Stories by I. L. Peretz influenced me greatly when I was a child.
In “Peace at Home,” Chaim, a poor porter, is assured a place in paradise by his rabbi. When he asks, “And what about my wife. Rabbi?” the rabbi replies that his wife will become his footstool. Upon returning home, Chaim puts his arm around his wife lovingly and cries out, “I do not want you as my footstool. I will bend down and raise you to sit with me. We will sit together in paradise as we do now. . . . God will have to allow it.”
In “The Seven Good Years,” Tovye, a poor man, meets a stranger at the market place (Elijah the prophet in disguise) who offers help—with a catch. Tovye replies, “Well, dear sir, if you speak the truth and do not mock my poverty—and if you are not by some chance crazy—then I will tell you something. On important matters I always consult with my wife, Sarah. I cannot give you an answer unless I discuss it with her first.” It was wonderful for me to find echoes of what I saw and was taught at home in my Yiddish storybooks: women were equal to men, women were smart, women could achieve what they desired.
On a lighter note, I also loved Anne of Green Gables for the same reasons. She set her mind to get what she wanted, and got green hair in the bargain. Never mind that it happened in Canada and I lived in Vilna, that I read the book in Polish, and that Anne was not Jewish!
Esther Hautzig was born in Vilna and now lives in New York City. She is author of The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia, a story of her childhood during the Holocaust, among other works.