Victory Gardens – Chapter 119


Papa goes to the pier alone, believing he is going to greet his son and daughter-in-law. Instead, he is met with a pair of strangers he’d never seen in his life.

*   *   *

“Papa,” said Mutty carefully, like he was talking someone down from a rooftop, “This is Shlomo Zayit and his wife Orna.”

Papa looked warily from husband to wife. “You’re not Esther,” he said to Orna.

Orna smiled warmly. “That is true.”

To Mutty’s surprise and relief, the Zayits took Papa’s coldness in stride and began right away to endear themselves to him.

“Rabbi Rothstein,” Zayit said warmly. “It is an honor to meet the father of two of the finest men I’ve ever met. There must be many zechuyot in your family for you to merit such wonderful sons.”

Papa looked at him oddly, like he was speaking another language. “My sons are Emanuel and Ephraim Mordechai Rothstein. Who are you talking about?”

“Them! The very same,” answered Zayit.

“You know them?” Papa asked, clearly confused.

“Papa,” Mutty explained, “Zayit was the man I told you about, who saved me when I was running away from Chevron.”

Papa eyed Zayit doubtfully. “That was you?”

“It was him. Papa, he picked me up from field where I had collapsed from running. I had had no food or water and I was running for my life. He carried me into his home. He took me in like I was his own…” Mutty wanted to fill in the missing word — “son” — but the words stuck in his throat. He loved Papa, but could not imagine Zayit’s humility superimposed over Papa’s rigid formality.

“His own brother,” he continued, lamely.

“That’s fine, but where is Emanuel? Where is Esther?” asked Papa.

“They aren’t coming. They gave their tickets to these people here.”

“Why?” asked Papa, almost plaintively, not yet willing to concede to reality.

“They couldn’t travel, Papa. Esther is under doctor’s orders. But the Zayits needed to be here for medical treatment. Emanuel gave them the shiffskarten we sent.”

“But I sent the tickets for them!” retorted Papa, a furnace beginning to blaze behind his eyes.

“Papa, Esther is not permitted to travel. Emanuel was doing what was necessary for Esther’s well-being. Please don’t be angry, Papa. The Zayits need our help now.”

“Where are they staying?” he asked.

“They are staying in Emanuel’s apartment, along with Mima Faiga and her children.”

Papa drew in a sharp breath and turned away. Mutty smiled weakly at his guests, uncomfortable about the dismal greeting they’d received. But they were too busy taking in all the sights and sounds around them.

“We saw the Statue of Liberty from the ship,” said Orna. “I didn’t think it really existed — I thought it was just a symbolic thing we learned about in school. I can’t decide whether it’s beautiful or hideous.”

“It’s a bit of both,” said Mutty. He was trying to move everyone along at the same pace but he was finding it impossible. He finally caught the Zayits up to the taxi stand where Papa was waiting.

“Is that how you got here so fast?” asked Mutty. “You took a taxi?”

A stab went through Mutty as his father turned around. He’d seen him look angry, frustrated, and even, on occasion, joyful, but he’d never seen his father look so hurt.

“Why didn’t you tell me they weren’t coming?” he asked.

“I… I couldn’t Papa. I’m sorry.”

“Did you think it wasn’t important to me?”

“I knew it was. I didn’t want to hurt you Papa.” He said this in place of the truth, that he had been afraid to incur his father’s wrath.

“Despite what you think, Mordechai, I am the father in this family. I know I’ve had a setback. I know I’m a little more confused, but I am still your father. You have obligations toward me that you must fill. Never think,” and here he leaned in very close to Mutty, “Never think that you can make decisions in my place. Do you understand me?” The vein in Papa’s forehead was throbbing with unexpressed rage, and Mutty backed away as though it were a live thing that could break away suddenly and wound him.

“I understand Papa. I truly apologize. I didn’t mean to do anything that would compromise your authority.”

“You did not compromise my authority. You overstepped yours. That’s a big difference.”

Mutty looked at his father, awed. He realized that although it seemed as if Papa did not understand what was going on, he’d suddenly state a very clear observation, as though he’d missed nothing.

Mutty sighed and held on to his father’s arm, waiting for a taxi to pull up to the stand. Zayit and Orna stood behind them, chatting rapidly in Hebrew, pointing out the things they saw, as if they were at a shuk.

When the taxi pulled up, Orna’s and Zayit’s eyes lit up with glee.

“It’s so loud!” cried Orna, covering her ears.

“Come on,” Zayit said, grabbing their bundles and beginning to load them on the roof of the car. He was nothing if not an experienced baal agalah. A taxi was just a modern version of his cart.

“Get in!” he said. Papa was already seated in the front, and the three younger passengers piled in the back. Zayit and his wife were talking animatedly in Hebrew.

“What is it?” said Mutty. “Haven’t you ever been in a taxi before?”

“No!” exclaimed Zayit to Mutty and the passengers in general. “This is our first time!”


To be continued . . .