Victory Gardens – Chapter 57

Novel

Mutty and Manny are at a stalemate regarding Mutty’s plans for the future. Mutty returns to yeshivah.

*   *   *

Mutty froze at the strange greeting. All eyes turned to him, and each boy’s face was suffused with a mixture of joy and surprise. Mutty could see their lips moving, reciting the blessing one says upon seeing a person whom they assumed was no longer among the living. Mutty was swept up among them, shaking the hands and clapping the shoulders of the survivors of the horrific tragedy that had befallen them. Each boy looked the same but different, their features recognizable, but their eyes altered so drastically that it hurt to look into them. Many were still bandaged and healing from their wounds — it looked as much like a doctor’s office as a yeshivah.

The group of boys held him by his elbows and walked him over to where two of the hanhalah were standing, waiting to greet him and make the blessing. They kissed him on the top of his head and thanked G-d over and over for Mutty’s safe return. They didn’t ask where he had been, as though they knew that the answer would not be a simple one. Tears ran down their faces and Mutty began to tear up as well, but stopped himself, afraid that if he let himself start to cry he would never, ever stop.

Mutty and the two rabbis moved off to the corner where they could speak privately. Their faces were so dear to him, and he wondered how he could have stayed away even this long.

“My brother has come,” he told them. “My father wants me to return home.”

“Sit and learn a while,” they encouraged him. “Then decide what you will do.” The men nodded, understanding and acknowledging the love of a father and the desire to see his son safe, but realizing as well how difficult it would be for the boy to be in a place where no one else had seen what happened. As much as Mutty’s parents loved him, they would not be able to understand his experience.

“Give it time, son,” they said. “Give it time to heal.”

Mutty understood this to mean that he had their blessing to remain in Eretz Yisrael for the time being, and he was filled with a vigor he recognized from the days before the massacre, before the wind had been taken out from him and replaced with a sadness he couldn’t easily define and often could not shake.

He told them he would return the following day, and they told him to take his time, that they would be waiting for him. He emerged from the relatively dim beis medrash into the sunshine of the day, and he observed how, despite the poor lighting, the beis medrash had lit him up from the inside. He approached Zayit and smiled widely.

“I will return to yeshivah,” he said. “The Rabbanim were glad to see me, and suggested I sit and learn for a while, to heal and regain my strength.”

“That is why they are rabbis,” said Zayit. “They are wise men.” Zayit looked so pleased as he spoke, as though he knew his role in the life of Mordechai Rothstein, to shelter him during his time of fear and lead him back to yeshivah had been completed.

“Can we still go to the Kosel to daven Minchah?” Mutty asked.

“Certainly. Then I will take you back to the Petra and you can visit once again with your brother.”

*   *   *

Manny sat in his hotel room while waiting for his brother to return, trying to learn but finding it difficult to concentrate. A comment Mutty had made to him needling at him now without letup. “Since when did you turn into my father?” Mutty had asked. What did he mean by that? He was already finding it difficult to understand his reaction to Mutty upon meeting him in the post office. It seemed to him as though he had only been allotted a finite amount of patience and compassion when it came to the matter of Mutty’s disappearance, and the moment he found him, that allotment had come to an end.

He could barely sit still now, so anxious was he to get back home. He’d had no word from Esther or from his business, and he felt cut off and frustrated. But why was he taking it all out on Mutty? Where was the kind and loving brother he knew himself to be?

His relationship with his father had always been cordial but had never been close — was Mutty implying that he had become stern and distant? He’d have to ask him about it when he saw him again. In any case, they would have plenty of time to talk during the long sea voyage home. He was sure that by the time the ship sailed, Mutty would have put aside the impractical idea of remaining in Eretz Yisrael. It was time to go home.

To be continued . . .