Recap: Sophie finally opens up and tells Bayla about the accident and why she is so angry with her friend Aliza. Everyone is davening and begging Hashem to save the soldiers and rescuers at Dunkirk.
The next morning, my first thoughts were two questions: Were the soldiers rescued? Were Shimon Zev and Feter Dan safe? I recalled Sophie exercising with me and I thanked Hashem over and over. This was why I was here; and with Hashem’s help, we were going to get Sophie well again.
It became a routine for us early each morning: I wheeled Sophie into the little garden that was surrounded with vine of honeysuckle and bluebells. A robin landed near us. “Try again,” I said.
“I want to stand so badly.”
Again, I supported her arms and she sweated and pulled and grunted, trying to raise herself a few inches from the seat. She did it over and over. Her cheeks were beet red.
“Sophie, you should take a break.”
“No, I want to do it again. Please hold down my arms.”
She grunted and pushed and slowly lifted herself an inch so she was no longer sitting. She couldn’t put weight on her feet, but she was off the seat using her own strength. She plopped down and I clapped and clapped.
“Wow! Look what you did.”
“Baruch Hashem! I just wish it didn’t take so long.”
“Sophie, look how much more you could do today than yesterday.”
The next few days, we continued practicing – until one day, as I was holding her arms and she was lifting herself using arm muscles, she pushed forward so that she was leaning forward and her weight was on her feet.
I gasped. “Sophie, you are almost standing!”
She plopped back down. We hugged and hugged.
The ladies came every day to recite T’hilim.
That day, Mrs. Newhart, who wore a short brown sheitel and thick glasses, said, “It’s terrible odds, sending civilians to rescue soldiers.”
She was the same woman who had been so negative before.
“We must think positive,” Tante Aimee said.
“The weather is supposed to be cloudy the next few days,” another woman said. “I hope that helps.”
Tante Aimee handed out the T’hilim booklets. I took two and Sophie took two.
“Thousands and thousands of soldiers are holed up in Dunkirk. I don’t see how they will get out alive,” Mrs. Newhart whispered to me after we finished reciting T’hilim.
Her words sent a shiver through me. What about the rescuers?
The rebbetzin of the shul had overheard and frowned. “We just davened. Hashem can do anything!”
The next few days, the T’hilim group continued to meet and recite T’hilim. We stayed glued to the radio, but there wasn’t any new news and the reports from Eastern Europe were extremely depressing.
Feter Dan left on May 29, when the call came for civilian boats. I woke very early in the morning on June 4, I went into the kitchen, and glanced at the wall calendar. They’d been gone for a week. It felt like a month. When would they come back? Were they okay?
I heard a rustling sound at the back door. Then I heard voices. Feter Dan and then Shimon Zev stepped into the house. They were both covered with dirt and they looked beyond exhausted. Tante Aimee rushed into the kitchen. “You’re home! Baruch Hashem!”
I hugged my brother. “You’re really dirty,” I said.
He laughed. “Yep!”
“That was something else!” Feter Dan said.
Tante Aimee put tea on to boil. “You must be starving.”
“Actually, I think we’re both too tired to eat,” Feter Dan said.
Shimon Zev nodded and yawned.
“You’ll tell us all about it after you get some rest. Shimon Zev, you can sleep in the guest room upstairs.”
That night at dinner, they both appeared, and we waited anxiously to hear what happened. The story they told was absolutely a miracle.
“There were hundreds of thousands of soldiers holed up in Dunkirk,” Feter Dan said.
“The Germans bombed the dock, so we needed small boats to bring the soldiers out to the big ships.”
“The soldiers were so grateful for all the boats. You should have seen all those fishing boats and just people’s regular boats that people brought. Over 300,000 – that’s what I heard,” said Feter Dan. That’s how many souls were saved.”
“The miracle,” Shimon Zev pulled at his beard. “The miracle was the weather. Hashem sent this cloud cover, so we were able to take them out under cover.
“We just kept loading up boatloads of soldiers and ferrying them across back to England. No one spoke in the boat. It was risky. We didn’t want to be heard.”
“It’s amazing – right under the enemy’s nose,” Shimon Zev said. “Baruch Hashem!”
“Is the war over now?” I asked.
Feter Dan sighed. “I wish. No, it was really a defeat for the Allies. It’s not over, but the British are not going to let the Germans take England.”
Feter Dan put on the radio and we heard Sir Winston Churchill’s voice booming:
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in G-d’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
Tears poured down Tante Aimee’s cheeks. She brushed them away. “I’m so thankful you are both back. We should make a s’udas hodaah.”
Tante Aimee smiled and pushed Sophie close to her father.
“Bayla and Sophie have a surprise for you, Dan.”
Sophie looked at me and I nodded encouragement.
She took a deep breath. Come on, Sophie. You can do it. I willed her to show her father.
She grabbed the arms of the wheelchair until her knuckles turned white. She pushed down on her arms with all her might until gradually she raised herself a bit. I assumed she would plop back down, but to my utter amazement, she pushed herself up and she stood, holding onto the handles for a few seconds. Her face was bright red from the effort. Then she plopped back onto the seat. There was a long way to go, but she had stood on her own for a few seconds.
Feter Dan and Tante Aimee both had tears in their eyes. “Baruch Hashem!” He said and hugged her close. Then he turned to me and said, “Thank you, Bayla. You’re a G-d-send.”
“Sophie, I didn’t know you could do that. When did you do that?”
She smiled at me. “I practiced last night after you went to bed. And I was davening so hard and practicing, and I did it last night for the first time.”
There were a lot of hugs and exclamations, and Sophie had to explain over and over how she had done it. Her eyes were sparkling, and I felt so happy for them. I thanked Hashem.
“We should recite Mizmor L’Sodah,” Tante Aimee said.
Later, we were all sitting in the living room, reading, when there was a loud knock at the door.
Feter Dan strolled over and opened it. A woman I recognized from the T’hilim group was standing in the doorway. “I apologize for coming without calling but I just thought, well, this little girl who came to our house looks so much like your niece, I thought perhaps they are relatives.”
The girl she was speaking about stepped into the room and I let out a scream of joy. “Mimi!”
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.