Excerpt from The Family Orchard by Nomi Eve, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Family Orchard

by Nomi Eve

The Family Orchard
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2000, 328 pages
    Sep 2001, 316 pages

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She came once a week, on Tuesdays, in the late afternoon when her husband would be busy participating in his civic meetings and the rest of the town, in classic Mediterranean style, would be indoors either scheming, studying, or sleeping. The baker, whose hands Esther always thought were strangely thin-fingered and uncallused for a baker, would lock the door to the back of the shop. And as he walked over to her, she would be laying a clean cloth down on the baking table. She loved lifting a finger to his lips, putting her fingers in his mouth and then tracing the graceful outline of his face, from mouth to nose, eyes and into ears.

Always, when they were both ready, she would turn away from him and lean her body over the table. He pulled up her skirts, pulled down her undergarments and his own pants. Then he licked the fingers on his right hand and slowly, passionately, opened her up. Soon he slid right into her. She loved the feel of his body angling its way upward. She loved the feel of her heavy breasts hard pressing into the wooden table. He gripped her hips and thrust himself deep.

They kissed and panted and hungered at and for each other's skin--more, not less, fervently as the years went by. Theirs, they agreed, was an ancient elemental passion that must have existed, like sand, earth, and sky, long before either of them had been born. And despite the intense physicality of their togethering, both Esther and the baker always felt insubstantial, flimsy, oh so light in the presence of this passion. But this was not a bad feeling. When they made love, it was as if they were wrapping their bodies not only around each other but also, and more essentially, around something else that had before been naked. It was, they agreed, as if the passion were the real creature, and they, though temporarily deprived of the normal trappings of personhood, were lucky to have been chosen as its favorite clothes. They dressed the passion in carnal finery, and the passion wore them with secret frequency.

My great-great-great-grandmother, Esther Sophie Goldner Schine, granddaughter of the chief rabbi of the British Empire, thought her husband's coming in through her front door and her lover's coming in through her back door was the perfect arrangement for a Jewish woman. The notion of separate facilities fit nicely into the ready framework of kashrut. Milk here, meat there, and as long as there was proper distance between things, everything stayed quietly kosher.

My father writes:

Yochanan came from a part of East Prussia called Sheinlanka, which means "pretty terraces." Today it is part of Poland, not far from the town of Posnan. He came to Palestine under the following circumstances:

In 1836, the chief rabbi of the British Empire, Rabbi Shlomo Berliner Herschell, sent out a messenger to search for a shidach for his granddaughter, Esther. A shidach is the Yiddish word for a marriage match. The marriage was to be bound by the condition that the young couple marry and reside in Jerusalem. This was before the existence of Zionism. Most Jews still believed that Israel should not and could not be established until the Messiah came to Zion. Rabbi Herschell disagreed with prevailing thought. He was among a group of radical European Orthodox Jews who believed that moving to Palestine was not in opposition to the messianic ideal.

The messenger traveled for almost an entire year. Finally, he arrived at the city of Pressburg, at the house of study of the famous Prussian rabbi, the Chatam Sofer. Yochanan had long been a student there. Like the chief rabbi, the Chatam Sofer also disagreed with prevailing thought--that is, he believed in Israel as a realistic homeland, not just a spiritual one. In response to the rabbi's messenger, the Chatam Sofer promptly sent his prized student, Yochanan. Yochanan and Esther met in London and became engaged almost immediately.

Excerpted from The Family Orchard by Nomi Eve. Copyright© 2000 by Nomi Eve. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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