Carefully -- and curiously -- Avraham Rosenbaum opened the
It was brown, medium sized, and unmarked. Near the edges, the
color was beginning to fade with age. Peering inside, Avraham saw three
envelopes lying in a pile. They were large, old envelopes, once white but
yellowed now with the years. The uppermost envelope bore the number 1.
Lifting it, Avraham saw that the envelope beneath was marked
with a 2. It did not take brilliant guesswork to conclude that the third one,
at the bottom of the pile, would be 3. He checked anyway; it was.
Avraham! Avraham, where are you?
Avraham did not answer. With mounting interest, he studied the
envelopes. What, he wondered, did they contain?
He had come upon the cardboard file in the top drawer of his
fathers desk. His father, may his memory be blessed, had always kept the
drawer locked. To Avrahams surprise, it held nothing at all except this
He had just returned from the cemetery,
at the conclusion of the week of mourning for his father. A
minyan from the shtiebel had come along. Avraham had
recited Kaddish, after which one of his fathers close friends had
said the Kel Malei Rachamim prayer and then eulogized the departed man.
Then they had returned -- Avraham, the only son, and his mother -- to the
apartment on Jerusalem Street in Bnei Brak, still reeling from the shock of the
unexpected death. It was only now that they were beginning to feel the true
weight of their pain, and to sense the frightening emptiness of the small
apartment. R Elimelech Rosenbaum, a chassid who had worked as an
accountant in a local food business, had passed away on Rosh Chodesh
Tammuz, 5750 (1990). He had been relatively young -- no more than 65 years
old. A sudden heart attack had sent him to Beilinson Hospital, where he had
suffered for two weeks before finally returning his soul to his Creator.
Avraham, come to the kitchen!
Avraham did not hear his mothers call. The envelopes had
totally captured his attention. He turned them over, and then over again, not
yet daring to open them. He was filled with a sudden fear, which he recognized
as emanating from his reverence for his father. He had the uneasy feeling that
he was intruding into an intimate area of his departed fathers life.
There was a sense, almost, of sacrilege.
He was face-to-face with a secret that his father had kept from
him. In general, his father had talked a great deal to him, on just about any
topic. But never, during his lifetime, had he revealed the existence of this
cardboard file or its contents. This drawer had always been securely locked,
with the key resting in Elimelech Rosenbaums pocket.
Now, with the envelopes in his hand, Avraham suddenly recalled
the startled expression on his fathers face when he had entered the room
and the drawer had been open. With a quick motion of his wrist, the elder
Rosenbaum had shut the drawer and locked it. The movement had been accompanied
by a brief glance at his son, as though to assure himself that Avraham had
noticed nothing unusual.
Avraham had assumed that his father kept personal secrets locked
in that drawer, but he had never given the matter too much thought. By nature,
he was not overly curious. Besides, what was at issue here? Every man has
secret drawers in his heart, and he is not obligated to reveal them to another
Avraham! What happened to you? Why arent you coming
But now, the drawer was unlocked. The cardboard file stood open
to his scrutiny. Only the envelopes remained sealed. Avraham hesitated, and
then slit open the first of them.
He opened it very carefully, almost reverently. A shower of
newspaper clippings fell out of the envelope. Avraham spread the clippings over
the desk and studied them.
After a moment, he realized that the articles had one thing in
common: Most of them had been clipped from daily newspapers. A further
examination also revealed a common theme. The articles, collected from many
different years, were dated either 27 Nissan, the date of Israels Yom
HaZikaron LShoah ULegevurah -- the Remembrance Day for the
Holocaust and its martyrs -- or 10 Teves. There were articles, too, from Adolf
Eichmanns trial. All the articles were about the Polish cities of Radomsk
Pinchov, Avraham knew, had been his fathers hometown,
where he had lived until the Nazi Holocaust. And his fathers family had
been numbered among the Radomsker chassidim.
This time, he heard her. His mother sounded impatient, even a
little angry. He heard her turn on the gas stove in the kitchen.
Yes! he called back.
What are you doing in there?
Avraham moved the clippings from place to place over the
desks surface, as though trying to put together pieces in a jigsaw
Then come to the kitchen already, and lets eat
Coming, he replied absently, eyes glued to the
clippings. The aroma of frying eggs wafted from the kitchen into the living
room of the tiny apartment.
Rapidly scanning the articles, Avraham found that all of them
were about the towns of Pinchov and Radomsk, during the Holocaust. One dealt
with the day the SS entered Pinchov. Another described the time the Radomsker
Rebbe was taken out by the Nazis to be killed. A third pinpointed the precise
date of the aktion in which Pinchovs residents were deported to
the death camps. This last included, apparently, his fathers parents and
grandparents. Avrahams father had never spoken much on this topic.
Elimelech Rosenbaum, Avraham knew, had also been sent to Auschwitz, but his
father had not volunteered any details. In fact, the entire subject of the
Holocaust had been shrouded in a deep, heavy silence in the Rosenbaum home.
Avraham had always hoped that his father would one day open up
and provide a glimpse of his world before the war overturned it. Now, his heart
constricted painfully as he realized that that time would never come. The
opportunity had slipped away forever.
All right, Im coming.
He quickly swept the clippings back into the envelope. Before he
joined his mother, he wanted to peek into the other two envelopes.
His eager fingers opened the second envelope, and several
photographs fell out onto the desk. They were family photos, unfamiliar to him.
Avraham studied them attentively.
The photos featured a tall man, a woman, and a small girl. All
three bore the confident smiles of youth. They stood in the shade of a
spreading tree but Avraham could not identify the setting. Neither did he
recognize the people in the photos. Judging by the way they were dressed, they
were not observant Jews -- or, at most, observant in a very lukewarm way. A
pity he could not ask his father to explain the photographs to him. On the
other hand, had his father been living, Avraham would not be studying the
contents of the envelope in the first place. At the right moment, he decided,
he would show the photographs to his mother and see if she could identify them.
Right now, he did not want her to know that he had breached his fathers
Avraham, your omelettes getting cold. Come
Absently, he called back, I know, I know. Ill be
right there. Just a minute!
He hurriedly gathered together the photographs and stuffed them
back into their envelope. Then he picked up the third envelope and carefully
Once again, a shower of newspaper clippings slid onto the
desks polished surface. Avraham glanced through them with widening eyes.
Here was a mystery!
The first clipping featured a picture of an armed man with black
hair, a thick mustach, and eyes that were hard, dark, and deepset. Beneath the
picture was a caption: The death of a terrorist. And under that, in
smaller letters, the text read that that the terrorist Abu Daoud al-Razak, long
wanted by Israels General Security Service (the G.S.S., or Shabak
in Hebrew), had broken out of prison. After a difficult and heroic chase, the
security men had caught up with the terrorist and killed him in the Shomron
Why in the world, Avraham wondered, staring at the
clipping and photo, is this in my fathers drawer?
To his astonishment, he found two words, written by his father,
at the very bottom of the article: Baruch Hashem. His surprise grew as
he scanned the remaining articles. They all dealt with acts of terror, chases,
roadblocks, kidnappings, and the like. All of them involved the same terrorist:
Abu Daoud al-Razak.
What was this about?
No matter how long Avraham stared at the strange collection, he
could still make no sense of it. No answer to the mystery presented itself.
What possible connection could a chassid from Bnei Brak who had, in the last
years of his life, even begun to wear the spuhdik that had been
customary among Polands chassidim, have to this terrorist?
Had his father known him? Had he perhaps even met this Abu Daoud
in person? If so, where had this strange meeting taken place -- in the
shtiebel? On Rabbi Akiva Street? At his workplace? Perhaps the terrorist
had once been employed at his fathers business -- Who knew?
And who was the secular-looking family in the photographs in the
other envelope? His fathers brother, killed in the Holocaust? Elimelech
had once told Avraham about an older brother in Poland who had not been Torah
Absorbed in the mystery, Avraham did not hear his mothers
footsteps. She had grown weary of sitting in the kitchen waiting for her son to
eat the light meal she had prepared for him.
What are you doing? Her voice was sharp.
He was startled, but quickly recovered. Nothing. Just
looking at some stuff Abba left.
All at once, she noticed the open folder on her husbands
desk, and the envelopes scattered beside it. Her eyes darted from the envelopes
to her son and back again. Avraham thrust the picture of the terrorist at her.
Imma, what is this? Who is it?
He had asked the question impulsively, never dreaming it would
unleash a storm. Suddenly, he noticed that his mothers face had gone very
white and her eyes had filled with fear. It seemed to him that she was on the
verge of fainting.
Imma! He sped around the desk to support his mother
before she fell. What happened? Have I said something to hurt
He led her to an armchair and gently lowered her into it. His
mothers left hand reached up to rub her creased forehead in a nervous
gesture. She burst out, And how youve hurt me!
But what did I do? Avraham was at his wits
His mother did not hurry to reply. Finally, when she had calmed
down somewhat, she wriggled out of his grasp and said, You did not do
anything! Not a thing! Her tone was not very convincing.
With difficulty, she rose from the armchair and darted toward
the kitchen. Avraham followed, pleading, Imma, please explain this to me!
How did I hurt you, and what are those pictures of a terrorist doing in
His mother turned and looked directly at him. Her gaze held a
mixture of pain and determination. After a moment she went toward the kitchen
without saying anything.
Avraham persisted. Why dont you answer me?
I dont want to. I dont want to answer
Just because! Understand?
I dont understand.
All right. You dont have to understand
Confused, Avraham said, Even so --
Even so -- even nothing! I am not prepared to talk to you
about this. I cant talk to you. Period, end of sentence!
But can you at least explain why? Why cant you talk
to me about it? Why wont you tell me whats going on? Who else do
you have in the world except me?
He thought he heard her sigh. She moved closer to him, took his
hands in her own trembling ones, and gripped them firmly. Bringing her face
close to that of her only son, she whispered, Dont ask me any more
questions on this topic. I wont tell you anything. Dont keep
trying, because I cant talk about it. I -- simply -- cannot -- talk
about it. Do you understand, Avraham? Do me a favor and dont bring
this up again. Remember, I have suddenly become a widow. I am already hurting
enough. Her voice shook.
And I am an orphan, Imma. Do you think its any
easier for me? Avrahams own voice was none too steady.
Theres no comparison!
A sudden silence fell between them. Mother and son stood for a
long moment, staring at one another in anguish. Her eyes held a question, a
pleading; at last, Avraham nodded his head in reply. He would not ask her
She let go of his hands and turned back to the kitchen, not
asking him to follow. Avraham stood where he was, frozen in place. He heard the
faucet turned on in the sink, then off again, and understood that his mother
had washed her hands to eat -- alone. That hurt.
With halting footsteps, he made his way to the kitchen. He
washed his hands, recited the blessing over bread, and ate the omelette his
mother had prepared for him. Silence reigned for the entirety of the small, sad
meal. Not a word passed between Avraham and his mother, except when she asked,
Do you want coffee? and he muttered, Yes, please.
Afterwards, his mother rose, murmured something softly, and went
to her bedroom.
Avraham remained at the table for some time, toying with his
knife and fork. His thoughts were disorganized, flitting aimlessly from one
subject to the next. He knew only one thing for sure: He was burning with
curiosity to solve the mystery of the envelopes -- especially the one
containing the photo of the Arab terrorist. He felt that he could find no peace
until he had unraveled the riddle. He must know the secret that had been hidden
from him in his own home by both his father and his mother.
He knew himself. He tended to wax enthusiastic over things, to
make grandiose plans and resolutions, and then to become mired after a day or
two in the routine stream of life. Angrily, he pictured this happening again
now. But -- maybe not? Maybe this time he would remain determined to the very
After the weeks absence, he felt obliged to make an
appearance at Mad-Kal, where he was employed. The firm imported medicines from
abroad. At his desk, he dealt with various matters that fell under his sphere
of responsibility, and from which his sudden plunge into mourning had not
It was very late by the time he returned home to Petach