Victory Gardens – Chapter 66

Novel

Papa, Mama, and Esther have an uncomfortable conversation about the effects of the crash on their respective families. Mama gives Esther a way to look at her leaving her extended family behind to join Manny in Eretz Yisrael as a challenge to face, and Esther is warmed by her mother-in-law’s wisdom. Mama promises Esther that she will not lose her standing in the family despite her differences with Papa.

“So, big brother, any word from home?”

Manny and Mutty, after a fruitful morning of davening and learning, were seated in the small room they’d found to lodge in once they’d made the decision to remain in the Holy Land. The Roshei Yeshivah were pleased that Mutty would be staying, and delighted that Manny would stay and learn with him in yeshivah.

What they were not happy about was Mutty’s reluctance to stay with the other students in the dormitory. Mutty couldn’t explain, not to his Rabbanim and not to Manny, why it was so important for him to stay near his brother, or why he wanted to be away from the bachurim. He wasn’t sure himself. All he knew was that for now, his place was with Manny.

Anyone could tell by looking at them, listening to them, or viewing their mannerisms that they were closely related. Sometimes, when they were learning or eating together, or even when Manny was fast asleep, Mutty would look at him see an older version of himself, as though he were traveling in time. In all of his twenty years he had never defined himself in terms of his brother, but now he couldn’t help but do so. How had he missed the fact that they were so very similar? Here, on their own, it was unavoidable and impossible to ignore.

Had Manny always turned his face and shoulder to the side when he was chewing his food? Walked with one arm moving and one arm at his side? Mutty didn’t know. It added to the feeling he’d had of late, that until that brutal day in August when his world turned black, he had simply been asleep, noticing little except himself, his own needs and his own interests. He couldn’t remember many details about his parents, either.

If he’d discussed these feelings with anyone, they’d have told him they were normal for a boy his age, but it was unlikely he’d have accepted that as a reason. He didn’t know why he’d been spared in Chevron, and he didn’t know why he’d been there in the first place, spiritually speaking. All he knew was that he’d crossed some sort of a threshold — boy to man? Selfishness to selflessness? — that it would be impossible to cross back over again. His childhood was over.

Through the haze of his thoughts he could hear Manny chuckling lightly. “Mutty, if you’re not going to pay attention to the answer, you probably shouldn’t ask a question.”

“I’m sorry? What’d you say?”

“I said — oh, never mind. It doesn’t matter. No, no word yet.”

“Are you expecting any problem?” asked Mutty.

Manny seemed surprised at the question. “Not at all. Why?”

“I don’t know. You’ve been away already for two months.”

“So?”

“Forget I said anything.”

“I surely will. Mutty, can you do me a favor and ask the baal habayis for a newspaper? I haven’t looked at a paper in days.”

“Sure. You can read the one in Ivris already?”

“Very funny. I doubt he has the New York Times. Any Yiddish paper is fine.”

Manny looked over at the other lodgers with vague interest. He wasn’t inclined to socialize or make friends at this point. He was focused on his brother’s welfare and his wife’s imminent arrival. He couldn’t help but notice that the discussion around the table was more animated than usual, but he didn’t pay it any mind.

He reached over and took the newspaper from Mutty’s outstretched hand and feigned a grimace when the boy sat down and started reading over his shoulder. He pretended to be annoyed but secretly he enjoyed the fact that, for perhaps the first time in his adult life, he was acting like an older brother .

But both sets of eyes widened as they examined the front page headlines.

“What’s this?” said Mutty. “I’m not sure what the stock market is, but this does not look good.”

“No, it doesn’t. Not at all.”

“Are you and Esther affected by it?” asked Mutty.

“Not if Esther followed the instructions we had decided on together.”

“What about Papa and Mama?”

Manny looked stricken. “I didn’t leave them any instructions.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that not only has the stock market crashed, but many banks have gone out of business. Either way, people have been utterly wiped out. I don’t know if Papa lost his money but it is certainly possible.”

Manny stared at his brother intently. “This may change everything. I think we are going to have to return home. Right away.”

 

To be continued . . .