Wednesday, January 9, 2013

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

     Lotte waited till close to Passover to approach Helga with her idea, and when she did, she did it via letter so she could sound casual.

     “Instead of Julius or Herbert bringing Mama up,” she wrote. “why don’t you send her on the bus with Sondra as a chaperone?”

     The letter continued with all sorts of family news that did little to cheer Helga. Lotte’s suggestion had thrown her into emotional turmoil. Sondra had had such a wonderful visit to Kansas City and Helga knew her daughter was anxious to go back. But not to have her at their own Seder? Sooner or later that was going to happen. Bernice certainly had not come back from Philadelphia for Passover once she was married. But Sondra was only fifteen. To even think about her not being at their Seder was unbearable. Perhaps they should all go to Kansas City? But who would milk the cows? Helga was nervous and distracted when Sondra burst into the house after school with the news that she had a part in the spring play.

     “That’s wonderful, dear,” Helga said absently. “What’s your part?”

     “I’ll tell you about it at dinner.” Sondra headed upstairs, refusing to let her mother’s lack of enthusiasm dampen hers. She had been given the part of Betty Parris in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Although it was barely a speaking part and another child’s part also, Mrs. Wiggs had pulled her aside before class to speak to her.

     “I don’t want you to think that you just got that part because you’re the smallest girl in the drama department,” the drama teacher said, shaking her finger at Sondra and making her forearm shake. “There were a couple of other girls we could have made do with, but it’s a challenging part and I think you can do it.”

     “Thank you,” Sondra’s eyes shone at her teacher’s praise.

     “And another thing,” Mrs. Wiggs said, putting her hand on Sondra’s shoulder. “I think you should sign up for music next year. There’s no reason that you should not have a good part in our musical.”

     “Okay,” Sondra stammered. She wasn’t sure how she would fit music into her schedule, but she’d find a way.

     Jane’s and Joy’s names were on the cast list, too. They had non-speaking parts as two of the town girls. Christine was co-chairman of the costume committee. Before coming home, the four girls had met at Molly’s Drugstore for a soda and to celebrate. Sondra wondered if her friends had met with more enthusiasm at their homes than she had.             

    She was lost in her script when her father came home. Helga met him at the door and thrust Lotte’s the letter at him. She handed him a cup of coffee as he read.

     “Ridiculous,” he announced tossing the letter in the trash. “Sondra’s place is with us. Besides Herbert and I already worked it out. He’s taking Mama down erev Pesach and I’ll pick her up Sunday. Wait a minute,” Julius smiled at his wife. “There’s no reason why Sondra can’t come with me Sunday to get Mama. For that matter, you can come, too. We can make a day of it.”

     Helga shared Julius’s enthusiasm. By the time Sondra came down for supper the plans were set and her parents were eager to hear all about the play. Sondra never knew about her aunt’s original suggestion, but she probably would not have been willing to miss so many days of practice, anyway. Later, when she found out that Mr. Marcus had a boating party planned for the youth group the Sunday afternoon during Passover, she was ecstatic.

    “I really want to go,” she told her father. “Can we stay in Kansas City until the party’s over?” she begged.

    Julius agreed. It would mean he wouldn’t be back in time to milk the cows and he'd have to pay someone to come in and do it, but the sparkle in Sondra’s eyes made it worthwhile.
    They left Lincoln early, as soon as the milking and breakfast dishes were out of the way, and already had nice visit and lunch when Debbie knocked at the door.

    “I hope it’s okay that I came early.”

    “Sure,” Uncle Manny invited the cantor’s daughter into the dining room and made introductions. The meal was finished. Heavy from matza, everyone was still seated around the table.

     "How about joining us for desert?" Lotte asked.

     "Okay," Debbie smiled.

     "We'll clear, Aunt Lotte," Sondra had already risen.

     "The guest should not clear," Frayda remonstrated.

     Sondra just laughed. "Oma, it will give us a chance to talk."

     "Do you want me to help?" Rachel asked politely and was relieved when Sondra shook her head.

     “Your grandmother is really cute,” Debbie said as she scraped a plate into the trash.

     “I know,” Sondra smiled. “She’s special. She’s the only grandparent I have left.”

     “I don’t have any.”

     “No?” Sondra’s head was in the refrigerator looking for a place for the leftover salad.

    “All of mine were killed in the camps,” Debbie confided.

     Sondra stood up, salad still in her hand. “They were?” she whispered.  “So were mine, at least my mother’s parents. Were your parents in the camps, too?”

    “My mother was.” Debbie turned from the trash and also lowered her voice. “My father was a partisan. What about your parents?”

     “My father was here but my mother was in a work camp. She doesn’t talk about it.”

     “My mother doesn’t like to talk about it either.”

     “You know,” Sondra said, “you’re the only person I know, except for me, whose mother came out of the camps. Maybe that’s why I feel so comfortable with you.”

     “I know,” Debbie nodded. “Do you want to write letters back and forth?”

     “I’d love to!”             

      Sondra did not find it as easy to write Debbie as she thought it would be. Her friend had never been in Lincoln or met anyone from there. Sondra felt she was always getting bogged in explanations of people and places. Debbie’s letters, on the other hand, were full of news of the kids from the youth group and Sondra eagerly waited for the blue-flowered envelopes with Debbie’s curly script. Coming home from a particularly trying play practice, she was pleased to see one of Debbie’s letters propped up next to the flower vase on the kitchen table.

Dear Sondra,

Hope all is well with you. It seems like Pesach was ages ago instead of just last week.
I’m still enjoying the bread, though. How about you?
I have a ton of homework to make up for all the school I missed.
Anna fell and broke her arm playing volleyball last week. Poor thing.
She’ll be in a cast when the pool opens. I can’t wait for it to open. It’s
so hot here and it’s not even May.
Guess what! May 9th and 10th we’re having a mini-Shabbaton here.
We’re doing it with a shul from St. Louis. Everyone will sleep in
houses near the shul and we’ll eat all our meals there. Saturday
night we’ll have a big bonfire and cookout. Mr. Marcus said I could invite
you. Please come. You can stay with me.
Write back soon and let me know you are coming. It will be a lot of fun!


     Sondra finished reading the letter and slowly laid it back on the kitchen table. The Shabbaton probably would be a lot of fun. Why couldn’t it be a week later? Why did it have to be the same weekend as the play? With a sigh Sondra took out her stationary and wrote a quick reply, writing all about the play and explaining why she would not be able to come for the Shabbaton.

     “But,” she wrote at the end and hoped it did not sound too forward, “maybe I can come for a weekend after the play is over.”

     Sealing the envelope, she found a stamp and walked out to the road to place it in the mailbox. As she lifted the little red flag to alert the postman to the enclosed letter, she resolved to forget about the Shabbaton and to do her best for the play.


     The Crucible was quite a serious undertaking for a high school production. A tragedy, it told the story of how the Salem witch hunt, run by men who thought they were justified, destroyed the lives of a number of decent families. Cast members could easily be picked out in the cafeteria by the serious conversations they were having.

     “I understand why Proctor refused to indict any of the others,” Joy set her tray on the lunchroom table.

     “I guess so,” Christine sat down. “But those people were going to die anyway. He could have saved his life.”

     “They were going to accept his confession,” Jane put her lunch change into her purse. “without him naming any names. But he didn’t want his confession hanging on the church door.”

     “If I had been there,” Sondra nibbled on a piece of cheese. “I would have confessed in the very beginning and taken my family and run away to Virginia or someplace.”

     “You wouldn’t have been there,” Jane said dryly. “They were all Puritan Christians and would not have tolerated a Jew.”

     Joy laughed uncomfortably and Sondra felt her face redden.

     “After all the persecution they suffered in England,” Christine’s quiet voice broke the silence. “it’s amazing how intolerant the Puritans were.”

     “Their lives seemed so grim,” Joy added.

     “Just look at all the costumes,” Christine said. “Black, gray, and dark blue.”

     “Not very colorful,” Jane agreed. “But they way they talked is so neat.”

     “That’s about the only thing that was neat.”

     “Don’t forget, they were all deeply religious people. They all believed in God.”

     Sondra wondered if her friends noticed how silent she had become. If the people of Salem were religious, then she wanted to stay far away from religious people. For the first time in their friendship, Jane had made Sondra feel uncomfortable because she was Jewish. Sondra resolved to stop discussing The Crucible and just worry about her part.

     Roger had been given the part of Reverend Parris, Betty’s father and they needed to interact on the stage. At first, Sondra had been uncomfortable being so close to one of the most popular boys in the school, who had asked her to the prom. Roger was diplomatic, though. He was able to be friendly and at the same time make sure that Sondra knew that he was now going steady with Mindy Hansen, who played Elizabeth Proctor. All of them took their parts seriously and, in the end, Mrs. Wiggs had an excellent production of The Crucible.

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