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12 Shevat 5760 - January 19, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Living Out of a Suitcase

by M. Zonnenfeld


Yonasan is an orphan who is having trouble finding a permanent home after living for four years -- which is about as long as he can remember anything -- with one family. He is forced to leave after they have a premature baby who needs special care. The authorities (Kinneret) can only find him temporary places to stay, but he blames himself for having to move all the time, and eventually becomes bitter and suspicious. He has joined a new family where his skills at living out of his suitcase find a surprising application. So far, all Yonasan has met is the father of the house, who has welcomed him pleasantly.

His wife hastened to wipe her hands on her apron and smiled in a friendly manner. Yonasan marched forward, half bent. Nonchalantly, he slung his valise behind his back. They won't touch it, this time.

But the man didn't extend his hand. He only smiled, and his smile, Yonasan noticed, lit up his face, nearly reaching his eyes.

"I'm Yehoshua," he said simply. "And you -- what should we call you?"

Do you hear? He didn't wait for Kinneret, and he didn't accept some ready-made name. He was genuinely interested in hearing his name.

"Yonasan," he replied dryly. They won't win me over so easily, not even with smiles.

Kinneret tried to say something, but a jolly group of kids charged from one of the inner rooms.

"Kids," Yehoshua said in a reproving tone, but his smile continued to dance in his eyes, a bit impishly.

"They're so late," the older one claimed with a bit of self- justification, "that we couldn't wait any longer."

He then approached Yonasan energetically, his hand outstretched. "I'm Yehuda. We're the same age, and we'll be in the same class, in the same cheder. Wanna see?"

Then without waiting for an answer, he dashed forward, and began to drag the valise.

"Hey," Yonasan marched ahead, his eyes ablaze. "It's mine. Leave it alone right now. Do you understand?"

The adults exchanged glances. Yehuda drew back, a bit confused, and the mother tried to salvage the residue of the good atmosphere. "We only wanted to help you, Yonasan. Come on, let's go into the room, and unpack. We've already prepared a shelf in the closet for you, and a drawer."

But Yonasan beat her to the punch. He guarded his property with his body, holding it with both his hands, then he darted back: "It's ok. I can manage myself. I'll take it to the room. Anyway," he said with a trembling chin, "I don't have to unpack. I'll take out what I need each time."

Kinneret's eyebrows rose, and remained in that position even when she was ready to leave, ten minutes later. The children were in the room, facing the stubborn boy who had been brought to them. The adults remained in the vestibule.

"I don't understand," Kinneret repeated. "He was always so nice and polite."

"It's hard for him," the wife said. "You said that he's wandered a lot in recent months."

"Yes," Kinneret said as she hurried to snatch on to the explanation. "Since his sudden parting from his regular family, we haven't managed to find him a permanent place. He's wandered from home to home, and he blames himself and his behavior for these moves. You have no idea how relieved I was when you agreed to accept him for the holiday season."

An oppressive silence prevailed for a moment, broken quite soon by the mother: "Everything will be fine. You'll see. School begins in two more days. Yonasan will adjust quickly, and he'll forget his self-imposed bitterness."

"Yes, definitely so," Kinneret agreed. "Cheder will help him a lot."

"Cheder?" Yehoshua's deep voice boomed. "Hashem will help him, the very same Hashem Who caused him to wander from house to house, will help us all now."

The sputtering of the motor brought Yonasan to the window just in time to see the blue car disappearing down the street. Never in his life had he felt so lonely. The children tailed after him. "Do you see the yard?" a little girl about Malki's age, gestured. "It's ours."

"We play there every day," a five year old interjected.

"We plan everything," Yehuda festively said. "We have a secret hiding place and a treasure and . . . "

Yonasan tiredly walked toward the bed they had assigned him and sat down. He pulled his valise toward him, and placed it very close to his bed. "Goody gumdrops!" he said. "Now let me sleep."

Yehuda seemed like a first-rate chevra'man, the type kids like to play with. The little girl reminded him of Malki. She'll surely look like that when she grows up. For a moment a warm feeling, touched with a bit of curiosity, flooded him.

But he overcame the weakness in an instant. This time he would not weave strands which would bind him to that house -- only to be ripped apart with Kinneret's next visit.

The colored papers smiled at him from the front of the valise. Kinneret had a large, particularly thick piece of deep blue paper in her car, and had been happy to give it to him. It would be the basis for a very special cutout. Tomorrow he would begin to practice again. At Tzorfati's he hadn't worked much. But here, things would be different. School was supposed to start in two days? A great opportunity to work.

"He fell asleep with a smile on his lips," the mother reported with satisfaction.

Yehoshua sighed. "We've got a lot of work to do. What did I say before? He Who decreed that he had to roam from house to house, will show us how to handle him."

Outside, the branches of the old pine tree nodded in consent.

Yehuda was one of the leaders of the class. Being a sixth grader in cheder is enough to make anyone feel like a near-adult, how much more so Yehuda. His main strength was his sharp mind, which he displayed so well in shiur. During recess, his natural creativity was his prime asset, which made him so popular. He had many friends, and they clustered around him wherever he went. Yonasan wasn't one of them.

"Tell me, who's your new friend?" the more inquisitive kids in his class pried.

"His name is Yonasan," he answered simply. "Leave him alone. He'll get used to us soon."

"He has no time to get used to us," one comedian said. "He cuts all the time."

And Yonasan did indeed cut. From a scholastic point of view, all of his fears materialized and the level of the class was too high for him. One of the reasons for their high level was that they studied for many hours in that cheder, but the major factor was the steadiness of their study, and Yonasan had never studied continuously.

The gemora shiur was totally inscrutable to him. The class soared aloft on the wings of the first sugya they studied that year, while he gradually figured out how to cut hexagons in an easy and precise manner.

The Mishna served as a new challenge after recess, while he occupied himself with shrewd cutting, and well versed differences in height. Parshas hashavua class whizzed by his ears, but did not penetrate them, because his hands were busy. In the same way, he was impervious to the comments which slowly assumed tones of reproach: "Yonasan, you're displaying a lack of kovod for the Chumash. Stop playing with the papers and try to concentrate," or "Put down the scissors this instant. We're in the middle of a shiur now."

On Yonasan's third day in cheder, the Rebbe asked if he could borrow the scissors. Yonasan handed them to the Rebbe with a closed expression, and stared at the wall for the rest of the day, while fiddling with pieces of colored paper. At the end of the day, he asked the Rebbe to return the scissors, waiting patiently until the Rebbe had finished reprimanding him. But Yonasan hadn't heard a thing the Rebbe said. He was busy planning the next stage in the special cut- out he would make out of the ornate paper in the pocket of his valise.

The classroom was empty when he was finally able to take his briefcase and leave. Outside, Yehuda awaited him. It was strange to see Yehuda alone, without a ring of friends around him. He had a worried expression on his face, and with sincere empathy asked: "Is everything OK?

Yonasan shrugged his shoulders and said: "You didn't have to wait."

"I wanted to wait for you. I always dreamt about a twin brother who would walk home with me."

"I'm not your twin."

"Too bad."

They were quite a bit away from the talmud Torah, when Yehuda resolutely said: "You have to stop it, Yonasan."

"Stop what?"

"The cutouts and shtuyot. You're ruining yourself scholastically and ruining your status in the class."

Yehuda had barely finished speaking, when Yonasan jumped on top of him. "I don't want to hear the word shtuyot from you again. Do you hear? The studies and my status in the class are my business. It's easy for you to talk. You're the best kid in the class, the most important one at home. You . . . "

Yehuda stopped, startled. From his experience with kids, he was able to judge them nearly at first sight, and Yonasan didn't seem tough to him. Yonasan was also startled by his own outburst. He looked at the ugly scratch on Yehuda's arm and fell silent. Then in a broken voice he asked: "Does it hurt?"

Yehuda nodded a "no."

"Then go home and tell them," Yonasan's voice rose to an irritating pitch. "Run to your father, your mother, to everyone. Let them tell Kinneret to take me. Anyway, I'll find another place. Run. What are you waiting for? Run fast."

"I won't run," Yehuda's regular voice returned. The self- confident tone which had made him a class leader was especially evident at that point. "I also won't tell. You're right. It's your business."

Yehuda didn't say a thing about the comments in class or about Yonasan's withdrawal at home. The valise remained near the bed and Yonasan took out the items he needed. He knew that the mother of the household washed his clothes and put them back on the sly, but he preferred not to notice that. In general, he preferred not to pay attention to anything.

"Ima, Yonasan didn't say anything about my new dress." That was a real tragedy on erev Shabbos.

"It doesn't matter dear," her mother said as she stroked her cheek. "He's probably too busy. It's almost Shabbos."

In that house, there was also a line for parshas hashavua at the Shabbos table -- just like at the Lenfeld's. But when Yonasan's turn arrived, he shrugged his shoulders. Yehuda didn't say a thing.

"Nu, Reb Yonasan," the curls in Yehoshua's beard smiled at him. "Would you like to honor us with a vort, something from the parsha?"

The question remained suspended in the air of the festive room until Yehoshua gave up, and turned to his younger son. But what could be expected of Yonasan? While the Rebbe had made an effort to explain the peirush of the Gaon on a certain issue in Ki Sovo, Yonasan had been busy cutting out a small scale model of the large cutout.

During the last week before Rosh Hashana, while the entire class was busy studying the laws of shofar, the Rebbe approached Yonasan's desk by surprise and took away the scissors and the pieces of paper. Yonasan's eyes followed the hands which placed the sheet of paper into the teacher's briefcase and he heaved a sigh of relief. He had just begun to cut the blue paper that morning! But the Rebbe was careful not to crumple the cutout.

The first thing he had made was a flower with eight corolla. Then he began to cut a row of long rectangles all around the sheet. After he had cut out six rectangles, he lifted the paper in order to see the results of his work from a distance. The soft afternoon light filtered in from under the small rectangles and suddenly became windows. For a moment he asked himself to which house they belonged. But the Rebbe cut his musings short.

"It's a pity, Yonasan," the Rebbe said in a serious voice. "But I have no choice." His hands were idle for two days. On erev yom tov, he noticed a pair of small scissors on the floor in the children's room.

"Whose are they?" he asked spontaneously, forgetting his self- imposed withdrawal.

"Mine," the little girl jumped up. He knew that her name wasn't Malki. "They're my old scissors from last year. You can use them if you wish. Ima bought me a new pair -- bigger ones."

The size was fine. Now he could cut the inner corners of the rectangles more accurately. He hid the metzia in his briefcase with a smile, along with a new supply of papers which he had taken out of the pocket of his valise. He would have plenty to do when he returned to cheder after yom tov.

On motzei Tzom Gedalyo, Abba Yehoshua called him into the kitchen. The remains of the meal were still on the table, but something caught Yonasan's eye. Among the food scraps were his scissors and the ornate blue paper. The rectangles touched the table, and seemed very dark against the background of the tablecloth -- six dark and sad windows.

He took a deep breath and swallowed his saliva, waiting for a sharp reprimand. But only silence hovered over his lowered head. In the end, his patience burst. He raised his head, and encountered the intense eyes of Yehoshua. Not a glimmer of a smile could be seen in them. The curly beard was silent. The silence was very bewildering.

"C . . . C . . . Can I take them?" Yonasan said as he extended a hesitant hand.

"Do you really need them?" The voice was very soft.

Yonasan nodded without speaking.

"Do you need them during class too?"

For a moment thoughts about the empty hours in class floated across his mind. He saw the bustling classroom. He saw Yehuda arguing a point in gemora. He thought about his fear of succeeding and then being called into the blue car.

"Yes," he feebly said, "in class too."

A large hand carefully landed on the sheet of paper -- Yehoshua's hand.

"Look," he said in the same soft tone. "I trust you. In my opinion, a boy who has gone through so much, knows what he's doing, and isn't swayed just like that. If you say that you need them very much in class . . . " Yonasan held his breath, waiting for the rest, but the hand pushed the scissors toward him ever so gently, "If you say so, I believe you."

He didn't dare to take his very own property, but remained there, his head lowered waiting for something like: "But I'm certain that when you don't need them," or "You have to try harder." But for some reason, there was no epilogue. The hand placed the blue sheet in Yonasan's palm cautiously, and when Yonasan looked up, he saw the mischievous spark dancing in the depths of Yehoshua's eyes.

Bein hazmanim of erev Sukkos began after the fast. The very next morning, the children began to drag huge boards from somewhere, and the girls scampered about with colored paper streamers dangling from their hands.

"It's great to live on the first floor," Yehuda laughingly told him. "The Sukkah is mammesh an extension of the house."

"Very well put," Yehoshua called to them from atop the ladder, his beard flapping in the wind, his eyes more jolly than ever. "The Sukkah is truly the extension of the house. Or perhaps the house is the extension of the Sukkah, at least on Sukkos. What do you think?"

He climbed down, rung after rung, his mouth filled with nails.

"Here," he turned to Yonasan, "the Sukkah is our house, and we actually live in it. Do you hear?" In an instant he was beside the opposite wall, which displayed distinct signs of instability.

"Yeah, it's really our house," Yehuda said into Yonasan's shut ears. "Abba is makpid that we live in the Sukkah. He doesn't allow us to go in and out of the Sukkah only to eat or sleep. You'll see. We bring in the rugs from the Shabbos room, the sofa, and even a small closet for all the belongings we need that week. The Sukkah's gigantic, and we have enough room. It takes up the entire yard. Don't you see?"

Yonasan didn't see. He saw only the blue paper, which was becoming a splendid cutout -- a masterpiece. He cut an oh- so- precise Mogen Dovid in its middle, and fashioned garlands around it. In the ring surrounding them he patiently cut out the symbols of all the twelve tribes, and planned to make small circles which would reach the rectangles near the border. The small scissors were very useful. With their help, he sharpened the edges of the leaves, straightened the lion's mane, and cut the rounded olives into an "Asher." With the larger scissors, he cut straight lines, using the two pairs alternately. The floor underneath him filled with small bits of blue paper, and he was oblivious to the hustle and bustle in the yard.

"Chaval, Yonasan," Yehuda said when he returned, out of breath, schach on his shoulders. But Yonasan didn't hear.

In the morning, the sun shone through the squares which had been sawed out so precisely in the southern wall of the Sukkah, forming windows of light on its floor. At night, the electric bulb which Yehoshua had affixed in the schach, cast elongated squares of light on the yard. The full moon of the 14th of the month blurred them a bit. But it couldn't tone down the feverish activity unfolding inside the Sukkah.

"The kids did nearly everything themselves," Yehoshua said with satisfaction. "They're already big and responsible, especially Yehuda'le." His wife smiled proudly and looked about. The Sukkah was well-built, large and spacious. The schach lay neatly on the top of the Sukkah, and the white sheets had been tacked on the wall in perfect symmetry.

"All that's left to do is to hang the curtains and bring in the rug," she said. "The girls will hang the decorations tomorrow."

"Yehuda and I will bring in the furniture," her husband Yehoshua planned. "The table will stand in the middle. We'll place the beds here. The closet --do you think it's big enough for all of us?"

"For all of you? Shloime's the only newcomer to the list of Sukkah-sleepers this year," she said in surprise.

"Shloime and Yonasan," he remarked pleasantly. For a moment the spark vanished from his eyes.

"Yonasan," she sighed. "What will be? He's so introverted. He still hasn't agreed to unpack his suitcase, even though he's already here a month-and-a-half. Will we have to?"

"Cholila," Yehoshua spoke quickly, before she could finish her sentence. "Hashem will help. I daven about him every day. He prepared something blue. Perhaps a Sukkah decoration. Should we ask him about it?"

"Nava saw it today, when he went to mincha. If he wants, he'll tell her what to do with it. It's no good to pressure him."

The next day, there was a veritable whirlwind of activity in the house. Yonasan had never seen such intense preparation. He pinned the excitement on the size of the family and on the fact that the huge Sukkah was furnished like a real house, and that arranging it involved a lot of work.

He, though, kept his distance. No one could guarantee that the blue car wouldn't arrive two days later. He had managed not to form attachments with anyone, and deep down he was very happy about that. In the morning he cut the final lines, complementary decorations to the stunning creation he had worked on for nearly three weeks.

By afternoon, he placed it on the suitcase. It was truly exquisite. The small windows looked especially dark on the valise. For a moment, he was overcome by a light feeling of sadness, but he quickly brushed it aside, and sat down on the fence outside, looking and not looking at the hustle around him.

Yehoshua ran from place to place, like a king in a brigade, the children trailing after him. Yehuda supervised the transfer of the items, and from the kitchen delicious aromas wafted aloft. Yonasan pursed his lips. He had nothing to do with that Sukkah. He hadn't built it, and had absolutely no shayachus to it. Let them eat there and enjoy themselves. He would stay inside.

"But what about the mitzvah of Sukkah?" a disturbing inner voice asked. "I'll steal inside at night, eat a kezayis before they return from shul," he decided. "Anyway, I'm not bar mitzvah yet, and am not obligated . . . "

When the sun began to incline toward the west, the yard emptied. The Sukkah stood there in all of its splendor and glory, but the children lay on their beds in their rooms, exhausted. The five year-old was half asleep on his bed. Yehuda was looking at a magazine, his mind a bit scattered. Yonasan entered quietly, hoping to take pride in the blue cut- out he had left on the valise, when suddenly Yehoshua stormed into the room, his beard disheveled, his eyes burning: "Why are you dozing?" he boomed. "There's still plenty to do."

But he came to immediately, and his smile returned. "Kids," he festively announced. "It seems to me that you won't be able to stay here much longer. It's nearly yom tov, and you have to pack what you need quickly. Yehuda, take the sheets, Shloime . . . "

He had barely finished his sentence, when Yonasan leaped forward, totally confused. "It's OK," he burst out, half startled. "I know just what to do. I'm ac . . . ac . . . accustomed and experienced. You'll see. I know how to pack in a jiffy, and in general," his eyes lit up, "my suitcase is ready. I can help all of you get organized."

He opened the doors of the large closet and began to work at a hectic pace. The holiday shirts landed, carefully folded, on the bed. He piled the pairs of socks, the pants and the yarmulkes. From somewhere, he brought a large bag, and placed some of the items into his own valise.

No one could stop him. He worked feverishly. He told the other kids how to arrange their belongings in the small closet in the Sukkah. He remembered the most important items, and filled the drawers with them. He made the beds rapidly, while enriching Yehuda with eitzas from his vast experience. "That's the way it is with beds you don't know. Pull the sheet in your direction. Pull."

He slowed down only when everything was tip-top, and scanned his work with satisfaction. The sleeping section of the Sukkah was organized. "Just like a real house," Yehoshua noted. The sun tinged the white sheets on the walls with long streaks. In the center of the eastern wall, an exquisite blue cutout smiled at him -- a masterpiece with a Mogen Dovid in the middle, decorated by garlands, and surrounded by the symbols of the tribes. Someone had taken the trouble to tack a piece of aluminum under the lion of Yehuda and the olive leaves of Osher. Yonasan looked at it carefully. The small well-cut rectangles were arranged in a row around the flowery edge. But above the silvery background, there were windows: bright windows, gay windows, in which jolly sparks danced in the holiday light.

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