(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Kerchief” is a lyric memory of a pious, naïve childhood in a traditional Jewish household in Galicia. In a series of thirteen episodes, or chapters, requiring from one to a very few paragraphs each, the first-person narrator recalls his relationship with his mother and father, the background of the kerchief, which was a gift from his father to his mother, and the time of his Bar Mitzvah at age thirteen, when he gave away the precious kerchief to a beggar.

The first ten sections of the story focus on the emotional effect on the family of the father’s yearly weeklong visit to the Lashkowitz fair, where Jewish merchants gathered together from all over the district to sell their wares. The narrator remembers especially the sadness of his mother in his father’s absence, during which she refrained from rebuking the children severely and spent much time standing at the window looking out. These absences of the father are likened to the week of the Ninth of Ab, observed in memory of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.

While his father was gone, the narrator slept in his father’s bed. He used to meditate about the promised Messiah who would reveal himself suddenly in the world and lead them all to the Land of Israel, where his father would not have to go to fairs and he himself would not have to go to school, but would walk all day in the courts of the House of God.

The child would sometimes dream of this fabulous event of the future, when the precious gifts of God would seem like a heaven of many-colored lights. However, often a great bird would come and peck out the lights. One night the dreamer tied himself to the wings of the bird and commanded it to take him to Father. The bird took him instead to the gates of Rome, where he saw a miserable beggar suffering...

(The entire section is 739 words.)