Friday, March 29, 2013

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

     Lisa was ecstatic when she called Sondra a week later and told her that her parents had agreed to a bat mitzvah.

     “Daddy’s taking me to Wichita tomorrow to meet with the rabbi.”

     “I’m happy for you,” Sondra said.

     “I think I’ll ask the rabbi about the Soviet Jews.”

     “Good idea,” Sondra answered. She planned to ask Mr. Marcus for addresses on her next trip to Kansas City. 

     She stayed with Debbie again and, without being reminded, put all of her mukta items in her purse and stowed the purse under her bed. After havdalah, before the bowling party, Mr. Marcus looked over the sample letter she and Lisa had written up. He made a few minor corrections and Monday, after school, Sondra and Lisa took turns working on Herbert's typewriter in the basement. Howie returned from swim practice and offered to help. His typing was much faster than both of the girls' and in no time they were finished.

     Afterwards, they sat around the kitchen table and sipped hot chocolate and addressed the envelopes. There was a nice comradeship between the three of them. It was the first time that Lisa could remember that Howie and Sondra were together and did not treat her like a pest.  

     “Were you scared when you got up on the stagw at your bar mitzvah?” she suddenly asked her brother.

    “Not at all.”

    “How about you?” Lisa turned to Sondra. “Were you scared when you were in The King and I?”

    “I was terrified the first few minutes and then I was okay. Are you already getting nervous about the bat mitzvah?”

     “A little bit,” Lisa admitted.

    “I don’t believe you!” Howie threw his arms in the air. “You nagged and nagged about wanting a bat mitzvah and now you’re scared.”

     “I didn’t say I was scared,” Lisa responded with dignity. “I said I was nervous. There’s a difference.”

     “You’re right,” Howie conceded. “Don’t worry. The rabbi is going to make you practice your Torah portion so often you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.”


     In less than a month they had received replies from all of the congressmen. Although the letters were sympathetic, it was clear that the war in Vietnam and the protests against it were what held the attention of most of the politicians. Sondra was at the spring play practice when she heard the news about Kent State. National Guardsmen, who had been called in to control the anti-war protests, had shot and killed four students on the Ohio college campus.

     It was Roger who announced the news. Although more than a year had passed since he had asked Sondra to the prom, she was still sensitive to his emotions. She noticed that his face had turned pale.

     "I'm going to Kent State next year." His voice was shaky.

     "Maybe you should change your plans," Charlie joked, but no one laughed.

     "I can't believe kids could get murdered just walking on campus," Christine spoke softly.

     "Who says they were just walking," one of the freshman snapped. "The National Guard was there because of all the protests, and some of them were violent."

     A few of the kids agreed with the freshman, but most did not. Voices were raised and the discussion became heated. Mrs. Wiggs called an end to the play practice and sent everyone home.

     By the next day it was clear from the news that only one of the students had been protesting. All of the others had been on their way to classes; one of had even been going to his ROTC class. The mood at play practice was one of indignation, but Mrs. Wiggs was able to maintain control. Later, as they walked out to the parking lot, Sondra found herself deep in discussion with Jane, Roger, and two other seniors.

     "We should have a memorial service for the slain students," one of the girls said.

     Roger nodded his head. "I'm going to speak to the principal tomorrow at lunch break. Does anyone want to go with me?"

     "I have an orthodontist appointment during lunch," Jane shook her head.

     "I have a paper to finish," the girl with the suggestion excused herself.

     "Sorry, Roger," the other senior answered.  "I had words with Dr. Martin last week.  I don't think I'll be an asset."     

     "I'll go with you," Sondra said quietly and found herself blushing when Roger gave her a grateful smile.

     As Dr. Martin ushered them into his office Sondra thought how appropriate it was for Roger to be the spokesman. With his conservative clothes and haircut he looked nothing like a typical war protester. Surely the principal would listen to him. He did. Dr. Martin sat patiently with his hands folded in front of him and gave Roger his full attention. Once Roger finished Dr. Martin unfolded his hands and placed them palm down on his desk.

    "Those students were killed on a college campus. We're a high school. How is that relevant to the student body?"

     "Well, sir," Roger's voice was full of confidence, "a good percentage of the student body will be going to college next year and, frankly, we're a little scared."

     Dr. Martin nodded and drummed his fingers on his desk for a full five minutes. Finally he nodded.

      "Okay, we'll let school out ten minutes early on Friday. Whoever wants to stay for the service can. You can have the auditorium."

      Roger displayed none of the disappointment he felt, but he made one request.

     "We'd prefer to use the courtyard of the school, sir, if that's okay."

     Dr. Martin nodded his head and the two shook hands cordially.

     Sondra, who had not made a sound throughout the interchange, followed Roger silently out of the office. Once the door was closed behind them Roger slammed his fist into the palm of his hand.

     "Ten minutes! Wow! I hope if I get killed in college next year they'll give me more than ten minutes."

     "We can make it as long as we want," Sondra pointed out as they entered the cafeteria.

     "Yeah, but the bus students will have to leave as soon as the bell rings."

    "I didn't think about that," Sondra admitted and fell silent. She felt totally inadequate to deal with her own emotions, much less Roger's. The picture in her mind of the innocent students being gunned down by National Guardsmen was too similar to the dozens of pictures she had in her mind of Jews being gunned down by Nazis. The only way she could think of fighting the injustice was to help with the memorial service.

     There was a meeting called for that afternoon in the library. To Sondra's chagrin, she found that everyone else there were seniors. Plus, she happened to overhear that Roger had just broken up with his girlfriend. She hoped he didn't think she was chasing him. Embarrassed, she sat tongue-tied and left as quickly as she could. She didn't go to the other meeting and told Roger that between homework and play practice she had no time. She did stay for the memorial service on Friday, though. The courtyard was crowded as almost all the seniors and half of others were there. Four students held crosses with the names of the slain students on them. Poems were read and everyone stood for a minute of silence while one of the boys played taps on his trumpet. Roger and the others had done a good job. The service was short and moving, but Sondra felt like an outsider and went home feeling depressed.

     Finding a blue envelope in the mailbox when she arrived raised her spirits a bit. Debbie's letters were always a treat and surely she would have something comforting to say about Kent State. Eagerly Sondra tore open the letter and read it as she walked up the path to the house. What her friend had written, though, only shocked Sondra. Calling a quick hello to her mother she ran up the stairs to her room and dialed her cousin's number.

     "Howie," Sondra spoke breathlessly. "do you know that three of the students killed at Kent State were Jewish?"


     "That's what Debbie wrote."

    "Some of those names did sound Jewish," Howie admitted.

    "Yeah. And here they held crosses for them!"

    "Don't get so upset," Howie's voice sounded so calm. "Originally the cross was just a symbol of death, not Christianity."

     "You think it was okay to hold a cross for them?"

     "I did not say that," Howie stated firmly. "But what’s done is done. We can just comfort ourselves by thinking of it as a symbol of death."

     "Well, okay. But if I ever get killed you make sure no one holds a cross for me."

    "We'll see who goes first," Howie laughed.

     Sondra laughed halfheartedly in return. The fact that the students were Jewish made her analogy to the Nazis gunning down Jews so much more apt. She spent the weekend brooding the issue. Full of questions, she wondered whether Jews really belonged in America. For the first time she contemplated going to Israel for university, but dismissed the idea knowing her parents would not want her to go so far away. On Monday morning, though, she resolutely pushed her depression away. Play practice, term papers, end of the year examinations, and helping with the bat mitzvah were ahead of her. There would be no time for moping.


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