The story that you are about to read took place along the
banks of the Mississippi River in the year 1815. It happened
to a Jewish family, immigrants from Poland, who settled as
pioneers in the United States of America. The Bob family --
originally Bobsky -- had long ago detached themselves from
the Torah and mitzvos, the very roots of the Jewish
people. They had left their family and friends in the cold,
dark ghetto back in Poland in order to find a better future
for themselves, in the large world of unlimited options.
They had arrived in the States in the year 1807 and they
were already totally absorbed into American society with a
goal of turning the American Dream into reality.
"Mother," the eight-year-old girl turned her face away from
the raised burlap covering where she'd been staring at the
never ending fields of Missouri receding behind their wagon.
"When will we be stopping for the night? We have been
traveling all day already and night shall be falling soon.
Although there will be a full moon tonight, I'd hate to be
stuck on the road after dark, especially with all that's
been going on lately..." her voice suddenly broke off.
"You're right, Debra," Shirley sobered at the thought of
being stuck on the muddy land in the dark, "and the daylight
is fading more and more by the moment."
As if on cue, the caravan suddenly came to a stop. Shirley
climbed out of the back of the covered wagon that she and
three of her daughters had been sitting in for the last
twelve hours. John, her husband, and Mike, her eldest son,
were walking towards the wagon. In the horizon, she was able
to catch the last glimpse of the bright red sun. The sky was
painted with blobs of pink and purple. In the distance, she
could see the banks of the Mississippi River. Someplace
beyond the green meadows, the mountains seemd to be kissing
the sky. The sight was beautiful.
John's gruff voice woke her from her reverie. "We are still
'bout three acres or so from our destination, but I say it
would be better to just camp out at this place for the
night. Seems like strange things been going on lately so
let's get busy pitching the tents and building the fire.
Debra, you help Mother get the little ones out of those
wagons and settled into tents. Mike and Frank," he turned to
his eleven and eight-year-old boys, "start collecting the
firewood. The moon'll be out in a couple o' minutes. It's a
good thing the moon's full tonight," he added, "so that we
can keep an eye out for those troublemakers out there..."
A few hours later, the whole family had eaten. The younger
children were all sleeping peacefully under handmade down
quilts. John, Shirley, Mike, Debra and Frank were sitting
comfortably around a nice big campfire. "You know," John
said, "we'll probably be reaching the banks of the river
tomorrow, where we'll hopefully settle down and build our
life. We'll all have to work hard and make sure our dream
and the dream of the American nation is fulfilled. We gotta
get an early start tomorrow morn... Oh! Look!" John stopped
in mid-sentence. Out of the shadows a few feet away popped a
figure. He drew nearer and nearer. Shirley let out a
"Sorry to frighten you," the figure said as he stepped
closer. "It's just that my family and I have been traveling
quite a few months and we still haven't found a place just
right to live. Are you settling down in the area?" By now,
the man speaking was in full sight. He actually looked very
ordinary, in fact, very much like the Bob's kind of person.
He couldn't be the one causing the trouble that had been
going on lately.. and if it wasn't him, they had better warn
him to look out.
A new Friday morning dawned on the deep blue river before
her and Shirley sighed in pure pleasure. Thank goodness they
had finally settled down for good, and at the most perfect
spot. She had used the past few days to set up her new log
cabin, built by her husband and sons, with the help of their
new neighbors, whom they had helped in turn. Now, finally, a
regular daily routine had begun forming in the household,
and things were falling easily into place. The new neighbors
were just the kind Shirley had always wanted. "Find yourself
a double `N' and live happily ever after," Shirley liked to
say. Her double `N' was -- a good name and a good
In the early afternoon, Leah First from next door tapped
lightly on the wood cabin door. That wasn't unusual at all.
Being that the Bobs and the Firsts were the only two
families in the area, they had helped each other get
started. Back and forth the children would go, getting
advice, borrowing things and so on. So Shirley was not
surprised to open the door and see Leah standing on the
doorstep of her home.
Shirley quickly ushered her in and had her sit down on one
of the newly built oak chairs. It was then that Leah asked
Shirley the question she had come to ask.
"Jewish?" Shirley's eyes opened wide. "We actually are, but
why do you ask?" Leah smiled one of her big winning smiles.
"Great! I thought so!" she exclaimed. "Then you are invited
over to our house for dinner tonight. You see, our family is
religious. Each Friday night we sit down to a delicious
dinner. We lay out our best china. It's quite an experience.
Please join us!"
At first, Shirley refused. Her grandparents had been
religious and if her parents had cut themselves off from
religion, it must be total nonsense. Her parents were
intelligent people. Why should she start involving her
family in such craziness? But in the end, Leah First won.
She convinced Shirley and John that they had nothing to
lose. They grudgingly agreed.
Two Jewish families sat around a table decked out in silky
white. Two long candlesticks stood proudly in the center,
seeming to realize how very important their presence was.
Two loaves of homemade bread, braided interestingly, hid
under the silk napkin, protecting them from curious eyes, as
Israel First made Kiddush. A feeling of warmth spread over
the room, threatening to captivate one and all. The
delicious meal, songs and comfortable feeling swept everyone
into a Sabbath atmosphere. Everyone was enjoying themselves
immensely, even Shirley, much to her surprise. "It's not the
food alone," she mused. "It's the atmosphere, like food for
the soul," she concluded. She threw a glance in the
direction of her husband, hoping to catch his eye. She
wondered what he was thinking. She wanted to share this
special moment with him but John seemed engrossed in a time
and place far removed. Shirley followed his gaze to the
melting white wax of the candles upon which two tiny flames
still flickered softly.
"John," Shirley called out loudly. "I'm trying to make a
mushroom stew for dinner but I'm out of mushrooms. The
children are out fishing for trout so I have no one to send.
Would you go fetch me some?" So off John went, basket in
Shirley sat down to wait. A short rest was a luxury she
rarely found time for, though she enjoyed sitting back and
reviewing past events and putting them into perspective. It
was unusual for her to have the chance to do so, so she
decided to take full advantage of the moment. She thought
about her children, her neighbors and about Friday night
meals which were no longer nonsense to her. She tried not to
think about the trouble going on, but thoughts of that sort
kept creeping back into her mind. She sighed. She still
couldn't understand how the troublemakers had sneaked into
her home to rob various possessions. Or how anyone could be
so cruel as to snatch a bucket of three big trout which her
sons had worked so hard to catch, right behind their backs.
So quickly that they hadn't caught a glimpse of them. Too
bad. She would have liked to give them a piece of her
John was humming as he picked the mushrooms. He examined
each one carefully to make sure they were not poisonous.
Then, suddenly, he found himself surrounded by a group of
Indians, as if they'd appeared out of nowhere. Their painted
faces broke into wicked grins as they struck him in the
chest with a tomahawk. They escaped as stealthily and
soundlessly as they had come.
The search parties that had been arranged by the settlers in
a village just a few hundred acres north of where the Bob
and First families had staked out their homes found Mr. Bob
unconscious a few hours later. He was laid in a covered
wagon used as an ambulance and brought to the village
infirmary, the closest thing to a hospital. Mounted police
were sent to scour the territory to catch the culprits once
and for all.
"Repeat the words after me," Leah softly told Shirley. "It's
the most you can do for your husband just now. Besides, the
words of the psalms are very powerful."
Halfway through the first psalm, which they recited very
painstakingly, a nurse stepped into the room. "Mrs. Bob,
your husband has regained consciousness and it seems he'll
pull through. The doctor says it's nothing short of a
Shirley's eyes grew round. Was the power of these psalms so
great? "Could I see John, please?" she asked. The nurse
smiled, "Actually, his first words were to ask you and the
children and the First family to come to him."
A feeling of relief swept over Shirley when she saw her
husband. He spoke first. "Thank goodness, I'm alright. But
you know, I've been thinking..." His eyes took on the dreamy
look he had had on Friday night. Shirley was afraid that he
was going to lose consciousness. Just then all the others
traipsed in. John's glance swept over the people in the room
and he began talking:
"To this day, I can clearly picture my grandfather on his
last day on earth. That day, my mother urged me to go. `Papa
just went to visit and he says that Grandpa won't last for
another day. But don't stay there too long. Grandfather is a
strange man with strange habits which I wouldn't want you to
"I ran the whole three blocks, knocked on the bedroom door
and let myself in. Grandfather was sitting up in bed waiting
for me. His face was pale from the exertion. I didn't want
him to strain himself, so I tried to talk, but no words came
out. It was then that I saw tears streaming down his cheeks
unto his white beard.
" `Yonoson,' he said, `I know that what I am about to ask
may sound strange to you because of your upbringing. I will
never understand how my own flesh and blood could have
deprived his children of the treasure of the Torah, but even
more so, of the holy Shabbos.' Grandfather fell back upon
his pillow and gasped weakly. `I have but one request of
you. Promise me that you won't deprive your children of the
holy Shabbos...' I promised, and then he closed his eyes.
By the time John finished his story, everyone in the room
had damp eyes. He announced that he now intended to keep his
promise and expected the Firsts to help him. And from that
single mitzva, others followed, and the flickering
flames of the Shabbos candles kindled the flames that would
burn on for generations to come.
If you've forgotten, the author is a thirteen-going-on-
fourteen year- old!