“Rabbi Ganz says I have to go. He said he won’t let me chicken out of everything”
The following day, Yanky came down with fever. He spent two days shivering in bed, but by the third, he was able to sit up without feeling faint and nibble on a cracker.
Canoeing was on that day’s itinerary, and Yanky had no intention of missing it. He dragged himself out of bed in time for Shacharis, hoping that his wan appearance might somehow go unnoticed. It didn’t. Rabbi Ganz took one look at him and sent him back to bed.
In his room, Yanky watched Danny pack a small backpack with the items needed for the expedition.
“Well at least I don’t have to spend the day in a canoe with Zvi Leader,” he said irritably.
“True,” said Danny. “I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.”
“Can you paddle?” asked Yanky.
“I’ve only been rowing once,” replied Danny.
“I bet Zvi can’t,” said Yanky. “Some fun you’re going to have.”
It couldn’t get much worse, thought Danny. But as Danny soon found out, it could. Rabbi Shine had insisted there must be three to a boat; two older boys together with a younger one. Danny watched warily as Rabbi Ganz organized the boys into groups. He couldn’t believe it! Did Rabbi Ganz seriously think that Zvi Leader, Yitz Green, and Danny Halpern could sit in a canoe together without any collateral damage?
To make matters worse, Zvi began his usual grumbling.
“I’m not going with Yitz Green,” he said.
“Stay behind then,” said Danny.
“Rabbi Ganz says I have to go. He said he won’t let me chicken out of everything.”
Danny didn’t reply. Standing well away from Yitz Green, he watched the other boys climb into their boats and move out into the sea, their shouts fading into the distance.
The three boys were left on their own.
“After you,” said Yitz with mock politeness, indicating the boat.
“No. You go first,” said Danny.
Yitz climbed expertly into the canoe, settling himself in the middle.
“Go on,” he said to Zvi.
Zvi looked at Danny. “I’m not getting in till you do.”
Danny shrugged. He climbed into the canoe and offered his hand to Zvi.
“I can do it by myself,” said Zvi.
This new assertiveness was a surprise, but Danny maintained a stiff silence.
With cold politeness, Yitz Green handed Danny a paddle, and then, without warning, pushed away from the beach and began to row very fast with strong expert strokes.
Danny leaned back and made no attempt to paddle.
“If he’s so good at it, let him do it himself,” he thought.
The weather had been calm all morning with only a few light waves. But the sun was very hot. Yitz plowed on through the water at a furious pace, showing off madly, the sun beating down on him relentlessly.
“Hey, where are we going?” said Danny.
“Round the Rock, where else?” said Yitz.
“You’re going too far out,” said Danny. “We’re not supposed to.”
“Go on, then. You paddle.”
Danny picked up his paddle and thrust it into the water. He was super nervous. It had been years since he’d been rowing, and it felt very strange.
“You’re holding it wrong,” said Zvi.
“Aw, little Zvi telling big Danny how to row,” said Yitz.
Danny pressed his lips together and continued paddling. He was getting better with each thrust into the water.
“I don’t feel well,” said Zvi suddenly. “I’m hot.”
“Take a drink of water,” said Danny. He was feeling strangely exhilarated. He had never imagined that he would be good at rowing. But as the minutes passed, the elation turned to unease. A gusty wind had sprung up, and try as he might, he couldn’t get the boat to move toward the beach. The sea had begun to churn and push against the paddle, and the canoe was being bumped up and down by the choppy waves. They were being forced further out to sea.
Zvi’s face was a picture of terror.
“I want to go back,” he yelled.
“Yitz,” said Danny urgently. “Use your paddle. I can’t do this on my own.”
There was no response.
“Yitz, use it!”
Yitz had his back to him. For some reason, he wasn’t holding the paddle, and to Danny’s horror, it slid out of his hands into the sea. Then Yitz slumped forward.
“He’s dead!” screamed Zvi.
Danny’s stomach lurched in terror.
“Yitz! Wake up!”
But the figure in front of him was still.
“Lean forward, and give him some water!” said Danny.
He watched Zvi attempt to reach Yitz. But the boat was now being buffeted wildly by the waves. At any moment it could capsize.
“Stay where you are, Zvi,” said Danny. “It’s too dangerous.”
Desperately, Danny fought against the waves with his one paddle. All of a sudden, the sky turned an inky-black. The wind tossed the canoe round in circles, just as the skies opened, engulfing them with rain.
“Zvi! Hold onto the sides!” shouted Danny. A crash of thunder drowned out his voice as a huge wave tore the paddle from his grasp.
Panicking now, he fumbled about blindly, searching for the third paddle. A bolt of lightning shot across the sky, illuminating Yitz’s hunched over figure and Zvi Leader’s terrified face.
Then he was in the water. There was a moment of blackness and oblivion. It felt as if his lungs would burst as he fought to reach the surface. His arm hit something hard and sturdy. He held onto it for dear life as the wind pounded the sea.
And then he was floating, floating… his arms stretched out in front of him.
When he awoke later, he was lying on the sand. Scattered about him were the remains of a raft. Far away, the storm raged on.
There was a chattering sound beside him.
He put out his hand. It was a monkey.
He sat up. A tall figure had emerged from a cave.
“Yitz?” he said incredulously. “I didn’t think you’d make it.”
Yitz sat down next to him on the sand.
“Nor did I. It was a neis… that we all made it.”
Yitz’s face darkened. “He’s in the cave. But it’s not good.”
“No, I wish he would. He seems to have a fever. He was thrown out of the boat. So was I. And that woke me up. Heatstroke. I’ve had it before.”
Danny stood up. He felt terribly dizzy, and everything hurt. But he was alive. And so was Yitz.
He held out his hand to Yitz. “Sorry for—”
“You’re sorry? It’s me. I got us into this mess.”
Danny followed Yitz into the cave. Zvi Leader was lying very still, breathing hoarsely. Danny put his hand to Zvi’s forehead.
“He’s burning up!”
“What do we do?” said Yitz.
“He needs a compress.”
“You can have the sleeve of my shirt,” said Yitz. “Just rip it off.”
Danny stared at Yitz. It was the first time he had seen him like this. Quiet and subdued. And sorry.
“There’s water here,” said Yitz.
Danny listened to the slow drip-drip of water in the cave. A strange feeling, almost like a memory, swept over him — the sensation that he had been there before.
“Perhaps the water’s not meant for us,” he said. “There have been others…”
Yitz, looking at him, replied, “Once in every generation.”
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 951)
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