time. Then came my apartment. I had stayed in denial until the last second, stubbornly refusing to dismantle the life I'd built so carefully over the past six years, holding on desperately to my paintings I had framed, clutching onto the flowers I had nurtured on my balcony, despite the fact that leaving was entirely my decision, not prompted by anything other than a deep, growing desire. After months of applications, essays, interviews, and an excruciating wait I finally had a plan for moving abroad. I was about to leave to live in Israel for a year. I was finally really doing what I'd talked about for so long. But you wouldn't be there to see it.

My friend Mary came over to push me into packing mode once and for all. Dancing to the same songs over and over again on the radio, the pile of cardboard leaning against my bookshelf slowly grew into a mountain of boxes against my wall. We were filling yet another box of tzatzkahs when Mary reached toward a shelf and held out a small banged up box, prying off the lid. "Is this anything important?" she asked. I was caught between a precariously leaning mirror and a large pile of student artwork, nearly slipping on a marble I must have confiscated during a lesson as I got up to see. My breath halted in my chest as I realized what it might be. "Oh my god, that's amazing! It's a sign!" I shrieked and immediately chained the star to my neck.

Typical family portrait
The next evening, tired and sticky with dust and sweat, I sat eating Thai with my Ima, brother Alon, and his fiance, Jess. We were picking at each others plates as I told them the story of my miraculous find. "After two years of thinking it was lost, the necklace was in Bubbie's box on my bookshelf the entire time!" I almost accidentally flung a chopstick in my excitement.  We took pictures in front of Billy's Bakery, greedily eating their amazing banana cake, making funny faces on the bench in front of the shop, me holding the necklace proudly to show that it was back where it belonged. Before going to sleep, I carefully placed the necklace on my bare nightstand, surrounded by towers of my life boxed up in brown.

Showing Jess the necklace!

Moving day was a flurry of activity. We packed up last-minute supplies, cleaned dust bunnies, and cleared out cupboards of food. I threw important things to bring home into a large mesh laundry basket, where they landed softly among the sheets and leftover t-shirts I had yet to wash. In less than two hours my entire New York City experience had been whisked away save for a lonely old broom and some pots of flowers. My Ima and I were at the storage facility in front of my unit, helping to squeeze furniture and boxes in like pieces of Tetris when I suddenly grabbed at my bare neck. We looked at each other, eyes wide. "Do you remember if I put it on?" I asked, panic seizing my chest. "No, I wonder if maybe it fell somewhere?" I frantically ruffled through my satchel, throwing chapstick and bobby-pins, subway cards, folded bills and loose change into my lap. "Did you find it?" My Ima half whispered. "No, I looked through my bag twice already. That was the only logical place I would have put it." I slumped against the wall, resigned. I decided that the necklace was fated to be lost and tried to forget about it for the second time.

On the drive home to my parents, where I would stay for my last week before flying to Israel, I thought about you constantly. How proud you would have been that I was "coming home" and how happy Saba will be that I will finally be near him. I thought of all the fun we would have had; the walks, the baking, and our laughter. I smiled over how you would have held me tight at the airport and held my hand in a strong fist against your chest the whole ride back to the kibbutz. You would have opened the window and together we would have taken in the faint scent of oranges and the fresh evening breeze.

During my week at home, I slowly sorted through my piles of clothes, books, jewelry, and shoes, hoping each time that maybe the necklace would turn up somewhere, maybe stuck to the velcro of a sandal or at the bottom of a stuffed plastic ziplock. Together, my Ima and I went through everything I had stored in the basement, clearing out relics from college and supplies from my old Bronx classrooms, reading the sweet messages my students wrote to me in their sprawling, loopy attempts at script. I went through the contents of all my bags, sifted through the "reject clothes" in my closet, and gave piles of things for Goodwill. We cooked together, went on errands, played silent and serious tournaments of sheshbesh over tea and chocolate, watched Lifetime movies, and laughed and laughed. Ima's laugh lines twinkled all over her face as they always had in yours as tears sprung into ours eyes from all the effort. I held Ima's hand close to my chest. We each could see you in the other one's eyes.

Me with my Savta
On the day of my flight, Daddy came down with a horrible cold. He had a soar throat and bad headache, but still insisted on doing the laundry and cooking dinner- after all, as our family saying goes, "Daddy makes the best spaghetti!" It was his own endearing way of saying goodbye; taking care of his daughter and his wife, doing his part. The pasta was boiling and I had just finished packing up the last of my things when Daddy ran up from the basement with an excited grin on his face. "Close your eyes, I have a surprise. It's not what you think!" Me and Ima looked at each other curiously. "Close them quick." I smiled and put out my hands. When I opened my eyes your necklace was piled in my palm, gleaming in the light. "I can't believe you found it!!" I yelled, ecstatic, hugging Daddy so tight he groaned (I always hug him that way). "I couldn't either," Daddy proudly exclaimed, "I was doing laundry, and suddenly at the bottom of your bag I saw a shiny chain. When I reached for it, I hoped it would be the necklace, and I was so, so happy that it was, chamuda, I was so amazed that I could give it back to you before your big trip. It's like it was meant to be." We all agreed that the necklace was a sign. I carefully polished the silver and placed your magen david back on my neck.

My Ima's favorite picture with her Ima
 On the plane, I read the letters that Ima, Daddy, and Aloni wrote to me, tears welling up in my eyes. I leaned against the window, looking out at the sparkling lights of New York City below, and read a part of what Ima had written to me over and over:

"Your Savta will watch over you from above and our prayers will keep you safe here below...yours always, Ima."

One of my favorite with mine
 The magen david lay against my heart as I flew over the ocean through the bright, star-filled sky.


  1. הסיפור שלך כל כך ריגש אותי. למרות שידעתי את כל השתלשלות האירועים קראתי את הבלוג בנשימה עצורה, עם דמעות בעיניים. זאת היתה בשבילי חווייה רגשית מיוחדת במינה. באהבה רבה תמיד שלך, אמא

  2. Ima, this post is dedicated to you!

  3. This is so beautiful!! Sivanne, I didn't know you could write this way!

    Love to you in Israel,