Photo Credit:
The Scharf-Eisenberg family in America with Baba Devorah (front center, holding baby), 1933.

As for Mihowa, even in America there was no getting away from that village. Before she had left Europe, some non-Jewish neighbors had asked Devorah if she would be willing to speak to their landsleit in America who immigrated years ago and were now living in a community near New York. “Why not?” she answered, which is how she found herself traveling with Mina and little Muriel to Newark, New Jersey, where the former Mihowians now lived.

The venue where she was supposed to speak turned out to be a church. As she later put it, “Imagine me, Devorah Scharf Enzenberg, standing at a church lectern and talking for an hour in Ruthenian about Mihowa to a group of gentiles.” They obviously enjoyed it as they invited her back three more times to speak.

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“In another life I could have been a lecturer,” Devorah said, relishing how her audience drank in every word she spoke.

Only her Babaleh, her Freida Sima, her oldest daughter whom she hadn’t seen in twenty years, still remembered the kinds of things Devorah had been capable of when she was younger. Now Freida Sima was so busy running her boardinghouse and taking care of little Shirley that she only got to visit her mother once or twice during the week.

“Maybe I should spend Shabbos with you?” Devorah had asked at the beginning of her stay in New York. But Freida Sima explained that even though she and her freethinking Mordche had an agreement whereby she would run a traditional home and he could do what he wanted outside, it probably would still not be to her mother’s liking.

It had been Mordche’s newly widowed mother Chana who told Devorah how sick Mordche was with diabetes and how lucky Freida Sima was for him to be alive. At eighty-three, Chana was old enough to be Devorah’s mother, but Devorah could talk to her about things the others didn’t understand. Like Devorah, Chana wore a sheitel, hers covered with a Russian-style lace tichel.

When Devorah mentioned that her children in America were so “modern,” Chana told her to be grateful that they kept kosher – Chana’s daughters were “revolutionaries” and she couldn’t even eat at any of their homes.

Chana was right, Devorah thought. At least her family was alive and well and, except for her struggling Freida Sima, even seemed prosperous. Joe’s son Avrum was even talking about becoming a lawyer: an immigration lawyer to help the family come to America! He kept talking about keeping “proof” of things, a piece of paper or picture, proof that something really happened.

He certainly would have “proof” of Devorah’s visit. Joe had arranged a farewell party for her shortly before her return to Mihowa and had a photographer come to take pictures of the family. In addition to the different family groupings (one of which even included a picture of Nachman back in Mihowa that the photographer inserted to complete the portrait), they had taken a group picture of the whole family, all thirty of them. Little Bernice was sitting on Devorah’s lap, the younger children were at her feet, and her children, brothers, sisters, and their families surrounded her.

“How is it,” she thought, “that I’m the only adult smiling in the picture? Maybe it’s because I’m the only one who can really appreciate what it is like to be here and not in Romania. My sisters, brothers, and children all look so serious, some as if the world is coming to an end. Do they know something I don’t? Molly’s very frum husband, Srul Nachman, who kept his hat on in the picture, looks a bit happier, but otherwise? They should know how lucky they are to be in America!”

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Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz is director of the Schulmann School of Basic Jewish Studies and professor of Jewish History at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. She is the author of, among several others, “The ‘Bergson Boys’ and the Origins of Contemporary Zionist Militancy” (Syracuse University Press); “The Jewish Refugee Children in Great Britain, 1938-1945” (Purdue University Press); and “Perfect Heroes: The World War II Parachutists and the Making of Israeli Collective Memory” (University of Wisconsin Press).