The Frozen Rabbi: Week 8, Part 2
When you go, Basha Puah says, be sure to take the rabbi with you
Though her mama’s own manifest determination to do the same made her reasoning seem somehow redundant, almost as if the crossgrained Basha Puah were physically blocking death’s door. Besides, it wasn’t so easy to die, and while she tried to resist the nourishment the old vartsfroy prescribed, her body (whose craving for narcotics had been gradually replaced by an appetite for solid food) overcame her mind’s obstinacy. Then a literal death seemed frankly not worth the trouble, since she judged herself already as good as kaput. But self-pity aside, her physical survival was a haunting reminder of the dreadful journey her father had made to recover her, barging into an underworld from which he’d shuffled back in his mangled body only, while his soul had perhaps departed along the way. The girl had the mad impulse to return the favor by setting out in search of her father’s lost soul, at which point she remembered the old artifact on ice.
He’d been included in her mother’s injunctions that she leave behind the slough of the Balut. “And don’t forget to take with you your papa’s farshlogener rebbe, it should be for you a blessing.”
Jocheved was amazed to hear such a thing from her mother’s cracked lips, which before had only cursed the icebound ancient as evidence of her papa’s narishkeit. Now her insistence that the girl take him with her seemed to signal the extremity of Basha Puah’s condition. Jocheved herself had demurred, recalling her father’s laughable assertion that all the family’s blessings came from the frigid saint. “What blessings?” she would have asked him now. “Our life is an abomination.” She remembered how he’d alleged that, if you took care of the rebbe, the rebbe would take care of you. He was convinced that the refrigerated relic gave meaning to their spare existence, as if the old man’s rotting crate were not a casket at all but the Ark of the Covenant itself and Salo Frostbissen the high priest charged with its maintenance. It was all claptrap, of course. Moreover, if you had a mind to, there were other means by which you might atone for your sins; there were rituals of purification, scape-beasts you could heap your trespasses upon. But the frozen rabbi was Salo’s sole bequest; it was his legacy, and having sullied the name of her family beyond redemption, there remained only one gesture left by which the unclean girl might honor her papa’s memory.
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In Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, Kai Bird recalls growing up in the Middle East as a diplomat’s son