Kalonymous meets up with a boy his age, Chilik, who takes him to his family’s small home in Jerusalem. Chilik’s mother gives him a bowl of soup.
* * *
The following morning Kalonymous stirred when Chilik shook him lightly, and he knew it was time to get up. Chilik held out a bowl and cup in front of Kalonymous and waited for him to stick his hands out so he could wash them. Kalonymous knew this from the Rothsteins, so he placed his hands over the bowl and let Chilik pour the water over them six times, one after the other. He handed Kalonymous a small towel, and with the other hand gave Kalonymous a white kippah identical to his own.
Barely any words had been exchanged between the two boys, and there seemed to be very few needed. They stepped out into the courtyard where hot tea was waiting. They drank quickly and then Chilik dashed off with Kalonymous at his heels.
They ran down a long flight of stairs that led to the entrance to a ramshackle building. It looked like a ruin, but inside was a long room with benches. Men and boys filled every place, and Kalonymous recognized the tallis and tefillin from Fetter Motti.
Chilik grabbed a siddur for himself and handed one to Kalonymous as he started chanting so quickly Kalonymous could not make out one word he was saying. Chilik was oblivious to Kalonymous’ confusion, and after 20 minutes or so he ran out of the shul and entered a small, one-story building around the corner.
Inside were two rooms, each with a long table running down the center. An older man sat at the head, and the benches placed along each side were packed with boys from Dovid’l’s age to older than Chilik. Boys came and went all the time, and one more boy made no difference, so Chilik and Kalonymous squeezed into their places.
The older man, whom the boys called Rebbi, had a large book open in front of him. He would read a line and the boys would repeat after him, but it didn’t sound like reading — it sounded like singing. Kalonymous loved it. He sat, indistinguishable from the others, chanting at the top of his voice, and an unfamiliar feeling began rising inside of him like a balloon blowing up and up and up, and then he was laughing. He couldn’t be heard above the din, and it didn’t last very long, but the feeling stayed with him all day long. For those few moments he’d been just a boy.
It was already dark when they returned to Chilik’s house, and Kalonymous thought it would be like the day before. They would eat some soup then help spread blankets and pillows all around the house for everyone to sleep, but tonight was different. A man Fetter Motti’s age was sitting at the table, a plate with a piece of fish and a boiled potato placed in front of him. A sefer was at his side, and he would interrupt his learning every few moments and take a bite of food. Chilik’s mother sat beside him with a cup of tea; she had eaten earlier with the little ones.
He looked up when he heard Chililk and Kalonymous come in.
“Tatty!” Chilik’s eyes lit up. He rarely saw his father, except for Shabbos, and it was a treat to have him home so early in the day. He ran over to stand at his father’s side.
“Chilik!” The Tatty’s eyes were just as bright. It was clear to see that father and son were also good friends. “I heard you are doing very well in cheder. I’m so proud of you.” Chilik flushed with pleasure at his father’s praise. “And I see you have a new friend. Who is your chaver?”
Kalonymous was surprised to see that Chilik also shrugged when his father asked him questions, but his father seemed to understand. He gestured to Kalonymous to stand on his other side.
“What is your name?” he asked gently but firmly.
He tried to raise his voice but he could barely croak. “Kalonymous Sperling.”
Kalonymous could feel the man gazing at him even though his eyes were down. He was dreading the inevitable question — What are you running away from? — that would surely come next and he steeled himself against it.
“Where are your tzitzis?” he asked, instead.
When Kalonymous stared at him blankly, he shook his head sadly. “That’s what I thought.” He told Chilik to run downstairs to Gartenhaus and buy a pair of tzitzis and put it on their account. When Chilik returned, his father put the tzitzis over Kalonymous’ shirt. “You must wear these all the time, do you understand?”
“Now, say after me.” He led Kalonymous through the Krias Shema al haMitta, line by line, then patted him on the head and stood up.
“Good night, children,” he said warmly. Childish cries filled the air, and the father took the hand and kissed the head of each one, nodded warmly to his wife, and stepped out into the night.
Kalonymous and Chilik each ate a bowl of soup, pulled out their mattresses, and went to bed. Kalonymous slept straight through the night, and he did not dream.
To be continued . . .