“You are my wife, and you will do what I say,” Perchik commanded when Hodel refused to give in.
“Who says that a wife has to do whatever her husband demands?” Hodel retorted. “That’s just some foolish old-fashioned nonsense.”
Perchik understood the barb in her message. After all, he could not preach the equality of all people, and treat his wife like a slave in the privacy of their home.
“Anyway,” Hodel continued. “I am not just your wife. Soon I will be a mother, and I have an obligation to my children. Being with my family again has made me realize that I have a responsibility to educate them as Jews.”
“I will decide what we will teach our children,” Perchik answered.
“Is that so?”
“Yes, that is so.”
Hodel heard her husband’s answers, and wondered why he sounded so differently now. She realized that this was the way he always spoke, authoritatively, dogmatically, egotistically, imposing his worldview on their marriage. It had been that way from the start, when as a young sheltered girl, she had been swept away with his certainty and knowledge, as if he possessed all of the truths of existence. On their long walks through the woods of Anatevka, he had transported her out of the tiny village to new and breathtaking worlds. Like a child, she had gone along for the ride, trusting in his confidence and wisdom. But now she was no longer a child. She was about to have a baby of her own, and Tzeitl’s death had reminded her that life did not last forever.
“Do you know why Tzeitl wanted her children raised by Ruchel and Nachman, and not by us?” she asked. “Because she wanted them to grow up in a good kosher home.”
“That’s fine with me,” Perchik answered.
“Well it isn’t with me. I’m ashamed.”
“Hodel stop it. Don’t you see what has happened? Your father has been here a week, and already we are fighting. When was the last time we had a quarrel before that? I can’t even remember.”
“That was because I always listened to you. I always accepted your way. But I have a mind of my own.”
Perchik nodded, remembering how strong-willed his Hodel had been with her parents when they had opposed their marriage.
“Isn’t that one of your sacred principles?” she asked. “Freedom of thought and expression? The liberation of the workers from the oppressive ruling class?”
“Are you implying that you are being oppressed in this house?”
Hodel didn’t answer. For a moment, they faced one another in silence.
“Shouldn’t women have rights? Aren’t we allowed freedom too?”
“You are my wife,” he said, flustered.
“Now you sound like my father,” she said. “Before anything else I am a person. Soon, with God’s help, I will be a mother. And along with everything else, I am a Jew.”
“All right,” he said, not wishing to continue the argument until he had formulated a clear line of reasoning and proofs. “You set up the kitchen the way that you want.”
“Back to the kitchen, is that it? Now you really sound like my father. What about all of your modern ideas? Do they apply to everyone in the world except for your wife?”
“What more do you want?” he asked.
“A real Jewish Shabbos.”
“You know I can’t agree. I came to Israel to work the land, not to sleep and eat chulent.”
“The Sabbath is only one day a week.”
“You do what you believe is right, and I will do what is important to me.”
“What kind of marriage is that?” Hodel asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “All I know is that until today we had no problems, and now that your father has come, it is as if we were back in Anatevka.”
Angrily, he strode out of the house. The door slammed shut. Hodel shuddered. Their fight had exhausted her. Standing up to her husband was no easy matter. It was true, their life together had been a united endeavor until her family arrived. What had happened? What change had taken place? Standing alone in the room, Hodel could only pray, as her father always did, that everything would work out for the best.