| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 44

Kumzitz songs, slow songs, gratitude and yearning and chizuk and sweet, simple joy


The classroom is an explosion of balloons. On the walls, on the ceiling, tied to chairs, and bobbing gently at the windows. Every color, different shapes, a mismatch of metallic balloons in turquoise and silver alongside regular party balloons in bold kiddie reds, blues, yellows, oranges, and greens—

I blink. And then, before I can even register the scene, I’m greeted with a wave of song: Chasdei Hashem, ki lo samnu, ki lo chalu rachamav…

My classmates are dancing toward the door, arms around each other, voices raised in song and smiles beaming on their faces.

They’re dancing toward me. For me.

The balloons, the party…

It’s for me.

Mrs. Gerber signals me to come inside. Her face is wreathed in smiles. “We just had to celebrate the wonderful news, Ashira,” she says, eyes crinkling and looking slightly damp. “We were all so relieved to hear from Raizy that your parents were found. And when she said you’d be coming in to school today, we decided to celebrate together with you.”

I am stupefied into silence. After the overwhelming relief of hearing the news yesterday, we’d waited for a while until Abba and Ima were able to speak on the phone, once the armored cars were out of the danger zone and things were a little quieter. Just thinking about that moment, hearing their voices again, makes me want to break down all over again.

Of course, I’d cried. And even when we’d finished on the phone — Abba and Ima had to go, they were trying to make arrangements for travel, together with the officials at the embassy who were helping them — I’d cried and cried some more.

It was like the whole terrible week had merged inside me and was now erupting, a geyser of terror and fear and grief and relief and joy mingled with sheer, utter exhaustion.

I’d gone to sleep late, and woken up late, too, but I figured I’d go into school halfway through the morning. What would I do all day, anyway? Stand around counting down the hours until the plane would land this evening?

This evening. A frisson of longing and anticipation together shot down my spine. Tonight, we’ll be together again.

Someone turns up the music, and I’m jolted back to the classroom, to my eager-faced classmates, to Tammy, reaching for my hand to dance.

They’re sweet, all of them, celebrating this news, or maybe it’s just a good excuse to skip class. Or a bit of both?

Miss Muller pops her head into the classroom, and her eyes light up when she sees me. “Ashira! We’re so, so happy. Baruch Hashem for good news!”

Tammy cheers, and she and Shifra — two of the larger parts in the play, was it only one week ago? — dash over and pull Miss Muller into the circle. They nudge me into the middle and then somehow Miss Muller and I are holding hands and dancing. Shevi and Miri pull Mrs. Gerber into the circle, too, and I’m suddenly stuck in a mini-circle with two of our teachers, wondering how on earth to extricate myself, while the rest of the class jump around us, bouncing and laughing and shrieking over the music.

After a few minutes, Mrs. Gerber pats my arm and gently tugs her hands free, and Miss Muller takes the opportunity to leave the circle as well. I’m standing in the middle, momentarily frozen, when Tammy grabs my hands and starts to dance.

We spin together, laughing, and without saying a word I know what she’s thinking.

I don’t want this dance to end.

When it does, I stand still for a moment, catching my breath, and then I know what to do. I glance around; there she is, in the outside circle, doing the steps with a practiced nonchalance that I know now covers up a whole lot more.

I walk right up to her, through the mass of bouncing, dancing girls, and hold out my hands.

“Let’s dance, cousin,” I say to Raizy.

And we dance, right there, in the middle of the classroom, under a cascading convoy of balloons.

We’ve come full circle.


Later, when the music stops and the hastily prepared food is eaten, we sit on the floor in a circle — Mrs. Gerber, too — and we sing.

Kumzitz songs, slow songs, gratitude and yearning and chizuk and sweet, simple joy.

I look up at the balloons again. Floating and bobbing, sparkling and shining, colors and shapes and sizes and beauty. They’re each so different, but really… they’re all the same, they’re part of something bigger.

I put my arms around the classmates beside me and sway together as we sing.

They’re part of something bigger… and so am I.


The airport is quiet in the late evening, a few people milling around waiting for people to arrive, a trickle of tired passengers coming through the Arrivals door with suitcases and travel-weary expressions.

We’re waiting — Zeidy and Bubby and Yaakov and I. Aunt Chana wanted to come, too, and then Aunt Shevi said she’d join, and Uncle Yossi was thinking about driving them, until Aunt Chana had a change of heart.

“This is ridiculous, we can’t all go, it’ll totally overwhelm them. And the little kids… and they’ve gone through so much, hiding in that cellar for days on end… we need to give them some space. Tomorrow we’ll call, hear how it’s going, and maybe we’ll come over, but only if they’re okay with us invading.”

Now, standing in the quiet airport, I’m even more grateful that she’d put a stop to the whole extended family coming here tonight; I just want the space and privacy to see my family, greet them, with Yaakov, without all the aunts and everyone talking at the same time.

The trickle of passengers peters to a halt. I watch the Arrivals board obsessively; my parents’ flight has landed, but the passengers are not yet here in the Arrivals hall.

“Not too long now,” Zeidy says, encouragingly. Bubby’s sitting on a bench a little way back from us; she still can’t stand up for too long, but she’d absolutely insisted on joining us at the airport. Zeidy goes over to join her after a few more moments, and now it’s just me and Yaakov, waiting.

“So you were right about that war being a real thing, huh?” Yaakov says, side-eyeing me.

Something turns in my stomach, remembering those apprehensive days, when I was so sure something was wrong, but no one else seemed to think it was anything to worry about. “I would’ve been way happier to be proven wrong this time,” I say, wryly.

He gives a short chuckle. “I’ll bet,” he says, then subsides into silence, but I know this is his way of apologizing for not taking me seriously, and I’m grateful.

And then, all too fast, the doors separating us from the arrivals area slide open, and passengers begin to pour out, men and women and a family—

My family.

A shriek, a scream, a burst of voices, and five steps later, I’m wrapped in Ima’s embrace.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 987)

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