When Elsie moved into her new flat, she removed the mezuzah on the doorpost of the front door. The ancient case had broken into shards as she dislodged the nails and pried loose the metal container. A piece of parchment containing Hebrew script fell out of the case; brittle and yellow with age, it crumpled in her hand. She gathered the fragments of metal and parchment, stored them in a paper bag, and placed them in her sewing basket, which contained a myriad of odds and ends such as balls of wool, knitting needles, and threads of many colors. Then she set about cleaning her new kitchen.

Shel nodded in approval at the empty space that had been occupied by the mezuzah. He had had a hard day at the knitting mill, and looked forward to his hot cup of tea. “So you did it,” her husband said as he stirred sugar into his cup and turned to the editorial pages of the evening newspaper.

When Elsie moved into her new flat, she removed the mezuzah on the doorpost of the front door“I said I would,” came the reply.

“What will your mother say?”

“It’s my home. She won’t say anything.”

Elsie was right. When Mrs. Klein visited her daughter’s new home, in her arms toys for her four-year-old granddaughter, a new tablecloth and dish towels, she noticed immediately the blank oblong space once occupied by the mezuzah. To prevent herself from commenting, she bit hard on her lip, then summoned Miriam to receive her Chanukah presents: a red-haired doll that came with a pretty dress, and miniature dishes. “Thank you, Bubby, thank you,” the little girl squealed.

Two years before, Mrs Klein’s daughter and son-in-law had joined the Party. She bit on her lip then too. She knew what this entailed: her daughter would refrain from lighting Shabbos candles; neither would she light candles on the Chanukah menorah; and attending shul was out of the question. Although Mrs. Klein had raised her daughter in an observant home, now she feared that the rituals she had so carefully maintained would be lost to the next generation . . .

Elsie noticed the pained look on her mother’s face and declared fervently, “We are against religion. Religion is the opiate of the people. We are atheists. We don’t believe in myths and miracles. You have to understand that.”

Of course, Mrs. Klein understood. She was up-to-date on current events, since a day didn’t go by without her having read Der Tog, as well as the daily English Star, from cover to cover. “Has everyone in your organization renounced their religion?” she asked in Yiddish.

“Yes, of course. None of my gentile comrades go to church.”

“But you’re having a Christmas party in a few weeks. I see the notice on the refrigerator.”

“Christmas is a national holiday. It’s not religious. Everyone has a party.”

Although Mama was deeply wounded, she brushed a grey strand of hair away and maintained a stubborn silence. She was generally not a cheerful person; she had experienced hunger, war, and the loss of family and friends, while a bout with typhus in Romania left her frail for the rest of her life. However, she never grumbled, and attended to her household duties with the diligence and care associated with devoted Jewish mothers.

“Look, Mama, I know you don’t agree with the principles of the Party. But what we want is equality for all people, no matter their race, color or nationality. Justice for all. One day we’ll have one beautiful world, no separate countries, no borders, no racism. Religion and nationalism separate people.”

Although Mama was deeply wounded, she brushed a grey strand of hair away and maintained a stubborn silence“The Hindus will also be part of the new world?”

“Sure, why not?”

“So what are they going to do with all their temples?” Mama’s attempt at a joke was lost on Elsie.

“Ma, you’re missing the point.”

“I know, I’m old-fashioned. But, my daughter, I love you, I love our Miriam, and I will never tell you what to do and what not to do. It says in the Torah, the most important thing is shalom bayit—peace in the house. And, for your information, we also believe in Justice. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof . . . Didn’t you learn that in Jewish school?”

Elsie looked at her mother with the impatience you reserve for a disobedient child, and passed her a plate of homemade strudel.

At least, Mrs. Klein thought, they come to me for Shabbat, and the Seder, and the Rosh Hashanah meal. Moreover, Mrs. Klein never refused to babysit Miriam, as Elsie and Shel attended frequent clandestine meetings held in secret locations. “But please,” Elsie pleaded, “don’t fill Miriam’s head with ridiculous stories.”

“Like what?” her mother asked, knowing full well what her daughter had in mind.

“Like the waters of a sea opening up and people walking across on dry land. Yesterday she asked me if G‑d would open the lake in the country so she could walk across to the other side to play with the children there.”

But Mrs. Klein continued to tell her stories, and Miriam listened, her dark eyes wide open in awe and concentration.

Elsie looked at her mother with the impatience you reserve for a disobedient childYears passed, and Mrs. Klein succumbed to old-age ailments. Elsie sat at her mother’s bedside in the hospital until the old woman took her last breath. For the sake of propriety, and out of respect for the observant members of the family, Elsie sat shiva with her brothers, sister and aunts.

The day after the shiva, when all the visitors and mourners had gone, Elsie drove to the local Judaica shop and purchased a mezuzah and a finely decorated case made in Israel. She hammered nails into both ends of the mezuzah case and affixed it to the doorpost, meticulously following the instructions—the upper end pointing inward, the lower one outward. A prominent shin in gold lettering graced the upper end of the case. Elsie looked at her handiwork and was pleased.

“What on earth are you doing?” Shel asked, perplexed.

“I put a mezuzah on the door. Inside, a Hebrew inscription is written on special parchment. Two passages from the Book of Deuteronomy. One is the Shema.”

“But why?”

“Simple.” Elsie faced him and spoke without a hint of uncertainty in her voice. “When Mama’s soul visits us from heaven to say a blessing, there has to be a mezuzah on the door, so she will feel at home.”