There are boys missing. Men missing. The very yeshivah is in a different place, and we all feel it
eiba! Get down this minute!” I yelled, pushing her off my bed. “And stop climbing onto my bed!” I pulled Yisroel down, too. Bad enough that we all live and sleep in one room. Shouldn’t I at least have some peace once I’ve set up my bed for the night? But no. Every single afternoon, the minute I lay my mattress on the floor and spread my linen out over it, Leiba and Yisroel come to jump on it. And don’t tell me to wait to set up my bed until they’re asleep, because I don’t want to!
Mama gave me a stern look from her perch at the dining room table. She was mending Dovid’s pants again. I knew I should probably help her, but after hours at school and then more hours watching the kids all afternoon, I just couldn’t.
“Why don’t you go play with Faiga,” Mama suggested. “You’ve helped a lot today already. Go take a break.”
“Okay,” I shrugged, pulling myself to my feet and heading toward the door. “Just make sure they don’t mess up my bed,” I called back in warning before shutting the door behind me.
As soon as the door slammed shut, I felt lighter. I practically ran toward Faiga’s house.
“What are you doing here?” Faiga asked the moment I walked in. I don’t usually come at this time of day. It’s pretty late and Faiga and I spend most of our afternoons together watching our siblings. Then afterward, between homework and bedtime, our evenings are busy.
“I just needed to get out. Mama thought so too.”
“So come do homework with me,” Faiga offered, getting up to get her books. I didn’t have mine, but all we needed to do was review, anyway.
As she slipped into the next room, I couldn’t help but look around their apartment. They had so much space. At least, compared to our apartment.
“Did you ever think,” I asked Faiga when she came back into the room, “about how much room you have?”
She nodded, though I could tell she was confused. We all lived in small apartments, and until now I was okay with it. Until now. With the bochurim in our second room, our apartment has shrunk and it’s now so tiny I feel like there’s no room for my feelings inside it. “Forget it,” I said. “Let’s review our math lesson.”
So we moved our chairs close to the table, bent over Faiga’s math notebook, and began to study.
When I got home, Leiba and Yisroel were already asleep, and Miriam and Mama were cooking together in the kitchen. As for Dovid? He was nowhere to be found. As usual. He’s always off somewhere. “Let him be,” Mama said, but I wondered where he was disappearing to.
“Do you need my help?” I asked Mama when I was safely in the kitchen.
“Elka.” Mama smiled warmly at me, no sign of her previous displeasure at my behavior. “How’s Faiga? Yocheved?”
“Okay,” I replied, grabbing the knife and starting to cut up the vegetables.
“I’m glad you’re back now,” Mama continued. “Now that it’s just the three of us here, there’s something I wanted to discuss with you.”
Although Miriam and I were helping prepare the food for tomorrow, we were listening carefully.
“Rosh Hashanah is in a few days. Yocheved invited us to eat the seudos at their house.”
Miriam and I grinned at each other. Well, I grinned at Miriam and she gave me a weak smile back. I don’t know if Miriam’s ever grinned, but she certainly hasn’t since we left Chevron.
“I guess you like the idea.” Mama smiled, happy to see us excited.
I nodded. Four seudos with Faiga and her siblings. This was going to be great. I was so excited that I even forgot to think about Papa. About our first Yom Tov without him. I forgot to think about him for now. But that would definitely change.
It’s almost Rosh Hashanah. Every second that I’m in yeshivah I can feel it. The air has changed — almost as if it’s pulsing with the feeling that Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner. It was always like this, but this year, the feeling is different. There are boys missing. Men missing. The very yeshivah is in a different place, and we all feel it. What were we thinking last year at this time, when we had no idea what was in store for us?
That was the thought that made me say what I said to Yitzchok that day.
“Yitzchok,” I had said, “we need to put our plans on hold.”
“Why?” Yitzchok asked.
“It’s Elul,” I said. “Rosh Hashanah is coming. I need to be in yeshivah.”
He understood, and we made up to meet again after Succos.
“Nachum’s?” Baruch’s voice jerked me out of my reverie. He’s one of the bochurim who rents our second room from us, and he’s always coming to make sure I’m okay.
“Rosh Hashanah is coming.”
I’d have to be blind in this yeshivah not to know that.
“Are you going to be davening in yeshivah this year?”
My heart jerked at the question. Davening in the yeshivah? I davened there every year since we got here, Papa at my side helping me follow along. The memories of the past two years flooded my mind and I couldn’t stop them. Two years. That was all I had before those Arab beasts robbed me of my father. Thoughts of revenge filled my mind and I struggled to keep them in check. Revenge was not what Papa would have wanted. Not now. Not in Elul. Not before Rosh Hashanah when I needed to focus on the awesomeness of the day. But who would I stand next to? How could I sit through hours in shul, alone? What if I couldn’t find the place?
I looked up at Nachum, who was still standing there, waiting for an answer. “I… I think so. I think I’ll be davening in yeshivah,” I finally responded. Did I have a choice? I didn’t know any other places to daven.
“So I’ll save you a seat next to me. And we can walk together in the morning.”
I knew he was doing it as a favor to me but I really didn’t care. As long as I wasn’t standing alone. As long as there was someone who cared enough to point out the place even when he himself wanted to daven.
And suddenly, Rosh Hashanah seemed much less daunting. I could do this. I could come to yeshivah just like Papa would have wanted me to, and I could daven. I couldn’t imagine Yom Tov without Papa, but at least I could come to daven without concern. Quickly, I stuffed all my plans for revenge into the back of my mind. This Yom Tov would be for Papa even if it couldn’t be with him.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 916)
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