Victory Gardens – Chapter 59

Novel

Manny tries to make amends to Mutty. He tells Mutty about Rabbi Levin and the strange visit to Bikur Cholim Hospital. Mutty identifies the patient they visited as Beni, Zayit’s brother.

*   *   *

Mutty stayed with Manny that night at the hotel. He missed the quiet and pastoral atmosphere of Zayit’s farm, but he understood that his place now was with his brother. The next morning, they went to daven at the yeshivah, and stayed around afterwards so Manny could speak with the Roshei Yeshivah.

They in turn were gracious and welcoming, inviting Manny and Mutty to sit with them and learn before they spoke of other matters. Manny hesitated, because although he was vigilant to learn every day, he knew his level was nowhere near that of these great rabbis. But, talmidei chachamim that they were, they both met Manny at his own level. Before anyone knew it, it was already two o’clock in the afternoon.

Manny felt winded, like he’d been sprinting for a good while. He even wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, bringing a smile to the face of the rabbi he’d been learning with. “It’s worth the toil and the sweat,” said the rabbi.

“It is,” Manny agreed.

“Was there something you wanted to speak with us about?” asked the rabbi.

“Yes, actually.” He looked over at Mutty and the seat next to him. He didn’t want to speak about his brother literally behind his back.

“Do I understand correctly, that the Roshei Yeshivah are suggesting that my brother remain here to learn?” he said.

“That is correct.”

“With all due respect, the problem is that my father sent me here with clear instructions to find my brother and bring him home. Am I not responsible to follow those wishes?”

“Of course, you are responsible to honor your father, and certainly he must have been worried these past few weeks that your brother was missing,” said the rabbi.

“My father was fairly certain Mutty was still alive. He thought he was behaving irresponsibly. That has been our experience of him in New York.” Manny was torn about whether to say this, but he felt that, with so much hanging in the balance, the rabbi needed as much information as possible.

“It would seem to me then that you have just answered your question yourself.”

“What does the Rosh Yeshivah mean?” said Manny.

“If Mordechai were to go home with you now, you would continue in your old patterns, treating him like an irresponsible child. The sad truth is that you will never be able to understand how the experience in Chevron affected him. All of our boys are wounded; they are shadows of their former selves. We are working hard to help them adjust to the new reality of their lives, the men they have been forced to become.

And even though your brother was not stuck in the thick of things as some of our other boys were, he did have to run for his life. Can you imagine that? Running mile after mile, unsure whether the murderers were following you, and still having the presence of mind to remember that it was Shabbos, forcing yourself not to pull fruit off of trees because you were so hungry and thirsty; having no water and no idea where you would end up? And then, finally, collapsing in a field and being rescued and taken in by a stranger? A person doesn’t just walk away from such an experience. He must assimilate it, understand it and use it to become a stronger person. My great fear, if Mordechai would return home now, is that he would be forced to act like what happened to him was already in the past, and try to move on too soon. Here he is surrounded by people who understood the horror of what happened. Do you think that we too, the teachers, are not also broken? Baruch Hashem, we have the Torah to guide us and comfort us.”

Manny could not deny the wisdom of what the rabbi was saying, but he could not shake off the fear of his father’s disapproval if he were to return without Mutty.

Sensing his reluctance, the rabbi smiled gently. “I will be happy to contact your father directly and explain our recommendation.”

“I would appreciate that,” said Manny, relieved. He knew that his father would take the words of the Rabbanim to heart.

“And while I am at it, I would like to suggest something else to him. I would like him to allow you to stay here as well, with your brother.”

Manny sat before him, frozen in shock.

“It would be the best thing for your brother,” the Rav continued. “It happened that several of the American boys have gone home. Your being here, and Mordechai being with us, is a good thing. We’ll be able to give him the support he needs, and he’ll have you to rely on as well.”

“Is it possible the Rav was not aware that I have a wife and a business at home?

“And a family?” the rabbi asked pointedly, raising an eyebrow at him.

To be continued . . .