Zayit reassures Motti that Kalonymous is safe and that he will return. Hershel insists that Berl and Fisch are still alive, so he begins to explore whether they may have survived being shot at the border.
* * *
It had been agreed between the tzaddik and Beck to send Yankel to lead Emanuel to his doorstep. Not much — and some would say nothing — happened in this neighborhood that the tzaddik was not aware of. When Kalonymous first turned up in Baruch Birenzweig’s home with his son Chilik, he hustled over to Reb Leib’s and elbowed his way inside.
It was not an unusual occurrence for an unknown person to appear out of the blue and try to enter the insular community. It seemed like a good place to hide, but people often mistook faith for naivete. Imposters, trouble makers, and general no-goodniks were discovered immediately and sent on their way, albeit with a bit of money and some bread. Refugees were vetted unobtrusively and allowed to take shelter inside the walls.
It was quite uncommon for an 11-year-old boy to show up on his own, but things like that did happen. So no one was too unnerved when Kalonymous came. Birenzweig told Reb Leib what he knew, that the boy was a refugee orphan from Berlin, and the tzaddik’s ears perked up. He immediately assumed, correctly as it turned out, that this was one of the boys the American had been contacted about. The pieces fell together — click click click — and in just a few moments the tzaddik had the whole picture in his mind. Reb Leib ordered Birenzweig to bring the boy into his family for the meanwhile and make certain his Yiddishkeit was up to par.
When Beck came sniffing around, Reb Leib sent Yankel as the requested guide, instructing him to bring Mr. Rothstein directly to him as soon as he met him. And now, here they were, face to face.
Reb Leib asked one of the gabba’im to clear the room so he could speak to Rothstein privately and a hushed collective gasp rose up. Reb Leib never cleared the room, and even if no one knew what was being said, the mere fact of it was newsworthy in and of itself.
“Yes,” said Emanuel, in response to the tzaddik’s statement. “He seems like a smart boy.”
Reb Leib placed a loving hand on Yankel’s head. “He is.” Reb Leib reached into his pocket and pulled out a hard candy, handed it to his grandson, then sent the boy on his way.
“So,” said Reb Leib. “We meet.”
Emanuel, unaware of the extremely special treatment he was receiving, responded politely. He knew of the tzaddik Reb Leib, of course; everyone in the yishuv did. But the Rothsteins kept to themselves, as did the Perushim. There wasn’t much mingling between them.
“How is your father?” asked Reb Leib.
“My father? He’s well. Ah, the Rav knows him?”
“Of course. We are chavrusos. I meet him in shul from time to time and we learn a shtikel Gemara,” said Reb Leib.
“Jozef Rothstein? Is the Rav certain?” Emanuel was truly puzzled. As far as he knew, the only person his father spoke to besides himself was his mother.
“We old-timers have to stick together. We find each other. Now, Beck mentioned that you are looking for one of the refugees you took in. What’s the matzav?”
Emanuel shifted around, uncomfortable speaking openly about Kalonymous’s disappearance. It was not only distressing — it was supremely embarrassing. He gave the Rav a short outline of the 10 months since the boys had arrived in Eretz Yisrael, describing their stay with Motti and Breindl and the chain of events that led to his escape from the Rothstein home into Meah Shearim.
“My wife is distraught,” said Emanuel. “She believes it was her fault that Kalonymous ran away.”
“And you?” said Reb Leib, his eyes squinting in the dimly lit room. “How do you feel?”
Emanuel entertained several glib replies before he looked back at Reb Leib. He knew that the sage would not accept anything less than the truth.
He covered his eyes as he spoke. “I knew, from the moment that fellow Gasner from Denmark contacted me, that these boys would be nothing but trouble. When we met them at the port, they were so feeble that I was amazed they were actually alive. My brother and his wife did a good job considering, and the two younger boys are very sweet, but Kalonymous is another story altogether.”
“How so?” asked Reb Leib.
“From what I understood, he led himself and his brothers all the way through Germany to the Danish border on his own. He kept them all alive and miraculously out of danger.”
“So what was the problem?” Reb Leib asked, even though the answer was already clear to him.
“The problem was that he could never go back to being a child,” said Emanuel.
To be continued . . .