Translated and edited by Joachim Neugroschel


That was our Rachel's situation when we saw her at the wedding of Haym ben-Tsion's daughter, at the veiling lunch, standing outside by the door, gazing at the Mazepevke marketplace with its stores, market women, the wagon with the lumbering oxen and the peasant boy with the broad hat.
That was our lovely Rachel's situation at the time she first heard that entrancing music of Stempeniu's.
Rachel loved listening to music - oh, how she loved it! It had always given her so much pleasure! Whenever she heard someone singing or playing a new song, she instantly took it over and sang it in her lovely, mellow voice. Her parents would beam with
joy and say: "She's got a man's head. What bad luck that she was born a woman, otherwise - she would have set the world on fire . . . ."
Her parents apparently did understand that there was some kind of ability in their daughter, something that nowadays we call "talent." But in those days, Rachel's parents assumed that her ability to take over and sing a tune was in her head because she had a man's head. Among us Jews, the head plays the most important role, more than all the two hundred forty-eight parts put together. A head, a fine little head! That's the crowning glory for us! But, be that as it may, Rachel sang like a free bird until fifteen or sixteen. Wherever she heard a cantorial piece, or a Hassidic chant, or a musician's melody, anything whatsoever, Rachel would sing it again in her own pure voice, which was a delight to hear .... But the moment she became engaged, her mother told her:
"Enough, daughter, no more twittering! You'll be living with your in-laws, and just imagine what kind of impression you'll make if you suddenly start chirping away! It's not respectable!"
Rachel, of course, understood that it wasn't proper, so she obeyed, and stopped singing .... But she didn't really stop altogether, for sometimes a crooning would burst from her of its own accord, out of habit, apparently, and how could she help it if the singing went on by itself? . . . When you see where the water's coming from, you can block it, but if you don't see, if you don't know - then what can you do? . . . However, not only when she was engaged, but even after the wedding, she would sometimes forget herself, forget what she was, and she would burst out singing as in the past, let herself go as she used to do when she was a girl. She would forget that her mother-in-law was in the room, listening to every word she sang:

Oh there, oh right there,
In that very spot,
Two doves are standing, a pair!
Cooing a lot, and kissing a lot,
And how could they care?
Cooing a lot, and kissing a lot . . . .
"Oh, goodness me! Oh, what am I doing?" Rachel cried out and pulled herself together upon catching sight of her mother-in-law.
"Now, now, it doesn't matter!" her mother-in-law calmed her down, pretending not to notice, sniffing and peering into a jar of preserves. "You know, Rachel, I'm worried the gooseberries won't turn out. I had the same rotten luck a year ago: eight quarts of preserves went bad on me...."
And needless to say, Rachel would never have sung in Moyshe-Mendel's presence for anything in the world: it would have been very silly and awfully unpleasant - opening her mouth right in front of her husband and singing.... Perhaps Moyshe-Mendel wouldn't have minded, he might have been very interested. He had heard her crooning a few times and he knew that she had an angel's voice. But how would he have looked to himself if he suddenly sat down in his own home - and listened to his wife singing songs? A fine thing for a respectable young man! If he happened to hear her by chance - then okay.... And it did happen, but very seldom. At such times, Moyshe-Mendel would stop, all ears, and then cough as though he were only just arriving, and enter the room as though nothing had happened....
Rachel spent an entire year like that, all alone, among good and loyal people, who were utterly devoted to her; and you can't say that her life was good, and you can't say that her life was bad. She felt alien with her relatives, solitary in her family, deserted among good, loyal people. Sitting morosely over her work, some piece of embroidery, Rachel would hum to herself out of habit, and all at once her heart would ache, and she would yearn for the place where she had spent her childhood.
Flying, flying, 
The golden birds, 
Over all the seas, 
Say hello, 
You golden birds,
To my mother dear!
Flying, flying,
The golden birds,
Over all the rivers,
Say hello,
You golden birds,
To my father dear . . . .
Dvosse-Malke often liked to tiptoe in and eavesdrop on her singing daughter-in-law.
"What's wrong, Rachel, are you homesick?"
"Oh, no, mother-in-law .... I'm just humming," answered Rachel, smiling and wiping her tears.
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