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The Frozen Rabbi: Week 9, Part 1

Sensing an opportunity, Pisgat is slow to release the rabbi

Steve Stern
April 26, 2010

Agitated, the girl nevertheless managed to keep Max’s sober façade from cracking apart. “The daughter is indisposed,” was all she was willing to say.

“A shame,” said old Pisgat, finally too busy to pursue the subject further. He was glad at any rate of an opportunity to rid himself of an incommodious object that had taken up precious space in his icehouse these many years; though on the other hand he was reluctant to engage in any transaction without realizing a profit.

“So what do you want the thing for?” he inquired cagily, as if he might have designs of his own on the relic.

The girl shuffled in her outsize shoes. Why indeed was she so intent on making herself the curator of her father’s archaeological curiosity? “I want,” she squared her shoulders, expanding her straitened chest, “to give the rebbe a proper resting place.”

Pisgat took a pinch of snuff from a briar box, stuffed it into a hairy nostril, and sneezed, wiping his nose on a sleeve. “What’s wrong with here?” he asked, batting his red-rimmed eyes, for it had occurred to him that he might extend an imaginary lease on the storage area.

“I want to put him someplace,” her answer framed itself as a question, “more permanent?” She winced internally at her own lack of conviction.

The proprietor raised a shaggy brow. “Pisgat’s icehouse is going away somewhere?” No reply from the lad forthcoming, he leaned back in his swivel chair and grew thoughtful: It was indeed a scandal that the frozen tzaddik’s remains had been kept above ground for such an unconscionable time; he should have been interred long ago. “But you, excuse me, don’t look like a religious; takhe, you don’t even look like a Jew. So what’s the old fossil to you?”

“He’s . . . ,” the girl floundered, then rallied, recalling her mother’s mandate, her father’s blind faith; the rabbi was, for better or worse, her destiny too. “He’s a sacred trust of our family that I owe it to my Uncle Salo to take care of him.”

“Hmph.” Pisgat shrugged, reassuming his professional demeanor. “Call for the legacy, you pay for the funeral. Naturally there’s a fee to convey the thing from my place of business, plus the outstanding rent on the space it’s occupied since your uncle’s passing.” He named an extortionate sum.

The girl was momentarily taken aback, but despite all she’d been through Jocheved still had an instinct for fair and not-so-fair trade, and where her shrewdness left off, Max Feinshmeker’s (she felt) began. “On second thought,” she said considering, “forget it,” and started to turn on her heel.

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Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book award, teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York.

Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book award, teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York.