On Chanukah, Daughters Dream and Fathers Scheme

It was the second night of Chanukah and the house was full of her excited grandchildren, who shrieked and wailed and chattered like the construction crew that worked on the Tower of Babel. Was it totally random, the old lady wondered, or was there a script for this bedlam. I shouldn’t be so cranky, she reasoned. But twelve kids - some exultant with their gifts, some complaining - could shatter the glass in the windows.

And such lavish Chanukah gifts. In my day, thought Bubbe, I’d be lucky to get a piece of fruit and a silver dime.

The gifts had been distributed, the latkes consumed, and both adults and kids had taken the ceremonial peck at her cheek. So, soon it would be time for the Chanukah finale, the traditional “then and now” seminar with Bubbe; an old family custom.

The kids clustered around her. “Tell us how it was when you were a girl, Bubbe,” as though they believed she had ever been anything but a short, round lady who smiled more than she talked. A Jewish Queen Victoria with a decidedly unenglish accent who they were forced to call on the phone every weekend.

Last year she told them the story of her voyage in the filthy hold of the SS Wilhelm to the glittering new world of the Lower East side. The year before, she’d left them shocked and wide-eyed over the tale of her older brother’s abduction by a band of drunk Cossacks. And every word was true and every word was a lesson.

Instruction. Wasn’t that Bubbe’s role, like smiling and offering the drooping cheek to pursed lips? These kids should know how it was back then. Beginnings are as useful as endings. Didn’t she still have a sharp mental picture of her brother and their Polish village? Didn’t her mouth remember endless meals of cabbage and potatoes? And who could forget her entire family stuffed in an East side tenement that only glittered when ice silvered both sides of the window pane?

“So tell us a story, Bubbe. C’mon, c’mon,” they persisted.

“OK,” she agreed, “but first a cup of tea and a slice of lemon and two Sweet ‘n Lo’s.” Quickly they obeyed.

She sat at the dining room table; they crowded around, two of the little ones to a single chair.

“I’ll tell you about my best friend, Dora. She was 16, like me. We had both been in America since we were six. So we considered ourselves Americans - not Greenhorns. We even had boyfriends, not boyfriends like you mean now, but, ya know, special friends. My best girlfriend Dora had a boy downstairs in the tenement who she watched out of the corner of her eye. You know how it is. You look at him. He turns shyly away. But you hope he looks back.

“Anyhow, Dora loved Jacob Plesovsky. He was 18 and already he was peddling ladies dresses around town. Like I say, he’d never taken her out. Who had money for that - but they had talked plenty. I think they had a plan.

“Daughters dream, but fathers scheme, as they say. One day her father waits ‘til everybody’s out of the room and he sits Dora down across the dining room table for a talk. And he tells her she’s gonna have the best second night of Chanukah ever; because on the second candle of Chanukah, little Dora is going to be a married woman. Dora is so fetumult, so mixed up to hear this, that for a minute she thinks her papa has gone to the Plesovskys and made a deal. How did he know about her plan, which she had only revealed to her best friend? Me. Then through a fog, as though her father is shouting from a passing ship, she hears the name Adam Grossman."

“Papa, Jacob Plesovsky, that’s who I want. You got the wrong boy.”

“But daughters dream and fathers scheme.”

“Listen, says Papa, “this boy you’ll love in a couple of years. He has a good job in the textile district and he’s handsome. Grayish blue eyes and light brown, wavy hair. No moles, no blemishes. And as the Americans say, he is high-spirited. They’ll never tie him to a tailor’s bench. Now, that's that! Go help your mama with the supper dishes.” Dora's futile tears mixed with the dirty dish water in the sink.

Bubbe paused to let the truth sink into youthful minds. “Yes, her father had selected her husband.”

At first, silence. Then a chorus of revolt. “So what happened to your friend? And what about Jacob?”

“Well, they didn’t die of a broken heart. I don’t know what became of Jacob. I think he ended up working in a men’s clothing store in the Bronx.”

The children muttered rebelliously about slipping out of bedroom windows at midnight and running off to some renegade Rabbi for a quickie. “That’s what we’d do now,” said two of the smaller mutineers. “And what about Dora?”

“Dora - she did OK,” said the Bubbe as her eyes wandered over a room full of twelve vibrant, high-spirited kids. Many with gray-blue eyes and wavy, light brown hair.

On this second night of Chanukah, it was more apparent than ever to the old lady that daughters dream and fathers scheme. Next Chanukah she'd tell them how Adam Grossman had softly tiptoed into her heart.