One day soon, I would miss a lot of learning time and there was no way I’d be able to hide that from Mama
ama had to practically push me out the door into the fresh morning air that first day of school. I grabbed Leiba’s hand, took my books and food, and waited at the corner for Faiga. And then we walked. And walked. And walked. I’m glad it’s morning, I thought as I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand. Even with the morning breeze, the heat was already getting to me.
“Come on, Bracha.” Faiga tugged at her sister’s hand. “If you walk so slowly we’re going to be late on the very first day.”
Bracha was practically running to keep up. I looked down at Leiba and saw that she was struggling not to fall behind. “Can we slow down?” I asked Faiga. “How much longer is the walk, anyway?”
“We’re 20 minutes away,” Faiga replied, “and with the way these kids walk, it will probably take us a half-hour. I didn’t think of that when we left, or I would have left earlier.”
I looked over at Miriam, trying to catch her eye, but she was looking the other way. In Kovno, my school was only a short walk away, and it was pretty close in Chevron, too. But it looked like here in Yerushalayim, I’d have to walk over half an hour to get to school each day.
We reached the school gates exactly on time, and Faiga rushed to show Leiba and Bracha their classroom before we headed to ours. On the way, she pointed out Miriam’s classroom, but we didn’t have time to watch her go in.
“We made it,” Faiga whispered as we slipped into the classroom only a few steps ahead of the teacher. I barely had a second to look around.
“So, how was it?” I asked Miriam as we headed home together, Faiga on my right, Miriam on my left. Leiba and Bracha were dragging their feet behind us.
“Not bad.” She shrugged. She hadn’t really spoken much since we got to Yerushalayim.
“What about you?” Faiga asked, looking at me.
I wiped the sweat that was beginning to drip down my forehead. I had been right to worry about this walk home. Walking in the heat of the day was brutal. I thought about Faiga’s question for a minute. “Okay,” I finally said. “Different than Chevron, that’s for sure, but I think I’ll manage.” It was a lie. I wasn’t going to manage because even if I could, I wasn’t interested. I’d had enough, more than enough, of starting over, and I wasn’t about to do it again.
The walk was hot and slow, but finally, finally, we made it back home. Not that I could rest. Within a few moments of putting my books down, I was out again to pick up Yisroel from the babysitter. Mama had started a new job, and she wouldn’t be home until late.
“We’re lucky,” Mama had said. “I’m going to be cooking for the Yeshivah. The Yeshivah! What more could I want?”
I nodded, knowing how important the Yeshivah was to her — to all of us. But why did she have to be out until six o’clock at night?
“I need to make supper for the bochurim,” Mama had explained, “so they’ll have strength to learn more. Strength for the night.” And her eyes shone in a way that I hadn’t seen in a long time.
So, while Miriam watched Leiba and Yisroel, I heated up the meal Mama had left for us. The afternoon stretched ahead, hot and endless, while the kids kvetched and the heat rose in waves. Finally, as the heat broke for the evening, Mama came through the door. Leiba and Yisroel jumped on her, excited to see her after a long day. I watched Mama hold and pat them tiredly, her face so worn from the day, and was glad that at least they were dressed for bed.
If Papa were here, none of this would have happened. The thought flashed through me, but it was true. When Papa was alive, Mama never had a job. She was always home to hear about my day, to take care of the kids, to feed us a good meal, and she never looked as tired or worn as I was seeing her today. It wasn’t fair! For this we had to leave Europe? Was it for this that we traveled across the world, uprooted our whole life, and settled again in Chevron? If we had stayed in Kovno, we would never have been in Chevron during the riot. Papa would still be alive. Why had we left?
With Mama working in the Yeshivah all day, there was no way I could slip out to meet Yitzchok to plan, let alone actually do something. Today, every few minutes Mama peeked out of the kitchen just to watch me learn. I knew it made her happy, to see me sitting here with all the bochurim, learning, fulfilling her dream even with Papa gone.
We wouldn’t be able to meet until nighttime when Mama was gone and I could tell my chavrusa that my head hurt so I could leave. The thought left me with a pinprick of guilt, but I pushed it aside as best I could. So what if Mama was paying a bochur to learn with me at night? I needed to go meet Yitzchok. I needed to come up with a way to avenge my father’s death. I just needed to.
But I would wait for the right moment.
When everyone stopped learning to eat in the Yeshivah’s dining room, I made my way through the cobblestone streets toward home.
“Hello,” I called into the apartment.
“Dovid. Come sit down and eat,” Mama called back, her weary voice wafting through the hallway to where I stood at the door.
I entered the kitchen, and Mama motioned to my place, where a plate of food was already waiting for me. “It was so nice to watch you learn today,” she said as I sat down to eat.
Guilt stabbed at me. One day soon, I would miss a lot of learning time and there was no way I’d be able to hide that from Mama. With a small smile, I picked up my fork and began to dig into my food.
“Now that you’re all here,” Mama continued, this time addressing the entire family, “I wanted to tell you something. I have arranged for some bochurim to sleep in the second room of our apartment.
“But our whole apartment has only two rooms and the kitchen.” Elka protested, her voice confused.
“Yes,” Mama replied, “They’ll be renting the bedroom while we all sleep together in the main room. Dovid will either sleep with them, or we’ll put up a curtain so he has his own space.”
I looked over at Elka. Her expression was stormy. What did she expect? It was obvious we needed the money.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 915)
Oops! We could not locate your form.