Painting by Daniel Kabakoff
The Tashka by Elaine Rosenberg Miller
It was made of aluminum, I suppose, or some other metal.
My father’s name was painted in thick black letters on its surface; his last name, followed
by his first name.
It wasn’t his American first name, Charles or even his Yiddish name, Shaya. It was his Polish first
name, the one with the hard-to-pronounce consonants, Szaje.
My parents’ multiple names were the bane of my existence. Why couldn’t they be named Richard?
I knew that they had come from somewhere else and the luggage revealed that they also had been
They had both been born in small Galician towns. Their villages had no electricity, no indoor
Yet, they lived among their loved ones and extended families in secure worlds.
But back then, in summer camp, I knew none of this.
I just was ill at ease, perhaps embarrassed that my father still had a suitcase with his Polish
name on it.
Everyone else had hard-bodied, anonymous luggage. My father’s tashka screamed “refugee”.
There was much about my parents that disquieted me.
Though they were cheery and optimistic, they kept secrets from my sister and me. My father’s
stories of his flight through Siberia and Central Asia and my mother’s imprisonment in Auschwitz
would not be told to us for years.
The summer we were 7 and 8, they sent us to religious all-girls’ camp in the Catskill Mountains of
We couldn’t wear short sleeves or shorts. There was no pool.
There was a leaf-filled lake, a section of which was cordoned off by ropes into which we were
permitted (yes, in bathing suits) to enter but there was no swimming or swimming instruction. There
was plenty of bobbing. Being adventurous, I once ducked under the boundary ropes and my feet
promptly became stuck in the muck-filled lake bottom. I began to sink as the dark waters licked my
After several unobserved attempts (there was no lifeguard), I managed to grab the
rope and reluctantly, the miasma gave me up.
At home we lived increasingly modern lives, but strangely, in the piney reaches of the camp, away
from our Brooklyn neighborhood, I was brought back to the rural, insular, lost world of my parents.
I found myself liking it.
“Ain’t going to work on Saturday!” we sang. “Double, double triple pay won’t make me work on
Saturday!”. I joined in with vigor, pounding the tables, shouting and clapping.
The camp had once been a hotel and now was “Camp Emunah”.
At first, Emunah was so strange to me, so foreign, I felt as if our parents had abandoned us but
after a while I made friends with the girls and soon felt I was part of a large, warm, and
welcoming family, independent of my parents.
A tall, red-bearded rabbi and his children, most of them also red-headed administered the camp, He
directed a girls choir and I longed to be chosen to join and be heard on radio.
I had little vocal talent, but I sang my heart out and I became part of the choir.
Most of the campers came from observant homes but there were secular girls as well. Camp Emunah
embraced them all.
There was “Honey”, a wiry, sardonic girl. She was as American as they come, an only child, her
There was something unusual about her father.
He was a slender man, not big, blustery or strong like my father. He was more Honey’s friend than a
One day, I realized that my own parents had not visited all summer.
I asked the head counselor, “Why didn’t my mother and father come for Visiting Day?” I sat in her
office and called Catskill hotel after hotel.
Finally, I located them.
“Where were you!” I demanded.
“We were on vacation,” my father said. Vacation?
I wasn’t sure if I liked the old parents or the new parents.
A voice within me asked, “How could they have fun without me?” Camp came to an end.
I sat on a stone wall bordering the road to the entrance and waited.
To my relief, I eventually saw my father driving his new champagne and gold Oldsmobile Rocket 88
automobile down the gravel road.
We went to my room and collected my things.
Suddenly I realized: the metal suitcase was lying on the floor. “You forgot it!” I shouted.
“Never mind,” my father said. “We don’t want it.”
You don’t want it? I thought. I looked over my shoulder.
The tashka was lying askew, its ebony letters unreadable.
I followed my parents out.
“The Tashka” has appeared on The Bangalore Review.