Victory Gardens – Chapter 72

Novel

Manny eats breakfast with Zayit and is surprised when Zayit advises him to send Mutty home to care for their parents, and then again when Zayit invites him and Mutty to spend Shabbos with him and his wife.

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A twinge of jealousy ran down Mutty’s spine when Manny informed him of their Shabbos plans.

“You met with Zayit?” asked Mutty.

“Yes,” replied his brother distractedly. He was perusing the newspaper and only half listening. “He came here to see us. He brought food.”

Mutty’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “Why did he bring food? What did he bring?”

“I don’t know. It was pastries, but not like anything I ever ate before. It had potato inside. It was very tasty.”

Mutty breathed a sigh of relief. The burekas, as he later learned they were called, had been his favorite during his stay with the Zayits. Surely Zayit and his wife had had him in mind when Zayit made his visit to the boarding house. But why, really, had he come? He doubted that Zayit had come just to chat, although Mutty had seen how he liked to “check up” on people he encountered from time to time. But if he did need something, why hadn’t he asked Mutty?

Zayit was waiting for them on Friday at noon, as they prepared their belongings and stepped outside to check if he had arrived. Manny was pleased to see that Zayit was exactly on time, whereas Mutty, who was running late, wouldn’t have minded an extra half hour to pack.

They boarded the wagon, Manny in front next to Zayit and Mutty in back, and Manny was surprised to hear him greeting someone fondly when he could see no one and there seemed to be no response.

“Talking to yourself again?” he called out to Mutty, flippantly.

Zayit’s brow creased, while Mutty stuck his head next to his brother’s ear. “Will you be quiet? Zayit’s brother is back here.”

Manny turned around to look at the bundle on the floor of the wagon he’d assumed was a pile of blankets, and saw a familiar smile beaming out at him.

“I know you!” he cried.

“This is my brother Beni,” said Zayit.

“We visited him at the hospital,” said Manny.

“We? Who’s we? And what brought you to my brother?”

“Rabbi Levin. He knows your brother, right?” he said, turning to look at the face of the prone man.

Beni’s smiled widened even further.

“I wonder, how did this Rabbi Levin come to my brother? I have heard of him of course, but we don’t know him personally.”

“I think Rabbi Levin is the type of person who makes it his business to get to know the people who might need his help one day.” An image of Rabbi Levin’s holy countenance amidst the grey and gloom of the prison cell flashed through Manny’s mind, and a warm feeling passed through him. Manny wondered if he would ever be able to rescue someone as Rabbi Levin had rescued him.

The four men traveled in silence, enjoying the fine weather and the peaceful day. After an hour the road began to look familiar to Mutty, and Zayit picked up the pace a bit, as one does when coming closer to home. After a while, they turned in to the front of the small stone cottage that was the Zayit home.

The door was opened by a petite woman, who greeted them warmly and showed them where to place their things. “You know the way, Mordechai,” said Orna.

“Thank you, Mrs. Zayit,” he said.

Manny patted Mutty on the head, and Mutty flushed with embarrassment.

“Your brother was a wonderful guest here, and such a big help. My husband didn’t even have to ask him for his assistance – he always knew what to do, even things he was unfamiliar with.”

Orna’s expression became almost fierce, causing Manny to take a step backwards, and she quickly changed the subject. “You gentlemen must be hungry. Come, I’ve prepared some ta’am Shabbat for you to enjoy.”

“Like Mama used to,” whispered Mutty.

“I doubt the food will taste like Mama’s,” said Manny.

“The ingredients will be different, but the taste will be just as good, I assure you.”

“I don’t think I want anyone’s food to be as good as Mama’s,” Manny said.

“Not even Esther’s?” Mutty asked. That was when Manny realized there was room for more than one icon in his life.

“It still remains to be seen, or tasted, I should say.” Manny chuckled at his own wit.

“Sit and eat,” said Mutty to his brother. Mrs. Zayit had heaped their plates with all sorts of different dishes that Manny had never seen before and did not recognize. Since his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, he’d eaten plenty of pita bread with butter, as the rooming house where they lodged was run by Europeans. His experience with true Middle-Eastern food was limited, if non-existent, and he wasn’t prepared for the spicy burn.

“Well?” asked Mutty. “What do you think?”Manny was just about to dismiss the food when a feeling of tremendous warmth and well-being spread through him as he chewed and swallowed.

The burn was mellowing into something delicious and memorable.

“It’s not bad,” he said. “It’s not bad at all.”

To be continued . . .