he ticking clock was too loud in the unnaturally quiet kitchen. Left to sleep undisturbed when their cousins slipped off to school, Tzipi and Benny woke to an empty house. Gedalya was waiting in the kitchen. He took advantage of their temporary privacy to share his news with his children.

“No way!” Benny refused to believe his father’s words. “Tatty, say it’s not true!”

“It’s a mistake!” Tzipi declared, jumping to her feet. “It can’t be true, Tatty. It must be a mistake!”

Gedalya did not reply. He just looked at his children with a steady gaze, waiting for them to absorb the news.

Suddenly Benny felt so angry he didn’t know what to do with himself. Why wasn’t Tatty denying this crazy story? His mother couldn’t be in prison! That was ridiculous!

Tzipi sank back onto the kitchen chair, staring past her father, searching for something that wasn’t there. She knew Tatty would never say something like that if it wasn’t true. She glanced up at her father’s face, realizing how much it hurt him to be the one to bear this news. Her eyes burned with tears and she twisted her hands.

Benny was so angry that he kicked over a chair and drove a fist into the wall. “You have to do something!” he shouted. “You can’t leave her like that. You can’t just say that my mother is locked up somewhere in another country and you don’t know when we’ll see her again!”

“What do you think he can do?” Tzipi turned on her brother. “What exactly do you want Tatty to do from here when she’s over there?”

“Take it easy, kids.” As always, Gedalya’s voice was calm. “This whole thing is really scary for all of us, but there are many people doing their best to get Mommy released and bring her home.”

“I have to do something!” Benny declared, clenching and unclenching his fists. “I can’t wait and do nothing!”

“The best thing we can do to help Mommy is to daven and trust Hashem.” Gedalya put a hand on Benny’s shoulder. At his father’s touch, the boy broke down. Gedalya pulled him close until the storm of his son’s tears died away.

Tzipi was very pale. “Is Mommy’s life in danger?” she asked.

Gedalya took his daughter’s slender hands in his large ones and explained as much as he could. “Mommy was working undercover. She was arrested together with a group of innocent women and we hope that the Iranians aren’t aware of who she really is, that she was on an operation for Israeli intelligence. If she can stay anonymous, she’ll be released soon because she hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“And if not…?” Tzipi whispered.

“It may be a long time before she comes back.”

“How long?”

“No one knows, but it could be years.” The pain in her father’s voice was obvious.