My grandma was the salt of the earth. When Grandma was sixteen, she put on her good woollen coat and carried two small suitcases to the sea. “Kuk nisht tsuric” her mama told her. “Don’t look back” So my grandma looked straight ahead and left everything she knew behind. The shtetl, like Sodom, had become a wicked place. “Better that she should get away” they reasoned, and saved every kopek to buy a one-way ticket to the New World. Like her nameless ancestor, Lot’s wife, my grandma was escaping an evil with a face of hatred and hands ready to kill on any Shabbos night.
“Kuk nisht tsuric - don’t look back” her papa whispered, with a voice thick with grief. And my little grandma climbed the ramp to the ship as it stood waiting, creaking and heaving great breaths as if it knew it was carrying broken hearts aboard. Grandma stood with her face to the sea, clutching those small suitcases to her bosom.
“Don’t look back” they warned the nameless wife of Lot as they ran across the sand. She stumbled, weeping for the ones left behind to face the cataclysm. She wept so that she could not see, so that she could not hear their screams of anguish, their cries of torment. She heaved with great breaths of despair. The rising heat burnt into her back and she cried the names of those she had left behind.
Quite suddenly, Lot’s wife stopped running. She would leave a final blessing. She would send it on the great wind that was riding on the Lord’s fury. Turning, she looked back and uttered her final offering of love, and the heat and wind caused her tears to crust over, encasing her in salt. Entrusting her to an earth in need of salt.
“Kuk nisht tsuric” they had said but my grandma wanted to leave one last message of love, of courage so they would not be afraid. Turning, she looked back and saw her mama collapse on the dock And for my Grandma, the world she knew was destroyed at that moment, in the image she would always carry, the sprawled and lifeless body of her mama.
At night, as the sea tried fruitlessly to comfort her, Lot’s wife rocked my grandma in her arms and called her by her name “Leah, Leah, Leah”. For she was her sister in the timeless spiral that was their heritage. Each night she caught Grandma’s tears and granted the whispered blessing that was only hers to give, “Be the salt of the earth.”