Excerpt: ‘Confessions of Noa Weber’
I didn’t look at him or at anyone else when I said: “Yes, I want to.” And the next thing he said was: “Okay, then let’s go and do it now, just tell me where to go.”
At that moment he was a king, he was their prince, they admired him more than ever, and some of that admiration was directed at me too, so that the doubts as to whether we were “really going to do it” were addressed to us in the plural. For a few minutes “you” meant both of us, and that “you” — the crazy, impulsive, glamorous, free-spirited you — was intoxicating. At the first words of doubt Alek threw the cracked pecans into the basket, and on the spot, accompanied by all of them, we set out for the Rabbinate on Havatzelet Street.
I recall the movement with which he aimed the pecans and hold it in my imagination, and Alek in his white tee shirt looks like a boy, slender and cropped. He was then twenty-eight, almost as old as Hagar today. But even today when the touch of his thinness sometimes feels like the touch of old age—and only rarely like the touch of a slender boy — he is still the same Alek who clenched fist over fist, and so he will apparently always remain, never mind the metamorphoses of his body.
Dalit, Hyman, and two others I barely knew, dropped out on the way on various pretexts. Perhaps things had gone further than they intended, perhaps they had been infected by some other embarrassment, but three of them, surrounding the pair of us like tipsy bodyguards, accompanied us into the Rabbinate building and testified that they had known us from early childhood, and that they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Alexander Ginsberg and Noa Weber were single. And when the officials of the Holy One Blessed Be He began to inquire as to the exact date of Alek’s arrival in Israel, it turned out that one of our witnesses was also a Ginsberg, just like Alek, and this Ginsberg quickly improvised all kinds of fibs about the family connection, about uninterrupted correspondence and frequent visits in Paris. “Alexander Ginsberg,” babbled the ginger-haired Ginsberg, imitating the gossipy tone of the clerks, “Alek, as we call him in the family, is a confirmed bachelor. To such an extent that his mother began to worry that she wouldn’t have any grandchildren, and my mother told her, send him to Israel, and you’ll see that he’ll soon find himself a nice Jewish girl to marry.” And we all smothered hysterical giggles.
Alek was surprised to discover that we couldn’t finish what we had come to do on the spot. The men were sent outside, and I was sent to have a talk with the rabbi’s wife as a necessary preliminary to setting the date.
In the years to come I told the story of this interview countless times, it became part of my anecdotal stock-in-trade, which I polished up from time to time, perfecting the details of the scene, the asides and the timing. Now I’ll be brief and stick to the facts: A short woman with her hair covered in a brown snood greeted me from the other side of a scratched office desk and without any preliminaries began to explain to me what a mistake it would be to bake my husband a chocolate cake every day, even if he hinted that he wanted it and even if he demanded it, because you get tired of even the best cake if it’s served up every day. She reminded me of my mother with her nagging about the proper eating habits—“Chew, Noa, chew before you swallow” — except that my mother is a thin woman, and this one had a double chin tucked in over a swelling bosom. In my innocence I replied that I didn’t know how to bake, and only when she sighed, and I, suddenly embarrassed without my male support group, stared at the bucket someone had left by the door, only then did I realize what the woman was talking about.
In the face of my surprising naiveté she abandoned the culinary metaphors and asked for details about my menstrual cycle. Was it regular? How long did it last? And when exactly was it due? I thought about the four who were presumably waiting for me outside, about Alek’s impatience, and about what I would have to tell them in a few minutes, and with this to inspire me, as soon as I realized where all these questions were leading, I whispered that there was a problem, you understand, we have a problem because I’m pregnant. That’s why we have to get married as quickly as possible, a quick, discreet wedding … perhaps right here in the Rabbinate? My face burned with a shame whose origins were different from what the rabbi’s wife supposed.
Overflowing with concern she waddled with me to the clerk, who set the date for ten days’ time, right after the holiday of Simchat Torah. “Light Sabbath candles,” she recommended in parting, “forget the past, and explain to your husband that this is the time to make a new beginning and fortify yourselves with tradition. It’s important to him too for his child to grow up like a Jew, why else did he come to Israel? … The mother is the foundation of the home, the wife is the foundation of the home, you’ll see how your husband will respect you when you make him a Jewish home. You’ll make him a Jewish home, and he’ll make you a queen.” The really crazy joke in this story, the joke I never tell when I’m delivering the shtick, is that while I was inventing my urgent dilemma for the benefit of the rabbi’s wife, the first cells of Hagar were already dividing inside me. And that I didn’t have the faintest idea that I was pregnant.
From “The Confessions of Noa Weber” by Gail Hareven; translated by Dalya Bilu; reprinted with permission from Melville House.
To read a Q&A with Gail Hareven, click here.