Recap: Students from the North came to participate in Freedom Summer. Yonah met Andy Goodman, who was a student at Queens College. Andy was enthusiastic about helping the black people in Mississippi to have equal rights.
That night, after reading Yonah’s journal, I sat back and thought about what he had written. He was writing about people who judged others based on their skin color. They had hatred for no reason. They didn’t view other humans as humans. It was so wrong. People are people. Hashem created all of us.
I had pushed it off long enough. I really needed to call this girl Mazal and start learning with her. Though Ella had sent me a booklet with guidance on how to learn with my student, I was still nervous about beginning to learn with someone who was just beginning on her path of becoming religious. My heart pounded as I dialed her number.
Mazal answered and began talking enthusiastically. “I really, really wish I could have Shabbos,” she said. “My father is against it. He’s from Russia and he grew up thinking it was not a good idea.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond but then she continued. “I try to stay out of the living room where the television is blaring. It’s not a Shabbos atmosphere.”
I tried to imagine something like that.
“I light candles. My mother does it with me. I taught her the brachah. You have to understand: My parents grew up in a place in Russia where religion was not allowed. They don’t know anything about our religion.”
“They’re lucky they have you to teach them,” I said.
“I’m trying to convince my parents to send my little brothers to yeshivah.”
“I wish I could have gone to yeshivah,” she said.
My shyness slowly melted away as we comfortably chatted.
“I heard something beautiful I want to share,” I said. “Rabbi Wallerstein spoke on Rachel Imeinu’s yahrzeit and he said that Avraham’s hands were shaking. He was old when he had to perform a bris milah on himself. He was afraid. He explained that the shaking was that he was afraid he wouldn’t do the mitzvah correctly and this was his only chance, so Hashem held his hand when he performed the milah. It’s the only time you see Hashem holding someone’s hand in the Chumash.”
“I love that!” Mazal said.
“Rabbi Wallerstein said we all go through difficult times and deal with different challenges. We should remember that Hashem is with us, holding our hand through difficulties and tragedies.”
We made up to speak once a week. As we hung up, I realized I was starting to look forward to these learning sessions. This Mazal was so inspiring.
That night, Mrs. Schwerner called to ask about the progress of my paper. “I spoke with your professor the other night and she mentioned your research paper. She told me she read some of your early draft and it’s written very well.”
I felt my cheeks grow warm with her praise.
Then something slipped out. It was something I’d been thinking about for a while as I read the journal.
I knew she wasn’t a religious person. She had told me that when I met her, but I wanted her to know that there was a pintele Yid inside of her.
“Mrs. Schwerner, I want you to know that even if you don’t consider yourself a religious Jew, you have a heart that is pure and so good.” I hoped she wouldn’t think I was preaching to her, but I felt I had to show her that she was closer to Torah than she knew. “The way you want to help people who are downtrodden and to seek justice. That’s what the Torah teaches us. You did and still do that.”
There was a beat. “Well, I did become a lawyer. My second husband and I run a law firm and try to help people.”
“See, that’s who you are.”
I was happy she hadn’t balked at my mention of the Torah. I just felt she should know she was emulating Hashem and doing His work.
“Mrs. Schwerner, the journal is really amazing.”
“I agree,” she said.
I headed into Journalism class. Everyone was already seated, and the professor was scribbling notes on the white board. I quickly took my seat and pulled out my pen. Professor Lewis spoke about using transitions in writing. I was so busy trying to write down every word that I didn’t notice that someone had placed a folded note on the corner of my desk. Where did that come from? My hand trembled as I opened it. The words blurred together as I read.
It’s shameful what your violent Jewish groups do. They were responsible for a bombing yesterday.
I crumpled the note. I glanced around the room. Vivian was watching me. Her thin lips formed a cruel smile.
It was difficult to concentrate on the rest of the lesson. I felt my stomach churning with indignation.
The first person I bumped into after class was Ella. She said, “You look upset. Is everything okay?”
“Vivian passed this note to me.” I showed her the note.
“That’s so upsetting, to be accused of something that you have nothing to do with.”
Ella said, “Listen, can you come help me set up for our speaker tonight? I’m expecting a huge crowd. I ordered bagels and lox and lemonade.”
Do I really want to be involved with all this and associate with this girl who is so different from me?
I heard myself say, “Sounds delicious.”
“I just hope that guy from the radical group doesn’t come again,” said Ella. “I really don’t want them at our events.”
“Rabbi Weissman told him not to come?”
“It’s like telling an ocean wave to stop breaking at the shore. He’ll come because he wants to stir up trouble at Jewish events on campus.”
I followed Ella to the kosher cafeteria and she handed me some white streamers to hang up. When the room was ready, we headed across campus together. We walked along, talking about our research projects and classes, and her hopes for the JIS event. Suddenly I felt that fuzzy feeling. “I have to sit down,” I said.
“What’s wrong?” Ella asked with concern.
I tried to remember if there was some trigger. I’d forgotten to eat lunch today.
“Can you please bring me a snack?”
“I’ll go get a granola bar from the snack machine.”
I prayed that would work. Ella was fast. I ate the granola bar. I started to feel better. “Baruch Hashem, I’m okay now,” I said.
“You were so pale.”
“It’s okay.” I realized I better say something to my mother. This was happening much too frequently.
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 for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.