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Nash, Edith / Practice the here and now: selected writings of Edith Nash

Nash, Edith
New York cousins,   pp. 27-28

Page 27

New York Cousins
 I was only 15 years old when I graduated from high school and my mother
said I was too young to go away to college so I stayed home for a year. It
was a very educational period for me. I took wonderful English courses at
Lewis Institute on the west side with Edwin Herbert Lewis, a family friend
and my mentor in those years. I met two men in that class. One was Bert Luckenback,
who worked at the City News Bureau, had been in jail and was my first encounter
with an adult male, not a brother or a chum. The other man was a studious
Jew who asked me if I was Jewish (Jew sounded harshly in my ears; "Jewish"
seemed softer, less accusatory). He wanted me to go to the synagogue for
a ritual bath after I menstruated. I was horrified and fled. All these questions
flooded my mind:
What makes menstruating so dirty? Am I really Jewish? Why am I talking about
my body with this creature? Why does he want me to do this? How can I get
out of it? Will there ever be a man to love me — all of me?
 At Vassar, the only year I spent there — eager to escape to the University
of Chicago, find life with men on the street, study Marx and Engels, be grown
up — I went to my cousins' in New York for weekends and holidays. These
cousins were real Jews, relatives of my father, prominent in social betterment
and philanthropy, cultivated in the world of literature and publishing. They
were proud to be Jews. I couldn't believe it. I became attached to their
home, a city apartment with a study lined with friends' publications where
we sat after dinner and discussed worldly affairs. They listened to everything
I said. And I felt no hidden rage typical of our family dinners in Oak Park.
Their children were away from home at their schools, and I loved their New
York life style, their ease in accepting me, a lonely relative from the western
They took me to their Jewish country club on weekends where everyone was
proud to be Jewish. I had pickled herring with onions and sour cream. I was
amazed at what sour cream could do to a herring! And I met four boys in swimming,
shipped off from Hitler's Germany to live with their grandpar27

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