S. N. Behrman
The New Yorker
 November 21, 1953: 45-82

About the time I was born, a radiant event took place in my family. The details were impressed on me early. While my parents and my two older brothers were living a quiet and uneventful life on Providence Street, in Worcester, there suddenly fell into my family's collective lap an unbelievable and breathtaking bounty. It had the quality of a miracle because it was so easy and instantaneous and transforming. It lifted my parents to the Providence Street skies, distinguished them. It was as if there had suddenly been conferred on my family—without any of its members doing anything at all to deserve it—the award of the Légion d'Honneur. From that moment, they were set apart, revered, envied. My father was highly thought of as a Talmudic scholar, but the rest of us were ordinary enough. Why were we singled out for this extraordinary blessing? There were other Talmudists on the street, and they had families, too. Nevertheless, it was to us that it happened—the sudden arrival of a tremendous, unearned social increment—and nothing could be done about it by those who envied us. There was compensation even for them, because the lustre of our new distinction was great enough to shed its glow over the whole community. Had it been aware, all of Worcester might have revelled in it. But Providence Street knew, even if the rest of Worcester didn't. What happened was the totally unexpected engagement, in 1893, of my Uncle Harry, who lived a couple of blocks away on Providence Street, to a Boston girl named Ida, the daughter of the Ramaz.

There is an enchanting, almost untranslatable Yiddish play by Peretz Hirschbein called "Green Fields." It is laid in an impoverished ghetto village in Russia toward the end of the last century, and it tells of a wandering Talmudic scholar who is travelling on foot from a small Yeshiva, or rabbinical school, to a large, famous one in a big town hundreds of miles distant. He spends the night in the poor little hamlet. The illiterate Jewish peasant into whose yard he wanders is dazzled by the appearance of a man of the written word, and runs in to tell his family of the incredible stroke of good fortune. He is hysterical with gratitude to God. When the rich man of the village hears that the Talmudic scholar is staying in the poor man's house, he is angry. If this man of God is staying in the village, naturally he must stay with him. The play is concerned with the fierce social rivalry in the village over entertaining the poor scholar, over having as a guest, if only for a few hours, a man who can read. When I saw this play in Los Angeles some years ago, performed with remarkable delicacy by Jacob Ben-Ami, I understood better the sensation on Providence Street when my Uncle Harry's engagement to Ida was announced. For Ida's father, the Ramaz, was one of the most famous rabbis in the world. He was so famous that he was called not by his real name—Rabbi Moshe Zevulon Margolies—but by a name coined from his initials. The Rama looked like Moses, except that he wore gold-rimmed spectacles. My family knew his face even before the windfall, because his photograph hung in the living room of our tenement, as it did in the living rooms of most other Providence Street tenements.

The Ramaz, who was then presiding over the Baldwin Place Synagogue, in Boston, to which he had been summoned from Lithuania seven years before, traced his descent from a celebrated rabbi known as the Rashi, one of the greatest of Talmudic commentators, who lived in France in the eleventh century. "Rashi" is also a name coined from initials; his true name was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki. (The renowned Maimonedes, whose full name was Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, was called the Rambam.) The Rashi wrote one of the books of commentary—the book, too, is known as the Rashi—that orthodox Jews labor over endlessly in their Talmudic studies. Modern French philologists, the encyclopedias say, still go to the Rashi for examples of French literary usage in the Middle Ages. Some notion of the Ramaz's vast influence may be gleaned from the fact that in 1906, when he was presiding over the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, on West Eighty-fifth Street, in New York—and he was still presiding over it when he died in l936, at the age of eighty-five—a delegation of seventeen members of the Providence Street Synagogue, after visiting him to ask his advice on some synagogue question, decided to pay him an architectural tribute by rebuilding the house of worship on Providence Street in exact, if scaled-down, imitation of the Ramaz's synagogue.

The addition to the family of this illustrious aunt was a blessing far beyond what anyone could have imagined when the first breathless rumor of my Uncle Harry's engagement reached Worcester. Ida brought into our rather lugubrious, God-obsessed circle an exhilarating earthy gusto, strongly flavored with an almost ribald skepticism. The descendant of the Rashi bore her immense heritage lightly. Her gaiety was more than merely paradoxical; it was downright shocking. Whispers about Ida began to trickle along Providence Street soon after she settled down to housekeeping there with my Uncle Harry. In Worcester, Ida's attitude was always that of a worldling forced by awkward circumstances to reside briefly in the provinces, and she sailed serenely above the invidious rumors. When Ida, who was then seventeen, married my Uncle Harry, who was ten years older, she was a beautiful girl, with large, clear blue eyes and abundant light hair; she looked like a Holbein. Men stopped to chat with her on the sidewalk. On Providence Street, this was not considered proper for a married woman. For a married woman whose father was the Ramaz, it was considered blasphemous. Uncle Harry's sister, a strict doctrinaire, complained to him that Ida's promiscuous sidewalk conversations were becoming a scandal. My uncle, still incredulous at the acquisition of such a bride, told his sister that it was none of her business and that the daughter of the Ramaz could do no wrong, and suggested that the reason she herself never became involved in sidewalk conversations was that she was aggressively homely. There were other charges against Ida. One was that she brought home too many bundles, by which people meant that she was extravagant and wasted her husband's substance. As my Uncle Harry was a peddler of notions—pins, needles, and other small household accommodations, which he sold from house to house in such outlying communities as Ware, Fitchburg, Auburn, Webster, and Shrewsbury—there couldn't have been too much substance to waste, but the charge persisted. Later on, Ida bought an upright piano, on time. This was a nine days' wonder. It wasn't that Ida was musical; she had discovered that her husband had a tendency to throw things around when he was irritated, and the solidity of a piano appealed to her. A more serious charge was that she attended the matinées at Poli's vaudeville theatre on Saturdays. Such a violation of the Sabbath was unthinkable. Harry fiercely denied the charge, but one Saturday when a telegram arrived saying that Ida's mother was seriously ill, Harry went at once to Poli's and had Ida paged. When she was found, she pointed out that she had bought the ticket in advance, so that no money had changed hands on the sacred day.

Ida always said that she was not a "private woman." Aware of the gossip about her, she explained that she simply had to talk to men on the sidewalk. By not being a "private woman" she meant that she was the helpless victim of a passionate avocation, which she lovingly called a disease: This was her consuming interest in matchmaking. It colored her entire life. When it had begun she couldn't remember. She looked down on professional matchmakers, although she often had to come into contact with them, and, being proud of her amateur standing, she never took out a license. Ida had the true amateur's love, a devotion untainted by the profit motive. No one was safe from Ida—not even her own children, or any widowed in-laws, or her father. The feeling among orthodox Jews that a rabbi should not remain unmarried was a help to Ida, for the Ramaz outlived three wives and gave her talents a lot of play.

From the beginning, Ida's career was dramatic, even lurid. Her marriage to my Uncle Harry, which took place in Meinhard Hall, in Boston, received more than the conventional reporting in the social columns, because most of the two thousand guests, as well as the bride, were poisoned. In Worcester, the event was known for years as Ida's Poisoned Wedding. "BEAUTIFUL BLONDE IN A BLUE SATIN DRESS POISONED AT HER OWN WEDDING," went one headline, and another declared, "RABBI'S DAUGHTER AND TWO THOUSAND GUESTS POISONED BY DEJECTED LOVER." The dejected lover was Perrele Greenbaum. Perrele had everything; he was successful in business, lively, generous, and very much in love with Ida. But he was a materialist and couldn't resist the Saturday influx of business at his store. He was so relaxed in religious matters that he even carried an umbrella on Saturdays. Because Ida was the daughter of the rabbi of the Baldwin Place Synagogue, the spiritual leader of Boston's orthodox Jewry, it was out of the question for her to marry him. Later, Ida always said that she decided, with a great effort, to be cool toward Perrele. To be cool toward such a man as Perrele taxed all her resources. The arrival of my Uncle Harry in her field of action posed a piquant technical problem, and its solution furnished an anodyne for her emotional troubles. Ida had already begun to dabble in matchmaking, and Harry went to see her to reconnoitre a possible bride. When Harry arrived to get the prospect's address, Ida noticed—she said later—that he was tall and very handsome, and wore a blue serge suit, but that he looked like a farmer. Yet she saw in Harry's eyes an expression that said, "Why do I go hence to search when here before me is beauty and at the same time the daughter of the Ramaz?" She also saw that he would never dare to ask for her hand—that he was too shy. Perrele came to take her for a walk in the park. Not trusting herself to continue cool toward him without some artificial aid, she said, "I bet you five dollars I can take that big farmer from Worcester away from the Boston girl." Perrele grimly accepted the bet. The news of the wager reached Uncle Harry, and he was emboldened to propose to Ida. Ida, feeling that her ability to remain cool to Perrele could not last indefinitely, accepted Uncle Harry on the spot. The theory was that the vindictiveness of the rejected Perrele lay behind the poisoned wedding. A newspaper reporter put the question to her flatly: Was it a rejected lover who had poisoned the wedding guests? Ida replied that she had no lovers; she had sweethearts—plenty—but they were all gentlemen and not poisoners of innocent people. The explanation of the poisoning was, in fact, much less romantic and far more sinister.

The events of the wedding day and the night that followed it were always a nightmare to Ida. In her later years, she became very superstitious, and she attributed the misadventure at her wedding to the fact that it took place on the thirteenth of the month. When she was asked why she chose a notoriously unlucky day, she said, "I was a greenhorn then. In those days I was so ignorant I didn't know enough to be superstitious." An hour or so before the ceremony, an image of Perrele rose in her mind, and she decided that she couldn't go through with the wedding and that she must run away. But the wedding had been announced from the pulpit in the Baldwin Place Synagogue, and, in addition to the invited guests, several hundred uninvited people had shown up. It was pointed out to Ida that she couldn't disappoint so many people and that it would damage the good name of the Ramaz. She yielded to the principle of noblesse oblige. As she was standing under the wedding canopy, a visitation came to her: a voice like an angel's whispered, "Don't sit at the head table and don't eat!" This injunction she did not obey. Presently, there was panic in the hall and Ida understood why the voice had whispered to her. The guests all became very ill, those at the head table experiencing the first paroxysms; she became very ill herself. The Ramaz spoke to the guests quietly. The guilty ones would be discovered, he said, and God would punish them.

The Ramaz's prediction came true soon enough. The very next day, while the two thousand guests were still writhing, the wife of a butcher who had wanted to supply the meat for the wedding but who had been refused came rushing to the Ramaz crying hysterically. Her small son had just fallen off a roof, and she took this as a punishment from God. The Ramaz had turned this particular butcher down because he did not consider that his product met the ritual requirements for kosher meat. The Ramaz had many enemies among the Boston butchers, who found he could not be bribed to give certificates, or Hashgohes, qualifying their meat. The turndown for this big wedding was more than they could take. Some of the illegal butchers got together and raised fifteen hundred dollars, with which they bribed a druggist to concoct a poison that would not be fatal but would make the guests violently ill. When the plot was revealed by the butcher's hysterical wife, the Ramaz, instead of demanding that the offenders be sent to jail, rushed off to see the injured child, and this convinced the mother that the boy would get well, which, indeed, he did. God, said the Ramaz, would punish the plotters; revenge was not his province. So it came to pass. The druggist, who had been prosperous, gradually lost his business as the news got around; the illegal butchers and their leader, since the Ramaz continued to refuse to give them Hashgohes, were forced eventually to seek other trades. But the agitation caused by the poisoning was so great that Ida felt she couldn't go with her bridegroom on a honeymoon. They merely went home to Worcester instead, and Ida always insisted that Worcester was no place for a honeymoon.

Like her father, Ida was incapable of harboring grudges. Several years later, she ran into the guilty druggist in Grafton Square, in Worcester. He was down-and-out. He had been unable to reestablish himself in the drug business. Moreover, the girl he was going to marry had broken the engagement. The news of this shattered romance touched Ida. She did not offer, as she would have done for almost anyone else, to find him another girl, but she did say that if he needed a few dollars he might vaccinate her small son, the first-born of a family that included three daughters. He accepted the offer with gratitude. Ida took him home, and gave him some of the food for which she was by then famous and five dollars for the vaccination. Unfortunately, my Uncle Harry, when he got home, did not feel the same sympathy for the druggist. That Ida should permit an established poisoner to vaccinate their only son seemed to him beyond the bounds of tolerance. He had got over some of his bedazzlement at having acquired Ida, and he expressed his irritation in his usual way. He broke all the dishes in the house. He then stormed out, predicting that, thanks to Ida, their son would fall victim to all the diseases under Heaven. In later years, Ida, recalling the incident to her son with demure triumph, said that his father had been quite wrong; the druggist had done a very good job. "You had no diphtheria, no scarlet fever, no smallpox, no typhoid fever—only a little bit chicken pox," she said.

One reason Ida never really cottoned to Worcester was the absence of public benches there. She preferred New York because it offered a profusion of benches—on upper Broadway, in the parks, and, above all, in the lobbies of apartment buildings. It was as if a Parisian suddenly transplanted to Worcester were to find it arid because of the scarcity of sidewalk cafés. Some of Ida's most brilliant matches had their origin in chatty friendships formed while she was taking her ease on assorted benches in New York, which she often visited after her father moved there from Boston and where she went to live after my Uncle Harry died of pneumonia in 1915. From the bench in the lobby of her father's apartment house she hunted wives and husbands for lonely young people languishing in Worcester and its neighboring towns. She would say to visitors who came up to her father's apartment to sample her wonderful cooking, "Did you sit on the bench downstairs? What's doing there? Did you talk to anybody? Is there any news?" Frequently, after Uncle Harry died, she met men on benches who appealed to her and to whom she appealed; she might have married several of them, but there was sure to be a prospect on her list whose urge to marry was so insistent that she could not resist doing everything in her power to shift the focus to the client. Avocational considerations always came first with Ida. When she was living in New York, she often went back to Worcester to see two of her married daughters—all four of the children eventually married—but invariably she was impatient to return to her beloved benches. Once, it was suggested to her by a chauvinistic Worcesterite that, after all, there was always the chair on the back porch. She was contemptuous. "And who will I talk to on the back porch?" she demanded. "Who goes by a back porch? Who will I converse with? The bears in the back yard, maybe?" Ida insisted that on her very first evening in Worcester she had seen a bear on Waverly Street. She was told it was probably a big black dog, but she was convinced it was a bear. This caused a trauma about Worcester from which she never fully recovered.

When one of her married daughters came to New York to visit her, Ida told her about a gentleman she had met on a bench on Central Park West the night before. He was an agreeable and elegant Long Islander who carried a cane—a mark of distinction to Ida—and he could be found on this bench every evening at eleven when he was in town. Ida wanted her daughter to meet him, so after an evening at the movies they went to the bench. When he appeared, Ida introduced her daughter and stated that she was married but had several unmarried friends in Worcester who were cynosures, compendia of all the graces. Conversation was not the elegant Long Islander's long suit; Ida had to do most of the talking. At one in the morning, Ida's daughter said that she simply had to go to bed. "Can you understand the younger generation?" Ida demanded of the cane-carrier. "One o'clock only and she wants to go to bed! Please, let's stay awhile." The daughter wanted to know what there was to slay for. "Who knows?" said Ida pregnantly. "People are still walking."

At the time Ida died, in 1946, her children discovered that during the last years of her life she had occupied an official position she never told them about. After the funeral, an elderly woman said to them, "All the club members were at your mother's funeral."

"I didn't know that Mother belonged to a club," one of the daughters said.

"But she did," said the mourner, rather testily. "It was the club of all the women who sit on the benches of Broadway. Your mother was the president."

In general, Ida was happy in Worcester. She indulged her hobby as well as she could in a community deficient in benches, and one time Worcester rallied to her when New York had failed. This incident was a beautiful manifestation of the power and immortality of the legend of the Holy Grail. Ida's nature was a fascinating mixture of down-to-earth contemporary realism and medieval mysticism; she adduced the episode of a girl named Felice and the apple as a prime example of the intervention of Divine Providence in her affairs. Uncle Harry always left Worcester early on Monday morning and was away until Friday evening, peddling notions in the surrounding towns. One day, in Fitchburg, he went to what Ida described as a "fashionable restaurant" for dinner. The widow who owned the restaurant had a daughter named Felice, who was, Ida admitted, "a little of a bookkeeper on the side." Ida did not wish her to be entirely a bookkeeper, because that would have seemed prosaic. Harry, pleased with his dinner, started chatting with the widow. "Where in Russia do you come from?" he asked, ruling out the possibility that she might have come from another country. She said that she was originally a Kroza girl, and Harry was delighted; as it happened, he said, he had married a Kroza girl.

"Who did you marry?" asked the widow.

"1 married the daughter of the Ramaz," said Harry, trying to sound casual. The widow was stunned; when finally she believed the staggering truth, she ran to get Felice, so that the girl might behold with her own eyes the son-in-law of the Ramaz. She sent an effusive message to Ida, of whose deft matchmaking she had already heard, and she pressed into Harry's hand a photograph of Felice for Ida's gallery. When Ida saw Felice's photograph, she melted, she said, because the girl was so beautiful. But, being rushed at the time, she did nothing about her.

Several years passed and Felice's mother died. One Friday when Harry came back from the road, he said Felice was lonely in Fitchburg without her mother, and implored Ida to find a husband for her. Ida could understand, although she had never been in Fitchburg, how lonely one could get there. For every bear roaming the streets in Worcester, she hazarded, there must be six in Fitchburg. But even a beautiful girl like Felice, she said flatly, could not, being a penniless orphan, expect to find a Galahad in Worcester. The Worcester men, she went on, were all fools. To find a husband for a girl like Felice, she must journey to the greener pastures of New York. A few evenings on the bench in the lobby of the Ramaz's apartment building or on one along upper Broadway, and Felice's destiny would be happily sealed. This plan seemed too informal to Harry; he feared Ida's absent-mindedness among the blandishments of New York. Time, he pointed out, was all-important. "In that case," said Ida, "I will go to see Levine, the professional matchmaker from the Bronx, and come right back."

Ida took Felice's photograph to New York. Levine, ordinarily an unemotional man, who handled his affairs with commercial detachment, was so impressed that, as Ida enthusiastically recounted on her return, "he right away melted also." Ida had never seen Levine melt before. Felice was something quite special, Levine admitted. That she was an orphan was not a total disadvantage; that she was penniless was more serious. Yet he was in correspondence at that very moment with a young man in Atlanta to whom money did not matter, since he had so much of his own. He was in the fur business, had an automobile, and was so artistic that he had recently had his ample apartment done over by an "interior man." Levine dispatched Felice's photograph to Atlanta, with documentation supplied by Ida, and waited confidently for results. They came. Levine's letter to Worcester, a week after Ida's return, reported ecstasy in Atlanta. Loneliness in Fitchburg was about to be assuaged. The young man in Atlanta wrote to Felice enclosing his photograph. Harry brought it from Fitchburg for Ida's inspection. The young man, said Ida, looked promising, except that he had no neck. His head seemed to emerge directly from his padded shoulders. She preferred a young man with a neck, but then penniless orphans from Fitchburg could not be choosy. It was, Ida stated, all settled.

After some correspondence between Felice and the wealthy aesthete from Atlanta, he promised to come to Fitchburg for a meeting. Ida was afraid that Fitchburg might depress him, and she invited Felice to come and stay with her in Worcester, so that she would have a more metropolitan background. Ida was sure that Felice's "connection" with her would not fail to impress the young man, although Levine had told her that the furrier was a reformed Jew and hardly ever went to the synagogue except during the high holidays. The meeting was set for a Sunday. On Thursday, Ida's son, then nine, woke up too ill, he insisted, to go to school. He demanded an apple. An apple, he cried, was the only thing that could drive away his illness. Ida searched the flat. There was always a barrel of apples on the porch, but today the barrel was empty. The invalid set up a howl. Ida was frantic. At this exigent moment, the postman arrived with a special-delivery letter. It was from Levine, who was full of apologies. A cautious man, he had sent to Atlanta, together with Felice's photograph, a photograph of one of his Bronx clients. The photograph of the Bronx girl had appealed to his Atlanta correspondent less than Felice's—about this, he begged Ida to believe, there could be no question—but the Bronx girl, unfortunately, had a well-off mother. This mother had suddenly felt called upon to offer her daughter the broadening advantages of travel. On the way South, mother and daughter had stopped off in Atlanta, and, oddly, in that warm climate, the mother had felt impelled to buy some furs for her daughter and herself. The tactile had triumphed over the ethereally photographic; the Bronx girl and the furrier were engaged. Levine was returning Felice's photograph, but he begged Ida to believe, again, that he would keep her in mind, and he had no doubt that for so charming a girl, and with God's help, in the not too far distant future . . . Ida could not bear to read the hypocritical phrases; she threw the letter and the photograph to the floor. Had Levine been there, she admitted later, her blue eyes tranquil then and full of loving-kindness, she would have torn him limb from limb. She stood wondering how to break the awful news to Harry and Felice, and consumed with a desire to dismember Levine. To toy with an orphan's destiny! The treachery of sending off the extra photograph! And all the time, it finally penetrated her numbed and whirling senses, her little darling was screaming for an apple. It was at this very moment that there occurred what she could describe only as an act of God. It took the odd form of the voice of Ginsburg the peddler crying in the street outside, "Apples! Apples! Apples!" Ida ran to the window and called down to Ginsburg to bring up a peck. Now, Ida didn't like Ginsburg. She didn't like his looks. Theretofore, she said, she had never bought so much as an onion from him. But this was a crisis. First of all, she had to cure her boy and get him off to school; then she had to think more calmly about the disaster that had befallen Felice, who was even then preparing to come to Worcester to meet the faithless groom. Ginsburg brought in the peck of apples. With hardly so much as a look at him, Ida snatched an apple out of his basket and ran to her son's bedroom. It seemed to help him from the first bite; he demanded another apple. Ida ran back to get it. When she came into the parlor, the repulsive Ginsburg was staring ravished at Felice's photograph, which he had picked up from the floor.

From then on, Ida's conduct was not that of a rational being but that of a possessed one. "Mr. Ginsburg, are you a single or a married man?" she said with cold formality.

"I was married," said Ginsburg. "Your father, the Ramaz, knew my wife's family well. But my wife unfortunately died." This news also came to Ida as if by special delivery from Heaven—the second special delivery that morning.

Thereupon, another miracle occurred—one that always mystified Ida. As long as she had known Ginsburg, she had disliked his appearance without ever taking a really good look at him. Now she did take a good look at him and, marvellous to relate, he seemed to be tall, attractive, even handsome. "Tell me, Ginsburg," she said, still under a spell, "do you want to get married? I see you are looking at a highborn, educated girl who comes from my home town, Kroza. Do you want to get married, Ginsburg?" It was all a little too fast for Ginsburg; he stood there unable to speak, staring at the photograph in his hand, and his hand trembling. But Ida, borne along by a supernatural agency, extolled Felice's virtues as eloquently as if she had known her from babyhood, and she could see that Ginsburg, like everyone else who looked at Felice's photograph, had melted. Ida's eloquence rose in a spiral of persuasion that would have moved a rock.

Ginsburg was no rock. Finally, he found speech. "A girl like this I would marry even at midnight, even in the dark," he said fervently.

Encouraged, Ida became more realistic. "She has no money, Ginsburg. All she has is what you see in the picture."

"If she has half, I'll marry her," said Ginsburg gallantly.

"She's yours," said Ida lavishly, and then she added a cautionary postscript: "That is, if you get my husband's O.K."

Harry's O.K. proved not easy to get. When he was told of Levine's betrayal, he began breaking dishes. Then Ida told him of the Heaven-sent visitation of Ginsburg the peddler. Harry began to break more dishes. At the word "peddler," he grew apoplectic. His affection for Felice was so deep, his hopes for her so high, that he couldn't bear the idea of her allying herself with a worker in his own vineyard. "A peddler!" he shouted. "A wonderful girl like Felice should marry a peddler! Never till my dying day will I allow it! You call a peddler a wonderful catch?"

Even had the thought occurred to her, Ida would probably not have said that she didn't see why Felice should make a better match than she, the daughter of the Ramaz, had; Ida was too kindly for that. While Uncle Harry was picking up the last fragment of crockery, Ginsburg appeared. Instead of the nondescript costume he had worn the day before, he was now beautiful in a blue serge suit and a white shirt, not open at the throat like a poet's or a peddler's but with a tie, which gave him the appearance of a man of affairs. Moreover, he was now, Ida averred, at least two inches taller. He had become so good-looking that she felt she could have fallen in love with him herself. Nevertheless, she had to tell him that Harry would never permit Felice to marry a peddler. "But I am no peddler," said Ginsburg. "I have a store, but when things are slow there, I take to peddling to make a few extra dollars. Don't you worry about Felice. I will give her all the money she wants." Even Harry was impressed. When Felice arrived on Sunday to meet the capricious furrier from Atlanta, she met instead the only occasional peddler Ginsburg. The match was made.

When Ida was later asked whether she had received any fee for this marriage, she said, "I never took money from anybody. I did it for the pleasure. But from that time on, did my little takhshidel have apples!" ("Takhshidel" is a Yiddish expression meaning, loosely, "my darling one." It connotes intense affection, plus a tolerant awareness of imperfection; which of the two predominates depends entirely on the tone of voice.) The major emolument Ida derived from this happily consummated marriage was not her son's flood of apples but her joy at being able to write a withering letter to Levine, the tricky matchmaker from the Bronx. She often repeated the lofty sentences, simmering with quiet invective. She advised Levine thenceforward to keep his fake furriers to himself. As for Felice, he need not trouble his head in the least about her, since she could now announce Felice's engagement to the richest department-store owner in Worcester, a brilliant and cultivated millionaire who would, for all she knew, end up as Governor of Massachusetts.

After Ida moved to New York, she kept house for her father, whose second wife had recently died. Keeping house for the Ramaz was no light chore. Everybody came to his apartment—the rich, the poor, the halt, the lame, the blind. They came for help, for advice, for spiritual guidance, for relief in ritualistic dilemmas. About the last, the Ramaz was almost unique in tolerance, sympathy, and humor. To a woman who called him up to ask whether she could serve her family a chicken she had reason to believe had not been killed according to ritual, the Ramaz said, "I cannot possibly examine a chicken over the telephone." He tried to keep the woman from coming over by telling her to consult the rabbi in her own parish, but she made the journey to Eighty-fifth Street anyway. Ida received her, suspecting that the journey had been motivated by her desire to meet the wifeless Ramaz. Still, it was all grist to Ida's mill. The woman was a comely widow, and Ida married her off to a yearning elderly widower from Bradley Beach, in New Jersey. One day while her father was out, the doorbell rang and Ida opened the door to admit Jacob H. Schiff. Jacob Schiff was a reformed Jew; he normally attended the Temple Emanu-El. Obeying some atavistic impulse, however, when the time arrived for him to say his annual Kaddish, or memorial prayer, for his dead parents, he came to the Ramaz's synagogue to do it. Mr. Schiff asked for the Ramaz. Ida invited him to have a glass of tea while he waited for her father. Mr. Schiff accepted and, according to Ida, found her so agreeable that he said he would come one day and take her for a drive in the Park. Finally, he departed, leaving a message. When the Ramaz returned, Ida expatiated on Mr. Schiff's democratic manners. She was so dizzied by the vision of riding in the Park beside Jacob Schiff that she couldn't remember the message. When the Ramaz reproved her mildly, she said, "Don't worry. He'll be back any minute to take me for a ride." To which the Ramaz answered, with a tired smile, "avahdah!"—an untranslatable expression that conveys a maximum of affirmation firmly laced with a maximum of skepticism. The skepticism was, as it turned out, justified.

Ida immediately set about getting her father married again; it kept her hand in, and gave her a pleasant sense of piety. The Ramaz was then well over sixty, but there were many applicants for the position. He trusted Ida's discretion. There was one extremely persistent applicant who, in Ida's bitter words, haunted the funerals of the Ramaz's wives, "hoping, hoping, hoping." Ida settled on a less aggressive candidate, but it turned out that she had a bad heart, and within two years Ida had to do it all over again. On the day of her father's marriage to the woman with heart trouble, Ida left his house and moved to her youngest daughter's, on West Eighty-third Street. There—except for the twelve years she was married to a well-to-do Newark real-estate man named Newman—she spent the remainder of her life. The period before the marriage to Newman was a halcyon season of mad flirtation and feverish matchmaking. Many suitors came in quest of her; most of them she diverted to her clients. Her daughter's apartment was in perpetual turmoil.

The daughter, nicknamed Go-Go, had, as she still has, some of Ida's effervescence. This was Ida's explanation of why Go-Go, unlike her two sisters, had not remained in Worcester but had married a New Yorker. He was Maurice Bergman, a public-relations man and known to his friends as Bergie. Bergie adored Ida. Go-Go claimed that his devotion to Ida was so fervent because he spent long periods away from her in Hollywood. Actually, he didn't even mind the fact that Ida kept the line so busy talking to her prospects that he could never get his apartment on the telephone. Bergie's devotion to Ida wavered only once. Helmi, the Bergmans' Finnish cook, was an excellent cook and an institution in the family. But she was unmarried. There was also the elevator man, very shy and an expert on the weather. Bored with his meteorological predictions, Ida asked him one day whether he was married. He wasn't; he had thought about it, but no one was handy. "And what about Helmi?" said Ida. "She's a wonderful girl and a wonderful cook." Before the Bergmans knew what was happening, Helmi and the elevator man had got married and hired out in the country as a couple. Ida defended herself by saying that she couldn't stand the sight of lonely people.

"Helmi was not lonely!" said Go-Go, with some heat.

"The elevator man was lonely," said Ida.

Another character who impinged on the Bergmans' lives was known to them only as Box 77. After a morning of incessant phone ringing, Go-Go, who was waiting for a long-distance call from Bergie, finally answered the telephone herself. "It's for you," she said wearily to Ida. "It's a man and he won't give his name."

"If he doesn't give his name, I know who it is," said Ida.

The conversation went about as follows: "You didn't give your name, so you must he Box 77. I have a very nice party for you, Box 77—a very nice woman and she has a good business. . . . She lives in Bradley Beach. . . . You are a New Yorker and can't go to Bradley Beach. . . . Then what about a Philadelphia woman? Could you go to Philadelphia? . . . You are a printer and can't leave your business. . . . Well, thank you for calling, Box 77, and I'll see what I can do for you with a New York woman."

Another day, Go-Go was informed that Box 77 was in the lobby. Ida asked her to have him come right up. "Aren't you scared, Ma, to have a total stranger in the house?" Go-Go asked.

"A man who advertises in the Yiddish papers cannot he a stranger," said Ida primly. "You go into your bedroom; I will interview him in the living room."

From the bedroom, Go-Go listened while Ida interviewed Box 77: What was his ancestry? What about his printing business? Could he go out of town to interview prospects on Sunday? Would he give up his business for a Scranton woman who had a larger business? Finally, Box 77 departed.

"He sounded nice," said Go-Go. "How did you like him? Why didn't you speak for yourself?"

"He's a tall man and very nice," Ida said, "but he has a dot in one eye, and a man with a dot in the eye I couldn't marry. But I know lots of women who are not so particular." Ida did marry Box 77 off, and the Bergmans were enormously relieved.

In the field of matchmaking, Ida's major frustration was her only son, then an official of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and now assistant director of the United Jewish Appeal, who also lived in New York. He steadily resisted her strenuous efforts to get him married. A friend, for reasons known only to himself, nicknamed him the Major. During the Second World War, the shortage of men was acute and the clamor around Ida for husbands became insistent and deafening. For a long time, her son, who was then in his forties, was almost the only good prospect on her list, but he was stubborn. Once, she lined up for him an arithmetic teacher with a dowry, but the teacher happened to have an uncontrollable giggle. Ida admitted that she could not understand how a girl so highly educated could permit herself such a fatuous giggle. Then she mobilized a young woman who was a relative of Professor Richard J. H. Gottheil, of Columbia. Ida's sales talks usually featured important relatives, and when she was selling her son, his relationship to the Ramaz received due emphasis. Ida dilated on Professor Gottheil's relative, and even improvised a few glowing details about the Professor's high regard for the girl. Her son relented, then telephoned at the last moment to say that he could not keep the appointment she had arranged for him. Ida told him it would serve him right if the girl married somebody else, and saw to it that she did. Another problem was her discovery that the Ramaz's name was not as potent among the younger set as it was to her own generation. She had tantalized a mother who claimed to have an adorable young daughter by dangling before her the prospect of marrying this daughter off to the grandson of the Ramaz. To the astonishment of both mothers, the girl was not bowled over by the prospect; she had never heard of the Ramaz. She broke an appointment to meet the Ramaz's grandson in order to go to the Paramount and hear Frank Sinatra, leaving the Major to lunch with the two mothers. This was all right with him, for he was in the habit of coming up every Saturday to have lunch with his mother anyway, and found that reward sufficient, without the addition of romance.

Ida took to telephoning her son at his office for consultation and advice about her own romances. There was a violinist who played tender mazurkas to her over the telephone. Ida had called him back to tell him how thrilled she had been, and had got the violinist's daughter. The daughter, she reported, was cool. Ida sensed impending interference from her, and she was right; she received no more mazurkas on the telephone. Then there was a sportsman named Billikopf, a retired man who not only carried a cane but sported a "prince-nez" besides. One Saturday, Ida proudly showed her son a glass jar of salmon with her name on the label. Billikopf, she said, had caught the salmon, canned it, and labelled it with Ida's name and the date on which he had caught the fish. Things were going wonderfully when Billikopf, who had a way of travelling to far-off places, suddenly disappeared. Ida was sure that he had died—probably on a safari. It was years before she heard from him again. In the meantime, she used to say, with a sigh, "Ah, if only Billikopf had lived!"

Ida's son once wrote down a telephone conversation of his mother's: "Hello, takhshidel, I don't call you in the office too often. Why should I bother you? You are always busy. This time it's very important. I met a man who is interested in me and I would like you should look him up in John & Bradford what he has. Find out for me if he gives to Federation also. He told me he is a very charitable man. If he is rich like he says, he should give plenty. An educated man I know he is, but is he charitable? If he is not charitable, why should I bother with him? His business is with cedar chests and he told me that he and his son together do a very good business. But who knows? In John & Bradford you can find out for me. And besides, Sam, I heard of a wonderful girl for you in Bayonne. Her father is a heart specialist and her uncle . . ."

Ida's reputation became so far-flung that she received love letters from people she did not even know. This one is a fair example:


I came back to New York and thought of writing you. It's quite a long time I've been recommended to write to you by Mr. Poles. We have corresponded for a while and then I had to leave town.

Should it happen that you're married at this time then I wish you luck. No harm of inquiring. In case you're still single and if you care I'd like to meet you some Saturday eve, or Sunday.

Yours sincerely,

As it happened, Ida was married at the time—to Newman of Newark, a marriage that she claimed she never could account for. Her detachment about this marriage may be gathered from the fact that after he died and she was asked why she did not wear mourning for him, she replied airily, "For my father, for my sister, for my mother, I will wear black. But why should I wear black for a total stranger?" Newman, who looked like Henri Poincaré, was a tall, corpulent, imposing man with a small, trim, pointed white beard. He was pious and adored the Ramaz, whom he had tried to entice to the rabbinate in Newark. As he could not have the Ramaz in Newark, he came to New York to see the holy man as often as possible, and summers, when the Ramaz was at Bradley Beach, he took his idol out for drives in his automobile, which the Ramaz enjoyed very much. Newman, who had done well in real estate, was now retired, and devoted himself to good works. He had two ambitions—to visit Palestine, and to visit it in the company of the Ramaz. Newman had settled in Newark by mistake. When he arrived in this country as an immigrant in his youth, he disembarked at Baltimore. It was his intention to go to New York, the only American city he knew. When the train reached Newark, however, he heard the conductor shouting what sounded to him like "New York," and he thought he had arrived at his destination. Several months passed before he found out he was not living in New York.

When Newman met Ida, who by then was fifty years old, at Bradley Beach, he fell in love with her at once. His double aspiration now became triple—to go to Palestine, to go with the Ramaz, and to go as the Ramaz's son-in-law. The ambition of Newman, who was close to sixty, paralleled that of Lord Rosebery, who set himself the goal of becoming, by thirty, Prime Minister of England, winner of the Derby, and husband of a Rothschild; it was equally intense and seemingly even less likely to be achieved. Newman, slow, ponderous, pontifical, became suddenly electrified when he beheld Ida's winsome blue eyes, and proposed to her. This was a reckless thing to do, considering (he did not tell this to Ida) that he had already been earmarked for a rich widow in Cleveland by Levine, Ida's old treacherous collaborator. Ida turned Newman down flat, but he persisted. He would take her and her father to Palestine on their honeymoon, he said. Ida said that she would like to go to Palestine, but not in a crowd. "You are in love with my father!" she exclaimed. "Why do you want me?" Privately she thought, as she later reported, "I should marry an old man with a white beard and a coöperation!" Newman made a strategic retreat. He would not press the matter now, he said, but he begged Ida to think it over. There was nothing for Ida to think over.

Ida, too, had a secret. She did not tell Newman that she was in love with a man named Blinkman, Go-Go's landlord, whose wife had just died. Ida had apparently been in love with him for a long time. Perhaps that was why she had not pinned down any one of her long succession of flirtations. But Blinkman was evasive. He had corresponded with Ida through three marriages, the first two arranged for him by Ida herself. Blinkman's letters, many of which have been preserved, show a variability in temperature. Those written while he was married are warm—just short of ardent—and full of complaints about his current wife, along with hints of the incumbent's shortcomings in comparison to Ida's perfections. Between marriages, the letters—many of them written in Miami Beach, expressing the wish that Ida were with him—are certainly courteous but somehow a little cool. Now Blinkman was free. Ida had only the other day sent him a special-delivery letter commenting on the coincidence that she was free, too; she had, as a matter of fact, been free for ten years. Newman's proposal, therefore, couldn't have come at a more unpropitious moment.

When ambition seizes certain temperaments, it is not to be gainsaid. Newman wrote Levine a letter ordering him to break off negotiations with the Cleveland widow and declaring that it was his intention to marry Ida, the daughter of the Ramaz. Levine was overcome. He had worked long and patiently to draw Newman and the widow together. As this was to be an alliance beyond the ordinary, because both people were rich, he had journeyed to Cleveland with Newman's photograph and credentials, and had journeyed to Newark with the widow's. Distracted, Levine wrote Newman a letter echoing an ineffectual Ibsen character before a comparable disaster: "People don't do such things!" Newman wrote back that he didn't care what people did. He knew what he was going to do; he was going to marry the daughter of the Ramaz. Levine replied that it was too late for Newman to change his course; the Cleveland widow had consented, and it was a pact. Newman wrote back that as he no longer consented, it was no pact. Levine, desperate, got on the subway and went to call on Ida.

Although Ida was not one to bear grudges, she had never entirely forgiven Levine for his conduct in the Fitchburg affair. True, the thing had turned out well; the Ginsburgs had been one of the most successful of her marriages. In business life, one has to make compromises, and Ida, over the years, had had various professional dealings with Levine. And now Levine stood before her a man bereft. What was this calamitous news, he wanted to know, about Newman of Newark? "Ask Newman!" said Ida crisply. Levine told her about what he called Newman's insane letters. He told her about the protracted negotiations with the Cleveland widow, a sensitive person of great breeding, to whom he had not dared even hint of Newman's perfidy. He intimated that if Ida would retire from the field, he would cut her in on the commission from the Cleveland-Newark alliance. This proffered bribe Ida rejected with disdain. There then took place one of those swift emotional reversals that dot the history of passion. Levine suddenly burst out with the information that he himself had always admired Ida—loved her, in fact. He was a lonely man, burdened with cares. He asked Ida to marry him. Ida was touched. Not until afterward did it occur to her that there might have been a mixture of motives, including a desire to remove a fleck from the carefully woven tapestry of the Cleveland-Newark marriage. Still, a proposal was a proposal.

"Levine," she said, "I cannot marry you, but thanks just the same."

Levine wanted to know why.

"I could not marry a marriage broker," said Ida.

Levine pointed out that it was a business in which she herself engaged, even though as an amateur.

"It's all right for a woman, but it's no business for a man," said Ida.

Levine did not give up. They could pool their resources; he would go into some other business.

Ida decided to tell Levine the real reason. "My daughter's landlord's wife just died, so I want to marry him," she said.

Levine blinked. "You don't know?" he said incredulously.

"I don't know what?" asked Ida.

"Blinkman is going to marry Bernice from Queens," Levine said.

"Bernice from Queens I know very well. She is an old maid and deaf," Ida said.

"She won't be an old maid after Blinkman marries her," said Levine, "and she's only a little bit deaf."

Ida now knew why there had been no answer to her letter to Blinkman, but even in her disappointment, which she concealed from Levine, she wondered why, if Blinkman was going to marry Bernice, he hadn't asked her to arrange it. He had called her in on other occasions.

Now Levine returned to the attack. Would Ida marry him?

No, she couldn't possibly marry Levine. And she suddenly heard herself saying, "Levine, thank you for the compliment, but I can't marry you, because I am going to marry Newman of Newark. We are going with Papa to Palestine."

Later, trying to explain this astonishing statement, Ida speculated, in her detached way, on how she happened to make it. "How did I come to marry Newman of Newark?" she would ask. Then would come the various explanations. Perhaps it was pique over Blinkman. Perhaps—an ugly possibility she hoped was not true—she wanted to frustrate Levine's deal with the Cleveland woman out of revenge for Levine's behavior toward Felice. "Who knows?" Ida would say.

Presently, Ida did marry Newman of Newark, to her father's joy, and the three of them journeyed to Palestine.

In his long life, the Ramaz knew many griefs. In his boyhood and youth, in the famous rabbinical college at Telshe, in Lithuania, which was then part of Russia, he lived in deep communion with ancient sages, searching in the books and records they had left for the elusive essence of truth and goodness his faith told him must be somewhere behind all of life's suffering. He sought identification with God. He was a mystic, but not in the Eastern sense: He did not believe that man's identification with the Eternal could ever be complete; human frailty being what it was, it could he only partial. The extent to which this identification could be enlarged was the measure of success in life, the only measure he knew. It was only because he was able to believe in the possibility of this development in every human soul that life was not all pain and ashes. His erudition was vast, yet he never sank into the morass of pedantry, because he knew that even the sages he studied had not attained certainty but only the fleeting beauty of Divine intimation. This humility endowed the Ramaz with both mellowness and humor. He was amused at any kind of pretentiousness. When he went with a delegation of rabbis to call on President Coolidge, one of them, who knew many languages and was fond of displaying them, addressed the President for some minutes in French. "Unfortunately," the Ramaz reported, "President Coolidge didn't know French." During the time of Hitler, a group of prominent New Yorkers came to confer with the Ramaz about a program to help the German Jews. After the meeting was over, Ida went in to find the Ramaz looking sad. She asked him whether the meeting had gone well or badly. Her father pointed to the ashtrays brimming with cigar and cigarette stubs. "You can see from those that it was a successful conference," he said ruefully.

The Ramaz was still very young when people started referring to him as a tzaddik, or saint. He had recently emerged from the austerity and contemplation of the rabbinical college when, in 1886, he first received the call to go to the Baldwin Place Synagogue. He was then married to his first wife, a stately, pious, strong-minded young woman, whom he adored and who was with him through all his early tribulations. They had two sons and two daughters, their first child being Ida, who was ten when the Ramaz was summoned to Boston. Although he was received with great honor in Boston, he was bewildered and unhappy. The American scene was too alien; it was too hustling and ambitious and "progressive." He felt he could never make vivid and real to his parishioners the need he felt and, if he was to help them, the need they must feel. To the anger and dismay of the Bostonians, after a year in Boston he went back to his native town in Lithuania. On arriving there, he found a certain hostility in the atmosphere; the phrase "American rabbi" had in it the barb of epithet. It was as if he had vulgarized his gift, diluted his sainthood. This made him very sad, and he went back to the Baldwin Place Synagogue.

Shortly after the Ramaz returned to America, he and his wife sent their first son, who was then nine, back to Lithuania, to attend the Telshe rabbinical school. The Ramaz's ancestors had been rabbis as far back as the record could be traced, and he wanted his first son to be a rabbi; he feared that the boy would be caught up in the rush of American materialism and abandon the ancient faith. This fear was unfounded. The boy was precocious but devout. He received his smicho, or degree in Talmudic studies, when he was thirteen, a conspicuously early age for such an attainment, then came back to America and went to public schools and later to Harvard, where he made a brilliant record. Directly after his graduation, he was called to the rabbinate of the leading orthodox synagogue of Cleveland. In 1917, at the age of thirty-six, he was killed in an automobile accident. The Ramaz travelled to Cleveland to bring his son's body back to New York. He delivered the hesped, or eulogy, in his own synagogue. Those who heard it say that in the Ramaz's quiet voice and bearing they found comfort and reassurance. Many wept. The Ramaz did not weep. His son, he said, had had some identification with the Divine, the identification he himself had all his life striven to find. His son had found it, and perhaps, in his youth and vigor, more clearly. He had, moreover, made the necessity for it clear to some of his parishioners, and thus his own vision was perpetuated. This made his brief life significant and imperishable.

In the family burial plot, the Ramaz had an extra grave. This was for his books those that contained errors and those that were too worn to be rebound. The burying of blemished books was a common practice in Europe and is still done by some of the orthodox synagogues in America. To burn a book is considered a sin, just as it is considered a sin to burn the body. The Ramaz chose to bury his own books, as they became unusable, in the grave beside his own that he had provided for them. The marker on the Ramaz's other grave reads, in Hebrew, "Here lie the books and phylacteries that bore a blemish."

For the Ramaz, the advent of Hitler was the recurrence of an old pain. From his boyhood in Czarist Russia, he remembered persecution; he grew up in an atmosphere in which the constant threat of it was normal. He suffered now, but he did not share the panic of many of his parishioners, who feared that this virulence would cross the ocean. He gave them comfort, not so much by what he said as by his dignity and his calm faith that what the enemy believed in would perish and that what he believed in would survive. At the synagogue service on the eve of the Day of Atonement in 1934, after the singing of Kol Nidre, the Ramaz opened up the Ark and took out the Torah. "This," he said quietly, "is our faith, this is our strength, this is our hope." The Ramaz was eighty-two when, in the early days of the Hitler persecutions, he went to lead a mass meeting of twenty thousand people in prayer at Madison Square Garden. Even Ida was awed by the spectacle of the old man invoking Divine intercession to save the remnant of the Jewish people.

To the Ramaz, Ida was a peculiarly American phenomenon. He looked upon her with affectionate incredulity. She had been with him so much; they had weathered so many tragedies, both personal and racial, the Ramaz with his faith, Ida with her irrepressible gusto. He, who had endured so much sorrow, must have felt a certain exhilaration in the knowledge that his daughter was not wounded, that she enjoyed life as if it was not inevitably mottled with pain. To him, Ida was a creature from another world; he could not believe that he had produced her. Ida considered herself contemporary and down-to-earth. She thought her father dreamy and old-fashioned. To the Ramaz, Ida was like a character in an illuminated chapbook of the Middle Ages. In the spacious, distant chamber in which his thoughts dwelt, the reverberations of her activities reached him, yet he apprehended them but dimly. For him, they were like the hearsays bandied about by the medievalists—of strange wonders, of miracles, of monsters from undiscovered deeps, of unicorns, dragons, and demigods. He would inquire vaguely from time to time about her goings on; he was entertained by some of her exploits, as if, through an accident of research, he had come upon a gossip column from Cathay.

Anyone whose primary interest was not in romance was unrealistic to Ida, and Ida thought her father was unrealistic. Her romantic problems occasionally bordered on the ethical, and once, because Ida was at that time living with her father in New York, she brought him a nice one to adjudicate. It concerned the strange case of Anna Shapiro, a man whom Ida referred to as "the anxious Zionist," and an inventor. Anna was an old friend of Ida's, from her Boston days, and Ida had imported her from Boston to marry "a rich New Yorker." Everything was going wonderfully; the couple had two children and Anna was in seventh heaven. Then the husband developed a defect. "He got so rich that he went crazy," Ida said succinctly. Ida was sensitive about insanity among her clients. (Once, while she was living in Worcester, she had brought from Boston one of her best friends, a man named Merrick, who was Commissioner of Weights and Measures, to marry a beautiful Worcester girt. Directly after the wedding ceremony, the bride began to yell and scream, and had to be taken to an institution for the insane. Merrick went back to Boston, and Ida followed him in order to explain that the bride's insanity was as much a surprise to her as it was to him. It took a conference of lawyers, rabbis, and judges to straighten the thing out. Merrick became cool toward Ida. "Nowadays," she said mournfully, "you have to be a doctor, a psy-what-do-you-call-it, as well as a matchmaker.") Anna put her husband in a sanatorium. One day, he threatened to kill himself unless the Ramaz came to see him, and Anna said that since Ida had brought her to this pass, the least she could do was get her father to go. The poor Ramaz went, and Anna's husband tried to enlist his interest in a project to build a subway from New York to Palestine. It was this proposal that caused Ida to dub him "the anxious Zionist." Unable to advance his project, the anxious Zionist did commit suicide. He left a substantial income to Anna, on the condition that she not marry again. This posed a problem. Anna was marriageable, but she didn't, as Ida said, "want to relax the money." One night, on the bench in the lobby of her father's apartment house, Ida fell to talking with an inventor. She had never met an inventor before, and as she had just lost Blinkman, she was in a receptive mood. When she went upstairs, she told her father she had met a scientist whom she could easily marry, but he needed money for his inventions. The Ramaz, without looking up from a book he was reading, said absently that impecunious inventors ought to be subsidized, and that Ida, in the interests of progress, might find him a rich wife. Ida wondered how a man could reach her father's age and understand so little about emotional involvement. She already saw herself the wife of a scientist, a position in life that seemed to her incredibly chic. But then, some days later, Ida found that the scientist was seeing Anna Shapiro. Anna had said nothing to her, her best friend, about it. Direct in everything, Ida approached Anna. Anna confessed that she loved the scientist. Would Ida further the match?

Ida came to the point at once. "Will you relax the money?" she asked.

"For him, yes," said Anna.

"Will you tell him that if he marries you, you will have to relax the money?" Ida asked.

At this, Anna's expression showed a certain tension.

"If I deal for you, I have to tell him," Ida said sternly. "He needs money for his inventions."

Anna temporized. "Let him invent without money," she said.

"If you don't tell him," Ida said, "I wash my hands!"

"Then wash," said Anna.

A coolness developed between the two old friends. Ida wrestled with the problem of whether to tell or not to tell. If she told, how would she know that she was not telling as a rival who wanted the scientist for herself, instead of as a disinterested marriage broker? It was her business to make marriages, and she had a moral obligation to Anna, because if it had not been for her, Anna would never have married the anxious Zionist. She found herself impaled on both horns of this dilemma. She decided to put the question to her father. After all, this was in a realm beyond romance; it involved ethics. She forced her father to stop reading and faced him with this new Judgment of Solomon. The Ramaz listened, took off his glasses, polished them, put them back. His clear blue eyes rested on his daughter. He remembered an odd anecdote of an ancestor to whom an analogous problem had been posed. It was a funny story, which had made rabbinical students laugh for four hundred years. Was this his daughter and was she living in the twentieth century? What a curious survival! Still, since Ida was so serious, he met the question with equal gravity. "If Anna wants you for an intermediary, you must persuade her to tell him," he said finally. "If she doesn't want you, then it's none of your business."

"Then I lose the match altogether," said Ida.

"You must persuade Anna to tell him," said the Ramaz. "Appeal to her vanity. Let her put the inventor to the test." 

"And what about my conscience?" demanded Ida. "I like the inventor myself. What will Anna say if I marry him? She'll be mad, and she'll be right. What a business I chose, with such problems!"

"You won't have to worry about your conscience," said the Ramaz. "If the inventor won't marry Anna without money, then he won't marry you. The probability is he will return to his science. By the way, tochterel, what did your scientist invent?"

"He has just made an invention the salt and the pepper should come from the same shaker," Ida said.

The Ramaz looked profoundly impressed. He predicted the eclipse of Einstein and returned to his books.

Ida persuaded Anna to inform the scientist of her difficult financial status, and for a season the scientist did, indeed, disappear into his laboratory. Eventually, Anna and Ida patched things up, on the common ground that scientists were scum. But later, when Ida got a letter from the inventor, she admitted that her heart missed a heat. It was a strange letter for a scientist to write, since it took the form of a poem. It was more than a poem; it was a poetic anagram. It was written on the stationery of the scientist's firm—the All-In Mfg. Co.—and bore a picture of a salt-and-pepper shaker. The first letters of the poem's eleven lines spelled out the greeting "Good morning." After the first thrill, Ida felt let down. "Good morning is not love," she said. "He could just as well send me Good night!"

When Ida married Newman and went to Newark to live, her father was happy. But Ida did not fully share the Ramaz's feeling that all was well. Newman was proud of her, and Ida was a good wife to him. The difficulty was that she didn't care for Newark. To her, it was almost like living in Worcester. True, she never saw a bear there, but it was benchless and provincial. She confessed that she enjoyed going to Worcester just to get away from Newark. She regretted her husband's mistake in getting off the train in Newark when by staying on a half hour longer he could have got off in New York. "What a difference in that half hour!" she summarized elegiacally. She kept up her New York connections, and she was always in and out of town. Summers she spent at Bradley Beach, driving about with her husband and her father. Bradley Beach was teeming with the unmarried young people, widows, widowers. She accumulated enough prospects there to keep her busy through the winters. As Mrs. Ida Newman, she felt that she had emerged from bohemia and was firmly established in the upper bourgeoisie. She had acquired status apart from her father. On a visit to Worcester, she asked one of her daughters if she would take a check. Her daughter asked if she needed cash. "No, no," said Ida, "I don't need cash. I just thought you would like one of my checks for a souvenir." She produced one; it had printed on it, "Mrs. Ida Newman, 222 West 83 Street, New York, N.Y." Ida enjoyed handing around her checks like calling cards. She used a New York address—actually, Go-Go's address—because she insisted on maintaining her metropolitan standing; she saw no reason to recognize Newark as her place of residence simply because, on account of her husband, she happened to live there.

In 1938, Newman died, and Ida moved back to Go-Go's. Box 77 was on the phone again. Before long, Go-Go was busy heading an organization that supplied theatre tickets to service men, and she was forced to make a rule that there were to be no calls from Ida's prospects until after one in the afternoon. Ida sent out a bulletin to all her clients. She did her best to make them obey the rule, but it cramped her style. Once, her son-in-law, shaving in the bathroom, heard her say on the telephone, "Hello. . . . You have the wrong number, but call me up after one o'clock."

He came out of the bathroom to inquire, "If it's the wrong number, why did you ask whoever it was to call after one?"

"Because," she said, "I can take my calls after one, and who knows? He had such a nice voice. Sounded like an educated man!"

When the Ramaz's third wife died, Ida took the death as a reflection on her own ability. She determined that the next one must have a doctor's certificate. She did not really want to leave Go-Go's to keep house for her father—she would have to send out so many cards to announce the new telephone number. She acted with dispatch; in fact, she married her father off without leaving Go-Go's apartment. She referred to this coup as "the window marriage." Ida was sitting by a window reading when a window in the opposite apartment opened and a nice-looking gray-haired woman addressed her across the narrow areaway. "Dearie, I heard that your father's wife died," she said. "I would like an introduction."

"Are you pious?" Ida asked.

"I am pious, but for your father I could he more pious."

"Are you healthy?" Ida asked.

"I never had a sick day."

"I had in mind a Boston woman," Ida said.

"Why should he go to Boston when I am right here?"

"I will let you know," Ida said.

She informed her father that there was a beautiful woman next door who had always greatly admired him and who asked nothing more of life than to be his wife. She then had a doctor examine the woman, and he reported that her heart was good. The marriage took place.

Before long, this woman, too, became ill. Ida called in the doctor. "I thought you said her heart was good," she said.

"Her heart is good," said the doctor, "but her lungs are not so good."

"After my mother," Ida used to say sadly, "Papa never had any luck with his wives." Actually, however, the Ramaz's fourth wife survived him.

Ida was in the full tide of her activities when, at the age of sixty-nine, she was stricken with her last—and, indeed, her first—illness. For a year, she was in and out of hospitals. To arrest the course of her disease, her doctors decided to amputate her right foot. Henceforth, Ida spoke of "the foot" as if it were someone who had turned on her although she had never offered it anything but kindness. She began to blame everything on "the foot." Had it not been for "the foot," she could have married this one or that one. In the hospital, everybody—the doctors, the nurses, her surgeon, even the invisible patient in the room next door—loved Ida. She discovered that her surgeon lived with his mother. Between his work and his mother, he told her, he hadn't time to look for girls. Ida understood this. She could see how devoted he was to his patients; naturally he had no time to look for girls. It was for men of his sort that she existed. "When we get you out of here and well, we'll talk about it," he told Ida. She said she felt very well; "the foot" was only a minor inconvenience. If there was anything in the world that was in acute demand among the mothers of unmarried girls, she said, it was a doctor—especially a surgeon. The surgeon hedged; he couldn't leave his mother. ("He has a silver-corded mother," Ida told her son.) She informed the surgeon that mothers were all very well—she was one herself—but that they shouldn't interfere with their sons' happiness. To the end, Ida dangled prospects before the surgeon. He told Go-Go that talking to Ida about his matrimonial prospects gave him all the fun without any of the responsibility.

In the hospital, Ida had an Irish nurse who was so pretty that Ida said she could eat her up. Ida lamented that she had no Irish connections; if only she had some, she told the nurse, she could make a match for her in a minute right from bed. The patient next door sent Ida a rose, with a note saying that his nurse's stories about her had cheered him up. In another note, he said that if he got well he would like to marry Ida. Ida did not take this literally, but she wrote back telling him to get well anyway. The roses kept coming. One day, Ida's nurse told her that the man wanted to he wheeled in for a visit. "He thinks I am beautiful," Ida said. "If he comes in, he will see I am an old woman. He will be disappointed. Better he should keep sending me roses!"

In her tussle with "the foot," Ida's vanity suffered. "If it has to come off, perhaps we should move into a new neighborhood," she said to Go-Go before the operation. Ida had to have a special shoe made, but she implored her doctor to have it made with a high heel. When she left the hospital, she limped slightly, and she took this as punishment from God, because she remembered that when she was a little girl in Kroza she had imitated a woman who limped. The operation only delayed the end. After six months of limping about on her high-heeled shoes, Ida was forced to take to her bed. She knew she was going to die, and she faced it with equanimity, even with gaiety. "When I die, there will be joy in Heaven among the unmarried angels," she predicted. She was a long time dying; her deathbed was a prolonged social causerie—like Heine's, plus, of course, her matchmaking. Conscious that time was running out, she increased the pressure on her son. She gave him a diamond ring that had belonged to her mother, asking him to give it to his bride if he ever got one. She suggested to him that he call up the arithmetic teacher, in the hope that the years had moderated her giggle. (As it turned out, he got married two years later, to a girl that he found without his mother's help.)

Everybody came to see Ida, sometimes to exchange jokes, sometimes to commiserate. Many of her visitors she didn't know at all. Most trying were the visits of the ladies of the synagogue, who sat around with mournful expressions—expressions they should have reserved for her funeral, she said. A couple of them shook their heads and murmured, "Our dear Mrs. Newman isn't ours any more."

"When was I theirs?" Ida demanded, within their hearing.

She enjoyed shocking the ladies of the synagogue. She would improvise the hesped that would be said over her: "The daughter of the great Ramaz has gone from us. He prepared people to live in Heaven, the daughter prepared them to be happy on earth." The ladies shuddered at the blasphemy and departed.

One day, Ida asked to have her doctor visit her. "I have a new lover," she told him. Her doctor, prepared for anything, asked her who he was. "Pain is my new lover," she said. Another day, to her astonishment, Billikopf, the salmon fisherman, came to see her. For years, Ida had thought he was dead; his arrival made her feel that she had already reached the farther shore. It was, she said, "like one ghost entertaining another ghost." Couriers from the benches brought her bulletins; while she lay ill, two men she had met on the benches—one of them an extraordinary catch, for he smoked expensive cigars—had died. She mourned these deaths, which she called premature, by which she meant that the benchers had died before she was able to settle them. "If I weren't so sicky-weaky, what I could have done!" she said.

When an oxygen tent was brought in, she said calmly, "That is what Papa had when he died. Now I have the entree to die. The Malach Hamovis [Angel of Death] has invited me. It is like when you get an invitation from the president of the synagogue to a party with on the bottom engraved R.P.V.S. You don't want to go, but it's the president of the synagogue—you have to go." She sent for her son and gave him a slip of paper on which she had written a date—her birthday and a year—with a blank line for the date of her death. She asked the Major to put this birth date on her tombstone. He noticed that she had lopped off fifteen years, but he said nothing. Ida looked at him, her blue eyes twinkling. "I know what you are thinking, takhshidel," she said, "but just think! Before my tombstone, people will be coming and going. Maybe if you put on this date, they will stop and look. Who is interested in an old woman? This way, they will stop. 'Ah,' they will say, 'the daughter of the Ramaz! Poor girl! What a pity she died so young!'"

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