Breindl tries to explain Kalonymous’s disappearance to Hershel and Dovid’l, but they are distraught.
* * *
Even if Emanuel spent all day every day searching for Kalonymous, it was unlikely he would recognize him. His transformation was nearly total. Chilik’s family had managed to accomplish overnight what the Rothsteins had attempted, with barely any success, for months.
Motty had of course given them all yarmulkes to wear, but by tacit agreement, the boys tended to wear them only when Motty was home. Breindl felt there were other things that were more important and didn’t press them on it. She washed their hands each morning from a large sefel without fail, so Kalonymous was surprised when Chilik’s father insisted he do it himself.
He gave Kalonymous a large bowl and a cup and told him to put it by his bed. “You won’t get any food until your hands are washed and the water is tossed outside into the dirt. Is that understood?” Kalonymous nodded mutely, not daring to disobey. Pesha had taken a razor to his head and shorn his long locks, leaving two curling payos. With the white koppel and tzitzis, he looked like any other boy dashing through the teeming courtyards of Meah Shearim.
The things Motty and Breindl had only tiptoed around — davening and learning Torah — he was now thrown into head first. Chilik was so well trained and so sure of himself that there was no discussion over what would be done. Kalonymous loved going to shul, loved the day he spent in cheder even more, and he couldn’t wait to go back.
He wondered vaguely if Fetter Emanuel would come looking for him, and were it not for the pangs he felt for his brothers he would have forgotten the Rothsteins completely. They had been so kind, but Kalonymous had outgrown them. He had been on his own for too long, and the Rothsteins — both families — held on so tightly he couldn’t breathe.
Hershel and Dovid’l were still little; they needed the tender loving care Breindl could provide, but when he observed Chilik’s independent life, and the wonderful things he got to do with his time, Kalonymous knew he could not turn back.
He hadn’t said anything about his background and no one had asked, and as of that day, Kalonymous Sperling the refugee no longer existed. He regretted giving them his real name — it would have been better to change it — but there was nothing he could do about it. And even if Fetter Emanuel did find him, he already knew what he would say.
* * *
Emanuel waited at the spot Beck had arranged for him to meet his guide. He told Esther he was going to the beis medrash, not daring to disclose his unusual arrangement. She was beside herself as it was, and he didn’t want to offer her any false hope.
Beck told him to expect a child, but he assumed he was referring to an older child. When a small boy appeared and introduced himself as Yankel, Emanuel nearly groaned out loud. The boy’s Yiddish was a foreign thing, heavily accented and laden with words Emanuel could not begin to decipher, but Emanuel persevered. If nothing else, he was doing this for Esther, and it was this thought that pushed him forward.
He couldn’t help but wonder if the boy knew where Kalonymous was and was simply leading Emanuel on a wild goose chase, but he had to take his chances. If nothing else, it would be a glimpse into a hidden world.
Yankel was nimble. Emanuel had a difficult time keeping up with him, but it didn’t take long for them to arrive at the intimidating wall of low buildings surrounding a shuk in the center. When they stepped through the wide entrance and Emanuel looked around, he realized the futility of his task.
All he could see was an incomprehensible maze of buildings, courtyards and staircases. The buildings were all attached, as though to present a united front towards those who tried to enter. Emanuel felt immediately conspicuous — his clean shaven face and his straw hat were well out of place among the heavily bearded men moving purposefully through the narrow streets.
Emanuel looked down at Yankel and raised his eyebrows to indicate he was ready to go, and Yankel didn’t hesitate. He turned right and started walking.
“Where are we going first?” asked Emanuel.
“First we go to the tzaddik for a brachah.”
Emanuel could hardly believe he was speaking to a child — Yankel’s poise surpassed that of many adults he knew.
“Is he expecting us?” asked Emanuel.
Yankel looked at him strangely, and indeed, upon their arrival at the smallest home Emanuel had ever seen, including Beck’s hovel, there was barely room to move. Yankel threaded his way through the crowd and, taking his place next to the elderly man at the head of the table he beckoned for Emanuel to make his way forward. The crowd parted reluctantly and Emanuel pressed his way until he stood on the other side of the tzaddik from Yankel.
“Shalom Aleichem,” said Emanuel.
“Aleichem shalom,” the old man replied. “I see you’ve met my grandson.”.
To be continued . . .