Esther cannot come to terms with Kalonymous’ disappearance.
* * *
“Oh come on, Esther,” Emanuel chided her. “Don’t tell me you still have sour grapes over that. You’re a wonderful mother, so loving and patient, but we never would have been able to handle those boys in the state they were in.”
Esther helped herself to her third cup of coffee of the morning, which was not helping her nervous state. “We could have done just as good a job as your brother,” she insisted.
“Then why didn’t you say anything at the time?” asked Emanuel.
“I couldn’t! You saw them! I was stunned. I couldn’t help it. We all were, but somehow Breindl got over it first.” Esther was pacing around the table now.
“It wasn’t a contest,” said Emanuel slowly. “We all agreed it was the right decision.”
Esther recalled that horrific moment at the port when they all laid eyes on the boys for the first time. Esther had gone through a period, while still in New York, when she’d taken a particular interest in those left homeless and bereft as a result of the stock market crash. She’d felt such a crushing pity that, although she knew she couldn’t help everyone, there was one family she could help — and she did. She’d marched down to the squalid Lower East Side tenements and tracked down her aunt Faiga, Breindl’s mother, with whom she’d lost touch.
She had found them in dire straits. Fetter Zalman was too sick to work, and Mima Faiga was a skeleton of her former self. When Esther agreed to take the Sperling boys now, after they first heard from Mr. Gasner, she was certain that her experiences with her aunt and uncle had prepared her for the task at hand.
However, one look at the Sperlings had disabused her of that notion. Breindl, who had suffered during the harsh days of the Depression much more than Esther had, was far better able to put her own feelings aside and focus on the welfare of the young refugees.
“Even so,” Esther continued. “They would have had more advantages with us. Motti and Breindl live so far from a settled area. There is no cheder there either. I think the time has come to bring Hershel and Dovid’l here. They are ready for the change.”
Emanuel was listening to his wife with a vague feeling of horror. He could only imagine the uproar when she announced her decision, the abrupt disappearance of Kalonymous notwithstanding.
“I agree that the boys do need to start cheder, but perhaps now is not the right time. It would be better, don’t you think, to wait until Kalonymous is found, and then the three of them could be here together. That might be the most prudent way to go.”
“Maybe the opposite is true? Maybe once Kalonymous discovers his brothers are here he will return on his own. I would appreciate it if you spoke to your brother as soon as possible.” At that, she picked up her sewing basket that was always at her side and left both the room and the conversation. Only the harshness with which she closed the door gave away the strength of her feelings.
Esther’s outburst wasn’t as frightening to Emanuel as it might have been if he hadn’t already taken certain steps to track down Kalonymous. Late the previous evening, after a distraught Esther had finally closed her eyes and gone to sleep, he had slipped out of the house and walked the short distance from his home to the tiny hovel of a Yid known only as Hashavas Aveida. No one remembered his real name, long forgotten since his unusual skill had come to the fore after he had discovered the location of a stolen gold watch. Since then his services were in great demand, and the only reason he still lived in the hovel was because he was too busy to find another place to live. He could well afford it.
Given a brief description and its approximate whereabouts when last seen, Hashavas Aveida could find anything, and from that, Emanuel deduced that he could find lost people instead. He’d sat with the man for a brief time, explaining the situation, giving a detailed description of Kalonymous, and a summary of where he was last seen.
“He’s disappeared into thin air,” Emanuel lamented.
Hashavas Aveida had laughed at that. “As if such a thing were possible. How big do you think the yishuv is? Nobody can hide here, but they can block the doors, especially to Amerikaners like yourself. I’ll find him easily enough with the Eibershter’s help. I expect to have him back to you by Minchah tomorrow.”
Emanuel breathed a sigh of relief. Hakadosh Baruch Hu has all kind of messengers, he marveled. Who would imagine that the wizened old man would hold the key to the solution? After they found Kalonymous they could discuss the issue of bringing Hershel and Dovid’l to live with them. Esther did have a point — it was time they went to cheder, and Motti and Breindl so far seemed to be too busy rehabilitating the boys to really settle them down into Yiddishkeit. A change of place might do all of them some good.
To be continued . . .