Building Dreams: Chapter 42| December 13, 2022
You’re just living there because you have to, a voice inside me pressed again. Was it true?
The train station was just as busy and crowded as it had been when I arrived, but this time it didn’t feel strange. The sites were still exciting, but I was now familiar with this foreign city where my grandparents lived. I sat on a bench watching the crowd of people moving in and out, Bubbe and Zeide beside me. Staring at my grandparents, I tried to memorize their faces. Who knew when I would see them again?
“I’ll miss you, Bubbe,” I whispered as we watched the train pull into the station.
“I’ll miss you too.” Bubbe kissed me on the top of my head. “Tell your Mama I say hello, and give a kiss to everyone for me.”
I clutched my suitcase and stepped forward toward the train. The young couple who was supposed to be traveling with me stepped toward the train as well. Then the train doors opened and the three of us stepped into the car. Turning around as I got to the door, I saw Bubbe and Zeide waving at me. I swallowed hard, waved back and turned around to sit down. The couple sat in the seat across from me, and I settled myself against the window. As I looked out, there were Bubbe and Zeide, as close to the window as they could get from the platform, waving goodbye. And then the train picked up steam and we moved faster and faster, and I watched them waving until they disappeared from sight.
“So,” said Chana, the young woman who was also going to Palestine, “I hear you live there.”
“In Palestine? Yeah.” I nodded.
“So, what’s it like?”
I couldn’t tell if she was just trying to be nice or if she really wanted to know.
“It’s very different from here,” I said, jerking my head in the direction we had just come from.
“Oh, surely,” she breathed, her eyes taking on an excited glow. “Palestine. Eretz Yisrael. Just saying that makes me shiver. But I’ve never been there, so tell me. What’s it like to actually live in such a special place?”
How could I explain it? What should I say? “I don’t really remember living anywhere else,” I began. “We came to Eretz Yisrael when I was pretty young.”
“But how does it compare to Europe? To Riga?” she pressed.
“It’s… different,” I said. “The sun is so warm and strong and we’re just — you know — you’re surrounded by Jews all the time. I mean, there are the British and the Arabs but we don’t really live right near them.” I was babbling now, suddenly filled with a longing to get back home.
“You’re from Yerushalayim, right?” she asked. I watched her husband pull out a sefer and start to learn.
It reminded me so much of Papa learning whenever he was able. “Why are you moving?” I demanded suddenly. Chana looked at me, surprised at the strength in my voice. “It’s always been our dream,” she said quietly. “Isn’t it everyone’s? Isn’t that why you went, too?”
I turned to look out the window and ignored her question. I guess Chana understood that I was finished talking because she pulled out a sampler she was embroidering and stopped questioning me.
As I watched the trees fly by, strokes of green across the landscape, Chana’s question swirled around in my mind. It’s always been our dream. Isn’t it everyone’s?
Was it mine? Was Palestine my dream? I was too young to make that kind of a choice when Mama and Papa picked up and moved. It was their dream. A dream that we all sacrificed bitterly for. A dream that took my father from me.
No, a voice inside me insisted. Remember Chava. Papa could have been killed anywhere.
So it wasn’t Mama’s and Papa’s dream that took my father from me. But still. Even if goyim anywhere could have destroyed our lives, we were giving up so much every day in order to live in Yerushalayim.
I thought back to Riga. To the luxuries and comforts they had in such a modern city. Did Chana and Shmuel know that Yerushalayim was nothing like that?
You’re just living there because you have to, a voice inside me pressed again. Was it true? Was I living someone else’s dream? What was it that I wanted?
The train slowly pulled into the next station and more passengers boarded, but my mind continued to replay Chana’s words. It’s always been our dream. Isn’t it everyone’s?
And then my own voice — is this my dream?
With a bump as it hit the dock, the ship hiccuped us out and we were here! The people, the sounds, the smells… I could almost taste home, that’s how close it was. Suddenly, the two weeks that had gone by felt so short — almost as if I had never left. I couldn’t wait to get back home. To Mama. To Miriam. To see how little Yisroel had grown and changed. To tell Dovid that Europe was every bit as wonderful and amazing as I had hoped it would be. I watched Shmuel calling a taxi to take us to Yerushalayim. A taxi! When was the last time I had been in one of those? And then we were off, rattling our way to Yerushalayim.
With each tree that passed my window, I grew more and more excited to get home, and when we finally made it, I rushed up the stairs and pounded on my door, forgetting all about Chana and Shmuel as I did.
“Elka!” The door flew open and Miriam came rushing towards me, followed by Yisroel and Leiba.
They ran toward me and surrounded me until I could see Mama coming out of the kitchen toward me.
“Okay, everyone,” Mama said, pulling Leiba and Yisroel away. “Let’s let Elka breathe a little. Come,” Mama said, motioning me toward the kitchen, “you’re probably starving.”
Mama made everyone wait until I was sitting and had taken a few spoonfuls of soup before she let them ask me any questions.
“What was it like, Elka?” Miriam asked finally, pulling a chair up and sitting beside me.
“Want soup!” Yisroel demanded, climbing up onto another chair. And we all laughed because clearly for him all the excitement was over.
“How’s Bubbe?” Mama urged, blowing on some soup before placing it in front of Yisroel.
“She’s wonderful!” I gushed, wanting to tell her all about it. “We had such a nice time.”
“So,” another voice said from the direction of the doorway, “now you’ve been to Europe.” It was Dovid. His eyes glinted mischievously but there was something. Something… different. “Was it as nice as you hoped it would be?”
I nodded vigorously. “It was wonderful.”
“So that’s it? You’re moving back to Europe to live with Bubbe and Zeide?”
I looked at Dovid, surprised. But before I could say anything, Miriam broke in. “You’re not really moving there, right Elka?”
“No,” I said firmly, and I was surprised to see how much I meant it, “there isn’t anywhere I’d like to live besides here. Home.”
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 940)
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