Zayit begins to earn Kalonymous’s trust by offering him an orange, the first he has ever seen or tasted.
* * *
Motti continued his Torah tutorials, and he was glad to see some of their learning emerge from its hiding place within the boys’ minds. They had buried it very deeply, intuitively realizing it was a matter of life or death, and it was no easy task coaxing it back out, piece by piece.
Kalonymous hadn’t gotten very far in cheder, but he’d kept up with parts of Shacharis here and there that he’d learned by heart from listening to his mother recite them every morning. Hershel knew how to read Hebrew letters, but could not yet read words, and Dovid’l remembered the tunes to Torah Tziva and Kriyas Shema but could not recall the words.
Motti realized that he would have to start at the beginning with this, too. With Breindl’s help, he fashioned a large alef-beis chart, each letter colorfully dwelling in its own little box. He’d used it for the other small boys he taught. He would often place small bits of sugar candy or honeyed almonds on the letter they were learning, and the boy could eat only after correctly identifying the letter.
Unfortunately out of candy the first time he employed this method, Motti made the grave mistake of using sugar cubes to entice the boys. They had stared at him wide-eyed, suddenly suspicious, and Kalonymous shooed them away from the table. It had taken days to lure them back; each day he’d dangled a different treat in front of them until they couldn’t resist any longer. Motti didn’t understand what the problem was with the sugar cubes, but he was not about to make the same mistake again.
They emerged from their cocoons at their own rate. Dovid’l absorbed the learning like a sponge, unable to soak it up fast enough. Hershel approached it methodically as he did all things, thoroughly mastering one thing before going on to the next. Kalonymous, to Motti’s dismay, remained closed. Neither Motti nor the holy Torah seemed to penetrate his shell, but Motti, undaunted, taught him as much as he would allow.
Kalonymous continued to wander the fields. Occasionally he would stand on the low stone wall separating their property from the Zayits and stare straight ahead. Breindl saw him do this a few times, and she couldn’t imagine what he was looking for. He wasn’t just standing there; he was waiting for something, or someone, to appear.
She mentioned it to Motti and the next time he saw Zayit he asked him if he’d had the chance to come over that day when Breindl and the other children had gone.
“I did, yes,” said Zayit. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Motti couldn’t contain a smile — Zayit had heard him use the expression and incorporated it into his speech every chance he could. “I could see right away why you are having so much trouble getting through to him.”
“Did he say anything to you?” asked Motti.
“No, but he certainly enjoyed the orange I gave him. It seemed to me like he’d never seen one before.”
“That’s interesting,” said Motti. “Have you seen him standing on the wall recently? We think he might be looking for you.” Motti was taking a chance suggesting it, but Zayit did not disagree.
“Could be,” said Zayit.
“Perhaps you could visit again,” said Motti.
Zayit shook his head. “He’ll never open up to me around you and the others. He’s far too cautious for that. Let me know when you see him on the wall again, and I will make sure he finds me.”
* * *
Yannick served tea, bread and cheese once a day and sat with the boys as they ate, puffing pipe smoke into the air above their heads. The strange routine continued for five days and nights. On the sixth day, he motioned for them to remain at their places. He placed a small card in front of each boy, and then placed a sugar cube on each one. The boys moved quickly to swallow the cube but were stopped by Yannick’s sharp bang on the table.
“A!” he said sharply, pointing at the card in front of Hershel, sitting closest to him with his finger. “A!”
They had no idea what he wanted and could only stare at him, baffled.
Yannick said the same thing again and again, pointing at them and then at his mouth. Hershel was first to figure it out.
“A!” he shouted. “A!” Kalonymous and Dovid’s eyes widened as Hershel waved his hand, urging them to follow his lead.
“A!” They repeated it six times, and when he was satisfied, Yannick pointed at the sugar cube and mimed bringing it to his mouth. Still not fully understanding what was happening, Hershel and Dovid’l gobbled up the sugar while Kalonymous stuffed it into his pocket.
“No, no,” said Yannick. “Á present. Eat it now.” Kalonymous pulled the cube reluctantly from his pocket and began to nibble at it, assuming that was Yannick wanted, and he could tell by his face that it was the right thing to do. Kalonymous was tired and confused — he’d never had to speak with someone whose language he didn’t know. Everyone at home spoke either German or Yiddish, and the boys had learned both.
Every time his father said something in Yiddish, he then repeated it in German until eventually they spoke both languages fluently. Mama had clucked her tongue and shook her head. “Why teach them German?” she’d mutter. “The less we are like them the better,” but her husband had ignored her.
To be continued . . .