Recap: Bayla and Mimi visit the local zoo with their mother. Bayla knows something is terribly wrong in Poland. She overhears her father say he’s worried about leaving the family when he travels to Paris on business.
The next day, Mama opened all the windows in our house. “The temperature must be over 38 degrees!” Mama’s face was flushed with the heat. “It’s too hot to go out today or to go to the park,” she said.
“It’s too hot for anything,” I complained.
“How about a mean game of chess?” Mama suggested. “Shimon Zev is coming home tonight for dinner. We need to brush up on our chess before he comes.”
“Yay,” Mimi and I chorused together.
“He’s got a few days before the new z’man.”
Mama was setting the table and Fraidy tried to help. Her little hands were too small, and she kept dropping the flatware that clattered to the floor.
“I’ll help you, Fraidela,” I said.
“Self!” she stamped her foot indignantly.
“Okay, do it yourself,” I laughed.
”Girls, I want to make a special dessert. Can one of you run to the cellar and bring up the big mixing bowl?”
I headed down to the cellar. It was nice and cool down there. I held the cold metal bowl against my cheek. Fraidy clamored down the steps. She said, “Me.” I held the bowl against her cheek. She giggled.
“Let’s go help Mama make dessert,” I said.
The scent of cinnamon wafted through the air as Mimi sat down to play Clementi’s Sonatina in C major. Fraidy and I danced around the living room. A loud knock interrupted Mimi’s piano. I rushed to the door with Fraidy at my heels.
Shimon Zev stood in the doorway with a small suitcase. We hugged. “You got taller,” I said. He looked older with his blonde beard and his new black hat. He scooped Fraidy in his arms and swung her around. Mama came out and greeted him.
“Smells great in here,” he said.
After he had unpacked, we all gathered around him in the kitchen while he sat munching cinnamon cookies. “Thanks, Mama, for always making my favorite cookies for me.”
“How’s the learning going?” she asked.
“It’s great. Dovid Polin is my chavrusa this z’man and we have been learning well, baruch Hashem. We’re planning a siyum mishnayos soon.”
Mama beamed as she began slicing vegetables for soup.
“I will miss him. Dovid’s planning to immigrate to Palestine. He wants to learn in the Chevron yeshivah.”
Mama stopped slicing. “That’s a big decision. How do his parents feel about it?”
“They’re supportive. With the way things are going in Germany now, they want him out of Europe.”
Mama quickly changed the subject. “Bubby and Zeidy are coming tonight for dinner.”
“What do you mean the way things are going in Europe?” I asked.
Shimon Zev glanced at Mama who gave him one of her warning looks. “Nothing, Bayla. Your hair got so light this summer. You and Mimi are blonde as can be.”
“I’m not a little kid anymore, you know.” I felt color rise to my cheeks.
“No, you’re 14 already. You’re not a kid anymore.” Shimon Zev took a sip of hot cocoa.
“Did you plant those beautiful roses outside?” he asked.
“Mimi did,” I said. “Why can’t I know what’s happening in Europe?”
Mimi was back at the piano playing a Beethoven sonata.
“Hey, Mims, where’s your flute. Can you two play a duet for me?” Shimon Zev called to her.
He was definitely avoiding my question, but I did enjoy playing for him. I sat down at the piano and Mimi went upstairs to get her flute.
Mimi’s flute trilled as I played a soft tarantella on the piano. The flute sounded like a lovely bird. It gave me chills when she played it like that with so much feeling.
Shimon Zev clapped and Fraidy danced around and around in circles.
Soon Papa came home. He and Shimon Zev went off to Minchah, and Mimi and I helped Mama prepare the rest of the dinner. Mama had cooked meat dumplings, vegetable soup, and apple crisp.
During dinner, Papa announced, “I have a trip to Paris this week. The government is interested in purchasing metal from me.”
“Will you have to stay long?” Mimi asked.
“Just a day or two.”
“Papa,” Shimon Zev said, “my chavrusa Dovid Polin is planning to immigrate to Palestine.”
Papa put down his glass.
“Papa, I want to go, too. I want to learn at the Chevron yeshivah.”
“You’re learning well at the yeshivah here.”
“I know, but that’s because of Dovid, and I really want to go with him.”
Mama and Papa exchanged worried looks.
“We’ll discuss this when I get back from my trip,” Papa said.
Shimon Zev’s shoulders sagged.
I felt bad for him, but I understood my parents’ concern. I knew there was a terrible massacre at the Chevron yeshivah. We knew of some families who lost their sons, killed there by vicious Arabs.
Later, when I was sitting on the porch with Shimon Zev, we spoke about Palestine. I tried to imagine it. It must be a very wonderful place. “What’s it like? Can you describe it?”
“It’s our land. Hashem promised it to us. One day we will get it back. One day, all Jews will live there when Mashiach comes. It’s a desert, but it will be planted, and it will bloom. There are hills in Yerushalayim and buildings built of Jerusalem stone. The most beautiful white stone. Then there’s the Kosel. We can’t go there now, but one day. I’ve imagined golden sunsets there. When you’re there, Dovid says it will be like you are right in G-d’s house. One day there will be many more people living there and learning Torah. “There’s a line in Sefer Zecharia where it says, “And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”
Just then, Papa strode onto the porch. “Amein!”
The next day, we stood outside, watching Papa leave in a horse-drawn carriage that was taking him to the railway. The clip-clop of horses’ hooves on cobblestone echoed as the carriage disappeared around the corner. I felt an empty, sad feeling inside as I watched him go. I saw my feelings reflected in Mama and Mimi’s eyes. Soon, Shimon Zev would be leaving again. “Why can’t families just always be home together?” I asked.
Mama sighed. She put her arm around me and we headed back into the house.
The art teacher came to our house that afternoon. Mama always paid for us to have art lessons in the summer.
Today we worked outside in the rose garden. Madame Phoebe set up an easel for me and one for Mimi. “Mimi, I’d like you to try using oils today. The sketch you made last time of the daffodils would be lovely with bright yellow oils.”
She had handed me a blank paper, which, I knew, meant she didn’t think too much of my daffodil sketch. “You should try again,” she said to me. “Remember to include the shading I taught you. Your flowers need more detail.”
I worked hard sketching. I would like to try oils, too, but that would be up to Madame Phoebe. I sketched a line for the stem. I listened to the hum of bees. The roses perfumed the air. I thought about what Shimon Zev had said about Palestine; I thought about the sunset in Jerusalem. Would I see it one day?
Madame Phoebe was standing over me. “If you dream too much over the paper, nothing will get done.”
I began the petals quickly. I felt my cheeks flame.
The petals didn’t look at all like the beautiful daffodils in our garden.
“Come see Mimi’s painting,” Madame said.
I slunk over to Mimi. Her easel held the most beautiful, bright yellow daffodils. They looked real.
“It’s gorgeous,” I said.
Later, I heard Madame whisper to Mama. “Your younger daughter is very talented. I would like to enter the painting she did today in a little art show of mine.”
“Your other daughter…” She shook her head. “I don’t see art as her path.”
I knew it was true, but it hurt to hear the comparison. Why was it that everything Mimi did turned golden? She had so many talents. And me? What was my talent?
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes the community column for The Queens Jewish Link and she writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivahs and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.