Recap: Yonah decides to leave the Hartstein home when he realizes they are willing to sit back and say nothing in the face of evil.
I packed my things and headed out the door. Mrs. Hartstein whispered to me, “I’m sorry.” A part of me felt bad for her that she couldn’t stand up for what she knew was right.
I decided to walk to the Chaney house. That was the one place I knew I would be welcome.
I saw more Federal Agent cars in town as I trudged towards the colored part of town. The sun had set, and stars glimmered in the sky. It was a beautiful summer night. Crickets and other insects whirred. Nature continued, regardless of the fact that my three friends were missing. When I reached the Chaney residence, I saw the light was on. Mrs. Chaney was pacing in the living room. There were bags under her eyes. “Did they find them?” she asked hopefully.
I hated to say no. “Mrs. Chaney, may I stay the night?”
“Course,” she said. You can sleep in the boys’ room. Sorry I don’t have better accommodations.”
She started pacing. “Where do you think they’re at?”
I tried to think of some possible answer, one I was holding onto as my only hope. “Maybe they’re hiding because the Klan is after them,” I suggested.
She nodded and continued to pace. “We have to pray for my boy – for my boys,” she said tearfully.
Ben saw me and helped me make a bed on the floor near him.
I realized I couldn’t stay here long. They were so crowded as it was. I would have to find a different place, but I was tired; and in spite of my worries about my friends, I fell into a deep sleep.
The next day, after work, I decided to see if Henry would have an idea where I could rent a space until I saved up enough money to leave Mississippi. My goal was to head back north to Chicago or New York. I’d had enough of this place.
Henry’s mother said I could stay for a small fee for the next month. I thanked her and said I would pay for my own food and do my own laundry. “I’m happy to help a friend of Henry’s,” she said.
“Ma wishes she could host you for free, but being a widow with three kids, and me and her the only ones working, we can’t do it now.”
Henry worked at the Phillips gas station. He told me something that made my spine prickle. “My boss, Mr. Posey, was talking to someone last night. He said the Klan was riding high now they got their catch.”
I didn’t want to think of what that meant. Henry said, “You better steer clear of the civil rights people. Like I told you before: It’s dangerous to be associated with them.”
I decided to confide in Henry. “Jed and his friends beat me up the other night. The same night my friends went missing.”
“Whoah! Did you tell anyone?”
“I was afraid to.”
“You’re smart. Don’t say anything. They’ll come back and finish you off.”
I swallowed. He was probably right, yet I felt bad if my mentioning that could help in the investigation. Maybe I should say something.
I thought of Mickey and how he said he wasn’t afraid. I wished I had his courage. I davened so hard, tears were pouring down my cheeks.
After davening, Henry asked me to explain about t’filin. “What is it and why do you wear it?”
I explained that it’s a big mitzvah and how it has parchment with sections from the Torah, including the Sh’ma, in it. We are binding our heart and mind to Hashem.
He touched it and said he’d never seen anything like it.
“Once, a long time ago, there was a man visiting. I think he was a rabbi; he brought this big Torah with him and told us to kiss it. He said he’d brought it from Europe. It was rescued from the Nazis.”
“Wow,” I said. “That sounds amazing.”
“I thought it looked pretty holy and all, but I didn’t know what it was really.”
I tried to explain to Henry what the Torah is. It’s the blueprint for the world. Hashem looked in it and created the world. It has everything in it. Hashem gave it as a gift to the Jewish people.”
Henry wanted to know more. I tried explaining how we received it at Mount Sinai and all our souls were there together.
He wanted to know why only Jews got it and I explained the midrash that it was offered to other nations, but they didn’t want to accept something that said you can’t kill or you can’t steal or you can’t behave immorally, so we accepted it.
“So, it’s like about morality?”
He knew about the Ten Commandments, so I explained how they were in the Torah.
One morning, he asked if he could put on the t’filin. I helped him. It was my grandfather’s t’filin. After he died, I liked to use it. It made me feel close to him.
The next day, Henry and I walked together towards our jobs. We saw news reporters swarming everywhere in Neshoba.
I kept hoping to hear that the men had been found, but the huge number of reporters and more FBI agents told me they were still missing.
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 for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.