Sunday, November 20, 2011

" My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner"

My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir by Meir Shalev is a delicious depiction of Moshav Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. A moshav is a type of collective farm that's far less communal than a kibbutz. The early Israeli pioneers who preferred to live in separate homes for individual families frequently chose life on a moshav instead of the demanding shared kibbutz life. Nahalal was one of the first, perhaps the very first, moshav, founded by Russian Jews in the 1920s. In the course of his memoir, Shalev depicts life on the moshav throughout its history, and even provides background about the Russian villages where the founders came from.

I especially enjoyed Shalev's memoir because I've visited the Moshav and met some of the present-day inhabitants. I was even given a tour of the cemetery where his parents are buried: a location that figures in several scenes in his memoir. At right is a photo that I took on that visit.

For our visit, we drove on the most recently built tollway from our temporary apartment in Rehovot up to Nahalal. In contrast, Shalev's earliest childhood trips to Nahalal in the 1950s were via the milk tanker that delivered milk from the moshav's cows to the dairy in Jerusalem. Though his grandparents were founders of the moshav, his mother had moved to Jerusalem where his father was a teacher and a poet, so the milk-truck driver would take him back to visit his grandmother and other relatives. Later, he traveled by train, a long and complicated route. His descriptions of train travel are vivid and amusing, right down to the sandwiches with tomato but with the salt packed separately so that the tomatoes wouldn't get mushy and to the last few miles when he and his mother and sisters would travel by horse-drawn cart.

Here's my favorite passage about a story his grandfather told about life before going to Israel:
"In the shop that his family had 'back there' in Makarov, in Ukraine, 'we sold products for the body, products for the soul, and products for between the two.' When I asked him what he meant by that, he explained. 'Products for the body were axes and hoes and boots for the Ukrainian farmers. Products for the soul were tallises, tefillin, and prayer books for the Jews.'

"Then he fell silent and stared at me in order to get me to ask what the products in betwen the two were.

'"Grandpa,' I said, 'and what were the products in between the two?'
"In between the two," he chuckled, 'is selyodka, herring. It's for both the body and the soul.'"

1 comment:

~~louise~~ said...

I'm glad to know someone is still "hitting the books," Mae. Sounds like you really enjoyed this one.

Thank you so much for sharing...

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!!! Louise:)