Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Av 5765 - August 17, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








"Areleh Naknik"

by A. Harel

Part I

Historical-based Fiction


"Shechter's mother!" "Shechter's mother!"

It was the same voice. The same jarring sound of a used megaphone. The same scream: "She-ch-ter's mo-ther! This is your last chance!"

And once again—the thin woman comes hurrying up, squeezing between the piles of belongings on the deck of the ship. Bored passengers watch her out of the corner of their eyes. It's the boy again. For sure.

It was. And again—the captain grasps him tightly by the ear. Almost lifting him up into the air. And Areleh is up on his toes, his cheeks drawn backwards in the direction of the clamping thumb. His mouth assumes a forced, strange smile, and his eyes are glittering.

The woman rushes as quickly as she can. She apologizes, even from a distance. The captain can read it on her face.

"Yes, captain! I apologize! Again my Arik, is it? Arik—what have you been up to this time? Ha? What has the child done?" She blinks rapidly. Gasps. The captain is pulling too hard and badly hurting Arik's ear. She can see how hard he is fighting to keep his toes on the ground, and the tears stick in his throat.

"Oh, nothing, Mrs. Shechter! Nothing at all! This darling child of yours hasn't done anything, aside from releasing the rope, climbing on top of the officer on duty, breaking the lantern, entering the steering cabin and pressing on all kinds of contraptions. Absolutely nothing, madam!"

The finger rotates the burning lobe of Arik's ear—hard—the other way. The child winces, bites on his lip.

"Is that true, Areleh?" Her eyes narrow. "After all those promises?"

Aryeh struggles. Tries to escape, but there is no chance of that. His ear is now thoroughly pinched.

Suddenly Yossi's face peeps out from behind the rigging.

"Ha! You again!" The bluish lines on Captain Stewart's face contracted. "You promised you would watch over him. What happened? Did you fall asleep?"

"Oh, Yossel! Thanks for coming . . . " Mrs. Shechter whispered in Yiddish, her little face wrinkling.

"I am his big brother, am I not?!" smiled Yossel. "It's okay, Captain Stewart. I give my word! From this moment on, I will watch him like a hawk! He won't make a move from here on! Don't worry! It is the last time!"

"That's what you promised me this morning!"

"Right, but now I mean it with the utmost seriousness!"

"Okay, young man. But promises are not enough! You have to keep them, take responsibility. Because you see, me, I am"— he gives the ear another rotating squeeze—"responsible for everyone around here, and for this antique tub that has smeared on it the name of Theodore what's his name — Herzl. D'you understand?

"From the shores of France until Palestine—with a rogue like this, it won't work! I mean, it won't sail! Either that, or he will cause us all to drown on the way, Heaven forbid!"

And he squeezed—aaah—aaah—aigh—the thin ear around and around. "Or else we will simply drown him! Haaa! What do you say, you brat?"

He switched to the other ear. "What do you have to say? Will you undo the rigging?"

Another twist. The lobe reddens.

"Noooo," the word squeezes out of him.

"Will you release the lifeboat and climb on top of the baggage?"

Another twist. His jaw reddens. "Nooooooooo!!"

Finally the boy's eyes open and their contents spill out.

"Will you carry on . . ."

"Okay, stop! Captain Stewart! He will not! I promise you! He will not! Everything you want him not—he will not! Okay?"

"Words! All words!" the captain sniffs.

"I promise!" cries Yossi. "I take responsibility for him!" His eyes and cheeks clench with mortification.

"I hear," mutters the Captain.

"Then . . . could you let go of his ear?" attempts Mrs. Shechter, her face reddening.

"Oh, why not!"

Again—a sharp rotation of his ear. "Aaay! Aaaay! Aaaay!"

"Look, I know all your lines and I know this baby!" With his free hand, Stewart strokes the boy's cheek and pinches it with charming ease. "I want it in writing. Signed."

"Oh, that's perfectly fine!" Her voice trembles. The boy's face signals distress.

"You? No. No." The bluish lines examine the pained and shriveled face. "You don't seem to me, with all due respect, as able to possess the right signature, madam.

"You!" he points at Yossi. "You will sign on it, young man!"

"I, the undersigned, Yosef (Yossi) son of Yitzchok Menachem, herewith take under my protection and responsibility Aryeh Leib (Arik), undertaking to supervise and watch him unconditionally regardless of the situation or time.

Sincerely: Yosef (Yossi)."

Here Yosef added his looped signature.

They wrote it out in two copies, leaning over the railing of the ship. The captain folded one copy and buried it in his pocket, behind the gilded button. The other note fluttered between Mrs. Shechter's delicate fingers.

Yossi put his arm around Areleh and drew him away in the direction of the passengers' wing.

"Didn't you see Mrs. Shechter's pitiful face, Arik? How frightened she was? Is it nice to cause such pain to a woman who, after all, was only doing us a favor?"

"Dun' need no favors from no-one!" The boy stroked his burning ear.

"You beggar on horseback!" whispers Yossi, continuing to hold him close. "Of course you realize that if it weren't for Mrs. Shechter who declared you and I to be her children— we would have had no chance of obtaining an immigration permit and a ticket for this ship! You are aware of that, are you not? You must know that the British Palestinian office only issues permits to families?"

He takes a look at the boy's face. No. He did not know. "Listen to me. You must understand. Mrs. Shechter only declared that you were her son so that they would allow you to get on the ship. And me too. Understand? She does not owe us anything. She is not your mother — so why should she have to put up with all this embarrassment? She was only trying to help us because . . . because we have no parents who can help. And . . . "

"I know and stop telling me this all the time!" Aryeh burst into tears.

"My mother . . . if she was here . . . " his eyes protested. "She would have shown that Stewart! She wouldn't have allowed him to pull my ear like that, with muscles like he has . . . did you see them? Do you realize how much it . . . hurt?" he sobs.

"Aaay. Don't cry, tzaddik," answers the young man, perplexed. "Do you know what? I don't have a mother, either. Who has one, these days? And . . . enough . . . enough, or I'll start crying too!"

He blushes and puts his cheek next to the boy's face. Areleh breathes deeply. Straightens up. It is good like this—cheek against cheek. Walking clasped together like friends who have made an eternal pact. Like brothers.

"Wonderful," whispers Yossi, next to the tender ear. "So mature of you. And do you know what? We have a few sailing days left. What do you say? Wouldn't you like to get to the shores of Eretz Yisroel with strong muscles?"

"What?" They halt.

"Like Captain Stewart's, you mean?" The boy's eyes open wide.

"Mmm . . . like Stewart's . . . nu, I wouldn't depend on that, but . . . almost. How about it?"

"For sure!" the face at his side shone.

"Depend on me!" Yossi hugged the boy.

"Okay, a one and a two and . . . " They face each other. They compete at `pulling down' hands. Yossi's right. Arik's left. They pant. Redden. P—u—ll downwards until . . . uuuups! One hand outweighs the other. "Your left! You won!" Yossi admits defeat with a suspicious smile.

"Nonsense. You let me win purposely." Arik worriedly measures the muscles of his thin arms.

"No. I promise you I didn't. I am just a leftie!"

"Then let's try the other way round." They try: "A one and a two " and . . . they pull. P—u—ll downwards until . . . oops! The older hand wins over. Uch—

"Not bad, Areleh! You know how to fight back. Right, Mrs. Shech . . . mother?" Yossi turns toward Mrs. Shechter, his temporary mother, with his youthful smile.

"Right . . . " she smiles back. What a nice young man. Sweet. A heart of gold. Reminds her of her father, zatzal. And she is glad. Whatever keeps that poor little boy, that orphan, busy, makes her happy. The main thing is to keep him from getting into trouble and turning the voyage into a nightmare. With Hashem's help, they would soon arrive in the Holy Land.


Her daughter awaited her in a place called Bnei Brak. What miracle had caused them to issue a certificate to her young daughter? Who knew? The girl had been there for two months already. Chasdei Hashem ki lo somnu.

She had registered the two of them as her sons as they alighted onto the ship dubbed, Theodore Herzl. The Jewish Agency officials were tougher than the British. "Only families." So be it. She and her two `sons.' For the time being. The main thing was to get out of Europe.

What a hell! She recalls the note folded in her pocket. Thrusts her hand inside the pocket of her ragged sweater. Here it is. She smooths it out. "I am keeping to my obligation, in the meantime. Right?" whispers Yossi beside her. "It's funny, is it not? Can I see for a minute what I signed on?"

"I, the undersigned, Yosef (Yossi) son of Yitzchok Menachem, herewith take under my protection . . . "

The note, written and signed in his handwriting, actually does give him a sense of responsibility. It is true that he is not his brother and that Areleh is not her son, and that nothing here is true — but then what is the true thing to do in such a case?

Exactly what he did, it must be. He raises his face, thoughtfully.

Mrs. Shechter folds the note. Tries to imagine how this young man would look now, had life proceeded normally: A yeshiva bochur. Chassidus. Trips to the Rebbe. The beis hamedrash. A gemora in his hand. Light in his eyes.


Aryeh really liked Yossi. In the meantime, he was losing in the pull-downs. Yossi's arms were thin, but still—they practiced every day. Any chance they had. It was worth it, even though Yossi had made a deal with him—he had to do half an hour of Chumash and half an hour of alef- beis in exchange.

"You can't come to Eretz Hakodesh like some kind of am ha'aretz, without knowing how to read the brocho Shechechiyonu," he told him, his face serious. "It's no excuse that you couldn't learn in cheder because of the war and all that. There are some very smart children learning in Eretz Yisroel and especially in the talmud Torah in Bnei Brak. We don't want you to embarrass us!"

Areleh didn't think twice. He definitely didn't want to embarrass Yossi! Oh, no, Yossi was really like . . . like a big brother. True—a temporary one. But so what. And he had promised him that he would learn to read. And so it was—day after day he struggled with the kometz alef- oh. And the kometz beis-boh. Though by now he did know how to say the brocho Shechechiyonu by heart.

He just wanted so bad to be able to read, on his own, the sign on the entrance to the settlement, on which it was probably written: "Bnei Brak."

It was night. He curled up next to his temporary mother. Her thin face was enwrapped in her scarf. She was fast asleep. Her hand dropped onto her sweater. The note . . . the note— fluttered on the edge of her pocket. Areleh carefully drew it out. How would he stick it into her pocket? No. It was impossible now. She mustn't wake up. In the meantime—he folded it up tight and stuck it into the pocket of his pants. Oof. When would he be able to read it . . . Yossi said he was making fast progress and that by the time they got to Bnei Brak he would be a young talmid chochom.

Oof . . . he has no more patience left. His arm muscles are already getting much better. Yossi checks them occasionally. Finally, when they get there . . . oof. When will that be? Tomorrow, could it be?

"Enough," he prays. "Please let us get to Eretz Yisroel tomorrow."


Now he is running with another kid on some hill. "Run children," said the man in the khaki clothes and tzitzis who took them, in his rattling van, from the prison camp in Atlit to `Bnei Brak.' With no warning. With no baggage. With no leave-taking from anyone. Not even from his temporary mother or brother.

The wind blew the tarpaulin walls of the van, while the hot sun released different smells, new ones, from the orchards on the wayside. Areleh's knees were knocking and his throat was dry and it seemed as if all he had in the world was the peaked cap and the folded note in his pocket.

Then—in the middle of nowhere—the van halted. The driver took a peep inside, pointed to the top of the hill opposite and said: "Up to here, you young-uns. Now run! The Ponovezher Rov is waiting up there for you."

"The Rov? What Rov?"

What did he want from them? What would they say to him?

But the driver had already hoisted them out and deposited them on the grassy slope. He slapped their backs hurriedly. "Run! Go!" and he disappeared in a cloud of rattling dust.

They began running, climbing up the hill, with the wind browsing the down of their clipped hair that only recently had begun to grow after the shaving in Atlit. "Yeshiva Hill," the driver had called it.

First they saw some scattered huts, a handful planted on the abyss. And then they saw him.

He stretched out his arms towards them. In the light of the day that was just now materializing, his long white beard was visible—almost imaginary. And then—he clasped them to his bosom. Kissed them. His lips trembled in an effort to speak, but they could not. "Tatty . . . " both of them whispered. They clung to him.


Mo—ssad—nik!! Mossad-nik!

Areleh stands up straight. His little head jerks . . . to the right. To the left. His palms clench. He cannot see anyone, but he is certain that it is Shapiro from his class! That is his voice. Despite the camouflage. "Mossad-nik!" Again the yell. That arrow of contempt. (Note: The term means a child who lives in an institution (mossad), in this case the Botei Avot of the Ponovezher Rov.)

"Call again, coward! Go on, show yourself!" He yells in all directions.

"Stop it, Areleh. Stop! They'll start with us again!" begs Helfgut. Since that run up the slope of "Yeshiva Hill," straight into the arms of the Ponovezher Rov—they had been together. Like it was when they were in the power of that embrace. Two survivor children, orphans who had just recently arrived at the Botei Avot (the Ponevezher Rov's orphanage). New, at the Rebbe Akiva Talmud Torah.

"Stop it, I'm scared!" pleads Helfgut. His thin, transparent skin reddens with unbearable ease. Aryeh pays no attention to him. He listens to the quiet that comes after the scream.

"Yell again, Shapiro! Ya Bnei Brakker! So I'll hear you loud and clear!" His voice had become hoarse. Again, that spear of contempt pierces through the street: "Mo—ssad—nik!"

A head peeps out from behind a low fence. Then another head. Then another. And a body. Another one. Another. "A planned ambush, did ya see that?" The path is blocked. "Shapiro! Coward! You'd never dare it alone. Wouldja?"

"Yes, I would! Why not? Wretched mossadnik!" A hefty young boy steps out of the line. He is a head taller than the rest.


"Bnei Brakki!" His eyes glare. The pulse throbs fast in his hands.

A minute later and . . . Rebbe Yonah passes by. "Boys, what is going on?" he smiles. He takes the edge off the drama. "Nu? Quick! Run to class!" Shapiro and Areleh are still poised for that imaginary pounce.

"Did you hear me?" the rebbe says again.

His voice carries a lot of authority, and it keeps the leader of the gang in line. The rebbe does not even stop, just pats one boy on the shoulders, pushes another one, gives an affectionate pinch to Helfgut's cheeks and hurries on. They run after him.


Uuuh! What a miracle! A miracle that he had learned Chumash Bereishis with Yossi on the ship! If it weren't for that, it would have been blatantly obvious to everyone in the class what an am ha'aretz he was!

"Just don't embarrass us!" Yossi had warned him at the time. Oof! What a miracle that he was already familiar with the creation of the world, Noach, the Flood, up to Akeidas Yitzchok. In the meantime, while Rebbe Yonah was teaching this, he would not be a complete ignoramus.

As for mishnayos—Hashem had helped him in another way. The rebbe had requested that they divide themselves into chavrusas, "to get just a little of a yeshivishe feel." Rebbe Yonah was the `rosh yeshiva' who gave over the `shiur klolli' on the mishna that they had learned together with chavrusas.

That way you could listen, nod, act as if you knew, and it wouldn't occur to anyone that you did not understand a thing. Not one thing!

Except for Helfgut, the chavrusa, but he isn't so important, 'cause first of all he doesn't understand anything himself and, second of all, he's just as much a mossadnik as you. There is a pact between you. He will never betray your ignorance to other people! That . . . they played marbles in the lanes of the settlement under the eucalyptus trees where you hid yourself, crossed over borders, fought with the British and they pinched you in the ear that way.

So in the shiur everything is fine. The problem begins at recess. Then, somehow, the `mossadniks' from the Botei Avot of Ponovezh fight the Bnei Brakkers as if they were the British, at the very least.

Rebbe Yonah, their rebbe, would implore and cry. Even the Rov himself came once. He didn't get angry nor did he reprimand. He only kissed and hugged, planting Areleh under his right hand, his white beard brushing the sweating forehead, as he calmly talked to the rebbe.

Quietly, with his soft smile, he explained that there was nothing to worry about, and that that was exactly his intention! To blur the distinctions between the Holocaust children and the children of Bnei Brak. The joint learning program in a regular talmud Torah—that would heal and rejuvenate. And it would be wrong to create a separate sect of survivor mossadniks. The Rov explained. Rebbe Yonah nodded. Areleh absorbed the Ponovezher Rov's nearness as he was treated to numerous caresses on his forehead.

But Rebbe Yonah found no peace. Or rather, the boys would not let him find any peace. The conflicts and pranks coming from both sides caused him deep anxiety.

"I do not allow calling any boy names in any form!"

"What does the Rebbe mean?" Shapiro stood up from the end of the row. "If, for example, I see Areleh, from the Botei Avot in Zichron Meir or Rebbe Akiva street, I am not allowed to call him a `mossadnik'?"

Areleh sprang from his seat. The arrow, smeared in contempt, was thrust in his back, just as it was meant to. The class burst out laughing. Even the idiot Helfgut laughed! The idiot! Tears came into his eyes. He turned around, his face red. There stood Shapiro, at the back of the class, that stupid cap on his head, smiling.

"Shapiro—Go out immediately!" the rebbe called out sharply. Aryeh exhaled. His ear was burning. Shapiro strode, with infuriating slowness, between the rows of desks. His hands were in his pockets. He was still smiling. When he came close to Aryeh, he rubbed him lightly on the shoulder . . . a push, a tiny push.

Rebbe Yonah didn't see how it happened, but next thing he knew Shapiro was lying stretched out on the floor. There was an ugly, gaping wound on his forehead. And Aryeh's head was laid on the desk, flooded with tears.


They called the Ponovezher Rebbe. It was of course not possible to call the boy's parents. But they could contact the Guardian of the institution. The Guardian of all children. The Father of orphans. HaKodosh Boruch Hu. At a special staff meeting of the Rov, the cheder administration and the Rebbe, the decision was reached to do that as the first, the last, and the only remedy.


No barbed wire fence could have accomplished what the scar on Shapiro's forehead did. They learned to maintain their distance, to keep their hands in their pockets. It was hard to refrain from angry looks and frowns as gangs do, but nevertheless: the Rebbe was planted in the middle. The cease- fire was given a vote.

Apparently, there was a vote too for hunger. The modest portions that were placed on the table in the dining hall of the institution were full of inspiration, but they inspired the stomachs to grumble. The cook tried to make up for the shortage in the pantry with produce from her vegetable garden, which was planted in the yard of the institution. Delicate little radishes were set aside for Rosh Chodesh seudas. For Shabbos they were given cucumbers with rough peels, tomatoes, and green onion stubs.

The "Bnei Brakkers" would complain and loudly make comparisons with the lunch that would have awaited them at home. The mossadniks kicked stones and raised dust on the slope of Rabbi Akiva street. They tried desperately to ignore the fact that, as usual, only the hill was there to welcome them. There was no mother, no small kitchen to welcome them with its familiar smells, no father of their own to sit beside them with his beard tickling the tablecloth that Ima had once embroidered when she was a kallah.

And so the mossadniks dragged themselves up the slope of the hill, blinded by the sun, hardening their faces against the expanse. Their hearts were raging. As for Areleh, his ear was burning. He would then put his hand in his pocket. His fingertips could easily pick out the folds of the note among the other contents.

Even now that he had learned to read, he did not need to take it out in order to feast his eyes on the crooked letters that told him—that sang to him: "I, the undersigned, Yosef (Yossi) son of Yitzchok Meir hereby undertake . . . "

The touch of the paper and its memory were decidedly enough. Someone, in this world, had once been concerned about him, even if it was only temporarily.

Only the surname "Shechter" stuck with him permanently from that time. His original name, he could not remember. A miracle! If it were not for that . . . how would the rebbe call out his name? Areleh what?? Naknik? Mossadnik? Oof! At least that . . .

And if the tears began to massage the corners of his eyelids, Areleh would break into a run to the vegetable garden. He would pull out little radishes for the cook, feverishly chop off the tops of the weeds, take the hosepipe and sprinkle around the flower beds. He would bury his grief in the mud. Sometimes it helped. But today it did not help.

In the vegetable garden he found that the row of cucumbers was ripening. Helfgut suddenly appeared from the bed of onions. "Areleh, what happened?"

"Nothing, what do you mean?"

"You look like, ummm . . . a sour cucumber!"

Aryeh frowned. He bent down beside the cucumbers. Assessed the greenish rods with hungry eyes. "Helfgut!" he yelled, from an angle close to the ground. "Come quick!"

"What is it? What have you seen? A porcupine? A snake? A turtle?"

Helfgut bent down, "What do we have here?"

"There is nothing yet but there will be!" Aryeh's face is aflame.

"What? Tell me!" Helfgut's heart beats.

"There will be! A huge jar, packed with pickled cucumbers!" The mouths water.

"Pickles? Like these? With salt? Delicious ones like these with garlic pieces, and . . . like . . . like . . . "

Aryeh nods. "Yes! Exactly like those at . . . "

They did not dare pronounce it on the edge of their tongue: the home they once had. Yes.

That was the hidden secret. They had to bring a small jar from the kitchen and salt. Helfgut was too skinny. There was no choice. They confided the secret to several more children from the Botei Avot, picked cucumbers, packed them tightly into the jar, salted them, closed the lid tightly and buried the jar in a pit in the ground.

The "pickled cucumber" gang got to work feverishly. Areleh was appointed the leader. Responsible for the periodic checkups. Three times a day he reported on the pickling process and gave out the booty. Somehow the cucumbers would always stay green and hard, but the taste and sound of the nibbling was intoxicating.

The secret was kept well-hidden from the cook, and all the more so from the Bnei Brakkers! Areleh started to feel rich. With the note in his pocket and the jar of cucumbers in the soil in the garden, he felt new roots begin to sprout from his heart.


Erev Pesach he climbed up Yeshiva Hill, carrying with him smells of growth and laundry soap. The cucumbers had soured long ago and had been nibbled till the ends. A second jar had been secretly buried in the depths of the soil. The Eretz Yisroel spring had converted the orchards of the settlement to a battery of fragrant perfume phials, while the eucalyptus trees in Zichron Meir made the air pungent, so that the breathing itself became an uncommonly great pleasure.

For Areleh, breathing meant living. And living meant searching for, and finding, reasons not to miss out on the spring. A wild wind of regeneration was blowing in the streets of the settlement. A thousand-and-one reasons appealed to the boy. One of them tempted him like . . . like . . . the kerosene cart!

It was low and slow and harnessed to one lean mule, and all you had to do to ride on the tank that was inside it and pull open the kerosene tap — was to run a little behind it and — j-u-m-p!

As the leader of the "pickled cucumber" gang he indisputably and rightly deserved first chance. After that, as the defeated leader, Areleh stamped on the hill of the yeshiva straight into the arms of the Rov. He had a hard time speaking and the sad blue eyes made his breathing difficult. Or perhaps it was because he had been running or perhaps it was because of the strong kerosene smell that reeked from him. He coughed. Was reprimanded gently. Coughed.

But how can you stop the blossoming of the citrus fruits? The hopping of the sparrows and the bursting forth of the buds in the garden?


At the door of the shoe store in Rabbi Akiva street the sales lady, who was clearly irresponsible, arranged the shoes in a pyramid on a stylish shelf. Shabbos shoes and weekday ones, sandals and slippers. They were all supported by only one, central pillar and it was so inviting! The foot only needed to make a tiny push. Seriously! Such a tiny push. Just out of curiosity and run! And again—leaping, feet climbing up the slope of the hill to behind the bushes in the garden of the institution. Next to the sourish grave of the cucumbers.

And again: Aryeh was vigorously reprimanded. But gently. And then forcefully, but then, as always, the force lost its effect and Areleh carried on with his feverish excitement all over again.

He started up with everyone over nothing and over everything. He did not even remember why the Bnei Brakki chased after him screaming. He did not remember the encounter with the cement buckets, the fall into the pile of sand and the powerful arms that lifted him out of there as if he were weightless.

The only thing that was engraved in his memory was those eyes. Black. Rent wide open in astonishment. They stared at him with such a look that . . . that . . . His ear began with the old tickling that warmed up, burned, flamed fire!

"But . . . but . . . is it, is it, Yossi? You? But . . . Yo— ssi!!" he yelled and fell on him with a jump, hung onto his neck. "Yossi—Yossi—Yo—ssi!"

That terrible, strangled cry that burst from his stomach like a cannonball he did not like to remember. Oy, no . . . he had cried like a baby. Like a lost baby, lost, lost. Yes! It was he, Yossi, his temporary brother!

He looked more like Yossi than ever. As if Yosef from the ship was a kind of rough copy of the young man who now stood before him, amazed, shocked, blinking — a building worker covered in paint-smeared work clothes, hands embellished with drops of cement.

His Yossi, more sturdy now and sunburnt like a Bnei Brakki. "Areleh!" the builder crushed the boy's shoulders with his strong hands. "It is you!" and hugged him again. He pinched his cheek, laughed loudly and cried. And then laughed. "Let's see you, little brother!" and he held him at a distance with his two hands.

"You have almost not changed at all. You've just grown a little. Got a tan. How are you, Aryeh? Where have you been all this time? Hey! I don't believe it! Ribono Shel Olom! Boruch Mechayeih Meisim! Oy, it is so good to see you again! You disappeared on me out of the blue, just like that!"

He blushed under his tan. "And what's going on with the muscles, hey?" He noted with a smile the length and breadth of a plasterer's trowel. "Got a bit fit, did you? Come, let's take a look at you!"

Areleh lifted his arm. Made a muscle. "Oh-ho! Iron! Concrete!" Yossi exulted, and he measured with his finger and thumb the circle of his arm exactly as he had done on the ship, in those days.

"Let's go! You ready to compete at pull-downs?" he laughed as the tears flowed from his eyes as readily as did the smiles.


The rest of the cucumbers in the jar went moldy. If it weren't for Helfgut who zealously watched over the steady supply of salt the "pickled cucumber" gang would have fallen asleep like the winter flower bulbs which were buried in the soil. But Areleh was too busy for such childish nonsense as that. It was much more fascinating to spend time at the "kibbutz" (group) apartment of Yossi and his builder friends, all young Chassidim.

"Maran the Chazon Ish rented the apartment for us! Just imagine!" the young man told him proudly. "Number 97 Rabbi Akiva Street! Imagine! I have a house in Eretz Yisroel!"

The boy was beside himself. "A house! A house to run to when they come chasing after you!"

For Pesach, Yossi bought him a new cap. He hoisted him up on his shoulders as they went for a walk in the orchard. He played "pull-downs" with him. Yossi taught him how to lay one brick on another with a trowel of thick, white cement, and to build a small, low, but stable wall.

He even took him to a tish on Shabbos night. They went up to the Rebbe and Yossi requested, and was given, a brochoh for both of them. As they went out, the boy's ear was burning. His most treasured secret was that large pickled cucumber that he kept in the jar specially so he could give it as a gift next time to the Tzaddik. With Yossi's agreement, naturally.

And now? With a temporary big brother like he has? Let them call him "mossadnik"! Let them! He couldn't care less!

End of Part I


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