Recap: Bayla realizes that she has to go to Paris because it’s the right thing to do, even though she doesn’t want to go.
At home, Mama was already baking challah and cutting vegetables for the chicken soup for Shabbos. A little four-year-old boy was standing next to Mama.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. You know Mimi usually watches Alexi, so his mother can cook, but I need you to do it today, Bayla.”
Alexi was Mimi’s mitzvah. I didn’t like babysitting, especially for him. He was trouble with a capital “T.” Why was this day turning out so bad?
“Mimi can’t do it?”
“Bayla, she needs to rest to recover. Take him outside. Fraidy will go with you.”
Fraidy shook her head. She knew better than to play with Alexi. He was not a fun playmate. He hit and kicked and grabbed toys.
I took his hand and led him outside to the tire swing. “Do you want me to push you on the swing?”
He grunted and climbed onto the swing.
Okay, maybe this won’t be as bad as I think.
I pushed him for about two minutes until he squirmed out of the tire and jumped off.
Then he started running down the block.
“Alexi, wait. Where are you going?” I had to run after him, and he was surprisingly fast for a little kid. He ran over to our neighbor’s garden and headed straight into the freshly planted irises.
“No!” I yelled.
I reached him, and I was all out of breath. I grabbed his little hand. “Alexi, this is Mrs. Newerwitz’s garden. We can’t go in it.”
Alexi shook away from me. “I want to see the worms.”
He pointed to the earth. Then before I could stop him, he picked one up.
“Ew! Put it down.”
He picked up another.
“Alexi, put it down.”
I grabbed his hand and he dropped it on my foot.
Somehow, I got him to go back to our house with a bribe of chocolate.
“Mama, I can’t do this,” I said as I handed Alexi his chocolate bar.
Mimi was in the kitchen, sipping chicken soup.
“Oh, good, you’re here. Please take over.”
Mama frowned. “Bayla, I told you that Mimi is not up to babysitting today. She has to go lie down. “
“Sorry. Tell him a story. He loves stories and you’re good at it,” Mimi said hoarsely.
We sat on the couch and he actually climbed into my lap as I told him a story about a grumpy prince who loved to play with worms. He asked me to tell it over and over. He squealed when we got to the part with the grumpy boy and his worms going off to the moon to learn to be good.
Eventually, his mother came and took him home. He waved and asked if he could come back tomorrow.
Mama said, “We’ll see how Mimi is feeling.”
“More story,” he said.
I shook my head and Mama laughed and put her arm around me.
On Friday night, we were all sitting at the table. Papa had just said HaMotzi and we were going around saying what we were thankful for. I said, “Mimi recovering so fast.” Mama said that we were together, and that Shimon Zev was learning well in his yeshivah. Papa mentioned his safe, successful trip and visiting Aimee. Mimi said, “Getting better and the beautiful snow globe from Papa.” Just then, there was a knock on the door.
Papa went to answer it. Jan Zabinski stood in the doorway. He was holding a basket with a cover and two little kitten ears were poking out from it. “Sorry to disturb on your Sabbath, but I felt it important to come to you with a message.”
Mama said, “Jan, come in. Is everything all right? How is Antonina?”
He nodded. “Everything is fine. I brought the children some new kittens.”
Fraidy ran over to see the two little gray kittens. Papa explained that we couldn’t really accept the kittens on the Sabbath. He would go get them for us on Sunday. Jan said fine. Mimi stepped close to see the kittens and Fraidy followed her. I stayed back. “You don’t want to see them?” Jan asked me.
I didn’t want to appear ungrateful. “Maybe later.”
Jan laughed. “It’s okay. Not everyone is an animal lover. Yosef, if Germany attacks––”
Mama interrupted. “Jan, you and Yosef should go talk in the back room.”
Jan nodded and followed Papa to the back room.
“Germany could attack?” I asked.
“Please go get the salad,” Mama replied.
I felt my stomach do a somersault. Were we close to war?
I moved closer to the back room, which was near the kitchen, and I heard everything Jan said.
“We have a strong army. All able-bodied men will be asked to fight. I’m giving you the address now, so you’ll know where to report in case it comes to this. I pray it won’t, but he’s talking about taking so much Polish territory and he won’t negotiate. The signal is on that paper, so you’ll know if you have to go.”
Papa said, “I appreciate your coming.”
“Also, Antonina and I wanted to let you know that, well, there’s talk that if they attack, they will not treat the Jews well, and we want you to know that you can come to us if you need to. If there’s any trouble, come to the zoo.”
“You’re a true friend. Thank you.” Papa led Jan back into the dining room. “Stay for some homemade chicken soup.”
“Thanks, I would love to, but I have a lot more people to visit.”
Papa hugged Mr. Zabinski and then Mr. Zabinski disappeared into the Warsaw summer night.
Papa came back to the table and exchanged worried glances with Mama.
I toyed with my salad on my plate.
“Bayla, eat it or don’t take,” Mama scolded.
Fraidy tugged on my sleeve. “I want potato kugel.”
“Okay,” I said. I headed back to the kitchen. My head was spinning. Were we on the brink of war? Why would Germany want to attack Poland?
Papa asked us to come back to the table for a d’var Torah. “You know,” he said, “in Parshas Noach, Hashem brought a flood that destroyed the whole world except for Noach and his family on the ark. How did Noach know when it was safe to go back to the land?”
“When the dove came back with an olive branch,” Mimi said.
“That dove became a symbol for the Jewish people. We will survive no matter what; and that dove, according to Rashi, preferred the bitter olive branch to sweet food dependent on others. We are strong and we have Hashem with us. Never forget the dove, girls. Now we’ll sing z’miros and think of happier things. It’s Shabbos!”
I had a million questions, but I could see my parents were not going to let me ask them. At least not at the Shabbos table right now.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes the community column for The Queens Jewish Link and she writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivahs and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.