Recap: Pearl Harbor was attacked and America is in the war. The girls worry about their families in Europe. It’s a year later and a snow storm is threatening for Shabbos.
On Shabbos morning, we davened, I looked outside, and the sun was breaking through the clouds in fingers of light that sparkled on the snow like a thousand diamonds. I spotted Gloria traipsing through the front yard. When we opened the door, snow sifted into the house. Gloria stepped inside and took off her wet boots. She peeled off layers. She took off her scarf and her coat and her sweater and her next sweater. Then she removed her hat and gloves.
Good Shabbos,” I said. “I’m so glad you could come.”
“My father thought it was really nice of you to invite me for a traditional Shabbos meal. He said to thank you.”
“You’re so welcome.”
“My grandparents always kept Shabbos. I was little when we used to go there on Shabbos, so I don’t remember. My father goes to temple Friday night but I never had a real Shabbos.”
“Are they still alive?” I asked.
She nodded. “We just don’t see them that much.
I thought of Bubby and Zeidy and it was like a stab of pain right in my heart.
After Mr. Cantor made Kiddush, she asked me, “Why do you say that blessing and what does it mean?”
“It’s thanking Hashem for food and drink, and Kiddush specifically is declaring that Hashem gave us Shabbos. It’s separate and different from the rest of the week.” She was fascinated by everything we did. “What does it mean you rest on Shabbos? Do you sleep a lot?”
“You can rest physically but it has a deeper meaning. We rest from creative activity so we can connect to Hashem and enjoy time with our family and friends.”
“I really like that idea,” Gloria said between mouthfuls of cholent. Mmm this, what do you call it?”
“Cholent,” I said.
“This cholent is delicious.” She took another serving from the serving bowl. “I mean I like the idea of having time to connect with family and friends. My father is always so busy with traveling for business. I would love to have this kind of time in my family.”
The Cantors, in the meantime, were entertaining their own Shabbos guest in the dining room. The guest’s voice sounded familiar. Marie left the kitchen with a heavy platter of meat. She whispered to me, “Dr. Laurent is the guest today. You know the doctor for our little town. He’s leaving soon to go overseas in the army, so they invited him over for Shabbos lunch.”
Poor Dr. Laurent was heading to war. He was not the fighting kind of person.
“Who will be our doctor then?” I asked.
Marie was scrubbing a pot. “Dr. Laurent’s uncle came out of retirement. People got to all pitch in now with the war.”
If he was retired and old, it didn’t inspire much confidence in me. I hoped we wouldn’t get sick or need his services. I had to admit to myself I was feeling sad that Dr. Laurent was leaving.
I served each of us some mint tea and the chocolate chip bars I’d made for dessert. They were Sophie’s favorite. Gloria devoured three and told me I had to give her the recipe or she would stop being my friend.
I laughed. “Come on. They’re not that delicious.”
“You have a real talent.” She took another cookie from the platter and bit into it. “These are moist and beyond heaven.”
“Can I serve some to the guest?” Marie asked. “We are all out of dessert. The cake I baked for Shabbos sank in the oven, and Mrs. Cantor is asking me to bring in tea and dessert.”
I handed her a plateful of my cookies.
Later, as I was clearing the dishes, Dr. Laurent passed through the kitchen. He spoke to Marie, “Those chocolate chip bar cookies were delicious.”
“Thank you, but Bayla is the one who baked them.”
I felt my cheeks flame.
“Well, tell Bayla thank you,” he said,” and Good Shabbos.”
I was so thankful he hadn’t spoken to me directly. Baruch Hashem, he was sensitive to my feelings and had sent his praise through Marie, even though I was standing by the sink.
That night, after Mr. Cantor made Havdalah for us, Mrs. Cantor said, “My niece Eliana is coming for a visit tomorrow. I want you to help Marie get the house ready. She’s used to fine things and I want her to feel comfortable here.”
I wondered what she meant by “used to fine things,” but I didn’t ask.
The three of us began cleaning. Sophie grumbled, “She treats us like we’re slaves or something.”
Mimi shushed her. “Let’s just be grateful we’re safe and here. The Cantors helped us leave Europe.”
Thinking of Europe made us think of our families, and no one spoke for a few minutes. It had been over two years now since we saw them.
I mopped the floor and then I scrubbed the walls. When I was finished, I went into the kitchen to ask Marie a question. “Do you have any of the chocolate chip bars left?”
“There’s a nice number. You want ’em?”
“I want to give them to someone.”
“Sure honey. Help yourself.” Marie wrapped them in wax paper. In my room, I found a scrap of paper and scribbled a quick note:
Dear Dr. Laurent,
I’m sending you a taste of home. Hashem should protect you and bring you back safe.
I tried to think how to sign it. I couldn’t put my name. That would not be proper. Finally, I settled on:
The Karmel family
On Sunday morning, I told Mimi that I’d be back soon, and then I bundled into my coat and snow boots and trudged the mile to Dr. Laurent’s office. I left the cookies and note inside the doorway and ran back towards home.
Later that day, a radiogram arrived from Shimon Zev:
Dear Bayla, Mimi, and Cousin Sophie,
We are all well. We miss you. Benny and Fraidy are doing fine. Tante Aimee plans to adopt Benny after the war ends. He is already calling her Mama. We haven’t heard from our family, but we are hopeful they are still being shielded by the Zabinskis. There is something I want to ask you. I know you are in the United States now and there are so many Jewish souls who need your help. If there is any way you can reach American politicians and tell them of the danger to our people. There are concentration camps where our people are being killed. I don’t want to frighten you, but this is what is going on here. Please, it’s a matter of pikuach nefesh. If there is anyone there you can tell and ask them to use whatever money or diplomatic channels they can to help. There’s a Vaad Hatzalah that is doing a lot but it’s a drop in the bucket.
With faith that this will end and HaKadosh Baruch Hu will let us reunite,
“I’m glad we got this letter,” I said. Mimi had tears in her eyes. “Jews are in danger, Bayla. It’s so scary.”
Sophie was quiet. “France is under the rule of those monsters. Who knows how many of my friends…”
“Sophie, don’t think of it; just daven.”
“We do know someone in the government,” she said.
“Margie’s father!” Mimi said. “Bayla, we have to tell Margie to tell her father.”
I nodded. Hashem was giving us an opportunity to help our fellow Jews and our own families. I prayed that they were safe.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), 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). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.