Recap: Vivian passed a note to Ruchama during class that accused Jews of setting bombs. It was clearly anti-Semitic. Ruchama goes to the meeting on campus with Ella’s group and she starts to have the uncomfortable feeling that she is going to faint. Since this is not the first time she experienced this, she is worried that something is wrong with her.
On Friday right after school, Henry asked me, “Can you come to my house on Saturday?”
“I appreciate the invite, but I can’t. It’s Shabbos and I’m going to the rabbi’s house in Greenwood.”
“Aw, I wish it wasn’t Shabbos. I really wanted to have you over on Saturday.” He started bouncing the basketball he was carrying. Then he stopped. “So, what do you do on Shabbos anyway? Why is it so special to you?”
How could I explain Shabbos to someone who never experienced it? How could I include the candles and the Kiddush and then challah and the singing and the divrei Torah and the feeling of warmth and family and the feeling of being connected to the Creator? “You really have to experience it to understand it,” I said. “It’s a gift that the Almighty gave to the Jewish people. It’s our heritage.”
Henry bounced the ball. “Well, maybe you can take me with you one time.”
I was surprised at his request. “I can understand. That would be fun, if your mother lets you.”
I was looking forward to meeting the rabbi and rebbetzin and being in a real religious environment. It’s been so long since I had a real Shabbos.
The rabbi met me at the bus station.
“We’re happy you could come. Mrs. Chaney filled us in on your situation. I’m sure it must be difficult making Shabbos where you’re living.”
As we strolled towards his home, he asked me about my family.
“I grew up in Chicago. My grandparents were very religious and very spiritual. My grandfather hoped one day I could learn in beis midrash.”
“That would be wonderful, but you’d probably need to go back up North for a beis midrash program. We don’t have anything like that here. Our children are all grown and living in New York,” Rabbi Plotkin informed me.
Rebbetzin Plotkin had cooked up a storm. “We are so happy you came, son. My husband and I are always looking for guests. With our children all living away from home, it gets too quiet around here.” The rebbetzin insisted that I have some potato kugel before setting out for shul on Friday night.
I followed the rabbi outside. The air was cool and refreshing. It was so nice to see other people heading to shul. Being with a Jewish community was something I could really appreciate now.
“How is it living out there in Neshoba?”
“It’s, uh, well, it’s different.”
“That’s diplomatic,” Rabbi Plotkin said. “I know there’s too much prejudice out there. Mrs. Chaney tells us what’s going on there.”
“It’s strange to me. I am not used to all this segregation and emphasis on skin color.”
He pointed to a small building ahead. “That’s our shul.”
The shul was a small, friendly place. All the men came and shook my hand and welcomed me. Most were middle-aged or older. There were a few younger men, too.
Four men were coming back to the rabbi’s house with us, as well as one couple with a baby. They all introduced themselves.
The young father asked me, “We are thinking of moving up North. What’s it like there?”
“I’m from Chicago. It gets much colder in the winter,” I offered.
“I mean the community. Is it a big Jewish community?”
“Yes, and it’s warm and nice. I miss it.”
The rebbetzin welcomed everyone and took their coats and sweaters. She fussed over the baby. The lit candles lent a holy glow in the house. The white tablecloth was set with crystal and gleaming silver. Homemade challah was on the table.
Everyone sat down and Rabbi Plotkin introduced everyone again. Then he started singing Shalom Aleichem. I loved sitting here hearing those familiar words. I could imagine my grandfather singing them right now.
As we ate the delicious roast beef, chicken, and green beans, Rabbi Plotkin told a d’var Torah from the parshah and then he presented some interesting questions for everyone to think about. “Why do you think it’s wrong to go into a store and look around if you know you aren’t going to buy anything?”
One of the guests said, “I don’t think it is.”
Rabbi Plotkin said, “It’s a halachah. You are not permitted to go into a store if you know you will definitely not buy anything. If there is any possibility, then that is different.”
I had learned this Gemara with my grandfather. “It’s because you are raising the shopkeeper’s hopes, and that is insensitive if you are definitely not planning to buy anything.”
Rabbi Plotkin nodded at me. “You see the sensitivity of the Torah, how it teaches us to be so sensitive to each other’s feelings.”
“Everything is delicious,” I said, turning to the rebbetzin.
“Well, you look like you could use a good meal,” she said. “We better have you more often, so we can fatten you up.”
Shabbos flew by and soon it was time to head back to Neshoba. I had a sinking feeling as I boarded the bus. I didn’t want to leave. The rebbetzin supplied me with a week’s worth of food to take back with me. The bag was so heavy, I had to keep switching hands. She invited me back for the next Shabbos, as well.
“You can come every week. “ Her kind words touched my heart as I headed back to my gloomy destination.
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.