Sunday, June 16, 2013

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

     As the plane took off, Sondra gripped the armrests and squeezed so tight the veins in her hands stood out.

     “Relax,” Helga told her daughter softly. “Watch how everything down below changes into a miniature world.”

     Sondra did as instructed and she felt herself relax. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and Uncle Herbert had dropped her and her mother off at the Wichita Airport to catch a flight to Denver. From there they would take a taxi to Boulder to check out the university. Tomorrow they would fly into Kansas City and Julius would meet them there on Thursday for a turkey dinner.

     The University of Colorado was the third college that had accepted Sondra. The deadline for sending in her registration money was fast approaching and, even though U of C was her first choice, her parents did not want her making a final decision until she had seen the campus. If all were well, Brian would be there to meet them and show them around.

     Even before they reached the campus, Sondra fell in love with the mountains.

    “It’s a little like Mafdner,” Helga had remarked.

    As Brian gave them a tour, Sondra paid close attention to the campus population. Most were dressed in jeans and about every third student had wire-rim glasses. Sondra did not notice one jock but she did see several yarmulkes. Posters plastered all over the Student Union showed that the University of Colorado campus was one with a social conscience. Although the Hillel rabbi was already on his Thanksgiving vacation, they stopped by the Union of Jewish Students and Brian showed off the kosher kitchen facilities.

     “The rabbi is Orthodox,” he told her. “The Shabbos services are just like the basement at Ohev Shalom.”
     Sondra was convinced that this was where she wanted to spend the next four years of her life and she told Brian so later that evening when the two of them went out for a walk.

     He squeezed her hand in approval and then did not let go. Sondra knew that Mr. Marcus would not approve of her and Brian holding hands, but he wasn’t there.

     “How did Fiddler on the Roof go?” Brian asked.

     Sondra nodded her head enthusiastically. “Mrs. Wiggs knows how to get the best out of us.”

    “This was your biggest part, wasn’t it?”

     Again, Sondra nodded. They wandered into a coffeehouse where someone was playing a guitar and singing folk music.

    “Marc’s almost as good as him,” Brian said, but they sat down anyway and ordered coffee.

    “You know, doing the play

 made me realize how little I really know about being Jewish.”


    “Like Mrs. Wiggs told us we should put our fingers to the doorpost every time we went in and out of a building as if we were kissing the mezuzah. One of the girls asked me about it and when I told her I didn’t do it at home she was shocked. And I felt embarrassed.”

     “There’s lots of Christians who don’t do everything they’re supposed to,” Brian answered sympathetically.

    “I guess so.” Sondra played with her spoon. “Debbie told me there are lots of Jews who do kiss the mezuzah every time they go in and out of their house.”

     “I know,” Brian nodded. “I have cousins in New York who are ultra-orthodox. They kiss the mezuzah and the boys learn in yeshiva for years and years and they almost never speak to a non-Jew. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. They don’t even have a TV.” Brian shook his head. “It’s not for me.”

     “So,” Sondra asked. “what is for you?”

     “Shabbos and keeping kosher,” Brian answered without a moment’s hesitation. “What about you?”

     Sondra hesitated, obviously far less sure of herself than Brian. “I guess I’m a little two-faced. I keep Shabbos in Kansas City but not really in Lincoln.”

     “I told you it’s hard to do by yourself.”

    “You did,” Sondra nodded. “And you were right. Most Friday nights, except when there was the play, I manage okay. My father always makes Kiddush and my mother bakes her own challahs and, unless we have services at the university, I read with my nightstand light that I keep on all Shabbos. But during the day it’s different. And next week I have to work at the store.”

     “For the holiday season?”

     “Yes. My uncle told both Howie and me way back in the summer that he was counting on us for Saturdays and after school.”

   “How’s your cousin?”

   “Okay,” Sondra sighed.

   “He’s still dating that girl?”

   Sondra nodded. “What you said about your cousins almost never speaking to a non-Jew sounds good to me. Everything is changing at home. My best friend, Jane, has become a born-again Christian and only wants to talk about Jesus. And another friend, Joy, is about as serious with Howie’s best friend as Howie is with Patty. Another friend, Christine, moved away.”      

     A waiter passed their table with a tray of hamburgers, French fries, and drinks.

     “Smells good,” Brian commented and Sondra nodded in agreement.

     “Do you want to order something?”

     “You eat out?” Sondra was puzzled.

     “Fresh salads and fruit and ice cream.”

     “Oh,” Sondra spoke thoughtfully. “You know, until I met Debbie and Mr. Marcus I thought keeping kosher just meant having a kosher house and not eating pork or shellfish.”

     “Too bad it’s not that easy,” Brian laughed.

     Helga was watching the end of an old movie when Sondra returned to the hotel room.

     “Did you have a nice walk?” she asked absently.

     “Yes, I did.” Sondra busied herself getting ready for bed.

     A few minutes later the movie ended. Helga clicked off the TV and brushed the sentimental tears off her cheeks.

     “Brian seems like a nice boy.” Helga’s tone was offhand and her back was to Sondra as she searched for her nightgown in the suitcase.

     “Yes, he is. He’s just as nice as Roger Morris.”

     Helga turned from the suitcase and faced her daughter. “That is so nice of you to tell me that.” Again there were tears in her eyes. “When I told you that you couldn’t go out with Roger, I was afraid that you were going to hate me for the rest of your life.”

    “Oh, Mommy,” Tears welled up in Sondra’s eyes. “I would never hate you.”

    “Maybe not,” Helga smiled. “But you sure were angry at me.”

    “I was. At the beginning. Everything worked out for the best, though.”

   “Yes,” Helga gave her daughter a hug. “Oh, I sure am going to miss you next year.”

   “Do you,” Sondra hesitated. “do you want me to go to Lincoln State?”

   “Definitely not!” Helga pulled back from Sondra and shook her head emphatically.

   “Okay,” Sondra laughed. “Don’t worry. I don’t want to go there either. Even though it’s a fine university. I can’t believe that we’re graduating the same year.”

    “I put a lot of years into my Ph.D. I hope you never felt neglected by it.”

    “No, mom, never,” Sondra shook her head. “Have they decided how many courses you’re going to teach next year?”

     “Just two.” Sondra could hear the disappointment in her mother’s voice. “There’s not enough funding for a Holocaust Studies Department yet.”

     Sondra pulled down her blanket and began brushing her hair in bed. Keeping her voice as casual as possible and with her heart beating madly, she made the suggestion that she had been thinking of for the past month.

     “Maybe you should collect the reparations money from Germany and use that for funding.”

     “Maybe,” Helga said guardedly. If she wondered how Sondra knew she had never applied for the compensation, she did not ask.    

      The next morning, before leaving Boulder, Helga and Sondra made their way to the Registrar’s Office. Helga paid the registration fee and Sondra requested the dorm she wanted.

     “Good luck,” the middle aged secretary smiled and Sondra felt a surge of excitement at the decision she had just made. She spent most of the flight to Kansas City daydreaming about the upcoming year. Helga was also preoccupied with thoughts about the lectures that she would be teaching the following year. They were both quiet, but it was a pleasant quiet and they were in good spirits when Lotte met them at the airport.

     “You’re becoming quit a world traveler,” Julius teased his daughter as he and Helga got ready to leave Kansas City on Thursday afternoon. Lotte had purposely had a noon Thanksgiving dinner so her brother could get home in time to milk the cows. Sondra was staying on, though, till Sunday morning, with Debbie.

    “I would not call traveling to two states a world traveler,” Uncle Manny laughed.

    “Speaking of world travelers,” Sondra took a deep breath. "Some of the seniors here are thinking of going to Israel this summer on a tour. I would love to go with them.  What do you think?”    

     It was Helga who broke the silence that had met Sondra’s request.

     “I guess you’ve given your father and me something to talk about on the drive home.”

     “It’s none of my business,” Lotte said, “but I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for Sondra."

     “You’re right, Lotte,” Julius said kindly. “It isn’t any of your business. There’s a lot for Helga and me to think about. Don’t worry, sweetie,” he caressed Sondra’s cheek. “we’ll really weigh the matter.”

    Sondra had really expected an all-out no, so she was elated with the answer she received. Maybe she really would get to Israel. Over the past year she had realized that what Howie had said about their plan to find the Torah scroll had been the truth. It was a childish daydream, little more sophisticated than their grammar school plan of hopping freight trains and traveling across America. But realizing that the trip to Mafdner was not going to happen just made her desire to visit Israel all that stronger. Perhaps Howie would be interested in joining the group, too. She knew Aunt Irene and Uncle Herbert would agree to anything to get him away from Patty. She’d have to wait until he was in a good mood to talk to him about it. Maybe he really would be interested.


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