It was his valise.
Yes, it was really his. Do you hear?
It was his very own valise, from the grooved handle down to
the broad zippers which skidded towards each other from both
sides and met in the middle -- if of course he had planned
that meeting in advance.
It was possible to grasp each one between the
index finger and the thumb, and to hold a competition. In
general the zipper to the right would win, and close a larger
part of the valise. But every now and then, the left one
would overtake the right one. On one occasion, it even
reached the pocket, because the pocket also belonged to the
valise, if you didn't know that until now, and the valise, as
we have already told you, belonged to Yonasan, and to no one
else in the whole wide world.
It wasn't that Yonasan was acquisitive, like
certain children who tend to think that everything they
chance upon belongs to them. Quite the opposite. He was
prepared to wholeheartedly admit that the plaid shirt folded
so neatly in the valise was actually Shmulik's, as were the
black Shabbos pants. The tzitzis, if you really want
to be exact, were the gift of Abba Gold, who upon his first
look at him, quickly exchanged Yonasan's tattered
tzitzis for a new one from the closet. Ima Lenfeld had
bought him the Shabbos yarmulke during one of his last
weeks there, and he was very careful to cover it with a small
plastic bag before packing, so that the fibers of the clothes
and the dust wouldn't cling to the festive velvet. He had
forgotten the precise origins of the sweater, the colored
shirts, the pairs of socks in the valise, and the handful of
books which were stashed into the briefcase.
But the valise, I repeat, was his --
don't ask from where. It had always been alongside him: in
the upper closet in the Lenfeld kids' room, under the bed at
the Gold's, near the desk in Shmulik's room. In general it
was empty. But it always pretended to contain the very best,
somewhere in its dingy depths.
Sometimes, before he fell asleep, the zippers
would hold an impish race. But by morning, he would always
find them where he had left them the night before. He thought
about them many times. But the valise was very tight-lipped,
and it was impossible to prod it to reveal those secrets.
"It came with you," Ima Lenfeld told him in
her soft voice, when he asked. "All of your belongings were
packed inside it. We opened it together, very carefully, and
put everything away, and then put the valise on the upper
shelf so that it wouldn't bother us."
"Did you give it to me, Kinneret?" he once
asked her from the depths of the old upholstery of the back
seat of the blue car.
He was totally surprised. "The valise, of
course. What else?"
"Then who gave to me?" he didn't relent.
"I think that it was always yours."
"In the first house too, Kinneret?"
"I don't think so. But then, maybe yes."
Kinneret never answered a simple "yes" or
"no." In the special school in which she had studied, they
had apparently taught her to always say: "I presume that . .
. " "Or it seems to me . . . "
One winter afternoon, she entered Lenfeld's
puddle-filled yard, took a good look at the fascinating boat
game he was playing with the neighbor's kids, and said
casually: "Yonasan, it seems to me that you won't be able to
stay here any more. Perhaps it would be a good idea for us to
go inside. We'll take what you need, say good-bye to everyone
and find another wonderful house. I know some very nice
parents who would be very happy to meet you."
For a moment all of the puddles in the yard
darted before his eyes like millions of sparks from a
blinding light. The Lenfeld's house had been his home since
he had been five. Abba and Ima Lenfeld were his parents and,
except for the valise, nothing set him apart from the other
"Are you sure?" he asked with seriousness. "I
-- I don't think they'll let me go."
But inside, the valise was already on the
bed, its mouth ajar. Ima Lenfeld was busy packing all of his
belongings, in exemplary order.
"He's a wonderful child," she said quietly as
she stood beside the door. "I thought that we would always
raise him along with everyone else. But under the present
circumstances . . . " she laughed. "It's impossible to ask my
sisters, who have so many children of their own."
Kinneret smiled her professional smile, with
pursed lips. "Feel at ease. You've done far more than was
expected of you. We are all very grateful to you."
She laughed in confusion into her flowered
duster. "When everything works out, we might take him back. I
really hope so." Then she turned to him and said. "We'll miss
you very much, darling. Here! Take something for the trip."
Then she gave him a milchig candy, a special rosh
Malki, the baby, was to "blame." Until she
was born, everything was fine and dandy -- the Rebbe in the
cheder and his fascinating stories, the yard with its never-
ending surprises. At the Shabbos table, there was always a
long line of little darshanim, eager to tell about the
parsha. Abba Lenfeld said that Yonasan would be first
on Shabbos morning, right after the gefilte fish. Shmulik
made a sour face. But Yonasan was two months older than
Shmulik and had adamantly insisted on his rights.
When he related the parsha, Ima
Lenfeld would listen intently, her eyes half shut. "This is
my Yiddishe nachas," she would say.
The neighborhood kids didn't hide their
jealousy. "You're like quadruplets," they would claim. And it
was true. They were four boys who had been born within two-
and-a-half years. They were the kings of the front yard,
first in every discovery, and with unbounded imaginations.
"Isn't it hard for you?" neighbors would ask
Ima Lenfeld in commiseration, when she came down to call the
four formerly neat and clean children to supper and would
find four messy kids, decorated with scratches and mud and
laden with junk and scraps.
"Hard? Not at all," she would say in her calm
voice. "They have energy, and I have a washing machine and
Yonasan loved her smile.
She never spoke to him angrily or
impatiently. She always had time to listen to him and to help
him with what he needed, whether with homework, with the
memorizing of mishnayos, or with making an impressive
tower from a matchbox collection.
But when Malki was born, everything changed.
At first Ima Lenfeld was away from home for two weeks.
"That's the way it is," the kids in cheder knowingly
told him. "And so that you won't have high hopes, know that
when she comes home, the baby will cry all day and your
mother won't have time for anything."
But she didn't return with the baby. The pink
crib which they had prepared remained empty. "Malki had to
stay behind in the hospital," the parents explained. "She's
so tiny and fragile that the doctors have to take special
care of her."
Even though he wasn't the bechor, he
was still the oldest in the house. Abba Lenfeld took him
aside and, like an adult talking to a friend, said: "The
baby's heart isn't developed enough. She needs special
medicines which only hospitals have."
Malki came home after three months,
surrounded by all sorts of devices. Ima was tired and tense,
and fell asleep beside the Shabbos table when he told a
wonderful vort that he had heard in cheder. A
heavy pall of worry clouded the house. People he didn't know
came and spoke for a long time about a medical center, a
transplant, and going abroad. The aunts -- Ima Lenfeld's
sisters -- spent a long time trying to persuade her. "We'll
manage. Don't worry. The little one needs a strong mother.
Take care of yourself."
At night, her hands trembled when she covered
him. But she didn't say a word. It seemed to Yonasan that she
was evading him. All that night, the rain tapped on the
shutters and the next day, Kinneret arrived.
"I know them," she smiled at him. "They're
very nice people. You'll be very happy there during the next
few weeks, if you behave nicely yourself." According to
Kinneret, everything was blue and nice.
He really tried. He didn't protest when Ima
Gold called him "Yoni," and stroked his cheek as she had done
moments before to her two-year-old. He didn't protest when
Eli, the oldest Gold son, dragged the valise into the small
room and hid it under the new double-decker.
"This is ours," he announced energetically.
"I'll let you sleep on the upper bed, if you like. Are you
"Me? Afraid?" he replied immediately. But at
night the bed was too high for Ima Gold to reach, and he had
to make do with her pleasant "good night" instead of a hug.
"Sleep well, Yoni," she said. "I hope it's warm up there."
For a moment he was happy that she couldn't
cover him. That had been Ima Lenfeld's job. But this time,
the ceiling was strange and unfamiliar and the valise's
zippers were somewhere under the bottom bed.
In the morning he prepared to go to a new
cheder, with kids he didn't know. But Yonasan kept
trying. He saw that there was no yard in front of the Gold
house. However, near the entrance to the house he discovered
an old pine tree, on whose branches the morning dew shone
like pearls. Whenever he left the house, the branches would
wave good-bye to him.
On Shabbos the children didn't give
droshos at the table. But Abba Gold would tell
marvelous mesholim about the parsha and
inyonei deyoma. In the afternoons, Yonasan used a
variety of ideas from the Lenfeld yard and the neighborhood
kids were agog, and did whatever he asked. Kinneret came
often and asked how he was doing. She also brought candy.
Eli, though, was angry and uncompromising. He remained closed
to his parents and cried at night and was cold to Yonasan.
"It's too hard for Eli," Kinneret nodded in
understanding. "A new brother in the house, a new friend in
the class; it's not easy. But don't forget: this is only a
transitional stage. We're looking for a suitable family for
him. It's not easy to find a home for a child his age. Most
of the families on the list prefer a younger child."
Eli wasn't sorry when the welfare office
called and asked Ima Gold to pack the valise. Yonasan wasn't
"I knew," he said simply, when Kinneret came
with the car to take him. "You told me all along."
"Yonasan?" The scenery which was seen from
the car's windows changed rapidly. The old pine tree had
disappeared long ago. "Do you know where we're going?"
"To nice people," he said, rather wearily.
"Ah so," Kinneret peeked at him from the
front mirror. "That's how I would put it. Yes, surely."
The nice people changed quickly and they all
merged in Yonasan's mind like a colorful but intricate
mosaic. The Lenfeld parents, Abba and Ima Gold, the Shalom
family with the small twins who reminded him of Malki, and
Abba and Ima Don. Ima Tzorfati called him "Yoni," because
Kinneret had introduced him as "Yoni." But the Don's little
girl called him Yo-yo, with her childish inflection, and that
name stuck to him at home and in school. Kinneret once called
him Yo-yo by mistake, and he made a fist. "I'm not Yo-yo, and
you know that."
"Yes, I suppose so," she answered elegantly.
"But it's so nice."
The Shalom family had a yard. But he barely
went outside because it was so cloudy. By the time the
weather cleared, the blue car had come to take him to a new
home. Near the Don's there was a printer's shop, and Yoni
liked to watch the brisk work of the printers. Tzorfati had a
small garden, and Yonasan helped them with it in the summer.
Wherever he went, there was something nice he could cling to,
something he could like, something which enabled him to
forget the old and familiar things which were no more.
"I would call that maturity," Kinneret noted
when he told her about that. "A realistic person tries to
find the good in every situation."
But not all of the circumstances were that
rosy. School, for example, caused serious obstacles. In each
cheder, the pace was different. In one cheder,
they studied material which he had already learned the year
before. Suddenly the classroom became narrow, stifling and
In another cheder, they were learning
concepts which were totally unfamiliar to him. The Rebbe's
language was strange to him and he knew that even if he tried
to catch up with the class, Kinneret would soon come and he
would have to begin all over again. As a result, his
concentration level dropped drastically. He would take his
briefcase every morning, and walk to cheder
heartlessly. No more the outstanding student, he knew that
his classmates nodded behind his back.
It all began in the cheder which Abba
Shalom had found for him. There, he didn't understand the
lessons at all. At first he had tried to listen. But after a
week, he regressed, despaired, and looked for other things to
do. That was when he began to cut.
Where had he found the scissors? It seems
that they were part of the school supplies Ima Shalom had
given him. She had filled his pencil case with writing
implements, crayons, paste, scissors and assorted supplies.
An old circular for parents lay on the table, and Yonasan
began to cut it.
At first, he enjoyed the contact between the
metal and the paper. Then he began to practice cutting
straight lines. Slowly, he moved on to circular forms and one
day, during a particularly incomprehensible lesson, he began
to cut out windows.
Have you ever tried to cut out windows? If
so, you surely know that it's not an easy feat. First of all,
you have to decide on the form you want: a round window, a
triangular one, a square one, or any other form you drew so
nicely in your imagination. Then you have to insert the
scissors' point in the middle of the form, move towards its
edges, and cut very nicely around it, taking care not to rip
the paper. If you succeed, you'll end up with a smooth and
whole piece of paper, with a well-cut hole in its middle -- a
Yoni began with endless patience, while
destroying countless numbers of sheets of paper. In time he
learned how, when cutting, to fashion forms with clean lines.
Soon, he improved his methods and learned how to fold the
paper so that the cutting would be easier and the form
symmetrical. Later on, he advanced to folding papers a few
times in order to achieve a special effect, and then to
working with half folds, and creating gorgeous forms, which
still had no names, arranging them in a striking manner on a
sheet of paper.
"Hey," one of the kids who noticed a well-cut
piece of paper Yoni had worked on for three whole lessons.
"It looks like a napkin.'"
"Is that what you do in class instead of
listening?" someone asked. But Yonasan quickly picked up the
paper and hid it in his book. He didn't want to share the
magical secret of his scissors with his temporary friends,
because his cut-outs had a very special charm. The small
shapes which merged and formed the delicate cut-outs were
really miniature dreams.
After Yonasan would finish cutting, he would
gaze at his creations for a long time, and make up stories
which filled the vacant time slots of the lesson. With a bit
of imagination, the cut-outs soon became permanent windows in
the walls of homes.
Precise squares always reminded him of the
Lenfeld's children's room, and he liked to arrange them in
rows, a window for each one of the three boys, and for little
Malki, with the hope that she had returned home healthy.
Diamond shaped windows were more interesting.
If he placed them in front of a light bulb, they shone like
bustling houses of people and happy children. When the cut-
outs faced the table, the light would be extinguished, and
darkness would prevail. They would stand there, impatiently,
waiting for Kinneret to find them a new home.
Near the Shalom house was a small printer's
shop. At first, he was attracted by the noise and the pungent
odor of the ink, and would spend many hours watching the
printers at work. But when he started on his cutting, he
discovered the garbage bags on the sidewalk near the shop's
entrance. In general they were filled with narrow scraps, the
remains after the galleys had been cut. But sometimes, extra
title pages printed on large and ornate paper had also been
thrown out. This was perfect raw material for his cut-
The owner of the printing shop let him take
as many scraps and discarded pieces of paper as he wanted, as
long as he didn't scatter the garbage on the sidewalk, and
Yonasan was very careful about that. Very often he would pick
up scraps which had been strewn on the street even before he
had come and, in his appreciation, the printer would give him
extra colored papers -- which for Yonasan were a veritable
When he moved to the Don's, he didn't have
these papers. But he soon found another source. The Don
family lived in a very large building which rose up at the
edge of the street. Flier distributors would leave piles of
advertisements near the mailboxes, either because there were
so many occupants in the building or because, although the
street ended there, their satchels still contained fliers to
give out. Whatever the reason, large quantities of good
papers awaited him, some white, some colored. All of them had
one thing in common: the ads appeared on only one side of the
sheet. The other sides were perfect bases for cut-outs.
Slowly, his cut-outs improved. When Kinneret
brought him to the Tzorfati's, he was already an expert in
symmetrical, square and circular cut-outs and he began
working on more intricate forms, such as half moons and
stars. He stuffed all sorts of ads into his valise -- in case
of emergency. After all, he had no idea where he would get
those vital papers next time around.
And he continued to try.
"When we reach the Tzorfatis," he told
Kinneret on the road, "I'll unpack my valise immediately. I
won't scatter my belongings throughout the house, and won't
make a mess." Then his voice became pleading and a bit
childish. "Do you think that if I am very, very neat, they'll
want me there?"
Kinneret looked at him for a long time from
the front mirror. "Are you so certain that your behavior is
the cause of all these changes?"
He smiled an innocent yet sad smile. "If not,
then what is?"
"I venture to say that circumstances that are
out of your control are the reason. It's not easy for people
to take in a boy your age. You have your tastes, your habits,
your hobbies. At the age of nine, you're not a baby anymore."
Sometimes, Kinneret spoke with him in a very adult manner.
"I'm nearly ten."
"Then how much more so."
"Then . . . " his voice resounded quietly in
the blue car. The scenery changed quickly. Kinneret believed
in quick and safe driving. "Then, this time I'll try harder.
You know, I'm ac . . . ac . . . and ex . . . ex . . . What
did you say last time?"
"Accustomed and experienced."
"Yes, experienced and accustomed. I know how
to unpack a valise in a jiffy, to get used to a new room and
bed on my first night. I'll offer to help with the little
kids. Do they have any?" he said with an outburst of good-
will, readiness and acceptance.
Kinneret stopped the car. Her lips were
pursed. "They have a baby, Yoni."
"At least she didn't say Yo- yo," he
thought to himself with a sigh of relief. "I just hope she
remembers that when she introduces me to them."
"We have to hurry," Kinneret said. "It's
late, and I don't want to bother them in the middle of
He was true to his word. He didn't make a
face when they served him food with unfamiliar seasoning. He
played on the floor with the baby for many hours, and tried
to pay attention in class. The front pocket of the valise
remained filled with the colored papers. Deep down, he hoped
that Abba Tzorfati wouldn't rush to give up a boy who was so
diligent in school. But one stifling morning, when Kinneret
arrived, he knew that his efforts had been in vain.
"It seems to me that you can't stay here any
longer," she told him, her blue eyes evading his gaze. "Come.
Let's pack quickly. There's a long way ahead."
He pulled his valise from under a bed, like a
pro. "You don't have to help me," he said quietly. "I'm,
accustomed and . . . "
"Experienced," she completed the sentence
with a smile. The shirts were folded. He took the pants off
their hangers and threw them inside. Suddenly it didn't
matter whether or not people thought he was neat. He shoved
his notebooks inside, and lovingly patted the pocket which
was half filled with papers. In the new cheder they
would have an important job. Now you tell me: was there any
reason for him to try to succeed?
Outside the blue car was waiting. He gave one
of the neighbor's kids the cookie Ima Tzorfati had prepared
for the trip. It suddenly seemed to irritate his hand.
"Don't be so sad," Kinneret told him as she
was driving. "I think you're a very nice little boy. We just
haven't found a permanent home for you, and have been trying
to find temporary arrangements in the meantime. You aren't
transferring became they don't want you. The Tzorfati's told
us in advance that you could only stay until school began.
Both of the parents are teachers, and they only wanted to
take in a child for the summer."
"So you knew in advance that I would have to
The thin line on her lips opened a bit. He
suddenly seemed so small and so lost.
"I knew, but . . . " she pursed her lips.
What could she tell a nine-year-old child whose hopes did not
always coincide with reality? Instead, she chose to change
the topic. "Did you notice those lilies. Yes, those tall,
It was only when he had gotten out of the car
that he realized that he didn't know the name of the new
family. He hadn't spoken much on the way, and had forgotten
to ask. He had also forgotten to remind Kinneret not to
introduce him with one of those strange nicknames which had
adhered to him during his wanderings. But, actually, what did
He clutched the grooved handle of his valise,
and slowly walked in. "They" lived in an old neighborhood.
The rusty gate creaked loudly when Kinneret opened it. Beside
the gate, an old pine tree smiled at him, in greeting. But he
stubbornly turned his head aside. This time he wouldn't try.
It was nearly evening. Mothers stuck their
heads out of windows, calling their children to supper.
Lights went on in houses and cut small bright windows amidst
the new-sprung darkness, glistening squares, all in a row.
The antiquated stairwell with the winding staircase absorbed
the sounds of their footsteps.
"I think we should drag the valise together.
It'll be easier for both of us that way," Kinneret said. He
didn't answer. Instead, he clutched the handle tighter. From
the corner of his eyes, he saw that this time the left zipper
had won. But even that didn't cause him to smile.
Kinneret gently knocked on the door, whose
paint was peeling. Someone had once told Yonasan that foster
families had to meet certain financial criteria. But he
wasn't particularly surprised.
Something inside totally sealed him off from
his surroundings, and even from the greeting of the bearded
man in the doorway. "Nu, at last. We've been waiting.
End of Part I