The Rothsteins are contacted by a rescue worker who informs them the three boys are cousins. Emanuel Rothstein pays their passage, and Motti and Breindl Rothstein take them into their home. Breindl assumes the role of the main caregiver.
Although it would have been easier to take two taxis, it was their practice, whenever the four of them traveled together, to take one car and, depending on which way they were traveling, drop one family off while the other continued on to their home. Emanuel always paid; there were some habits of older brothers that could not be shaken, even though Motti had been an adult for some years already. When they traveled with their children they engaged a small bus to transport them all.
On this unusual day, they converged on Motti and Breindl’s home, a squat stone abode consisting of one very large room. The kitchen was outdoors, the furniture simple and homey. They had some land and kept chickens and sheep, but Motti needed more to do. Although he wouldn’t have thought of it himself, Breindl suggested he start teaching Torah to boys from the surrounding settlements who worked for their families and had no opportunity to attend cheder. Motti had chafed at the idea, but word got around quickly and he was soon in demand. He was eventually invited by elderly men and refugees to give a shiur and to learn with them in shul.
They walked into the cool and airy house and settled themselves around the table as Breindl shepherded her young charges inside, trying to decide what to do first. She longed to bathe and dress them in warm clothing, but she thought perhaps she should feed them some broth first.
“Where are the kids?” asked Esther.
“They’re with the Zayits,” said Motti. “I wasn’t sure if the boys would come to us or to you, but just in case, I thought it would be better if the house was quiet when they arrived. There will be plenty of time for everyone to meet.”
“Good idea,” said Esther. Breindl was in the back heating up the soup she’d prepared in advance, and Esther stepped out to speak with her.
“Perhaps we should visit with the Zayits as well?” she asked delicately. “While you get them settled?”
Breindl smiled warmly in response. “Have a bite to eat first,” she said, tacitly agreeing to Esther’s suggestion. Neither of them had realized how much work it was going to take to return the boys back to lively, healthy children once again.
“What can I do to help?” Esther asked.
“When I know, I won’t hesitate to ask. Right now, I just want to feed them soup and put them to bed.”
Breindl served the others a small meal of pita bread, cheese, and olives, with cool water drawn from the nearby well. While they ate, Breindl sat the boys on a small bench and, seated across from them, she held the bowl of soup and fed each of them in turn, a spoonful at a time. As she placed the spoon into the smaller one’s mouth, he started to pull on it with surprising force, trying to suck every last drop of soup from it. The older ones were trying to control themselves but she could see it was difficult for them too. If she fed them too much too quickly, they would become ill; she was going to have to feed them every hour or two, like infants, to satisfy their ravenous hunger without harming them.
It was well into the evening when she finally got them to bed. She tried to bathe them one at a time, but again they clung to each other, so she put all three of them at once into the small wooden tub she used to bathe her own children. She warmed the water over the fire and poured it carefully over their shoulders, afraid to pour it on their heads. She could see the sharp edges of their shoulder blades and their protruding ribs, and she stifled a gasp as she washed their swollen feet and gnarled toes.
Clean, wrapped and warm, she fed them more soup and tea then led them over to a corner where she’d piled up blankets to make a soft bed for them. She covered them with quilts she’d made herself. She could hear them sighing as their bones settled into the homemade mattress, and very soon they fell fast asleep. She sat next to them on a small stool in case they woke up and became frightened.
Some time in the wee hours, Motti awoke and saw his wife sitting vigil by the young boys.
“Can I take over?” he offered. “You’ll wear yourself out.”
“Hashem will give me the strength I need. Mrs. Zayit said we can leave our children there as long as we need, so I want to use the time to devote all of my attention to them.”
“And what about me?” Motti joked. “Will I be ignored?”
Breindl smiled. It was Motti’s nature to lighten up the atmosphere when it sat heavily, and she took no offense. “Hardly,” she replied. “Once I bring them back to life, you will be their father.”
To be continued . . .