Brocha poked her head into the shul kitchen one Friday afternoon, then whispered over her shoulder, Watch out, guys. Ive never seen her peel this fast.
Uh, oh. Should we wait until all her steam is used up on those potatoes or should we apologize now? asked Tova.
I say we wait.
No, shell become doubly angry. Lets go,
said Malky, waving the other teachers in.
She was Bleemie, who ignored
the other girls as they filed into the kitchen. The click, click of her peeler sounded loud in the silence. Her eyes flashed like the silver of the peeler in the sun.
Tzippy cleared her throat. Um, what do you want us to do?
Do? asked Bleemie. Why -- would -- you --
trouble -- yourselves -- doing -- anything? Each word was enunciated clearly and underscored with a flying potato peel. I -- can --
handle -- everything. Bleemie clamped her mouth shut, and peels
flew in all directions.
Oh, Bleemie, come on! We understand why youre angry at us, said Malky. Were sorry we didnt help out at first, but now that were here, tell us what to do.
Okay, said Bleemie with a sigh and a shrug. Check the beans for the chulent and peel the carrots.
The girls smiled in relief and set to work. This scene was not unusual on Friday afternoons. Bleemie was a pro in the kitchen and began working immediately after school. The other teachers would often get sidetracked and then have to deal with Bleemies temper. Luckily for all,
Bleemie was quick to forgive. The kitchen was quiet now, as they waited for her to calm down. It was not long before she gave a low chuckle.
Whats so funny? asked Leah quickly, happy to
break the uncomfortable silence.
Look in those boxes.
Leah opened a box flap and peered inside. Glasses -- whats so funny about that?
When I wrote out the shopping list today, I forgot the Russian word for plastic cups. I know Im not an artist, but I was sure I could at least draw a cup -- so I drew one. I thought it strange when Edik asked me how many I needed. I didnt realize what he thought I meant, and said, Mnoga, mnoga--many, many! Sure enough, we now have many, many glasses.
Oh, no, now weve got to toivel them.
Never mind -- we have a more serious problem this week than cups, said Tzippy.
Dont remind us, said Brocha glumly. There is nothing we can do about it.
The Shabbos program had become very popular and the number of
girls attending grew larger each week. The lack of beds and bedding caused the six teachers many problems. This week they had lost count of how many girls they had invited, and did not know what would happen that night when it came time to assign beds.
Sundown came to Kiev. Bleemie was always amazed at the magic
Shabbos wrought. During the day she could be short tempered, grimy, and overwhelmed. Instantly, as soon as Shabbos arrived, an inner peace would take over and she felt regal.
After the seudah and the singing, it was time to match
their guests with their sleeping arrangements. Every bed and cot, every couch and pillow, was soon occupied. Finally, three teachers were left to crowd into one bed, which left the other three --
Dont let them know we have nowhere to sleep,
So what are we going to do? asked Brocha, laughing at
their ludicrous situation.
Well put blankets on the floor of the kitchen and sleep there, suggested Tzippy. Each girl took her blanket and tried to
walk into the kitchen as unobtrusively as possible.
Lock the door, whispered Bleemie. The girls will feel guilty if they see how were sleeping.
The door was latched, and each of the three arranged her blanket
on the floor. Tzippy began giggling. Trust Tzippy to always giggle.
Okay, one, two, three, here we go, said Tzippy. On cue, all three settled down on the blankets. There was a lot of rolling and moving about as each tried to stretch out full length, only to realize the futility of the attempt. They had overlooked the size of the kitchen, a two-by-two cubicle which didnt have enough space for them to stretch out
Brocha put her feet on the wall at first, then gave up and opted
to do as the others did -- bending her feet at the knees. There they lay, head to head, giggling, with their legs bent, but their souls happy. More time was spent giggling that night than sleeping.
* * *
Yom zeh mechubad
mikal... In the peace that only Shabbos wrought, the voices of
70 girls blended together in the shul lunchroom.
Crash! A rock flew through the stained-glass window
and fell with a loud thud in the center of one of the tables. The girls screamed and ran to the far end of the room. Bleemie stared in disbelief at the jagged hole left by the rock. She hurried out to the roof to catch sight of the hoodlums who had done the mischief, but they were gone. All was quiet in the streets of Kiev, the ominous quiet of indifference.
Bleemie turned and went back into the lunchroom. Where a few
minutes ago had been a serene Shabbos scene, there now was a tumult of girls milling about.
Girls, Bleemie called for attention. The girls looked
up at her, sadness in their young eyes.
Girls, they wanted to disturb our Shabbos, but we wont let them win. Picking up a board, Bleemie walked determinedly over to the
jagged hole. She placed the board against the window, blocking the opening, shielding her girls from any future rocks. Then she sat down in her seat and picked up the tune they had been singing. Slowly but surely, all the girls found their seats and chimed in. Once more, there was a calm peace in the room.
* * *
Havdalah was over. The girls were standing about chatting, when they noticed Bleemie walking over to the broken window. She carefully pulled out a large broken fragment. Both the students and teachers were surprised. Its broken, they told her.
I know. I want to hang this in my room at home.
It was hard to explain that this broken glass felt like a medal to her -- a symbol of her peoples perseverance through persecution. If she
again became complacent in the luxury of America, she would look up at her wall and see her medal, see what it really meant to be a Jew. And she would remember that she had a responsibility to persecuted Jews wherever they might be.
* * *
Now wheres Rabbi Bleich? Ive got an issue to be settled now. It was Sunday morning, bright and early, but already the
teachers were up and about.
The bed issue? asked Tzippy with a giggle.
Yup! And youre all in on this too. I need you for reinforcement.
All the teachers filed into Rabbi Bleichs tiny office and stood there in a semicircle. Rabbi Bleich looked up, Uh, oh, looks like Im in trouble.
You might say that, agreed Brocha.
Hows it going over at the boys school?
Fine, except that I need tzitzis. Now that Ive taught them about it, we have to rotate the few pairs I have among the boys.
Um, may I bring this conversation back on track? asked Bleemie. Consider the tzitzis a done deal. Of course theyll be shipped right away from America. You cant rotate tzitzis, right, Rabbi Bleich?
That settles that issue. Next. Beds.
Somebody care to tell the good Rabbi what happened this Shabbos?
Tzippy started giggling again. Did you ever spend Friday night lying with your knees bent, on a kitchen floor, looking at the very dirty bottoms of a Russian kitchen cabinet.
Cant say I did, chuckled Rabbi Bleich.
Well, three of us now can boast of having done so.
Its not as if we complained the week we did not have enough blankets and used our coats, broke in Brocha.
And its not as if we stopped having the Shabbos program the week there were no potatoes or flour, only lots and lots of carrots, said Tzippy.
But we do need beds, said Bleemie in a tone that
brooked no argument.
The story of their Shabbos bedroom had the desired
results. Sunday afternoon the shul office purchased and delivered large
futon mattresses. And so ended their problems. Every Shabbos, they would lay the mattresses across every square inch of floor, and the girls would be one big, happy family. It made Bleemie wonder just how many lice now had their homes in her hair!
* * *
One cold Friday night, as the girls put on their coats before
leaving shul, Bleemie noticed a little old man sitting sadly off to one
side. All the married shlichim, who usually invited him for meals, had
left for home.
Bleemie was familiar with this man. He was a homeless man, without
any family, who would walk around the shul all week singing, Keil
Malei Rachamim... He was the Kaddish zugger, both for his
family members who had perished in the war, and for all the other Jews in Kiev who had no one to say Kaddish for them. Rabbi Bleich had given him a bed in the boys school to sleep in, but Shabbos could be very lonely in that
Gut Shabbos, Bleemie said pleasantly. Come, eat the Shabbos meal with us.
The man looked up and smiled gratefully.
Miriam materialized at Bleemies side. Miriam had a heart of
gold, always wanting to be included in a mitzvah. She handed the man his
cane and helped him down the steps.
Bleemie and her students walked along slowly with the old man.
When they reached the apartment, the girls trooped into the dining room, and Bleemie gave the old man a spot at the head of the table. Bleemie was no stranger to old homeless men. Her father specialized in gathering homeless souls and bringing them home for meals.
Bleemie went onto the porch to get the grape juice for
Kiddush. She picked up the bottle and got a cascade of grape juice all
over her dress. The bottom of the bottle had frozen off.
As she walked back in, she noticed Leah looking at her in a strange way. Bleemie, can we talk?
Bleemie looked down at the grape juice puddle forming at her feet, then nodded. Sure.
In there, said Leah, pointing
to the kitchen.
Bleemie went into the kitchen. The other teachers followed and stood behind Leah. Bleemie, puzzled, looked at her friends, Whats the problem?
How could you invite him without asking us? asked Chanie. We run a girls program. This isnt the place for a man like that.
I dont understand, protested Bleemie. Are
you saying that we should have left him alone in shul?
The married shlichim should have taken care of him. He smells.
I dont understand, said Bleemie a second time. She really did not understand. You saw. The married shlichim were gone already.
Well this is not just your program, Bleemie. Were in this together, and you should have asked us. None of us feels he should be here. I cant eat while hes here. Hes gross.
Look, we all have to do our bit. Mrs. Podolsky washes his
clothing. Her son, Shimon, who is younger than us, bathes him. And we should have left a Yid alone in shul, hungry and alone because
you are grossed out? Bleemies voice caught, and she began to
The teachers looked on in shock. This was out of character for
Bleemie put her head down on the counter and wept. She wept for the tragedy of this mans life, for the lost lives of his relatives and
friends, for the moving prayers she had heard him intone.
Leah was taken aback. She began to suspect Bleemie of being on the verge of a nervous breakdown. How else to explain these heartwrenching sobs? She quickly put her arm around her friend. Its okay hes here, Bleemie. Right, girls? The other teachers voiced their quick assent.
Im fine. Please leave me alone.
The other girls left the kitchen, and
Bleemie went on weeping. She wept for the fact that cruelty existed in the world, she wept for the punishment Hashem had wrought on His beloved children through the Holocaust, and she wept in the hopes that her own tefillos begging not to be cast away in her old age would find
their way to the Heavenly throne.
Leah was really worried by Bleemies reaction. She stole away from the dining room back into the kitchen. Bleemie, its okay, she said again.
Bleemie finally looked up and wiped her streaming eyes. I couldnt help it, Leah; he breaks my heart.
Mine too, Bleemie, said Leah. Im glad you brought him tonight. But we should make sure that every week another family takes him home.
Arm in arm, the two friends went back to the dining room to hear
Kiddush. In the end, all were glad the old man had been their guest. He
regaled the girls with stories of Kiev of old, described the various minyanim that had been Kievs past glory, sang Yiddish songs for them, and kept the girls enthralled until the early hours of the morning. At nights end, Brocha, shamefaced, went over to her friend. Bleemie, she said, do you realize how much we all learned tonight about the power of giving to others?
Bleemie nodded wordlessly. Then she handed the man his cane, and together with Miriam, walked her Shabbos guest home to the boys school.