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Journey for Truth: Chapter 1

Mariah wasn’t even sure why the words from the siddur spoke to her so much. She wasn’t Jewish, after all

1500s, Prague

In a crowded room filled with dust, Mariah, a young Christian girl, stood with several other girls her age before the tall lady dressed in black.

“Someone here stole an extra piece of bread from the kitchen!” the lady in black screeched. Her face was red with rage. “In my orphanage, thievery will not be tolerated! I’m going to search each of you and feel inside your little pockets. If I find so much as a crumb, I will take away your Sunday picnic privileges for an entire month!”

The girls held their breaths tightly as the lady in black began inspecting them, swooping down like a vulture to discover any of the missing bread.

“Pssst! Mariah, I took it...”

A little girl in pigtails whispered urgently to an older girl.

“Sofia! Why?!

Sofia’s lips trembled. “One of the older girls has been stealing my bread during supper for the past month… I was starving.”

Another girl overhead. “That’s too bad for you, Sofia!” she whispered through clenched teeth. “Someone is about to get in major trouble because you did something wrong! Confess so we can all get out of here!”

“I can’t!” Sofia was crying now. “Sunday picnics are the only time I spend outside of the orphanage!”

The lady in black glanced up sharply, her eyes narrowing.

“I think I smell guilt in the air, girls.”

Moving her way through the crowd of orphans, she made a beeline for poor, little Sofia.

“I did it.”

Mariah stepped forward, her head held high.

“Aha!”

“I’m sorry. My greed got the better of me. Please forgive me.”

Forgive you!” The lady in black let out an obnoxious laugh. “Not so fast, little miss. First you need to be punished accordingly: No outdoor picnics on Sunday for a year!”

Mariah gasped.

“You said one month!”

“Did I? I seem to recall saying an entire year. Is there anyone here who disagrees with me? Hmmm? No, I didn’t think so.”

The woman in black swept from the room and a sigh of relief went up from the girls.

“Mariah, I’m so sorry!”

“Don’t be, Sofia. I don’t need to go out on Sundays.”

“But it’s the only time we’re allowed out of the orphanage!”

“It’s okay.” Mariah forced a smile onto her face. “Really, Sofia. Don’t feel bad for me. There are other enjoyable things I can do besides going out for picnics.”

“In this terrible place? Like what?”

“Oh… other things,” Mariah said vaguely. Her fingers tightened around a parchment tucked into her pocket. “Just other things.”

*****************************

The following Sunday...

Mariah watched through the window as the rest of the girls in the orphanage were led outside. They would walk to a nearby forest where they could play and relax. She felt a twang inside her stomach. For one moment she considered racing out to them and begging the lady in black for a second chance. Then she remembered that the lady in black never gave second chances. Ever.

“I don’t even care!” Mariah whispered to herself. “Now I have more time to pray.”

She ran up to her room and lay down on the hard, scratchy straw mattress that was supposed to be a bed. She pulled the tattered parchment from her pocket. It was a page from a siddur she had found hidden under the floorboards. She guessed someone in the orphanage a long time ago had hidden it.

Mariah wasn’t even sure why the words from the siddur spoke to her so much. She wasn’t Jewish, after all. But she felt more connected to this one page from a Jewish prayer book than to all the Christian prayers the lady in black forced everyone to recite several times daily.

It was just Mariah’s luck that whomever the paper had belonged to had decided to write the translation of the Hebrew letters above each word, which allowed her to understand the holy prayer. She began praying, tears falling from her eyes. Her main theme was the same each time: Please, G-d, help me escape this place!

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 791)

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