“This is our country. Or it would be ours if we could just get rid of the dumb Brits”
Zalman was waiting for me on the steps between the Yeshivah and the makolet, a small sefer open on his lap.
“How are you?” he asked, snapping his sefer shut as I sat down on the step next to him. “Elka came home today, didn’t she?”
“Uh huh,” I nodded, leaning my shoulder against the wall on my right. “Seems like she had a good time.”
“I’m sure she did,” Zalman tilted his head, looking at me. “Have you been back to Europe at all?”
“Since we moved?” I shrugged. “Nah. I don’t even want to go back, to be honest. Not that I remember much of it — just that it was always cold all the time.”
“You don’t have to worry about that here,” Zalman laughed, rubbing the top of his head, which was baking in the sun.
“Yeah,” I agreed, leaning into the shade of the wall just to keep cool. “Maybe we should move inside.” But I made no move to get up. “Anyway,” I added, “this is our country. Or it would be ours if we could just get rid of the dumb Brits.”
“Well, you tried that already, didn’t you,” Zalman said.
“Yeah,” I nodded once. “But I didn’t really think I could get rid of them singlehandedly. And besides,” I smirked and leaned toward him conspiratorially, “I didn’t get caught. I bet if it had been me and Yitzchok in there, we would have been able to plant that dynamite and escape. Avi and Zev were just dumb, that’s all.”
Zalman laughed, but then grew serious. “You wouldn’t really want to kill those policemen, though.”
I sighed and my head flopped back against the wall. “You’re right. I don’t think anyone should die. Well, maybe those bloodthirsty Arabs. But nobody else.”
Zalman nodded approvingly.
“But if the British would just get off our land, we could take care of those vicious Arabs ourselves once and for all,” I added angrily.
“How’s the kesubah going?” Zalman said suddenly, clearly changing the topic.
I stood up. “Fine,” I said, brushing off the seat of my pants. “I should have it ready before the chasunah in time for you to check it.” I jumped down the steps and onto the pavement. “Why don’t we go inside and learn a little? Lunch is almost over.”
Zalman stood up to join me. “Sure,” was all he said but I could see that he was pleased. I’d never asked him if we could learn before — and I hadn’t learned during lunch since Papa died.
“I won’t be around so much next year,” I blurted out when we were almost at the Yeshivah doors.
Zalman stopped and stared at me.
“Yeah. Mama wants me to go to the Talmud Torah. Have a rebbi, friends, that sort of thing.” I shrugged and turned away from him, but Zalman’s hand caught me on the shoulder and turned me back.
“You don’t look too happy about it,” he said. “Don’t you think it will be nice? Be with boys your own age, everyone becoming bar mitzvah together, a rebbi teaching you new things…”
“Papa wanted me here,” I whispered, lowering my eyes.
Zalman squeezed my shoulder. Then he cupped my chin between his palms and looked into my eyes. “Your Papa wanted you here. But that was then. Now Papa wants you somewhere else.”
His hand dropped and I could tell he wasn’t sure what else to say, so we stepped into the beis medrash and made our way over to our usual places. I swallowed the tears that were trying to escape and we sat down – Zalman, me, and our Gemaras between us.
The sun was hanging low in the sky by the time seder finished, and I walked home whistling, my hands swinging at my sides. It was great to be out at this time of day with the cooler weather because the sun was on its way out, and I was enjoying it so much that I didn’t notice anyone nearby until they planted themselves on the sidewalk in front of me.
“Whoa, you are in your own world.”
I jumped in surprise. “Yitzchok!” I gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“I was hoping I’d bump into you,” he explained, and there was a funny look on his face.
“What’re you doing lately?” I started walking toward home and motioned to him to follow me. “I don’t want to make Mama worry and I’m already late,” I added as he fell into step besides me.
“You never used to worry,” he pointed out.
“She was too busy to notice.” I waited, thinking he was going to say something. But soon we were at my house and Yitzchok was still silent.
“Well…” he said slowly, “I guess you live here, right?” he gestured towards my building and I nodded. “So… see you around, I guess.” And then he was gone. As if he’d never even been there. But even though he hadn’t said anything, I entered the house with a new sense of energy. You know, whispered a voice inside me, he might even be with you in Talmud Torah. It’s not a bad thing to have friends, boys my age — even Zalman said so. You’ll… like it. I shushed the voice, but it was a half-hearted shushing.
“Dovid, come eat,” Mama called from the kitchen, right where she always was, and I rushed in to take the food from her. When supper was over and put away, I went straight to the shelf in Zalman’s room and took out my safrus equipment.
“And then he took my picture and Bubbe says she’ll send it in the mail when it’s ready!” Elka’s voice drifted from the kitchen as she regaled Miriam and Leiba with tales of her trip.
I set up shop in the living room and began dipping my quill into the inkwell, ready to write. I was so focused that I didn’t notice when everyone moved over into the living room and sat on the beds.
“What are you busy with?” Miriam asked, wandering over to look at my work.
“Nothing,” I muttered. “Just practicing letters.”
“That looks hard,” she said, peering over my shoulder. She wouldn’t know what it was anyway so I didn’t bother hiding it. But when Mama came into the room, I switched to a scrap paper and began etching out random letters.
“You look busy, Dovid,” she smiled at me.
“Yes,” I replied. “Just practicing.” I didn’t want them to know about the kesubah. That was private. It was just between me and Papa. “Hey,” I said, getting up to sit on the bed next to Leiba and Yisroel, “I heard Elka telling you all about her trip. What was Europe like?”
Mama took out some mending and sat down to join us, all thoughts of my safrus work forgotten.
“I was telling everyone about the photographer in the park,” Elka enthused, “but wait ‘till you hear about the beach!”
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 941)
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