“Where is she? Where is my big-girl darling,” called the little man as he climbed onto the stage — and as I was leaving it.
It was 1960. I was a junior at Bard College, and I had just finished portraying the fragile Laura Wingfield in a college production of The Glass Menagerie. Feeling fragile myself, and unnerved by so much enthusiasm from a stranger, I fled to the dressing room.
But he followed and knocked at the door, still declaiming endearments. I did not know what to do. Was he a deranged fan? Or high on pot or LSD? Was I in danger?
“W-w-what is it?” I stammered. “What do you want?”
“Oh, my big-girl darling,” he said again. “I vant to tell you how vonderful you vere.”
Wait a minute, I thought — and then smiled to think: “Vait a minute.” I did not know him, but I knew his accent. It was the accent of the European Jews I had grown up with: my grandmother, my uncle, the tantes. It was the accent of the hundreds — thousands — of “tempest-tost” refugees and survivors of the Holocaust.
I opened the door and saw not just a little man but a little old man, beaming at me. Almost from that moment, he became the friend of my heart.
His name was Emil Hauser. A violinist, he was emeritus professor of music at Bard, and he had had a fascinating life. He told me about it as we took long walks around Bard’s then-rustic campus, as we sat in Adirondack chairs in shared sunlight, as we took the train to the city on weekends.
A founder of the original Budapest String Quartet and of a music conservatory in Jerusalem, he had helped to rescue and resettle refugees from Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany.
I mostly listened, because he had so much to tell.
And every now and then, he would look at me and say, with a twinkle and a sigh, “Casals has a young wife.”
He’s buried in Israel now, but I think of him often — after all, I was his “big-girl darling.”
Once, as we rode the train to the city, we heard a sudden, tremendous noise. I’ve always had a strong startle reflex, and I virtually shot to the ceiling. He began to laugh and said, “This is America, darling.”
I thought of that casual, joyful assumption — that in America loud noises should not scare you; you are safe here, no one will hurt you, no one will come to take you away — when I heard Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony last month to the House Intelligence Committee. He ended his opening statement with this message to his father — and, implicitly, to all of us: “Dad,” he said, “[the fact that] I’m sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry.
“I will be fine for telling the truth.”
I hope so. I hope he is right. I hope this country we’re in is still “America, darling.”
Rebecca Boroson is editor emerita of the Jewish Standard.