Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chapter Five of Sondra's Search: Finding a lost Torah scroll can be as difficult as finding yourself.

      Snow was threatening to fall when Sondra walked up the driveway to the farmhouse. She was pleased to see Aunt Irene's car parked in front. Now she could show off the A she had gotten on her term paper to both her mother and her aunt. The two were seated at the kitchen table and so deep in conversation that they did not even hear Sondra open the door.

     “Nathan has only himself to blame, if you ask me,” Irene stated firmly.

     “I don’t know,” Helga sighed. “It happens a lot lately.”

     Sondra cleared her throat and the two women looked up, startled.

     “What’s wrong?”

     Helga looked down at her coffee cup and Irene answered.

     “Your cousin, Brenda, just got engaged to a non-Jew.”

     “Maybe he’ll convert,” Sondra offered.

     “I doubt it,” Irene snapped. “His grandfather is a minister.”

     Sondra could tell they would not be interested in her term paper. She poured herself some milk, grabbed a handful of peanuts and headed upstairs to her bedroom. As soon as she heard the engine of Irene’s car start up, she headed back downstairs. Her mother was still at the kitchen table staring out of the window.

     “Why does Aunt Irene blame Uncle Nathan?” Sondra asked as she settled herself across from her mother.

     “She’s still annoyed with him for not coming to Howie’s bar mitzvah,” Helga answered. 

     “When is the wedding?”

     “In May.”

     “Are we going to go?”

     “I don’t know,” Helga shook her head.

     "I got an A on my history paper. Do you want to see it?"

     "Of course," Helga smiled, but she seemed preoccupied and only skimmed Sondra's work.

     Later, right after the store closed and while Julius was in the barn, Berta stopped by on her way home from work. As far as Sondra could remember, Berta never came by just to gossip. An efficient businesswoman who wore tailored suits with her gray hair cut in a short, efficient style, her two interests in life were her daughter, Bernice, and Apple’s women’s department. This time she spoke about neither as she settled herself in the same chair that Irene had sat in earlier.

     “What do you think of Nathan’s granddaughter?” Berta always came straight to the point, not caring if Sondra was listening or not.

     “It’s a shame,” was all Helga said.

     “Sure is a shame. But what can you expect? Once Nathan left Chicago he never made any effort to do anything Jewish with his girls. He never even went anywhere for services on the High Holidays and only once or twice he came here for Seder. Charlotte's even worse. I know she serves pork in her house. I just don’t know what I’m going to tell my folks.”

     “I don’t think Mama knows,” Helga sighed. “I guess Julius or Herbert will have to tell her.”

     “Does Uncle Simon know?” Sondra was standing next to the sink, cutting up a salad.

     Berta made a face. “There’s enough bad feeling between those two brothers. Uncle Simon may not be very religious but he didn’t rescue us from the ovens of Europe just so we could marry non-Jews.”

     Sondra darted a worried glance at her mother, but apparently Helga was ignoring Berta’s remark about the ovens.     

     “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see where they’re going to have the ceremony,” Helga said.

     “And who is going to perform it,” Berta retorted.

     “Sure is cold out there,” Julius let the kitchen door slam behind him. “Let me guess what you are so busy discussing.” He grinned at the women.

     “I’m sure I don’t think it’s funny,” Berta replied hotly.

     “I don’t either,” Julius admitted, “but I’m not going to sit down and cry about it.” He put an arm around Sondra. “It’s not my daughter and I hope I’ll never have to face what Charlotte and her husband are facing. Right, sweetheart?”

     “Right,” Sondra nodded, but she felt confused. She certainly felt different that she was Jewish and she had understood for several years, ever since Bernice went off to Oklahoma University, that it was important to marry a Jew, but she wasn’t sure why.

     It seemed as if the phone did not stop ringing all evening. Even Aunt Lotte called from Kansas City. Frayda, Eli, and Sopha all declared that they would not go to a mixed-marriage wedding of their great-niece.

     Finally, Sondra was able to get a turn at the phone. It hung on the kitchen wall in the middle of everything, but Sondra had discovered that she could pull the receiver into the bathroom, close the door, sit on the toilet seat, and have a private conversation. She called Howie who echoed his mother’s sentiments.

     “But you know, since Brenda's Jewish, their kids will be Jewish,” said Sondra, repeating a fact she had picked up from all her reading.

     “That’s fine,” Howie answered, “but it’s not going to help a thing if they’re raised as Christians. Is your family going to go to the wedding?”

     Sondra repeated what Helga had said about waiting to see where it would be.

     A week later Berta had a call from Charlotte and reported back to Helga and Irene. The wedding would be in the grandfather’s church. All the relatives declared they were not going - all except Uncle Simon. Blood was thicker than water he announced to everyone’s surprise and he was going to be at his brother’s side when Nathan needed him.

     For another week that was practically all the family talked about and then Friday afternoon Bernice came home for the weekend. She wasn’t alone. Robert Shapiro had visited Lincoln several times with Bernice, but this time Bernice was wearing his engagement ring. Sondra squealed with delight when Bernice showed it to her. Now there was going to be a family wedding everyone could be excited about. Everyone but Uncle Simon. He was bitterly disappointed that after graduation Robert would be moving back to Philadelphia to join his father’s business.

     “I was counting on her taking over the children’s department.” he grumbled to Berta. “Mrs. Ward is retiring in a few years. What am I going to do?

     “You’ll just have to find someone else,” was Berta’s unsympathetic reply. She knew Simon would continue to grumble up until the last minute before the wedding but she didn’t care. She also knew that he would probably give the couple their biggest wedding check.


     Berta was like a woman transformed. Apple’s Women’s Section became just a job. Every waking hour that she wasn’t at work, and quite a few when she was, was spent on wedding plans. It was not unusual at all for her to drop by Helga’s or Irene’s in the evenings for wedding discussions.

     “Well, have they picked a date?” Helga asked a week after the announcement.

     Berta nodded her head. “June 14th.”

     The two women were sitting in the living room. Sondra was doing her homework at the kitchen table and could not help but overhear the conversation.

     “I just don’t know where the wedding will be,” Berta grumbled.

     “Not here?” Helga was surprised.

     “How can we have a kosher reception here?”

     “Irene made a lovely luncheon for Howie’s bar mitzvah.”

     “That wasn’t strictly kosher and you know it,” Berta frowned. “Robert’s grandparents keep strictly kosher. And his aunt and uncle are so religious that they have two beds and push them apart every month.”

     “Your mother and father did the same,” Helga remonstrated.

     “That was in Germany. We’re in America now!”

     “Be glad, Berta,” Helga spoke softly. “You could be in Charlotte’s shoes.”

     “Your right,” Berta conceded. “Robert’s mother suggested that we do the wedding in Philadelphia, but I don’t know. If it’s there, then they’ll be making the wedding and,” Berta’s voice became wistful reminding Helga of the young Berta she had met when she first came to Lincoln. “I really would like to make my only child’s wedding.”

     “Of course you would.” Impulsively, Helga squeezed Berta’s hand.

     It was decided that the wedding would be at the chapel at Oklahoma University with the Hillel rabbi officiating. The reception would in Tulsa, half an hour’s drive away, at the synagogue there.

     On her next visit home, Bernice thrilled Sondra by asking her to be one of the bridesmaids. Brenda’s wedding came and went with practically no one noticing it. All the family’s attention was on Bernice and Robert. The wedding was less than two weeks away when Sondra came home from a dress fitting to find her mother and father sitting next to the radio. Helga was crying.

     “What’s the matter?” Sondra asked, more sharply than she intended.

     Helga turned from the radio and bit her lip. “The Arabs attacked Israel. They’re going to annihilate them.”

     “But America won’t let that happen, right, Daddy?” Sondra turned to her father for


     Julius sat with his shoulders hunched and his eyes far away, as if he were in another room, another time. He was remembering the time he had come home from school, when he was the same age as Sondra, and found his mother crying next to the radio. Then she had been crying because Hitler had been made chancellor. Comforting her with the eternal optimism of youth he had told her, “Don’t worry, Hindenberg is still president.” What could he say now? He had been wrong then. He sure hoped that Sondra would be right this time.

     For the next few days it seemed all her parents had any enthusiasm for was to listen to the radio or watch the news on TV. It seemed as if Helga was constantly wiping her eyes and Julius was lost in thought. Sondra wondered what affect the war would have on the wedding, but was afraid to ask anyone, even Howie. Then, on Wednesday morning, everything changed. Jerusalem had been reunited. Helga was still crying, but from happiness. Two days later the war was all over.

     Howie came to the farm, jubilant about Israel’s victory. He reported that the tiny Jewish State was becoming the talk of the town. One rancher who his father hadn’t even known was Jewish asked Herbert that morning how to buy some Israeli Bonds.  As Howie was bragging about Israel’s triumph the phone rang. Sondra recognized her history teacher's voice and assumed that Mr. Mane wanted to speak to her mother, but he did not ask for her.

       “How are you Sondra?" he asked politely. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I was wondering who is collecting money to rebuild the Jewish Temple?”

     “Which one?” Sondra faltered.

     “Why the one in Jerusalem, of course.”

     “I don’t know, sir,” Sondra stuttered.

     “Well,” Mr. Mane said, obviously disappointed. “could you find out, please. I, as well as many members of my congregation, would like to contribute.”

     “Yes, sir,” Sondra answered politely.

     She repeated the conversation to Howie, who did not understand it any better than she had.

     At supper that evening, she related the dialogue to her parent’s knowing looks. 

     “What was he talking about?”

     “The Holy Temple that King Solomon built,” Julius answered.  “It was destroyed by the Babylonians and then rebuilt and destroyed by the Romans. That’s where all the Jews used to pray and the priests used to offer their sacrifices there.”

     “Ooh, sacrifices.” Sondra wrinkled her nose.

     “Not human ones, silly,” Helga laughed.

     “Well, do they need money to rebuild it, or what?”

     Julius shook his head. “The Arabs built a mosque where the Temple stood. If Israel
were to knock that down, we would probably have a nuclear war. I’m surprised at Mr. Mane. He should know better.”

     “He belongs to one of those Christian groups who believe all the Jews have to be back in Israel with the Temple standing again before their savior can return,” Helga explained.

     “Well, what am I supposed to tell him?” Sondra demanded.

     “Don’t worry,” Helga soothed. “I’ll call him.”

     Bernice’s wedding was four days later. It was lovely, but few of the guests spoke of how beautiful the bride was. The miracle of the victory of the tiny State of Israel was on everyone’s minds, and that was almost all they talked about. Riding back to Lincoln in the same car, Howie and Sondra decided that they would add a visit to the Jewish state when they made their trip to Germany to rescue the Torah. At thirteen years old, they both believed it would really happen.

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