powered by AFI
Israel Slotopolsky, a Jewish shoemaker in the Soviet Union who, in Czarist Russia, had been a forest contractor, has not mastered his new trade in the fifteen years since the revolution. Neither has he come to understand the new thinking of his buxom twenty-year-old daughter Kaile, now called "Catherine," regarding marriage. Kaile is about to marry for the fourth time, and Israel, whose two sons died in the war and whose wife died of grief, rages and pleads with Kaile that marrying again is immoral, as under the new system, she has not needed to get divorces from her past husbands. Kaile, however, contends that now if people do not suit or love each other, they can easily part. She promises, though, that this will be her last wedding. When Israel meets her fiancé, factory inspector and Communist Party member, Ivan Ivanowitch Goldberg, whose name used to be Itchkie, Ivan patronizingly praises Israel because he is a "worker." After Israel leaves them alone, Ivan embraces Kaile passionately, tearing her blouse, and they excitedly plan to go to a parade of the Red Army after the wedding. Israel returns and finds that Ivan has carried Kaile to her bed, and when Israel is alone with Kaile, he complains that Ivan is not her equal, but she says that she loves him. They marry, while Israel prays and weeps. Two months later, Israel spends a Sabbath eve at the home of Jews who still keep the religious tradition, albeit in secret. They reminisce about the old way of life, in which, one of them says, despite the Czars and pogroms, they lived like kings following the Jewish rituals and customs, and they decry the new "god," endless work. Meanwhile, Kaile, without Israel's knowledge, gives a party at their home to celebrate her fifth marriage. At the party, Russian dances are danced and songs are sung, including one by a Chinese girl, who is engaged to a black man. When Israel hears about the party, he rushes home, and when he learns that Kaile has married again, he starts to faint, then berates her and grabs his hammer, threatening to kill her. After he falls exhausted, Kaile's new husband, Abrasha (formerly Abraham) Greenberg, patiently tries to explain that they are trying to build something more beautiful and wholesome than the old system and points out that under Jewish law, a woman could get a divorce only if her husband agreed; if a man deserted his wife or was a rogue, his wife was stuck in the marriage. Abrasha then relates the story of his Uncle Solomon, a religious fanatic who, during the Czarist regime, lived in Galicia: Solomon's daughter Rachel, whose husband had run off with another woman six years earlier, has become the object of gossip because she has been seen in the company of young men. Solomon warns her that under Jewish law, she must remain married until her husband dies. Rachel, however, stays away from home for two weeks, and when her mother Machle takes her side in an argument with Solomon and blames his fanaticism for the break up of their family, he attempts to throw a chair at her, then orders her out, calling her a witch. When Rachel returns and confesses that she has married a Christian, Solomon makes a mad dash at her, and she runs out. Abrasha relates that Solomon became insane. Israel, saying that he is stronger than Solomon, takes Kaile's hand, then faints. Feeling responsible, Kaile asks his forgiveness and says she will do whatever he tells her to do. Israel forgives her and, resigned that the new order is their destiny, apologizes to Abrasha and asks him to take good care of Kaile, then dies after blessing his daughter and her new husband. Kaile cries and says that her father had hoped somebody would be left to pray for his soul, but Abrasha nods his head, as if to say that would be asking too much.