“Yeah, well,” Dovid said. I waited, but he didn’t continue speaking. He just took his yarmulke off his head and twirled it around on his finger
he hours of school flew by and I rushed home quickly, excited to pick up Yisroel and just be home with him. Mama made soup last night, so I knew we would have lunch and I wouldn’t have to go to Faiga’s house. I was so ready to be back to normal. And because I didn’t want Miriam or Leiba reminding me that normal meant spending the afternoon with Faiga, I ran home without waiting for them after school.
“Tell Miriam to take Leiba home without me,” I called over my shoulder to Faiga as I ran out the door. “I’m rushing.”
“Why?” Faiga called after me. But I ignored her and pretended I hadn’t heard. She would never understand. Faiga’s family was always the one helping us. Always the one giving to us. There was no way she would understand what it was like to constantly be taking.
The walk home was freezing and I was extremely glad that I hadn’t waited for Miriam and Leiba. I could walk home much faster by myself.
I stopped at home only for a moment to drop my books off before running to pick Yisroel up from the babysitter. Or at least, it was supposed to be for only a moment. Because when I opened the door, the house was not empty the way it should have been.
“Dovid?” I asked. He was sitting on the couch, staring into space.
“What are you doing home?” Dovid demanded.
“I could ask you the same question,” I replied. “Except I’m supposed to be home by now, and last I checked you don’t usually come home for another hour.”
“Yeah, well,” Dovid said. I waited, but he didn’t continue speaking. He just took his yarmulke off his head and twirled it around on his finger.
I stopped and looked at him. “Is everything okay?” I asked. Because clearly something was wrong.
“Whatever,” Dovid said, without pausing in the twirling of his yarmulke, his voice monotonous. “Don’t you have to pick up Yisroel now?”
I nodded. And because I really did need to pick up Yisroel and I really couldn’t leave his babysitter waiting, I left.
Dovid was gone by the time I came back. Probably didn’t want anyone to know he had been skipping yeshivah.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. I couldn’t focus on anything, the picture of Dovid sitting there, melancholy, seared in my mind.
By the time Mama came home, Yisroel and Leiba were in pajamas and their beds were all set up and ready. I must have done it all with half a mind because I could barely remember doing it. When Mama came home, I fully intended to ask her what was going on with Dovid. I knew he wanted to keep it a secret. I knew he didn’t want Mama to know that he was skipping yeshivah. But who else could I tell? And if I didn’t tell Mama, what would happen to Dovid?
As it turned out, I didn’t get a chance. Mama quickly fed the little ones and put them to bed. She was sitting in the kitchen sipping a hot tea, and I sat across from her.
“Elka.” Mama smiled at me over her mug. “Want to see what we got today?” She pulled a letter out of the pocket in her skirt.
I leaned forward to get a closer look.
“It’s from Bubbe. I picked it up during my lunch break. I thought we could read it together.”
I smiled with pleasure at the thought, and pulled my chair around the table to get a closer look.
“Dear Rivka,” Mama began, “how are you and the children doing? We are all well, baruch hashem. Preparations for Chanukah have begun, and we have already invited Nachum and his family to join us. How we wish you could join us too. How is little Yisroel doing? You wrote that you were concerned about his eyes and wanted to take him to the doctor. What did the doctor say? It pains us to think of you taking care of all this by yourself, Rivka. Would you consider moving to Riga to be near us and your siblings? Think about it. What is there for you in Eretz Yisrael now? What’s keeping you there? We want to help you. To be there for you. To help you with Dovid, and Yisroel. Even Elka, Miriam, and Leiba could use their grandparents. Couldn’t they? Think it over.
With love, Mama and Papa.”
“Mama?” I jumped in, my eyes aglow. “Can we? Can we go to Riga and live near Bubbe and Zeide?”
Mama looked at me, startled. “You want to move back to Europe, Elka?”
I nodded vigorously. Here was the solution to all my problems. Here was the answer. If we moved back to Riga, we would have Bubbe and Zeide to help us. Mama wouldn’t have to work so hard and even if she did, we could stay with Bubbe. I might not like getting help from Yocheved, but getting help from grandparents — well, that was very different.
“But we live here, Elka,” Mama said simply.
“Why do we have to?” I insisted. “We can go to Europe. To Riga. To our family.”
“Elka,” Mama said gently, “I didn’t realize you were so unhappy here. Don’t you like living in Eretz Yisrael?”
“No,” I replied, my voice short and tense. “If you would let us go back, I would go back in a minute.”
“Do you really remember Slabodka so well that you want to go back?”
I looked at Mama, long and hard. Didn’t she see? It wasn’t about how much I loved Slabodka. Anyway, if we moved back, we’d be going to Riga which was hours away from Slabodka. We wouldn’t even see Slabodka. “Please, Mama?” I begged, “Can we please? Even Bubbe thinks it’s a good idea.”
“What’s a good idea?” Miriam asked, walking into the room. Dovid still wasn’t home, and a niggling feeling of worry wormed its way into my head, but I was too focused on convincing Mama to move back to Riga to think about it. “What’s a good idea?” Miriam repeated.
“Moving to live near Bubbe and Zeide,” I explained.
“Why?” Miriam asked.
Why? Couldn’t she see why? “Things will be so much better there,” I said. “We’ll have Bubbe to help us, and Zeide, and all our cousins.”
“But here we have Yocheved and Faiga,” Miriam countered.
“It’s not the same,” I insisted. Couldn’t she see?
“And Elka,” Mama added gently, “if we go back, we’ll have to leave the Yeshivah. The yeshivah we are so close to. So connected with. The yeshivah Papa gave his life for.”
“But if we hadn’t been here,” I said, swallowing hard to get past the lump in my throat, “Papa would never have had to give up his life at all.”
And suddenly I couldn’t stand that they were staring at me, and I jumped up from my chair. Running outside, I jogged through the streets, my shoes clacking against the cobblestone. Cobblestone that had been beginning to feel so familiar, so like home, but now felt so strange.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 925)
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