At the Zayits, Motti says goodbye to Kalonymous, promising to visit, but Kalonymous is unmoved. Orna Zayit packs him sweet cakes to express her sorrow that he is leaving; Breindl races along the back paths to reach the Zayit’s house, so that the last face Kalonymous sees as the cart begins its journey to Jerusalem is hers.
* * *
The ride to Jerusalem was silent, the waves of betrayal emanating from Kalonymous were difficult to ignore. Zayit cringed at the discomfort. Again and again he wondered if he could have changed the outcome, if there was something he could have said that would have alerted Motti that the moment he turned his back on Kalonymous he could never take it back, as much as he tried to convince himself of the temporary nature of the exile.
Zayit recalled his first encounter with the younger of the Rothstein brothers. He had spotted Motti out of the corner of his eye on his return from beit knesset on a Shabbos morning. After a delicious morning seudah, just as he was about to close his eyes and slip gently away into the bliss of a Shabbos nap, he heard the voice of his wife, Orna. “Don’t you think you should go look for the boy you mentioned earlier, that you saw running through the field?” she inquired gently.
“Why would I do that?” he’d asked, attempting to stave off the inevitable.
“You don’t think the sight of a young Jewish boy running through fields on a Shabbos morning is unusual?” she said.
“Hmm” he’d replied, grateful for the thousandth time that he was not forced to make his way through life alone. “I hadn’t even thought of that.”
Orna smiled as she saw him out the door, and waited for him, arms folded and tense, until he returned carrying the young boy in his arms.
He and Motti would later roar with that strange sort of laughter — part terror and part relief — one has when one knows that one has escaped great danger, as they recalled Motti’s frantic recital of Krias Shema the moment he laid eyes on Zayit, certain he was about to be killed.
It had been the day of the great Hebron pogrom, and through the grace of G-d, Motti had managed to run away a few moments before the chaos began. He had run for miles before collapsing with exhaustion in the middle of Zayit’s orchard. From there, their lives had become a helix of interconnection, culminating with the two of them reunited as neighbors in the hills of Hebron.
Kalonymous was, of course, much younger than Motti had been when they’d met, yet Zayit felt no less of a kinship. Zayit often wondered if he would have managed nearly as well under such horrific circumstances as this child had lived through. Zayit was, in fact, in awe of the boy, and he felt now the despair of one unable to carry out a needed rescue.
Halfway through their silent journey, Zayit pulled the horse over to the side of the road and brought the wagon to a halt.
Kalonymous turned his head slightly. “Why are we stopping?” he asked.
“Are we in a hurry?” countered Zayit.
Kalonymous had no reply. Part of him wanted to get it all over with as soon as possible, while another part of him wanted to keep riding indefinitely and never reach their destination.
Zayit stepped down and walked around to the other side of the wagon, where the boy remained stiffly in his place. “Come down,” he cajoled, as though he were speaking to a frightened lamb. “Let’s eat something and have a drink.”
He drank deeply from the leather flask his own father had made for him as a boy, then handed it over to Kalonymous, who couldn’t stop himself before drinking greedily from the pouch.
“It’s not a sin to be thirsty,” said Zayit. He waited patiently a short distance from where Kalonymous sat, looking off into the distance, absentmindedly patting the horse’s long neck, looking everywhere except at the small, frightened boy before him.
It took a while, but Kalonymous thawed eventually and agreed to climb down. He sat beside the older man on a low stone wall, nibbling purposefully at a piece of honey cake.
“You think that your troubles are finally over and you realize that they are just beginning, yes?” said Zayit, looking away as he spoke, addressing his words to the wind and the sky. “Emanuel is a good man. I will bring your brothers to see you as often as you like, or bring you to see them.” Zayit’s great fear was less for the boy himself than what the separation from his brothers might do to all of them. “I will be your friend, Kalonymous. I won’t abandon you.”
Perhaps it was the words spoken or the sentiment behind them, perhaps it was the sun in his eyes, or the heavy weight lodged inside his little chest — its arrival was far more important than the path it took — but Zayit felt a thin shoulder pressing itself against his own, a small head flopped over on his arm, a damp wetness seeping through his shirt sleeve. If he hadn’t seen it for himself he wouldn’t have believed it. The dam that was Kalonymous had finally burst, and sounds like a wounded animal tore from his chest. They sat together beneath the hot noonday sun as Kalonymous cried.
To be continued . . .