Sunday, March 10, 2013

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

She did a lot of thinking about all the Shabbat rules on the bus ride home, but was soon caught up in summer plans. Shabbat observance was pushed to the back of her mind. The summer was similar to the previous one, except that now, Jane and Christine were already sixteen and had their driver’s license. Christine’s grandparents had even bought her a used Volkswagen and now the girls were independent.

     When school started, Mrs. Wiggs announced the musicale would be The Sound of Music. Sondra was cast as one of the children. Charlie Carson, Howie’s best friend, had one of the leads. After the first week of rehearsals, he began offering Sondra rides home in his new, bright red Jaguar. Although she was flattered, Sondra had learned her lesson the year before. Instead of accepting the rides, she suggested he give Joy a lift home. Sondra’s friend had gone on a crash diet in the summer and it wasn’t long before she and Charlie were going steady. After two years in the drama department, Christine had overcome much of her shyness and was now dating, too. Even Jane was going out. Howie had a new girlfriend, Patty Jenkins, and it didn't look like he was going to break up with her so quickly. Once the play was over, Sondra found that her friends were really too busy for her. She had plenty of time to study for her midterms and put lots of enthusiasm into working at the store.

     The holiday season had just started when she received Debbie's letter about the Winter Convention. It was going to be held in Kansas City from December 26th through January 30th. Kids would be there from Omaha, Des Moines, Wichita, and St. Louis. This time there would be no conflicts, no theatre, no school, even working for Uncle Simon would be over. The only problem, Sondra knew, was that she would have to deal with all the Shabbat rules again.

     The next day she stopped by her grandmother's and asked her about Shabbat in Germany. The little that Frayda remembered matched what had been done at Debbie’s home.

     “Why did you stop keeping Shabbos?” Sondra finally asked her grandmother.

     “Well,” Frayda set her embroidery down. “The boys had to work on Saturday.”

     “Uncle Simon told them they couldn’t have Shabbos off?”
     “We never asked him,” Frayda said simply. “We were in America and we knew we needed to live like Americans.” Frayda took up her handiwork again and changed the subject. “I was thinking that you should start writing down some of my recipes you like so much. I won’t be around forever to tell you how to make things. What do you think?”

     Sondra dutifully got some paper and a pencil and wrote down a half a dozen recipes that Frayda dictated. Once home, even though her arm ached, she wrote an enthusiastic letter to Debbie telling her she would love to come to the convention. She would deal Shabbat when it came.


     Actually, there was really nothing to deal with. Shabbat came and there was no talk about rules. Of course, Sondra noticed, there were no rolls of toilet paper in all of the shul, only the precut kind coming from metal dispensers. And all of the lights were taped in every spot of the shul. What there was was plenty of singing; singing in the services separate from the main congregation and singing at the meals in the basement. By the time havdalah was made, Sondra had totally forgotten her misgivings. Shabbat was beautiful. What an uplifting experience!

     “I feel like I’d like to spend every Shabbos like this,” Sondra confided to Brian. The two of them had been sent out to the Safeway to buy some more soda.

     “I know the feeling,” Brian agreed. He was nice-looking in a Jewish sort of way, with dark, curly hair, a big nose, and glasses. “After every Shabbos meal I spend at the Marcuses, I feel determined to try and keep Shabbos at my house, but somehow Marc and I can’t make it work the same. We go to the Pines a lot.”

     “So you’re saying that I won’t be able to have the same Shabbos feeling at home?”

     “If I were you,” Brian smiled. “I would come to Kansas City as much as I could.”
     Sondra smiled back at him, her left dimple deepening. He looked at her the same way Roger and Charlie had looked at her. Only this time, if Brian were to ask her out, she knew her parents would let her go.  

     The next three days were full of activities and workshops. Sondra had always thought that now that the Holocaust was over and the State of Israel existed, the Jews had nothing really to worry about. After several of the workshops, she realized how wrong had been. Perhaps the Jews in America did not have to worry about their rights, but the same was not true for Jews in much of the world, especially the Soviet Union. And the Israelis were constantly being threatened with terrorist attacks. At Lincoln High there were a number of Afro-American students who advocated

 Black Pride. By the end of the convention Sondra had decided that she was going to start having Jewish Pride.     

     She tried to explain her feelings to Brian, Debbie, and Marc as they drove her to the Greyhound Bus station.

    “It’s going to be hard to do by yourself,” Marc cautioned.

    “You’ll have to come to Kansas City a lot to plug in.” Brian parked the car.

    “You have an open invitation,” Debbie added. "My parents really liked having you, and so did I." 

    Brian took Sondra’s suitcase and the three of them walked her to the ticket counter.

    “I hate to leave,” Sondra said as she put her change back in her purse.

    “We’ll walk you to the bus.”

    As they went outside the exhaust smell from all the idling buses was overwhelming and it was difficult to talk over all the noise from the motors.

     “I guess I should go ahead and get on,” Sondra said halfheartedly.       

     “Come back soon.”

     Debbie gave Sondra a hug.

     “We’ll miss you,” Debbie yelled as Sondra scrambled up the steps. The bus was only half full and she was able to have a seat by herself. She waved to her friends until they were out of sight and then turned her attention to what was waiting for her at home.


     She was pleased that Julius and Helga agreed to her request to go once a month to Kansas City without any problems. Sondra’s second goal, to get Howie to go with her, was a different matter.

     “I don’t want to go to Kansas City next month,” Howie declared. Patty was sick and the two of them were sitting together in the lunchroom. “I have a swim meet coming up I have to get ready for.”

     He did not mention that he was nervous to leave Patty for the weekend. He knew there were a lot of guys that would be thrilled to take her to the Friday night dance if he was not around. Not only was Patty one of the prettiest girls in the school; she was also one of the nicest. Even Sondra liked her, and Sondra disliked most of his girlfriends on principle.

    “Howie,” Sondra hesitated, weighing her words carefully. “I learned a lot about being Jewish last week and…”

    “I know plenty about Judaism,” her cousin interrupted. “Probably more than you do. Don’t forget all those bar-mitzvah lessons I went to in Wichita.”
     Sondra sighed. “I’m not just talking about religious things. I’m talking about being part of the Jewish people.”

   “Look at Stephanie Payne,” Sondra pointed to the Afro-American cheerleader. “I remember in eighth grade when they first integrated the school she had her hair straightened so she would look like the white girls. And now she wears it in an Afro and talks about Black Power and she’s just as popular as she was back in junior high.”

     “What’s the point?”

     “We have to be proud of who we are.”

    “Everyone knows we are Jewish. I’ve never hidden it and neither have you.”

    “But we should be doing more than not denying it!”

    “Like what?”

    “I don’t know,” Sondra faltered for a second or two. “We should be paying more attention to the news. Did you know there was a terror attack on an El Al plane last week?"

     Howie shook his head.

     "Neither did I. Debbie wrote me about it. No one was killed, so I guess the Lincoln Daily didn't think it was worth mentioning. Maybe we should write a letter to the editor complaining."

      "Maybe," Howie sounded somewhat interested and Sondra continued.

      "Maybe we should start a petition for the Russian ambassador to let the Soviet Jews go. Maybe we should see what we could do to raise money for a project in Israel. Maybe we should start getting serious about our trip to Germany.”

    “Uh, well,” this time Howie faltered. “I’ve been thinking a lot again about buying a car.”

     “Really?” Sondra flushed and she felt her eyes fill.

     “I don’t know,” Howie pushed his chair so far back it only rested on two legs. “It seems like the trip was a cute plan for two kids to dream up. Really, how are we going to find a missing Torah somewhere in Europe?”


    “If we’re really serious we should probably hire a detective.”

    Sondra nodded. “Okay.” She stood up. “I have some homework to finish before my next class. I’ll see you in Humanities.”

    The homework excuse was a lie. Sondra headed to the nearest restroom, locked herself in a stall, and pulled her hurt feelings together. A cute plan for two kids to dream up, indeed. Was she still a kid? The warning bell rang; she washed her face and made it to class on time.    


It was Lisa who wanted to talk to Sondra about Jewish identity. The day after Sondra's next weekend in Kansas City, she came out to the farm with Aunt Irene. While their mothers visited together in the kitchen, Sondra filled up a plate of cookies and took her younger cousin up to her room. Lisa was almost a carbon copy of Howie in looks, but whereas his features were handsome for him, on Lisa they looked decidedly masculine. Sondra hoped her cousin would grow prettier as she matured. In spite of her looks, Lisa was bright and outgoing and always had plenty of friends. However, her best friend was her cousin, Rachel. The two girls wrote weekly letters back and forth, spent a week at each other’s homes every summer, and on special occasions were even allowed to call one another.

     “Did you see Rachel?” Lisa asked eagerly.

     “At shul,” Sondra answered.

     “Did she cut her hair yet?”

     Sondra thought for a moment and nodded.

     “Does it look nice?”
     “Uh-hum. Have another cookie.”

     “Thanks,” Lisa took several. “I’m thinking of getting mine cut, too. What do you think?”

     Sondra studied her cousin’s bushy ponytail. “It might be nice, a short curly cut.”

    Lisa nodded. “I think I’ll do it. Tell me, Sondra, how come you never had a bat mitzvah?”

     Surprised Sondra shrugged her shoulders. “I never thought about it. Bernice didn’t have one. No one did.”

     “Rachel did.”

     “I guess so, I guess that was a bat mitzvah.” Sondra recalled how they had all driven in three carloads to Kansas City for Friday night services last year. The only thing Rachel had done was read the haftorah in English and make a two-minute speech at the end of the services. Afterwards there had been an oneg Shabbat, a gathering with singing and refreshment in the shul. What Sondra remembered most about the whole trip was that Debbie had not been at the services and how disappointed she had been.

     “I want to have a bat mitzvah.”

     “But you’re already twelve.”  
     “My cousin in Chicago is having one when she’s thirteen and I want one, too.” Lisa spoke decidedly.


    “She’s reading from the Torah just like Howie did and I want to do that, too.”

    “It’s only in the Reform shuls that girls read from the Torah,” Sondra said softly.

    “Well,” Lisa folded her arms on her chest. “we’re like a Reform shul here. We use a Reform prayerbook.”

    “What do your parents think?”

    Lisa made a face. “They’re still talking about it. That’s why I wanted to talk to you.”

    Sondra took another cookie and waited.

    “I want you to tell my parents how much you’ve always regretted not having a bat mitzvah.”
    Sondra laughed. “But I don’t regret it. I never thought about it until now.”

    “Why do you always have do be such a goody-goody?” Lisa asked angrily.

    “What?” This time Sondra stifled her laugh.  

    “You always do what your parents want. Do you have any idea all the stuff Howie gets away with?  And he gets away with a lot just because he’s the boy.”

    “You sound jealous, Lisa,” Sondra tried to keep the impatience out of her voice.

    “Of course I’m jealous. Howie dates non-Jewish girls, he gets the car whenever he wants, and he doesn’t have a curfew. I can’t go round the block without asking permission. And when I want to do something to show I’m Jewish my parents hem and haw as if I’d asked for a trip to Europe.” Lisa brushed an angry tear off her cheek.

     “I’m sorry,” Sondra put an arm around her cousin’s shoulder. “I’m glad you care about being Jewish, though. There’re things you and I can do together besides having a bat mitzvah to show we care.”

     “Like what?”
    Sondra took a deep breath. “Like writing letters to our congressmen asking them to put pressure on Russia to let the Jews out so they can move to Israel.”

    “You mean they can’t leave Russia if they want?” Lisa asked.

    Sondra took several minutes to give a crash course about the Refuseniks and when she finished Lisa seemed interested.

     "Lisa, let's go," Aunt Irene called from the bottom of the stairs.

      “I still want a bat mitzvah,” Lisa declared as she put on her coat.

     “I hope you get one,” Sondra answered as she walked her cousin to the door. 


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