Kalonymous arrives at the Rothstein home in Yerushalayim. Zayit discusses the situation with Emanuel, who agrees with Zayit that Yehuda should have come and not Kalonymous.
* * *
Emanuel and Esther had come to visit at Fetter Motti and Tanta Breindl’s house a few times since their arrival, but Kalonymous did not feel he knew these people well. They were always kind, but lacked the simple warmth of the younger Rothsteins, and as he went now with Tanta Esther, his knees began to tremble. The house felt chilly; the high ceilings soared endlessly upward, dwarfing Kalonymous and his humble package of belongings.
Three boisterous children descended upon him like puppies, but he shied away. He would not allow himself to get close this time, in case they decided to send him away as well.
Where would he go from here? Kalonymous shuddered to think of it.
He nodded silently as they greeted him, but stayed rooted in his place. If it had been Tanta Breindl at his side, he wouldn’t have hid behind her but he’d have leaned in her direction, aware of her presence and taking strength from it. Tanta Esther offered no such protection, and he saw himself, for the first time, as the fragile sapling that he was. The sudden awareness of his vulnerability threw him off guard and he stumbled as Tanta Esther paraded him through the house.
“This is the kitchen, of course,” she was saying. Kalonymous thought it looked like his mother’s kitchen in Berlin. They’d had running water and an iron cooking stove there, and he saw that Tanta Esther’s kitchen boasted those luxuries, as well as a few others. It was shiny and clean, a condition Kalonymous had not known he appreciated until he’d found himself covered with dirt and grime for days on end. He hadn’t known that cleanliness was a luxury, and he appreciated it.
Itzik, Laizer and Naftali danced around like goats, following Kalonymous and their mother down the hallway to the room they would all share.
A small space had been made for him, an iron bed and thin mattress made up with white starched sheets and a colorful blanket. He was surprised at the obvious care and effort that Tanta Esther had put into welcoming him, and he gazed up at her gratefully. She squeezed his hand tightly, accepting his thanks, and a common language sprung up between them that would continue throughout their lives.
“You must be hungry,” she said, after carefully placing his things inside a small bureau near his bed. “I know you only left Chevron this morning, but such trips really bring on an appetite.”
She had already set a plate of soup out for him, and encouraged him to wash his hands before sitting down. He did so and bit into the large roll she had given him. It tasted very different from Tanta Breindl’s, not as heavy and satisfying, but sweeter and easier to chew. He looked up at her questioningly, and she smiled. “I use a different flour than Tanta Breindl,” she explained. “Mine is whiter and more finely ground.”
He was to find this explanation applicable to many of the things he encountered in those early days.
The Rothstein boys seated themselves at the table and tried helping themselves to the fresh rolls but their mother shooed them off. “Out into the chatzer with you,” she said. “Let Kalonymous eat in peace.”
At first she sat down at the table with him until she realized she was making both of them nervous. She busied herself as Kalonymous finished his soup and, as he was about to get up from the table, she stopped him.
“There’s more,” she said simply, and set down a plate of chicken and sliced potatoes in front of him. It was as much as Tanta Breindl would serve out for all the children to eat, and here it was only for him.
As he smelled the food, he could almost hear his bones crackling, desperate to grow and expand but not yet caught up to the great deprivation his body had experienced. He wanted to inhale the food in one gulp, chew it and swallow it and feel it course through his blood, bones and muscles. He wanted both to smuggle it home in a cloth to share with his brothers and to keep it all for himself and not share it with anyone.
Terrified by his disloyal thoughts, Kalonymous took a few bites and pronounced himself finished. Esther was sure he was uncomfortable eating in a new place and once he adjusted his appetite would expand as well. She had no idea of the small war waging inside the boy’s mind brought on by the innocuous looking plate of food.
“Would you like to see the library?” she asked then, gesturing for Kalonymous to follow her. She guided him into a comfortable room with a desk, some chairs, and bookshelves riding from floor to ceiling.
“What is this room?” asked Kalonymous.
“This is Uncle Emanuel’s office,” she said. She pointed towards a small bookcase beneath a large window.
“Are you familiar with Dr. Marcus Lehman? He writes wonderful stories.” She pulled a small volume off the shelf and handed it to Kalonymous.
He opened it up and was surprised to see it written in German.
To be continued …