All I wanted was to know the special news that Mama had. “No, Mama,” I burst out, “tell me. What’s so exciting? Tell me!”
I looked at Mama expectantly, but she had stopped talking and was looking at me.
“You look like you want to tell me about your trip first,” Mama said, smiling. “Did you have a good time?”
Well. I had wanted to tell her about my trip, but now all I wanted was to know the special news that Mama had. “No, Mama,” I burst out, “tell me. What’s so exciting? Tell me!”
Mama laughed and rubbed the top of my head. I usually hate when she does that, but now I didn’t really care. As long as she would just tell me the news already!
“Alright,” Mama said slowly, in that calm way of hers, “I’ll go first. In a few weeks, I’m going to visit my cousins in Yerushalayim.”
My eyes grew wide. Yerushalayim. Wow! I’d never been there. Well, besides for when we stopped there to transfer to the bus to Chevron. But that didn’t count — we didn’t really see Yerushalayim. Mama was sooo lucky. But what was the special news she had for me?
“Yes, Elka,” Mama nodded, seeing the excitement in my eyes. “And if you help me prepare, then guess who’s going to get to come along with me?”
“Me? Really?” I exclaimed, pointing to myself but hardly daring to get excited. And then Mama nodded and I didn’t have to hold back my excitement any longer. I jumped up and flung my arms around her. “You’ll see,” I declared after I had let go, “I’ll be the biggest help you can imagine. What should I do? Wash vegetables? Sweep the floor? Iron?”
Mama laughed and shooed me off to the bathroom. “Go wash up first,” she said, “and then you can tell me all about your trip.”
Okay, so Elka’s getting to go to Yerushalayim. Big deal. I have yeshivah straight through the summer so I wouldn’t be able to go anyway. Except… I mean… wouldn’t Yerushalayim be amazing? The Kosel, the city, meeting our cousins… I tried not to think about it and slunk past Elka’s beaming face to my bedroom. The excitement of our trip to Eshel Avraham all but faded into the background.
For the next few days, I spent most of my free time in Papa’s shop. I even ate lunch there a few times. Our house was just unbearable with Elka jumping around pretending to be all helpful and talking my ear off about how excited she was to go to Yerushalayim.
“Papa?” I asked one day. My feet dangled off the edge of the deep windowsill I was sitting on.
Papa looked up. He had finished his sandwich and was already whittling away at a piece of wood.
“What are we going to do with Miriam and Leiba while Mama and Elka go to Yerushalayim?”
“It’s only for a few days, Dovid, we’ll be fine,” Papa answered, turning back to his tools.
Papa was right. We would manage just fine even without Mama and Elka. But that really wasn’t what I had wanted to ask. I looked down at my sandwich and took another bite. What had I hoped Papa would answer? That I could go too? We both knew I had yeshivah. And there would be other opportunities for trips to Yerushalayim; it wasn’t that far away. But with Mama and Elka going so soon — Tuesday of next week already — any other trip just seemed so impossible.
“Will I have a chance to go, too, sometime soon?” I finally asked Papa, my words tripping on themselves as I said them.
Papa looked up again, a smile hiding somewhere within his eyes. “You’ll get your turn, Dovid,” he replied, standing up to stroke my cheek, “but for now, the yeshivah needs you. Your Torah. Your learning.” And then he sat back down and I could feel that the conversation was over. But it didn’t matter because I no longer cared that I wasn’t going. I’d get to go one day soon. Right now, I was doing something very important.
“What’s going on?” I asked the moment I walked through the door on Monday evening. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but something was wrong. Elka was lying on her bed crying — I could hear her sobs through the walls and in the kitchen — and even Mama didn’t seem her usual, calm self. She was walking back and forth, the broom in her hand, vigorously sweeping at the same spots again and again, her back stiff. Agitated. “Mama?” I directed the question to her. “What happened? Is everyone okay?”
“Mama and Elka are not going to Yerushalayim tomorrow.” It was Miriam who answered. She seemed to be the only calm one in the house.
“Why not?” I asked, confused. What could cause them to cancel their trip the night before they were supposed to leave?
“Something happened in Yerushalayim. Mama won’t tell me; she just said Elka’s crying because they’re not going on the trip.”
At that moment Papa walked through the door. Mama pounced on him, the sight of Papa lifting her out of her agitated trance. “Yosef! What have you heard? Do you think they’re all okay? Baruch? Yocheved?”
“It’s too early to know,” Papa replied. “Be’ezras Hashem they’re all Okay, but we won’t know until we hear word from them.” His words seemed to calm Mama, and she sat down at the table a little more relaxed.
“Papa?” I asked, breaking the short silence that had developed. “What’s going on? What happened?”
“There was an earthquake, Dovid,” Papa explained. “The ground throughout Yerushalayim shook. Hard. So hard that a number of buildings fell down. We know people were hurt, maybe even killed, crushed by the falling walls and bricks. But it will be some time before we really know what happened.”
“The ground shook?”
I hadn’t known something like that could happen. That the strong, solid ground under our feet could tremble and cause buildings to come crashing down. I looked down at the floor beneath my feet and somehow didn’t feel so secure standing on it.
“Does Elka know?” I asked, addressing my question to Mama.
“I told her we’re not going.”
“And about the earthquake?”
Mama shook her head. I could have guessed, though. Elka was just too sensitive — Mama would have wanted to wait and let Papa tell her. Although she was doing quite a lot of crying if it was all just about her canceled trip.
“Okay, so they’re not going to Yerushalayim?” I asked Papa, although I already knew the answer.
“They’re not going now,” Papa said firmly, looking toward Mama and catching her eye, “but maybe Mama will go soon. Alone. Once we hear from Mama’s cousins we’ll know more, but they may need her help.”
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 905)
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