Holiday in Gibraltar: Part 4| February 14, 2023
“But listen: The Jews of Malaga sailed from the ports of Malaga and Almuñecar. The date they set sail was the 31st of July, 1492”
was a weary but cheerful company that disembarked from the plane in Malaga airport. There were a few injuries, but most of the boys, now that they were on firm ground, were inclined to downplay their earlier panic and even boast about their heroism.
“You were terrified — but I wasn’t.”
“Ha! You were crying.”
“No, I wasn’t! You were. I saw.”
And so on.
Only one boy refused to recover from his ordeal, and that was Zvi Leader. His pinched face looked quite ghostly, and he clung to Danny and his luggage as if they were his only hope of survival.
As for Yitz Green, a scan of his head proved him to be in remarkably healthy condition, and sporting a bandage across his forehead like a World War I ace pilot, his standing among the younger boys rose even higher.
The camp spent the night in Malaga, bedding down on the floor of a kosher hostel where they were provided with blankets and food. Most of the boys fell into an exhausted sleep, but Danny, after tossing and turning for a while, sat up and switched on his flashlight to read.
“Psst,” said Yanky. “What’s up?”
“My grandmother gave me an atlas of Jewish history.”
There was a rude laugh from a mound under a blanket.
“Be quiet, Yitz Green,” whispered Yanky.
“Listen to this,” said Danny. “In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition.”
“Now that’s news to me, Danny,” said Yanky. “I’ve never heard that before.”
“But listen: The Jews of Malaga sailed from the ports of Malaga and Almuñecar. The date they set sail was the 31st of July, 1492.”
“Today is the 31st of July.”
Yanky yawned. “Where exactly is this going? Do you know it’s two a.m.?”
Danny closed the atlas. “It doesn’t matter. Forget it.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Yanky. “We’ve got to be up at six. It’s a good hour and a half drive from Malaga to Gibraltar, then we’re crossing the border on foot, carrying all our stuff. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get some sleep.”
Yanky lay down and tossed back and forth under his blanket, trying to get comfortable.
Danny switched off his flashlight but remained sitting up, staring into the darkness. He was glad he hadn’t responded to Yanky’s sarcastic comments, but inside he was seething. Yanky was deliberately being obtuse. Why couldn’t he see the significance?
“Danny?” That was Yanky’s voice, half muffled by his blanket.
“What?” said Danny.
“You’re not too annoyed with me? I’m really sorry.”
Danny smiled into the darkness. “It’s all right. You’re forgiven.’’
Someone switched on a flashlight. It was Rabbi Ganz, whose left eye was turning a nice shade of blue and purple.
“Everyone okay in here?”
“Fine, just can’t sleep,” said Danny.
“Zvi Leader is still really upset,” said Rabbi Ganz. “We’re going rock climbing tomorrow afternoon, and he says he’s not coming unless Danny Halpern stays with him all the time. The question is: Are you willing to hold Zvi Leader’s hand, literally and figuratively, if necessary?”
Danny shrugged. He wasn’t so thrilled with the prospect. Zvi wasn’t exactly fun to be with, and he’d been looking forward to testing his strength on the expedition. But what choice did he have?
“Yanky?” said Rabbi Ganz. “Can you keep your good friend Danny company?”
Yanky gave a long sigh. “It’s not that I’m selfish,” he said. “It’s just that I wanted to have a good time without thinking about anyone else. But, okay. I’ll do it.”
“It might mean that you boys won’t get to do much climbing, but it’s a real chesed.” said Rabbi Ganz.
“We know,” said Danny and Yanky together.
“So it’s a deal?” said Rabbi Ganz.
“Yeah,” said Yanky. “We guess so.”
Looking somewhat relieved, Rabbi Ganz disappeared into the darkness. Had it been a mistake to bring Zvi Leader to camp, he wondered? But — like Danny and Yanky — what choice did he have? The kid would be pining away at home, with most of Golders Green on vacation and only his older sister for company.
The large hall fell silent. Yanky conked out immediately, but Danny couldn’t fall asleep. He switched on his flashlight again. Inside the front cover of the atlas was a family tree drawn by his great-grandfather. You could trace the family’s lineage all the way back to the middle of the 1800s — they were registered under the surname, “Yesurun.” It wasn’t clear where they were before 1860, but there were records of a small colony of Sephardic Jews living in London, and the name “Yesurun” appeared in a chronicle of the community several times.
There was something exciting and mysterious about his grandmother’s ancestry. For example, there was a Daniel in the family going back every other generation all the way to the 1800s, and the record from the 1600s mentioned a Daniel, but also a Refael, which was confusing. It was also confusing that “Yesurun” was spelled differently; sometimes “Yesurun” and other times “Yeshurun.”
Danny lay down and shut his eyes. It would be nice to think that his ancestors were good people. But there were records of Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal who became pirates, attacking the Catholic Empire’s shipping as a way of revenging their expulsion. He hoped there were no Yesuruns among them. It wasn’t a pleasant idea.
He thought about the stories his grandmother liked to tell him. She was a dramatic storyteller, so you couldn’t always be sure how much was fact and how much was her imagination. Like the manuscript she said had been in the family since at least the 1800s. His grandmother was vague as to what had been in it. She believed that it had been a holy book but said that even her father hadn’t been quite sure. According to his grandmother, it had a column of writing in the middle of each page and a narrower column on the side. It was decorated with leaves and branches, and some of the words were written in large letters in bright blue, red, and gold.
As a child, she had never been allowed to touch it. Her father would bring it out occasionally wearing special gloves — there were pages missing at the back, she could see where they had come loose — and then, wrapping it in a silk scarf, he would put it away, high up at the top of the bookshelf.
Then one day it disappeared. A stranger, claiming to be a relative, had asked to see her grandfather, and perhaps he had taken it. Or perhaps it had been simply carelessness. A maid dusting at the top of the bookshelf, throwing it away before Pesach.
It was one of those mysteries that hovered around the family and that caused Danny such frustration. Like the broken windshield wipers on their old bashed up car.
In the middle of Krias Shema, the birthmark on Danny’s neck began to itch. That was because he was overtired and, according to his mother, because he was growing. He always did his best to hide it. It was oddly shaped — almost like two splotches of brown paint, rounded at the top — and it had grown with him, peeping up over his shirt collar. It seemed to be one of the things he inherited from his great-grandfather. Apparently, there was a great-great uncle with exactly the same shaped birthmark, also on his neck.
Don’t scratch, he told himself. You’ll make it bleed, and it’ll hurt. He put his hands under his head and breathed in deeply.
Was the birthmark a sign of being a Yesurun, he wondered? Had anyone bearing it been expelled from Spain in 1492?
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 949)
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