See this print of the Daughters of Zelophehad? I came across it at an art auction in 1932. A copy is in the 1897 book called Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us. I’ve kept the print to remind me that illustrations of Bible stories are fancifuland that what happened to Miriam Josefsohn Jacobowitz was extraordinary, but true.
I wish I could tell you that I believed the fantastical story that Mim told me back in the fall of 1916, when her mother sent the old teddy bear that had belonged to Danny and Mim. His name was Baloo, from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories. Do you know those books?
While Paul was napping the day that Mim got the bear, she finally told me her storyat least part of it. “My mother hid my prayer shawl,” she said. “The one with the embroidery and a blue thread, remember I showed it to you a while back?”
I nodded because I didn’t want her to stop. The prayer shawl had hardly made an impression on me, although I did think it was intriguing that Mim’s German great-grandmother would have had such a garment. And it did have lovely flowers and lettering.
“I wanted the prayer shawl back, Florrie, so you could say I took Baloo hostage. I had no idea until a few days earlier that my mother had kept the bear after Danny died.”
“Yes, and then?”
She worried that strand of hair again. “You’ll think I’m insane.”
I swore I’d never think such a thing of my best friend. She put her hands in her lap and sat silently. I said not one word, which is hard for me. And then she began.
“I met Serakh at Beth Israel during the High Holidays. The suffrage campaign was reaching its peak in Portland. Serakh told me about the shawl, and sure enough, my Uncle Hermann had kept it for me. It seems that I am of the line of Miriams, and I’m named for my great-grandmother, and all the Miriams, or most of them, get the shawl and travel with Serakh.”
Mim made it sound like a motor trip to the mountains. As we sat on her bed, I concentrated on the stitching of a particularly fine example of Americana quilting on a coverlet I had given Mim for the apartment. The drunkard’s path pattern in oranges and browns. And I remember that as she told me about Serakh and the daughters from that Bible story, I couldn’t look at her. My fingers followed the threads on that quilt.
I felt her hand on mine. “Then, when I left Portland, when the train stopped at Davis, I could have sworn I saw Serakh. Florrie, I was so sure she’d be at the depot in Oakland.”
“Was she?” I asked. “That was four years ago. Have you seen her since?”
“No.” It was barely a whisper. She sounded so sad, and suddenly so lonely.
I still couldn’t look at my best friend. Foolish me. I gave Mim less credit than I should have, but it was quite an amazing story, don’t you think? Mim had nightmares after Danny died, and she was alwayshow can I put this? She tended to be suggestible. “Does Ephraim know?”
“I tried to tell him once, but I thought better of it. He’ll need to know sometime, in case I die before he does. Someone has to tell our children about passing the prayer shawl to the next Miriam in our family, so she has a chance to meet Serakh.”
She put her hand under my chin and turned my face to hers so that our eyes met. Hers were narrow and filled with determination. “Florrie, we must promise me. If something happens to me, you’ll tell Ephraim what I told you today. Promise me!”
I promised her. What else could I do? Thank heavens, I never had to tell Ephraim. Poor man, he found out the truth about Serakh in an entirely different way. And so did I.