Zayit, a longtime friend, is watching Motti and Breindl’s children while Breindl cares for the three new refugees.
* * *
The same routine of feeding, bathing and sleeping continued for three more weeks. The Rothstein children had returned, but were warned to leave the new boys alone until they adjusted. The older ones complied, but the little ones could not be stopped. They sat at their mother’s feet as she fed them, sat by their beds, and from time to time, they would reach out and touch a hand or a leg of one boy or another, then pull their hands back as though they’d been burned. Followed by a parade of her own children, Breindl took her new charges for short walks in the fresh air, wondering what they feared.
Breindl knew their names but waited for the boys to introduce themselves before she made the names part of her conversation. The oldest was Kalonymous, after him was Hershel and the small one was Dovid’l. Their family name was Sperling. Their accents were heavy and it was hard to understand what they were saying at first. So far, no questions had been asked about their experiences; in fact few questions had been asked at all except for, “Du vilst mer yoich? Would you like some more soup?” and “Iz di te tzu hais? Is the tea too hot?”
They emerged from their shells like turtles, poking their heads out from time to time and then quickly pulling back at any sign of danger. Dovid’l recovered more quickly than the other two. Although he still had his fears, his lively nature was irrepressible. He began to sit with the other children, not yet playing with them but still seeking them out.
Hershel spent his time migrating from Kalonymous’ side to Dovid’l’s, seemingly afraid to stay in his own company. He would sit near his brothers, tense and watchful. Very rarely, he sidled up to Breindl as she cooked or did other chores. She would pat him lightly on the back or arm until he seemed satisfied and wandered away.
Although Breindl’s heart ached for the boys, she was also mesmerized. Caring for them reminded her of when her own children were babies and slowly learning to trust. She knew that if she remained consistent and didn’t hurry them, eventually they would heal.
Kalonymous was the toughest of all to work with. He waved off Breindl’s ministrations, insisting on feeding and bathing himself after the first few days, after he’d regained a little strength. The only time he spoke was in whispers to his brothers, or when one of them needed something. He cared for them more like a father than like a brother. He asked for nothing for himself, but she’d seen him wandering around the house, stashing scraps of food and bits of bread in his pockets when he thought no one was looking. Breindl remained silent. He seemed restless, and had taken to roaming among the flocks of sheep, letting their soft coats rub against his arms and legs and back. Breindl knew from her own children how important soft touch was to them. She was happy that Kalonymous had found a way to soothe himself and find what he needed.
She and Motti took a short walk out into the fields every evening, and often on their walks they discussed the boys’ progress. Breindl wondered if perhaps it was time to start teaching them a bit of Torah. She’d given them yarmulkes shortly after their arrival. They wore them, but — except for Kalonymous — without that sense of awe a boy feels when his mother or father places a yarmulke on his head as though it were a crown. Kalonymous seemed to have some connection to that memory, and wore his yarmulke conscientiously. The younger boys would carelessly toss them aside.
“I think they are ready,” said Motti. “We can’t treat them like invalids forever.”
“I agree, but I am afraid that if we go too fast we’ll lose all the ground we’ve gained with them.”
“It could be,” he said thoughtfully, “but you know how resilient children are. They recover.”
“But,” said Breindl, “We don’t know what happened to them. We don’t even know where they come from. How can we heal them if we don’t know where the wounds are?”
“You are a very wise woman, Breindl Rothstein, and I must say again what a wonderful job you are doing. They are so lucky to have you, and just to see their faces grow rounder has been gratifying. Now we can begin to restore them to the Yiddishe kinderlach I am sure they once were.”
“How do you know?” asked Breindl. “Maybe they came from a nonreligious family.”
Motti shook his head. “I don’t think so. I’ll start tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.”
“Thank you,” said Breindl. “I hope this is all not too much for you.”
“Whether it is or it isn’t,” Motti replied, “It doesn’t really matter. Whatever I’m lacking, Hashem will supply.”
To be continued…