| Family First Serial |

Fallout: Chapter 41

“We’ve got to decide one way or the other, Abe. There are drawbacks and advantages to staying in Boro Park and to moving here”


September 1964

Clarity came with the crash of shattered glass.

The trip to the neighbors, Rabbi and Mrs. Kleinfeld, was a success. More than a decade older than Annie and Abe, the Kleinfelds had raised and married off their five children from the small community they’d lived in for most of their married life. Rabbi Kleinfeld was a shochet at a nearby kosher chicken factory, as well as gabbai of the local shul. Annie found Mrs. Kleinfeld to be a warm and friendly grandmother, with a captivating smile, a well-honed sense of humor, chatty but not prying: the perfect neighbor. Honest, too, about the advantages and drawbacks of living in a small town, with an even smaller frum population.

Yes, a successful visit, even down to the delicious home-baked brownies and fresh-picked blueberries. Except... as Annie prepared to return to the house that they might — or might not — purchase, her mind was still a whirlpool of racing thoughts, a muddle of pros and cons, yeses and nos, maybes and perhapses and what ifs.

If, as Papa had once told her, “There is no joy like the joy of resolution of doubts,” then clearly Annie Levine was seeking joy. And, so far, not finding it.

She and Ruchele returned to the house (buy it? leave it?) in Yoel’s car. Annie had been so caught up in her decision-making she’d hardly noticed Moe’s absence until it was time to visit the neighbors. When she asked Abe, he’d merely shrugged, suggesting that Annie and Ruchele drive with Yoel, Malka, and the baby, while the rest of the family took the ten-minute walk.

So now they’d examined the house, picnicked on the grounds, met the neighbors. A family meeting to discuss the future took all of ten minutes; everyone was on board, except for Annie, who remained silent. “There’s no pressure, sweetheart, whatever you decide,” Abe whispered to her, “and I mean that.”

Another reason to feel guilty and confused.

While they waited for Moe to return from his mysterious errand, Artie took out his ever-present Frisbee, and soon the clan — Abe, Artie, Mutty, the twins, and even Yoel — were in a large circle, throwing it around, with Ruchele, too small to join them, watching sadly from the sidelines.

It seemed the little girl was not the only one wishing she could play. Annie was sitting peacefully on the wraparound porch, her feet propped up on a relatively smooth and small boulder that Abe had found for her. Malka stood by her side, holding her drowsy baby in her arms and watching the others, a wistful cast on her usually cheerful face.

Annie felt a pang: With all that was going on in her own life, she’d hardly had time to help Malka with her first baby. Malka and Yoel loved the quiet of Lakewood, their small but growing yeshivah town, but, she’d confided to Annie, she missed the family a lot.

Annie shifted in her chair. “Hand me Yitzchak,” she said, “and go run around a little. Enjoy the space and freedom, maybe play ball with Ruchele.”

“Are you sure, Mama?”

“I hardly ever get a chance to cuddle with my only grandchild. Go, mamaleh.”

The sun, often so brutal in these summer months, was in a merciful mood today. It softly caressed Annie’s face as she enjoyed its rays, her grandson nestled upon her, his breathing regular and gentle, while her own baby was making his or her presence felt. It was a moment of blissful wonder: Here I am, with my grandson, child of the child I raised. And my own child, growing within me, who will be his aunt or uncle from the moment of birth.

Her fond gaze fell upon the twins, cavorting and yelling and pitching the bright-orange Frisbee up into the brilliant azure sky. Artie, showing off the hammer toss, toughest of all Frisbee throws. She watched Mutty — suppressing a maternal pang of anxiety — as he jumped to make a spectacular catch, while Abie, her Abie, doubled down with laughter when he missed an easy throw.

Despite the noise, she felt her eyes closing as she half dreamed and half slept in a precious moment of serene tranquility…

…broken by a sudden crash and the sound of glass shattering right behind her.

Abe was by her side in a millisecond. “Sweetheart, are you okay? Don’t get up… the Frisbee hit the window… there’s glass all over….”

Little Yitzchak shifted on top of her, still asleep. Annie’s blue eyes met Abe’s dark ones; eyes full of concern for the safety of his wife and grandchild. Those dark eyes had looked upon war and death and birth and healing. They had twinkled when planning some new and unforgettable family adventure. They were eyes that longed for challenge, eyes that sparkled when those challenges were met and overcome.

Eyes of the man she had cared for and loved — and who had cared for and loved her — for almost three decades.

Annie took a deep breath, not daring to move and awaken the baby. “It’s okay, Abie, I’m fine. Keep the kids away and see if you can find a broom inside to clear the glass.” Another deep breath, followed by a brilliant smile. The clarity she’d longed for, prayed for, was finally granted by the benevolent G-d Who had already given her so many Frisbee-throwing blessings.

“And don’t worry about the window, Abe. We’ll get it fixed — before we move in.”


The soup kitchen was inspiring. Depressing. And, like so much of Marjorie’s life, confusing.

And the carrots! Oh, those carrots….

She’d enjoyed the walk from the grocery to the soup kitchen. Danny Lefkowitz had been raised in the Haight before it had become the epicenter of rebellious youth. He knew the shortcuts, the stories, the unusual architecture, all the quiet human dramas of a working-class neighborhood turned, as his father would have put it, into a haven for “hippie-dippies.”

Danny was a good listener, too, not interrupting while Marjorie shared tales of her home life (loveless and suffocating), the hotel (weird but interesting), her cross-country trip (outta sight, except for those awful cowboys), and Mama Mumu (even weirder than the hotel, but also kind of groovy).

They reached a large storefront. The summer sun was striking the windows, reflecting the dust that almost, but not quite, obscured the large room’s dingy interior. Marjorie peered in at the Formica-topped tables, almost embarrassingly naked without tablecloths. The tables were surrounded by mismatched chairs, clearly cast-offs from wealthier homes, some with stained upholstery, others with shaky legs or cracked vinyl seats.

“Shabby, isn’t it?” Danny asked cheerfully, as they approached the door.

“Horrible. And look at that.” Marjorie pointed to a large sign hanging over the storefront, whose bold black letters on a white background read SOUP KITCHEN, ALL WELCOME, FREE EATS, with the opening hours in small letters beneath it.

“What’s wrong with that? Just telling people what this place is.”

“No, what you’re announcing is that this a place for losers.”

“Well, isn’t it?”

He looked at Marjorie’s cheeks; a flush had turned them a bright pink. “Look, Margie, there’s not much money for frills. At least the old people and even the druggies and dopeheads get full on the bread and grab some nutrition from the soup.”


“No buts. This is a soup kitchen for life’s losers, as you put it, not a gourmet restaurant for upper-middle-class professionals ordering martinis and veal filets.”

They walked into the storefront. Surprisingly, the atmosphere was not as creepy as Marjorie had expected. Volunteers, most of them college age, were setting the tables, some of them singing the latest Beatles hits. Many of the bowls were chipped, but they were large and clean. The smell of cooking vegetables was strong but not unpleasant.

The kitchen was a frenzy of peeling, cutting, chopping. About a dozen large pots were bubbling on industrial-sized stoves. Danny explained that the soup was made a few days in advance and then heated up two hours before opening time. He handed her an apron, a cutting board, a wicked-looking knife, and a large bucket of carrots.

“Okay, start peeling and cutting.”

Marjorie hummed along with the other volunteers, carefully cutting the carrots into small and even cubes, as Perele Schwartz had taught her. It had been a while since Marjorie had spent time in Mrs. S.’s kitchen, and she couldn’t help but compare the loud and brash atmosphere here with the sedate quiet of the hotel. And though there was little resemblance to the hotel’s generous and delicious Shabbos meals, it was kind of cool to know she was helping to feed people again, especially with the memory of that awful hunger she’d felt on her first day in the Haight so fresh in her mind.

A heavy hand landed on her shoulder and grabbed the knife from between her fingers. Abby, who’d been introduced as shift manager of the kitchen, laughed. “Hey, babe, you’ll be here forever. Just give it a good whack and throw it in the pot.” With that, she took the carrot that Marjorie had been working on and chopped it into three large pieces.

Flooded with memories of both Madame in her French cuisine classes, and Perele Schwartz in the hotel, Marjorie let out a yelp of protest. “But it doesn’t take much more time, and it will taste so much better. And look nicer, too.”

“Sorry, girl, no time for pretty looks. We’ve got hungry mouths to fill.”

Marjorie took the knife back and smashed it viciously on the carrot. No time for beauty. No time for taste.

At least not for life’s losers. Like Chrissie and Mama Mumu.

And… maybe even Marjorie Burton.


It still took a little while for Abe to be absolutely convinced that his wife wasn’t choosing martyrdom. While the older boys cleaned the scattered shards of glass, Malka took Yitzchak back into her arms, and Abe and Annie walked slowly on the lawn, talking earnestly.

“We’ve got to decide one way or the other, Abe. There are drawbacks and advantages to staying in Boro Park and to moving here. I’ve thought about them both, I’ve really examined my feelings, and Abe, I’ll be happy to live here, and it will be good for all of us.”



And then came the excitement. Abe tried to explain that it wasn’t over yet, there were bankers and mortgages, and closing a practice and a thousand other details to deal with.

No one listened. The kids, both the younger and older ones, flew through each room, everyone talking, shouting, pointing, suggesting.

When the Caddy drove in and Moe jumped out, he was surrounded by everyone eager to share the big news. Ignoring the hubbub, he turned a questioning face to Abe. “So that’s it? Final decision?”

“I’ll put in a bid, I think they’ll accept it, and then there’s all the legal stuff to deal with. But yes, I think we’ll be moving.”

“Well, that’s pretty fine, Abe.” He smiled broadly. “Sis, looks like we may be neighbors. I just spent the last hour checking out the Manor House. And when we get home — I’m going to talk to Papa about buying it and moving the hotel up to the Catskills.”

Annie’s eyes opened wide in shock. Horror. And hope.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 885)

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