A Rabbi’s Daughter Tells Her Story
By Avigail Graetz
“What you want and what you get are two different stories.” Grandma’s motto. That’s what went through my mind when a call from Abba stopped me on my way to the university…
The last time I heard him say “come home” in such a brusque tone was in 1995, when Rabin was assassinated. Four years ago. And now, again, in a trembling and lonely voice, an uncharacteristic voice, he is asking me to come home because it looks like Grandma is truly approaching the end.
This is how A Rabbi’s Daughter opens. It is a novel about three generations of strong women, even though the title points to the importance of the patriarch- the Rabbi's character. The novel is a kind of reparation for missed opportunities, as was the cathartic writing process.
Our ability and inability to travel affects our lives and our relationships with the people in them. I traveled to Mexico and lived there for a year in order to write the novel. In the book, Elisheva’s missing mother is in the States, when a mysterious woman lands on the family’s doorstep in Israel and invites herself in. This woman, also a rabbi’s wife (like her own mother) knows how to press on Elisheva’s teenage buttons and insert herself into the household as a substitute mother figure.
"I always thought that some indomitable force inside my grandmother had turned her into an old woman against her will. What kept me from documenting her? My conviction that she would live forever?"
By the end of the book Elisheva sees her mother, who has returned for the funeral, and tries to tell her how she loved her unconditionally, but the words wouldn’t come out of her mouth. Together they decide that the song “A Woman of Valor” which describes a strong woman is about a woman who serves only others and not herself. Instead they eternalize her grandmother’s memory by engraving her tombstone with the verse from Jeremiah, “How well you direct your course to seek love.”
We all take a role in our families, and this book is questioning these roles and positions from a feminist perspective through the eyes of Elisheva.
Being a Rabbi's daughter used to feel like a big burden I was carrying, until I addressed it creatively and with the approach of mindfulness, which gave me the space to expand my views.
One of my favorite Bible quotes is towards the end of the book of Deuteronomy: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you, life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live (Deut 30:19).”
What does it mean to choose life? The human experience is so big, vast and unexplainable that I think a good place to start is choosing your story. Choosing life is addressing your story with curiosity and courage, two qualities that are important to develop.
We all have our stories to tell, and life choices to make. The homes we grow up in are the primal influence. But we are not only connected to our parents’ home where we grew up, but to their parents’ homes as well. This impacts on the decisions we make, where we choose to live, what professions we practice, and will in turn impact the homes we choose to build for our children, and the home they will build for theirs. It shapes us and lets us reinterpret our surroundings, past, present, and future.
For me, growing up in a pluralist American home in Israel felt for years like the worst cards I could get—a curse and not a blessing! Yet today I see it as the biggest present in my life and I repeat the novel's motto - "What you want and what you get are two different stories".
Being at peace with yourself, choosing life with all its hardships, is a life's work. Seeing the parents who you blamed as human beings, and developing compassion for their human experience is something I think everyone should do. That was part of my motivation in writing the story of my family with the voice of a young adult, from a place of reflection.
Literature changes our perspective by expressing feelings that are usually untouched in the battlefield of life, both in the writing and in the reading. Reflecting on my family’s story, in order to write about it, enabled me to choose and shape my life without being mired in the past. I hope my book has a similar positive impact on my readers, and helps them connect with and express previously unexplored emotions.