Victory Gardens – Chapter 8

Novel

As Manny walks to his father’s home after being urgently summoned, he thinks about the different approaches to life taken by his father and by Esther. His father tells him that his Mutty has been reported missing, and that he, Manny, must go and find him.

*   *   *

Mutty had never been so terrified in his life. Up to now, he had been surrounded by people who protected him — his parents, his brother, his friends — and he had rarely even felt worry. His mother’s loving care and attention had been the final layer of cotton wool that had shielded him. He had enjoyed a comfortable life.

Finding himself now in deep danger situation, part of him longed to run back to the yeshivah, take shelter among the familiar, and be “b’rov am.” Perhaps the merit of the others would protect him.

But even the thought of passing by that one home again, the one with the armed Arabs planning mayhem against his brethren, filled him with such fright that he could not bring himself to go back that way. For if there was one home like that, there were probably others, and if these were any example, pandemonium was about to break loose.

He was not only filled with fear, but also with shame, because while he realized the need to warn the others of what he had witnessed, he understood  he did not possess the courage to go back.

What had happened in Chevron? he wondered. What had changed? Just three days earlier, it had been a bastion of peaceful relations between Arab and Jew. The two had treated each other as neighbors. How had that relationship deteriorated so quickly? Mutty didn’t know. His teachers had been so careful to instill in the bachurim the importance of making a Kiddush Hashem. What could have gone wrong?

Mutty had no way of knowing that the unrest had begun a few months earlier in Yerushalayim, where there were continuing disagreements over the right of Jews to daven at the Kosel Hama’aravi, and that these disagreements had spread to Chevron like an infectious disease. Somehow, on this warm summer Shabbos morning, the disease was about to become a raging epidemic, from which no home or family would be spared.

All he knew was that he had to keep walking. Even as he grew weak from hunger, even as he felt close to fainting from exhaustion, he could not stop walking, not for even a moment.

Dawn had broken, and Mutty had walked further out to the perimeters of the city. Still, he was still close enough to hear the roar of the attack as it began. The sound was unlike anything he had ever heard — when, in his sheltered life in America, would he have heard the sound of a massacre occurring? The war cry of the attackers rumbled deeply. The sound of pounding footsteps echoed in his ears as the marauders began their bloody spree. And in the next moments, the bass notes of attack were accompanied by the high-pitched answering sound of the victims. The screams were unearthly, and each one lit another flame of fear beneath his feet. It was a gruesome orchestra, one that Mutty was not sure he would survive.

As he sped through the fields, every rustling leaf sounded like a potential murderer in hiding, laying in wait for him to pass by.

*   *   *

Mutty’s stomach was in knots from both fear and hunger, and he was deeply tempted to take some of the fruits that grew in abundance all around him. Wouldn’t this situation would be considered pikuach nefesh, life threatening? But he was not sure of the halachos and decided to forgo it, hoping instead that he would pass a friendly house with a mezuzah somewhere along the way.

He had no idea where he was — where Chevron ended and the rest of the world began. His father had tried to show him — many times! — the lay of the land on one of his many maps, but Mutty had been impatient and inattentive, much to his father’s dismay. How he wished, now, for his father’s warm hands covering his, his mother’s hot tea and warm strudel served on her pristine tableware, the embroidered linen napkins like white flags in their laps. He could hear Papa’s voice clearly, the maps spread out between them on the table, and Papa’s care in keeping them free from crumbs and wayward drops of tea.

But all his fevered mind’s eye could see now, in the heat of his escape, were the seven letters spread across the land that now burned beneath his feet: C-H-E-V-R-O-N, and the little drawing to symbolize the Cave of the Patriarchs. His father’s face had looked so wistful as he described that great and holy place, and the nearby Kever Rochel, and he kept telling Mutty how lucky he was, how fortunate; that greater men than he had tried — and failed! —to visit Eretz Yisrael with such mesirus nefesh, and here it was being handed to him on a silver platter.

Right now the last thing Mutty felt was fortunate. He felt hunted. He felt pursued. And so very frightened. Where was Papa now, when he needed him so desperately?

To be continued . . .