| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 5   

 I paste on a huge, fake smile. “I… have to go now, guys. I have something going on… It was great seeing you, though!”



unday, I wake at the crack of dawn.

Okay, not exactly, but 7:45 a.m. is practically dawn when there’s no school, no friends, and no plans for the day.

No plans… except for the most important one: a Skype call with my family! Finally, finally, finally.

I’ve spoken to Ima and Abba, of course, and even caught my siblings early one morning before I headed off to school. But when I get home after five p.m., it’s late at night in India, and most of the week I just don’t get to speak to all of them: Baruch and Nachum. Mali and Ita Nomi. Baby Ayelet.

Ayelet. My heart squeezes. It isn’t fair to play favorites among my younger siblings, but really, really, really, seven-month-old Ayelet, with her silky brown hair and soft pink cheeks, is everyone’s favorite.

Ita Nomi is a full five years older than Ayelet, which made Ayelet’s arrival super exciting. After Ima, the baby is for sure the one I miss the most. Sometimes when I get home from school, I just itch for a cuddle, for her to wrap her little fingers around mine and gurgle up at me….

Okay, I can’t think about that, or I’m gonna show up on the call with red eyes and nose and a blotchy face. And however miserable I might feel, I’m not going to ruin this long-awaited call with my homesickness.

I get dressed carefully (not that there’s much to choose from; my Sunday wardrobe consists of approximately three outfits right now) and decide to iron my hair for the occasion. With all that, I’m still downstairs with time to spare.

The kitchen smells of eggs, toast, breakfast. The eggs give me an idea.

“Can I bake something, maybe? After the call?”

When Bubby smiles, she looks younger, and reminds me a little of Ima. I guess that makes sense. It also makes me homesick. “That’s a great idea, Ashira. Let’s see, we could make a marble cake for Shabbos, or would you rather chocolate cake? You could ice it, too, everyone likes that.”

I know that icing means frosting, because Bubby’s famous “chocolate cake with chocolate icing” is the highlight of the family kiddush every Shabbos — here, and also back home in India — but it still sounds funny to think of icing a cake. Although, to be fair, frost and ice aren’t that different when you consider the real meaning of the words.

“Or how about I put up a yeast dough and we make rugelach together?” Bubby offers.

Wait, how did my baking day turn into marble cake or rugelach? Can I explain to Bubby that that’s not really what I meant?

“Um, I was thinking of, I don’t know, trying something new,” I stammer. “And also….” I trail off, awkwardly. Okay, forget it. I really can’t tell Bubby that I’d rather bake alone. But for me, the fun of baking means flicking through recipe books, choosing something exciting, like the strawberry-custard tiramisu I tried back at home, or the mint chocolate cookie sticks. I like trying things out, experimenting with fun ingredients and flavors. It’s not about getting to pour the eggs and oil and, you know, turning on the mixer. That’s fun at five years old, maybe, but not at almost 15.

“I just realized I… might have homework,” I stutter. Not. We haven’t been given any work to take home yet, except some math problems I knocked off at recess. Yes, they were more interesting than trying to join in whatever conversation was going on around me.

Bubby looks disappointed. “Well, if you finish early, sweetie, then just let me know. I don’t mind baking later instead.”

Great. I’m going to have to pretend to be working all day now. And, I discovered over Shabbos, my grandparents don’t seem to have any English books to read, aside from around 30 biographies.

I think of the books I packed in my suitcase. We actually received a call from the airport, apologetically informing me that the cases were missing and the airline would reimburse me for any purchases I needed to make to replace the items. But it wasn’t just about the things themselves, it’s so much more than that.

But I’m not gonna think about suitcases now. It’s time to say hi to my faaaaaamily!

Bubby’s computer sits on a wooden dresser in the middle of the sitting room. It’s a little annoying to be in public view of anyone and everyone (my aunts and cousins tend to float in and out of Bubby’s house at all hours), but right now I’m too excited to care.


The screen is a little fuzzy, but after a minute my family come clearly into view, clustered around the laptop on the kitchen table. I can see the stove in the background, the windows that look out at the lonely, bare-branched tree in the backyard.

For a moment, I feel as if I’m there, part of the cozy image on the other side of the screen: Ima is sitting to one side, holding Ayelet. Mali and Ita Nomi are sharing a chair in the center. Baruch is darting in and out of sight as he practices — juggling? Frisbee spinning? I can’t make it out — with Nachum watching him from behind Ima. Abba is standing behind them all with a broad smile on his face, warm and loving and just there, holding everyone together.

Last year, I was there, too, when we’d set up the laptop for a call with Yaakov in London. I’d sat beside my sisters and if I close my eyes I can see it, smell it, be there: the scent of plants and spices, the feel of the polished wooden table and fabric-padded chairs, colors long since faded.

I blink and suddenly I’m on the other side of the screen and the ocean, my siblings are waving and calling my name, Abba is beaming, and Ima is asking something about Shabbos, my week, school.

I had so much to say but now, somehow, I have nothing to say at all.

“Tell us about Shabbos in London,” Ima invites. Ayelet wriggles on her lap, disinterested, and Ima pats her, momentarily distracted.

There is a lump in my throat. “You know,” I manage. “The regular. Um, Chaim and Chana and the kids came for Shabbos lunch. And everyone walked over for kiddush.”

I don’t mention that I spent most of the day holed up in my room. I’ve just about had enough of the giggly, goggling cousins situation.

“Tell me about Shabbos by you. How many people came?”

Shabbos at my parents’ home is the highlight of the week: We host, on average, around 15 people, but we’ve had as many as 50 coming for meals, especially on Yom Tov.

“A quiet week. Only 12 people. Oh, and Mr. Noah, of course.”

Mr. Noah isn’t actually his name, but none of us can pronounce his real name, and he first came to us on parshas Noach, and waxed eloquent about it being his favorite parshah of the year. Something about the deluge and the ark and the lone survivors. We’d laughed, but Abba and Ima had looked serious.

Mr. Noah was Jewish, but barely kept anything. He’d survived the war, somehow landed up in India, and only very recently had he started coming to Shabbos meals. Now he’s a regular at my parents’.

“We were thinking of a shidduch for him! With— oh, but you don’t know her, she came after you left,” Mali garbles, and a pit forms deep in my stomach.

No, I’m no longer a part of the cozy picture at all.

I paste on a huge, fake smile. “I… have to go now, guys. I have something going on… It was great seeing you, though!”

I close the screen on my family’s surprised expressions.

It’s 9:52 in the morning. I have an entire empty Sunday ahead of me.

And absolutely nothing to do with it.


To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 948)

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