"Betty," his mother shouted and she waved
her handkerchief high above her head. A small woman in a blue dress
waved back. Ronnen wondered why his parents felt threatened by such
a frail-looking creature. The ayah had
been made to clean and polish for days to make the house
sparkle. His parents
hoped to impress Aunt Betty and if possible make her regret having
left the beautiful 'hill-station' of Simla for a desert town called
Dimona in Israel. "They have just the bare
necessities," his father had said, "and they come here and try to
preach to us."
For the next few days Ronnen listened
carefully to every word his aunt uttered but found no propaganda for
anything she said. She
seemed to have taken an oath not to upset her relatives. The only strange thing was
that she did not allow the maid to wash her underclothes although
she did let her do the rest of the laundry. She polished her shoes
herself too. She did
not put on airs, as he had expected her to. She ate rice and curry with
her fingers, her Hindi was unaccented and grammatically
correct. It was as
though she had never been away. She shopped for articles
like glass bangles and brass-ware that were either unavailable or
expensive in Israel Ronnen thought that
she was no different from any other Indian
On Friday his
mother took care to have everything perfect for the Shabbat. His father had taken the
unusual step of giving the servants the day off on Saturday so that
'that woman' would not find anything wrong with their
lifestyle. Betty said
nothing about the prayers which seemed unusually long to
Ronnen. She just
sang all the Friday songs without noticing that the children did not
know the words. She
taught them new tunes and enjoyed the meal. There was no meat in the
house as long as she was there since she observed strict kashrut. Delicious river-fish, cooked
in coconut juice was served along with white rice, vegetables and
salads. Betty seemed
happy. She said that
the meal reminded her of her mother's cooking.
Everything would have ended well if Mr. Koletkar had not
died. The man was over
eighty years old and had been ailing for some time. One of his sons lived in
the other was an Army Officer stationed in
the time. Mr. Koletkar
lived with his daughter who had married a Hindu businessman. Aunt Betty visited him at
least once a week claiming that she knew him from childhood and that
her visits brought him some measure of joy.
Mr. Koletkar's sons were informed about the death. Ronnen's family, being the
only other Jewish family in town made all the arrangements. His mother and Betty sewed
the burial clothes while his father bathed and dressed the
body. Everything was
ready before the sons arrived next day.
"We have decided on a cremation," Charlie, the elder son
"What!" Betty exploded.
"We want to cremate the body," Ellis, the younger son
"Why?" Betty demanded.
"We have no time for all the ceremonies that a burial
entails. Also, we do
not have enough leave.
We have our jobs to consider and have to return to
Betty lost control of her temper and her language. "What utter bullshit!" she
said. "I grew up in
this country and know that the Indian Army gives its officers two
months Annual Leave and one month of Casual Leave. And you are entitled to
Compassionate Leave in case of family troubles. Feed this rubbish to
"Don't judge us without knowing our situation," Charlie said
before Ellis could react.
"There's no Jewish cemetery here. There's no minyan
"You are doing things for your own convenience. You have two grown sons
each. That makes four men and you could always have got somebody
from Delhi. There never was a Jewish
cemetery in Simla. We
always took the body to Delhi for
"He is right, Betty," Ronnen's mother said in an attempt to
make peace. The cemetery in Delhi is
almost full. There
isn't place enough.
They won't accept outsiders."
"If you really want a Jewish funeral you can bury him in his
"We'd never be able to sell the property if there's a grave
in it," Charlie said.
"Ah! So it is
yourselves, not the dead person you are thinking
"Don't be ridiculous," Ellis said. "It was daddy's wish. He didn't want to trouble us
with all the ceremonies."
After a death it's the duty of the community to do the proper
Jewish thing. He has no
right on his body after his soul has left. This may sound ridiculous to
you, but you didn't ask your sons before you circumcised them. That was your duty as a
Jewish father despite the fact that the body wasn't yours. Now do your duty as a Jewish
son towards your father."
Charlie became angry.
"Don't teach us our duty. We'll do what we want," he
"Yes, but I, as a self-respecting Jew, won't have a part in
it. When I face my
Maker I don't want this on my conscience." She rose and left.
brothers took their father's body to the crematorium. Ronnen's mother left when
Charlie tried to read the Jewish service at a non-Jewish
funeral. When she came
home she found her sister packing.
had enough of your luxurious lifestyle and wish to return to my life
of basic necessities, one in which the children know who they are
and what is important."
She turned to her sister. "Believe me when I say that
although our children serve in the army and that there is no peace
in the region, it is a price we pay willingly because we know what
we are defending. No
luxury can justify losing your faith or identity as a
Ronnen saw his mother nod in agreement and wondered whether she would nod and agree once again when his father accused his aunt of 'forcing her opinion down other people's throats.'