Zayit tells Emanuel about the difficulties the Sperling boys are having, especially Kalonymous. Zayit is reminded of Esther’s love of gardening, which matches the boy’s. Esther does not want to be perceived as being jealous of Breindl.
* * *
Motti lost no time following up on the Sperlings. Zayit handed over the folder as soon as he returned, and Motti spent the evening reading it through. He wished he’d had this when the boys first arrived — it would have explained a lot.
From what he read, the boys were picked up at the border between Germany and Denmark, and were brought to a rescue center in Copenhagen by a Dane named Åage Skovgaard, which was assumed to be a pseudonym. He would have dropped the boys off on the doorstep if he hadn’t been waylaid by a clerical worker. He was forced to come in and describe the rescue. He had an idea that they were Jews; refugees had already begun to stream into Denmark after Kristallnacht.
That was all the background information listed. The rest was a description of their condition when they arrived (thin but not emaciated), and underlined in red were the words, “All three were covered in blood, but do not appear to be wounded.” When they asked Åage about it, he said he thought it was something they would want to see; he did clean their faces, though.
Reading alone in quiet Chevron, Motti was near tears. He searched the pages for a way to contact this Skovgaard, but found none. There was, however, an address for Dagfin Gassner, and Motti pulled out a piece of writing paper and a pencil and composed a letter requesting more details. He would send it to Emanuel, who could post it from Jerusalem.
The rest of the file documented efforts to locate living relatives. According to the papers, the boys’ names and birthplace were painted on their backs with what looked like clay or paste. With little else to go on, he decided to take the boys on a day-long trip in his wagon. He would feed them well, speak to them calmly, and ask general questions about what happened before they arrived in Eretz Yisrael. It was worth a try. He only hoped Breindl wouldn’t become suspicious.
The following day, he woke the boys early, washed their hands and helped them dress, careful not to awaken his own children. Wisps of jealousy were sprouting, particularly with Yehuda. He had to be so careful — he could not do chessed on his children’s backs, yet at this point, he could hardly abandon the Sperlings.
“Come,” he whispered. “We’re going on a trip.”
“Where?” said Dovid’l. “Where are we going?”
Motti lifted the boy gently and carried him outside, while Kalonymous and Hershel followed behind. He handed each boy a thick piece of bread spread from corner to corner with fresh butter, and sat them in the wagon. He put Hershel next to him on the front bench, deeming him the one most likely to talk.
The air was cool as the sun rose, and Motti’s donkey clopped along at a comfortable pace. Motti hummed niggunum softly as they rode. Hershel would join in from time to time. Kalonymous and Dovid’l watched the scenery go by. Kalonymous had traveled with Motti on his teaching rounds; this time they went in an entirely different direction, meandering down side paths and passing through villages.
They discovered that Eretz Yisrael looked nothing like Germany. The air smelled different, the trees and flowers and grass were foreign, and even the sky was a different shade of blue. Motti drove on, waiting for the boys to relax completely.
“How are you, Hershel?” he murmured to his seatmate. “Vus machst a Yid?”
“A Yid iz gut,” he replied, the words tripping over his tongue. He understood Yiddish perfectly but didn’t speak it well. He occasionally got tangled up with languages, interchanging Yiddish, German, English, Lashon Hakodesh, and the bitter French they’d been forced to swallow from Yannick.
“What is your favorite thing in Eretz Yisrael?” he asked. “What do you like best?”
Hershel thought a minute, then waved his hand in the air. “I like the weather. It is almost always warm. When I was home it would get very cold sometimes, and we didn’t always have coal. Sometimes I had to wear a blanket in the house!” He said this without bitterness. “The air here is so sweet.”
“Yes, it is,” Motti agreed. “What was your favorite thing back home?” he prodded gently.
“My favorite thing?” He turned his eyes up and to the left as he delved into his little boy memory. “Can it be a person?” he asked.
“So then, my mother. She was so nice, so tall and pretty. I miss her.”
Motti nodded. “I would miss my mother too, if I was far away. What happened to her? Where is she?”
“Hershel!” called Kalonymous from the back seat. Can Dovid’l sit up front now? He’s getting restless.”
Hershel looked at Motti for permission, and Motti sighed and nodded his head. They’d stop soon to eat and drink and refresh themselves. He’d try again then.
To be continued . . .