by Esther Cohen
To read previous installments, search “BOBST” in our search box, or click here.
Dear Jewish Currents Readers,
Last week’s Bobst installment was the story’s secret ending, for now. Here’s another one, a wrap-up. What happens next will be another story.
RIVKA CAME to America. Like many, she found herself in the Lower East Side, living with her relatives, her Uncle Label, his wife, and their family. They were in a sixth floor walkup on Orchard Street, a building overflowing with problems, and with the warm, chaotic, food-filled life of immigrants.
Label was a Communist, an organizer, a man who believed he understood the world. Rivka was a girl in a small village in a small town called Bobst, somewhere in Rumania. Her family were religious Jews. They believed. They felt they understood what life was about and there wasn’t much need to know more. It was the turn of the 20th Century when life in Eastern Europe was a series of pogroms, when war was as normal as peace.
Rivka, for reasons that were never entirely clear — she was not the brightest child, or the most curious, she was not outgoing or good with people, Rivka was sweet enough, and shy, still she was the one who went on a boat, an innocent child traveling entirely alone, a knapsack full of food, wearing her one good woolen dress.
And then, she was on unfamiliar streets, a mass of people and noise, disorder and disruption. Label got her a job in a garment shop. There were hundreds of small shops in the Lower East Side then. Some women helped her. Especially one woman named Clara, a little older, far wiser, a Communist, purposeful and certain. Rivka listened. She too began to organize.
At sixteen, she married a strong man named Shmuel Markovitz. He too worked in a garment shop. They had children. Rivka kept working for a while, and then she stopped. They moved to Queens and lived a life. What it meant to live a life was not all that different from her parents. And, then, Rivka’s children had children, too. One of them wanted to write everything down. To find the words to tell something about Rivka, and Bobst.
Esther Cohen is arts and events consultant for Jewish Currents and writes a daily poem at her website, esthercohen.com. Her novels include Book Doctor and No Charge for Looking.