Scion| April 3, 2023
It was different before the birth, what did he have then? Grainy images, a sound like a horse or a train that they said was a heartbeat, a baby that seemed all Denya’s — and now the baby’s here, and he’s his
Aron walks across the gravel at the perimeter of the moshav. The night is alive with the sounds of things people don’t hear during the day. Wind plays the summer leaves like an instrument; from out in the forest, jackals howl, coyotes call.
He passes the little security booth that was his camp for the night, waves to Yoav, who’s taken over for him an hour early. He crosses over to the small knot of houses at the entrance of the moshav.
The remainder of the houses are scattered over a dozen streets. They are a few hundred people staking out their claim to this land, this hill, to settle it, to work it, to live together — and apart from the rest.
They are stubborn, persevering, many of them following the path of their fathers before them, but a growing group of others, too. People with the unlikeliest of pasts coming up here, perhaps to flee, perhaps to find, drawn by the land and the love and the longing to be grounded in the most elemental way.
The breeze picks up, and it carries a cry.
In a flash, he is there, at their home. Over the past five days, his ears have adjusted, twitching like an animal’s for any sound of distress. He is a father now. At 32, a first-time Abba.
He rushes through the door and up the steps to their room.
“Denya, I’ll take him, okay?”
She is rocking the cradle. She nods gratefully, lies back down, and closes her eyes.
He takes the baby out. His gun barrel clatters against the cradle, and Denya’s eyes fly open.
She slaps her forehead, “Oh, you’re on shift. I forgot for a moment, I’m still half-asleep. You can’t take him out there.”
“No, no, Yoav’s taken over already, he couldn’t sleep, he said. Let me take this little guy out for a walk to calm him.”
She whispers something, then she’s sleeping again.
Aron puts on the baby carrier and gently places his son inside it. The baby whimpers against his chest, growing quieter as Aron walks down the stairs, through the living room, and onto the gravel path.
He’s not used to the weight, the warmth. He tousles the tiny, almost furry hair, light like summer wheat. Like his, so different from Denya, his French-born wife.
He looks down and regards his son.
Who are you, child?
Will he be Meshilem Zanvil ben Ahron? For the grandfather who passed away when Aron was ten, the grandfather who was king for so long. Meshilem Zanvil ben Ahron, a pattern to hold on to, the father-son chain of old.
The baby stretches, yawns, and the yawn is so human — tiny mouth stretching open — Aron stares and laughs at the little face. We’re all the same, and yet....
Meshilem Zanvil? How is he thinking of his grandfather’s name for his son? It belongs to a different time, a different Aron…
Yet how can he not? It is all he can think about.
It’s two days to the bris.
Overhead, the sky starts to consider a new day, lightening, blushing by degrees. And out on the grass, memories come from the dark and from the light, assailing the man who holds a tiny child.
He was the youngest. The lucky thing at the end of the line, the last boy, after a string of girls and two oldest brothers, finally, a namesake for his illustrious great-grandfather. And then, when Aron was about ten, his own grandfather, Meshilem Zanvil, had passed away.
“Di vest huben dem Meshilem Zanvil ben Ahron — you will have the Meshilem Zanvil ben Ahron,” they used to tell him as a young teen, before he could fathom these things. It had been a mission, a challenge, a pride — and he’d abandoned it all. And now this tiny thing of seven pounds is bringing him to his knees.
He is miles away from that cheder boy in Williamsburg. And Denya, what would she say to a name like that?
“Who are you?” he whispers to the baby. “Who will you be?”
It’s lighter than he wants outside, a new day, the baby’s sixth. He closes his eyes — to the light, to the issue, to his own powerlessness — and lets the day come.
Père and Maman are staying in the spare room, but their stuff is everywhere. They are everywhere. His in-laws have turned up and totally taken over.
Aron tries to find a space on the sofa and has to remove a jumble of things: Maman’s scarf, Père’s jacket, her half-done knitting, his French-translated siddur. They’d arrived with enough baby clothes for the year, stretchies and undershirts brightly colored with giraffes and monkeys and Mickey Mouse.
He doesn’t presume to have a taste in baby clothing, but it feels a bit much. They also schlepped an infant seat, a floor mat, enough bath toys to fill a vat, stacks of bibs, and a sterilizer for pacifiers and bottles.
“Because who knows what they have in Israel?” Maman had said. “And where you are… forget about it.”
She’s outside, in the garden, setting up the meal for after the bris. Aron looks out through the trellis doors. Wooden tables and a riot of color. She is color, Maman — bright, bold, vivacious. She’s twisting the napkins into swirls in the cups; she’s chosen fuchsia as the theme. For a bris meal?
Whatever, you couldn’t argue with Maman.
She’s good really, has swooped in and taken Denya and the baby under her great wing. She’s showing Denya the ropes, cooking up a spicy storm; she’s in her element. Earlier, the two women were sitting close to each other, cooing to the baby, dressing him, fussing over him.
Denya’s looking better, stronger. She needs her mother now, but he’s become an addendum, disappearing into the background while they chatter in French, calling his son names he doesn’t understand. And between Maman, Père, the baby, and sleep, beautiful sleep, he hasn’t had a moment to talk to Denya.
He needs to get off the sofa, call the mohel, help outside. He needs to bring down his guitar — he’ll be playing at the seudah. But the past weighs on him like a lodestone, pinning him to the spot. Meshilem Zanvil. He needs to make a decision — but it isn’t only his to make.
Months ago, they’d discussed names, and he’d said the name would be her choice. It was different before the birth, what did he have then? Grainy images, a sound like a horse or a train that they said was a heartbeat, a baby that seemed all Denya’s — and now the baby’s here, and he’s his.
The hallway steps creak: Denya. She looks in the mirror at the pure white dress she’s chosen for the bris, and gives herself a little smile.
“Denya,” he says.
At the same time Maman calls, “Denya, ma chérie, come here, what do you say to—?”
He sighs. No chance.
He watches the women: Maman adjusting Denya’s dress, the two of them arranging a platter of fruit.
Daniel was the name Denya wanted. It held significance for her, an allusion to Daniel of the lion’s den, a story that spoke to her.
They hadn’t discussed a second name, but Denya’s family is Sephardic and they named for living relatives. If there is a second name, he’s pretty sure it would be Père’s.
Meshilem Zanvil? She would pass out.
He sighs, lifts himself from the sofa, and starts bringing out chairs.
The tables are set outside, hot pink napkins and streamers, fruit, chocolate, pitzuchim. In the kitchen the meal, prepared by Maman, is ready to be served.
From upstairs a wail.
“I’ll get him,” Maman says.
She strides inside, closes the trellis.
Across the table, they look at each other.
Denya is first.
“Aron,” she says. “We haven’t talked in days. You don’t look good. What’s going on?” Forthright as always. “C’mon, before Maman comes back.”
They edge through a gap in the hedges and start down the small hill behind the houses.
He has no time, no energy for pretty conversation. The past, the names, they burn inside him.
“Denya, I know we said we’d go with Daniel, the name you chose, but I need the baby to have a second name.”
She regards him warily.
“What name?” she asks, like she knows something.
“My grandfather’s,” he says, looking down. Because he has no right, he’s never mentioned his grandfather in three years of marriage. Because he’d cut his family away.
“Oh.” An inscrutable expression skitters across her face. “What was his name?”
He looks at her, white and silver mitpachat elegantly wrapped around her head. She is framed against the hills, the sky, white and blue and green. This is his life now, too, this is where he’s come, the thousands of miles he’s traversed in his heart to find air, light, himself. And the incongruity of what he’s about to say hits.
He knows they are meant to be, he and Denya, and now their little son, and he tries, usually, not to think about the costs of his choices. But today they chafe and bleed and he feels it, all of it, the turning of the earth that it took to bring him here, to bring them together.
He closes his eyes and says it: “Meshilem Zanvil.”
“Meshulam Zanvil, is that better?”
She shakes her head, shakes and shakes.
She paces the small hill, clomping the earth in her dress shoes. Finally she talks.
“What did you say?” She wrinkles her nose. “Meshilem Zanvil? Really? I know you were chassidish, but you’re Aron, that’s normal, I can handle it, but….”
She picks up her pace again, too quickly. From the bottom of the little hill, she raises her voice so he can hear.
“If we do two names, I want Père’s name. And if not, then leave it at Daniel. Daniel, like we said.”
Aron nods slowly, miserably.
She closes her eyes at his expression.
“Aron, I can see it’s so important to you. Why? You barely speak of your family. And now this. Why?”
Everything she’s saying is true. But the truth is settling on him like morning dew on the grass: The new baby is Zeide’s descendant. The glory of the old chain runs in his blood, and it’s not about old Aron, new Aron, where he’s been and gone, but about the child. He owes it to the child, and maybe, maybe to himself too.
“Please,” is all he says.
Denya takes a step up the hill. She looks away from his eyes, eyes that are communicating whole stories with no context.
“How can I say no? You don’t ask anything of me….” She bites her lip and looks back at him.
His gaze is steady, like he’s realizing now what it all means, and it’s giving him conviction.
She manages a strangled sound, half-laugh, half-whimper. “Listen, the bris is in an hour. I need to feed the baby, we have to get ready. I’ll give you this, the second name, the third name.
“But Aron—” Her black eyes fill the whole world. “We’ve spoken, but clearly not enough. I need to know who you are, who my son will be named for. I need the whole story.”
Ashdod is the closest big city. He gets in their small jeep and drives the half hour to make a shopping run. He does this every once in a while, but now Denya wants a special baby formula that they can’t get in the moshav or the nearby gas-station-plus-everything-store.
Driving over the hills, he feels it again, an emptiness, an ache. He should’ve been there.
He hasn’t felt like this about his father in years. Maybe ever. Not even at their wedding, which Denya’s parents held in Paris.
He remembers the chuppah in the pavilion in the Jardin des Plantes, the sky purple, dark, trembling with rain that never came, because nothing could mar the joy of the two of them coming together from vast ends of the globe, having met in Israel and planning to make their life and home there. They were marrying that night, k’das Moshe v’Yisrael.
He pushed the thought of his father away that night. His father would have seen only what was different, the eclectic crowd, the chattan’s purple bowtie and close-crop shave. Would he have seen the miracle of it, how close Aron had come to not doing it this way? How he’d toyed with the fold until he found himself, really found himself, on the right side of it — and how searingly hard that had been?
Aron couldn’t risk him not understanding, and so he’d stood there, being circled and circled, a man, alone, in the center, a straight line that went directly to the Creator.
The lane veers, grows fuller with cars entering the highway. He brakes and sighs. Yesterday was different. Yesterday, he stood next to the sandek as the name was pronounced, and a beit knesset-ful of congregants raised their brows. Aron hardly saw. He was closing his eyes so tight, and conjuring the link between them, between the generations.
He saw his grandfather, Meshilem Zanvil, his great, trembling, 90-year-old hand presiding over the oilem, the way he remembered the Zeide when he was ten years old. He saw that huge painting of his great-grandfather Ahron, for whom he was named. He wanted to see his father, but his likeness wouldn’t come. Because his father hadn’t passed, wasn’t in the Heavens. He should have been there beside him, watching this sacred handover, past to present to future.
The traffic snarls as they enter town. From the highway he can see snatches of sea, a silvery horizon. He’s a world away from the city streets of his childhood. He’s a moshav man, a man with a new life, a wife, a son, a community. Once he’d gone all the way to the edge, and before that there was a past he’d almost asphyxiated.
He leans against the steering wheel. He’d told Denya bits, given her so many pieces of the story. It wasn’t a linear journey. There were the cheder years, the yeshivah years, the rebellious years — segueing from a supposed yeshivah gedolah in Eretz Yisrael to the Israeli army. He’d even told her of Moishe Neiman back in his bar mitzvah year.
Honk, honk from behind him. Aron blinks, grabs the wheel. Steps on the gas.
Moishe Neiman, the boy who showed up in kitah tes and tried to bring it all down. Said his father wasn’t king, the whole thing was garbage, Aron wasn’t more special than anyone else — in fact, he was stupider, slower. And the buffer Aron always thought he’d had, Moishe showed it was made of air.
He tries to reach that 13-year-old inside. The hurt, the anger. All these years later, is it something he feels or just something he knows intellectually? Was it ultimately Moishe who had driven him away?
It was and it wasn’t. He’d pushed Aron hard, but you can’t push someone who doesn’t want to go down. It was he who didn’t think he was worthy of coming back up. It had been his own sense of misfit, of not belonging, the ponderous expectations he couldn’t possibly fulfill.
When he parks and steps into the supermarket, he isn’t fully there. He’s 13 and in pain, and 17 and in more pain, and then he’s 27, 30, 32, and the pain is perpetuated because it’s been like this for so long.
He plucks cereal, pitas, peanut butter, mayonnaise off the shelves. He finds the soy baby formula. Throws in chocolate, halvah, mustard, olives. He is almost at the checkout counter when he sees the newspaper stand. He ignores the broadsheets, the magazines, goes straight for the small booklets at the bottom of the rack. And the guy in tan pants and sandals starts perusing the Olam Hachareidi like his life depends on it.
For ten minutes Aron stands there flicking pages, then puts it down and reaches for a back issue. Flips through again. There, there he is, on the second to last page. He puts the grocery items on the conveyor along with the booklet.
“It’s last week’s,” the cashier says. “Do you want it?”
Aron nods, lips pursed.
He’s driving up the hills again, on the way home, when his phone buzzes, an American number. Without checking, he taps an AirPod to answer.
American drawl, rolled r. Blimi.
“Shalo — hi,” he says.
She’s the youngest of the sisters, the one right on top of him. The only one of the family he’s still in touch with. She checks in a couple times a year, before Rosh Hashanah, before Pesach, on their birthdays, which are within days of each other.
“So…” she says, expectancy in her voice.
She didn’t know, they didn’t know.
How hadn’t he called her yet?
They had this occasional phone contact, mainly initiated by Blimi. He can remember only one time he’d called her, right before his wedding, when he had a spell of panic about committing, unsure if he was capable of being a husband.
He drives downhill now, gulping kilometers. His heart races, she doesn’t know he’s a father, she doesn’t know about Daniel Meshilem Zanvil. And he realizes, there’s no one he’s as excited to tell.
“Blimi,” he says, “we have a little boy.”
Her response is everything. The fervency of her mazel tov, the way her voice shakes, the joy, the disbelief — my brother who was who-knows-where, he’s picked up the pieces, he has a family….
And then her children are clamoring. “Mazel tov far vem?” And the sister he remembers as a teen with a short, chic hairstyle is claimed by her kids. He probably wouldn’t recognize her — these days, she goes upgebinden, with a shpitzel; years and children have likely left their mark. But she’s still his big sister, the one he’d speak to back then, the one who’d actually hear him.
“Ver? Voos? Mazel tov.” An exuberant nephew jostles the phone. The line cuts.
Aron takes the road from Ashdod. The ache sits on him, deadweight. He doesn’t know them, they don’t know him; he could pass his nephews on the street and never know. He’s always had this bit of contact with Blimi, through the years of down, down and now the ups, but she has no email, no smartphone, there is no way for them to see each other or anyone else.
And really, speaking with Blimi is as far as he can go. He can’t go back there, he’d been too far, seen too much, could never be like them, could never be accepted for who he was.
When he gets back to the moshav, Aron lets the car idle in front of their home for a few minutes. He rummages in the bag.
He keeps buying the paper, inanely he wants to see, wants to know. He stares at those pictures on the second last page. The man in the picture looks older than he did the last time Aron saw him on the page, a good few months now. How’s he doing?
The eyes stare back at him, piercing, noble.
He comes in with the bags. Maman’s standing at the stove, Père and Denya are already sitting.
“Dinner is now,” Maman says pointedly.
The air smells of fish and coriander, and Aron suddenly realizes how hungry he is.
Still, there’s this little bag in hand. “I’ll be right back,” he says to his mother-in-law.
Upstairs, he opens the booklet and folds the paper around the two pictures on the second to last page, tearing along the folds. He reaches into the drawer, under the pile of sweatshirts he hardly wears, until his fingers find a plastic binder. A part of him wants to look through it, but he has no time, they’re waiting for him. He slips the pictures into the next empty plastic slot.
He jerks up, snaps the binder shut. How is Denya here? She was downstairs at dinner.
“The baby needed a change of clothing,” she says, and then, in a small voice, “What’s that?”
Instinct makes him want to pretend, but he hears her voice, the defeat in it; she knows there’s so much she doesn’t know, and there’s hurt, rejection.
He can’t do this to her anymore. His mind is screaming, but his hand, it holds out the binder, and he says, “This is my father.”
She says nothing that night. The baby cries the evening away, they’re both exhausted. In the morning Denya mentions an appointment at the clinic to redo Daniel’s hearing test. Aron needs to check the greenhouses, but she’s yawning, red-eyed, and he’s not going to let her go alone like this.
At the clinic, Denya unbundles the baby and puts him on the table where they start to test him. It’s not meant to be much, this second test. They’ve heard that so many babies fail the hospital hearing test for one inconsequential reason or another, but suddenly the doctor is frowning, prodding, trying again.
“We’ll do the ABR too,” he says, “Give us another few minutes.”
The doctor comes back a while later with a stack of leaflets, looking both grave and fallible.
“I’m sorry, Abba, Ima, we’ve just confirmed that baby” — he consults his notes — “Daniel has hearing loss. Profound hearing loss. I suggest you look at these.”
He holds out the leaflets like an offering.
“There are options, obviously. We’re probably looking at a cochlear implant in a few months. He will hear. It’s 2023, he’s going to hear. But in the meantime, you need to make appointments with the otolaryngologist and the pediatric audiologist. Oh, and you’ll want to engage the services of a speech-language pathologist.”
Aron is still standing beside the table where the baby lies, silent, unknowing. What is the doctor saying about their tiny, perfect boy?
He looks at Denya, expecting her to take notes, take charge, but she’s limp. She closes her eyes, and this strong woman, his invincible wife, starts to shake her head back and forth, fast-fast-fast.
He lifts the baby from the table, and the tiny thing melts into his hands. In the shaft of harsh sunlight from the window, he is so fair and beautiful — and challenged. Already challenged. It’s not fair. Aron feels the blow hit him in the heart. His son, newly arrived, and already he is compromised.
Denya’s stopped shaking her head. She sits impassive in her chair. Aron accepts the leaflets from the doctor, saves a few numbers into his phone, re-bundles the baby in a blanket.
At night he dreams. He’s standing in the inner circle, a small, fair 13-year-old, next to his father, the recently-crowned king. He’s wearing a kolpik, the half-shtreimel that rebbish bochurim wear. He stands stiff and straight behind a small barrier while the chassidim surge and clap and dance all around them, everyone watching his father as he leads with his hands and his gaze.
His brothers are there, too, but they’re much older, married. He’s the only boy from the family, besides for some cousins, the one they call the golden boy. The golden boy, that he knows — they all know — isn’t really golden at all.
The baby screams into his dreams. Aron rubs his eyes, picks Daniel up, and prepares a bottle in kitchen. He gives it to the baby on the sofa, but still Daniel won’t settle.
Air, maybe he needs air. Aron opens the trellis doors to the garden. A warm, sultry night. A moon like a gift in the dark. He puts the baby in the stroller and bumps into the guitar case on the floor. He takes it with him.
The baby calms in the warm breeze, and Aron closes the door, so as not to wake anyone. He takes the guitar and starts to thrum.
He doesn’t realize what he’s playing at first. A slow, soulful ballad, the same low part again and again, until he suddenly pivots into the high part, recalling it in a burst of music, and just like that he’s singing along. “Az yashir Moshe…”
It’s the song of bizas hayam, the haunting melody they would sing on Shevii shel Pesach. Part of him is still there in his dream, at the tish on Yom Tov. “Es hashiroo, es hashiroo hazois….”
The baby stares, lulled, mesmerized. As Aron loses himself in that song, the years fall away under the moon, that eternal white witness. But then the baby cries again, and Aron drops the song, mid-bar, and goes to him. He realizes suddenly, that the baby, little Daniel, he hasn’t heard a bit of it, not a single note.
Hashem! He screams in his mind. He takes the baby from the stroller, and his eyes are smarting.
Scrape of doors; a shadow flows across the grass. Denya.
“What are you doing out here? What were you playing?”
Before he can gather an answer, she holds out the binder. “So, Aron… your father’s a rebbe?”
He nods. He points to Daniel. “I named him for my grandfather, the rebbe of old. And me, I’m named for his father, the rebbe from Europe, from before the war. It’s a reenactment really, what they — I — always wanted.”
She sits on a garden chair. “Aron, you told me you left the chassidish world because you were bullied terribly in school and because you didn’t feel you belonged. But I didn’t know that you’d left the Rebbe’s house, that you grew up in the palace….”
Her voice is clear and quiet in the night.
“Once, back in midrashah, a few of us went to Meah Shearim for Shabbat. We saw a rebbe. We went to tish.”
He laughs to hear her say it, in their garden on the moshav. But then he sighs, a howl of breath.
“Tell me what it was like,” she breathes.
“It wasn’t a huge chassidus like the ones in Meah Shearim, it was a much smaller court — pretty much like what you saw, just smaller. We had tishen all the time, beautiful really. Singing, dancing, my grandfather, then father, leading it all, saying Torah. There was so much food, and shirayim, and people kissed my father’s hand when they took it. And I sat there beside him, and maybe I would still be there beside him if….”
“You told me about that boy who was out to get you.”
“I told you everything, Denya. I left out this little detail.”
It’s too big a question. There’s no one answer.
He looks at her. She appears small in the dark, but he knows that coals burn inside her.
“I couldn’t be pushed anymore,” he says.
“I pushed for so long, family is family whoever they are,” she says, almost as if talking to herself. “Until I stopped. I wish I wouldn’t have.”
“It’s not…” he starts to say, but the baby stirs in his hands, and he looks down, and his face changes, something — maybe hope — coming into his eyes, overlaying the pain.
And Denya notices, Denya sees.
“I’ve researched options for the surgery,” Père says at dinner.
It’s a week later, but the in-laws aren’t showing any intentions of leaving.
“Oh?” Denya says.
“In France.” Père says it like it’s the only place in the world that matters. “I’ve spoken to my brother. He used to work in pediatrics, you know. He knows this surgeon, a Dr. Laurent. The baby, you all, should come to France.”
“Yes, you should,” Maman says.
“For how long? We live here, we chose to live here,” Denya says.
“Enough with the idealism, not at the expense of the child.”
Denya doesn’t flinch. “Okay, Maman, I didn’t say we wouldn’t. Of course, we’ll do what’s best for Daniel. We’re just talking options.”
Aron hears them, but he doesn’t. An email’s just pinged in his inbox. “Merkaz Hachasidim” is the sender.
The text is short, just a line and a half: The Admor MiVarsha shlita from New York is coming to Yerushalayim 17-21 Iyar for the chasunah of his nephew, son of Admor MiVarsha Yerushalayim. Kabbalas kahal b’Rechov Meah Shearim 13. Two gold curlicues, a bunch of grapes, and the emblem of the chassidus in a crown make up the rest of the email.
Who sent it? How did they know?
And, more pressingly, it’s been 15 years, 15 years since he’s seen his father.
How could he go?
How could he not?
At the dinner table, they are still volleying. Doctors, surgeons, Israel, France.
Denya looks at him, as if to say, Back me up, what do you think?
What does he think? How should he know? A bruchah, that’s what Daniel needs. A tzaddik’s blessing for the direction they decide to take. He’s in the land of brachos, sages and rebbes up and down the country. But he knows of a worn table, a stream of people, kvittlach handed over….
For Daniel, maybe for Daniel?
Days pass, the 17th of Iyar, then Lag B’omer — the day of the wedding of this cousin of his, Aron realizes — and on the 19th of Iyar, he still hasn’t done anything.
He’s in Ashdod again, shopping for Shabbat. The car is full of groceries, there’s an Olam Hachareidi in the bags as well. He didn’t even need to check; he knows his father will be featured this week. He drives toward the entrance of the city, sits in the midday traffic.
In a shul on the corner, there’s a commotion, the door opens, and black-coated, black-hatted men flow out. They are pressing around someone in the center. Aron sees the flash of gold-tipped cane, and he knows, his heart starts to thud.
The light changes, and cars honk behind him, and he maneuvers messily onto the curb, hands shaking. The crowd of chassidim pass on by, and the man in the middle looks up, and Aron is afraid to look but more afraid not to.
It’s not him.
The chassidim shuffle past, and he’s shoehorned there into his awkward park, breathing, just breathing, feeling both disappointment and relief. Relief is stronger, much stronger. He drives on home knowing all the while that he’s aching, that a part of him wants, so badly, to see his father. But fear wins out. He’s shut them out for so long, ivy, thick and tentacled, has grown over that part of abandoned heart. What will he find if he rips it off?
On the night of the 20th of Iyar, Aron is on the security shift for the latter part of the night. He sits in the booth, watching the stars play hide and seek with the clouds. He dozes, dreams, lurches awake in his chair. Then falls asleep again, dreams once more.
Always he is back there in the old house, the old shul, peyos swinging, hands outstretched. Always there are hundreds of others watching, looking toward his father.
The dreams are fragmented, one after another, shards of something that was once whole.
They’re coming every night now, sometimes multiple times. He has to wrestle with himself every time he awakens. Aron gets off the chair, stretches, walks under a sky where there are no more stars.
Dawn comes at last. A sunrise behind cloud cover, unusual for the Israeli summer.
Avi, gabbai of the beit knesset, comes to take his place. Aron walks the few minutes toward home.
In the garden he finds Denya with the baby. At 6:30 a.m.?
“He’s been up for ages. I’m exhausted.” There’s something curious in her voice, but he’s too worn to place it.
“Take him for a bit, won’t you?” she says. “He’s just fed, but still so unsettled. Who knows, maybe a drive will calm him?”
They did that sometimes, drove around to lull Daniel to sleep, but now, at dawn?
Denya hands him Daniel’s diaper bag and heads to the house. What’s this about? She knows he’s tired too — and she doesn’t look all that bad, he thinks suddenly.
He’s at the end of the garden when she turns back from the doorway, pressing her lips closed as though to forcibly stop herself from saying anything, eyes saying everything they can’t.
He flushes. She knows his heart, Denya, she’s pushing him without words. The emails, that was her, too, obviously. Denya gives him the teensiest nod, then closes the door, and that’s all the trust he needs.
He straps Daniel into the car seat, gets into the front, and starts to drive in the morning stillness.
Behind the clouds, he catches smidgens of the sky awakening, oranges, pinks. He follows the fleeting sun. And then he’s on the highway, and he considers just taking the exit back home.
This is ridiculous, I can’t do it, I should turn back, but just then the baby coos from the backseat, his Daniel Meshilem Zanvil, and Aron grips the wheel and drives on and on, breathing through feelings, trying not to think, following the signs to Jerusalem.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 956)
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