Page 27, “The Persuasion”
“Which means Erika Bentoff is your mother?”
A Barnard legend. They told her story to incoming classes and I’d taken notes the first time I heard it. Like me, the Erika of the story had no parents, only Erika had been on the last train of Jewish children out of Prague before the Nazi invasion, children transferred from train to boat to Palestine, kids who’d built their own kibbutz hand over hand. And I remembered that had it not been for her uncle, her mother’s brother, she would have been one of them.
“Indeed. Erika Bentoff.” He poked his thumb into his chest. “My mama. So you’ve got your count on one side…” He ran his thumb from his forehead to his stomach, then swept his hand off to the left. “And your Holocaust survivor on the other.” He sliced down his torso again and brushed his hand to the right.
“Grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, cousins galore,” he motioned left. “Ma famille, pas de tout,” he motioned right.
“Uncle Antonin, get it, Tonin, Antonin.” I noticed that one hair in his left eyebrow was curled, while the rest were straight. “Went to Columbia in the late-1920s to teach chemistry. Another family folk-hero. A mensch. Took a cut in his Columbia salary to get her into Barnard. Plan had been for my grandparents to follow but… not survivors. So that’s how she met Janos.”