Victory Gardens – Chapter 58

Novel

Mutty returns to yeshivah, where his rebbeim suggest that it might be beneficial for him to stay in yeshivah for now. Manny wants the two of them to leave tomorrow, but Mutty tells Zayit he wants to stay.

*   *   *

Later that evening, upon Mutty’s return, Manny strengthened himself to act like and to be the big brother he knew himself capable of being. He welcomed his brother warmly, made sure to speak softly, and remained silent when Mutty told him that the Rabbanim had encouraged him to stay for now. Manny resolved to go and speak with them himself before going to the shipping office to book passage, hopefully for the both of them. He would have to be the one coordinating between his father and the Roshei Yeshivah. Manny knew that his father held daas Torah in the highest esteem, and would do whatever they thought best. Manny just had to make sure that what Mutty heard was actually what was said, and not simply a case of wishful thinking.

Manny guided Mutty to a small eating room he’d found in the old city, at the home of a family recommended to him as reliable. A number of travelers, as well as local residents who were, for whatever reason, on their own were there. The meals were filling and tasty, and each man paid a flat rate. There was a long table where most of the diners were, and then there were two small tables set up in opposite corners of the room, in case there were people who wanted or needed privacy. Manny chose one of these for the two of them, and Mutty did not object.

As they ate, Manny told him all about his journey in much more detail than they had spoken when Zayit was accompanying them, and Mutty listened with interest when Manny mentioned the strange rabbi.

“You’ve never heard of Rabbi Levin?” asked Mutty casually as he took a bite out of his third boiled potato.

“No,” said Manny. “How would I know of him?” Mutty shrugged. “I don’t know. He came out to the yeshivah a few times, asking us if there was anything we needed that he could get for us. He’s a tzaddik.”

“Of course. You should have seen him with the prisoners. Who would spend hours on Shabbos walking in the hot morning sun just to visit with a bunch of criminals? Not that I was a criminal, of course. I’d done nothing wrong. But all the prisoners recognized him, and when he arrived it was like a king had come to call on his subjects. It would have been interesting to watch actually, all these hardened prisoners bending down to kiss the rabbi’s hand, if I hadn’t been so miserable myself and also in need of his help.”

“Did you kiss his hand as well?” asked Mutty.

“I didn’t,” said Manny. “Although I should have. I’d like to find him and repay him, if it was in fact he who paid my bail.”

“I’m sure if he wanted you to pay him back he’d have mentioned that to you,” said Mutty, chewing and swallowing at an alarmingly fast rate.

“Slow down,” said Manny. “You’re acting like you haven’t eaten in a week. Mama would have a fit if she saw you eat like that.”

“I can’t help it. It’s the first time I’ve had an appetite since the…  the… I don’t even know what to call it!” Mutty’s eyes were wide with pain and remembered fear. “Seeing you and the Roshei Yeshivah brought me back to myself a little. Zayit treated me very well, but being with him and his family was not like being with my own family.”

“Of course,” said Manny. “There’s nothing like family.” He tried not to load the statement with too much unspoken meaning, but it was impossible for him to hide his feelings. He was positive that Mutty needed to return home, to be within the loving embrace of his parents and prepare to move on from this terrifying chapter in his life. He was certain that once he spoke with the Roshei Yeshivah they would be on the same side of things and offer their opinion to that effect.

“There was this one strange thing that happened, though,” said Manny, wiping his mouth with the coarsely woven napkins the baalas habayis provided, a far cry from his mother’s crisp set of damask. “I haven’t been able to figure it out. That Friday, after I got out of jail, in response to my pleas to help me find you, Rabbi Levin took me to see this strange man in the Bikur Cholim Hospital.”

Mutty looked up with interest. “Who was he?”

“I have no idea. He was a day patient there, and he only came on Fridays. But he was so unusual I don’t think I will ever forget him. He had the face of a man and the physique of a young boy.” Mutty froze when he heard that. “He couldn’t talk,” continued Manny. “But he had the most amazing smile. Rabbi Levin seemed to think he knew you and where you were. Isn’t that strange? How would you know him?”

“If his name was Beni, then yes, I do know him. He’s Zayit’s brother.”

“But how would Rabbi Levin have made that connection?” asked Manny.

“I have no idea,” Mutty replied. “But I can’t say I’m surprised. Between the two of them, there is a whole lot of unspoken commuication. I wouldn’t blink an eye even if you told me they’d read each other’s minds.”

“Oh, come on,” said Manny, starting to laugh, but something in Mutty’s face stopped him. “You’re serious.”

“Yes, I am.” Mutty put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Beni is very special, and seeing their relationship, Beni’s and Zayit’s, makes me appreciate you all the more. I’m so grateful you came all this way to find me, Manny. I’ll never be able to thank you. I wasn’t only lost to you and Papa and Mama. I had lost myself as well.”

To be continued . . .