"Iwant this war to end already,” Moishe Neiman sighed, stretching out on his bed for a short rest before the boys had to return to cheder in the afternoon.

“Soon.” Yossi was threading a new lace into his shoe to replace one that broke. “Abba says American troops took back Kuwait and crossed the border into Iraq. They’re on the outskirts of Baghdad already. It can’t be much longer.”

“So far, all the missiles that fell in Israel had conventional warheads. Now that Saddam Hussein is cornered, there’s a real danger he might become desperate enough to carry out his threat to use chemical weapons,” Shaul warned. “Even though the end is in sight, we still need to concentrate on our kavanah when davening.”

“I’ll be so glad when it’s over,” Naftali sighed from the floor where he was playing kugelach. “Then you boys will go back to learning in Jerusalem.”

Yossi gave the new lace a last tug and turned to his little brother. “Don’t you like having us at home?” he asked.

Naftali shrugged. “It is nice having you here,” he answered, “but I want to sleep in my own bed again.”

“What difference does it make if a mattress is on a bed frame or the floor?”

“You’d understand if your pillow was soggy from Yanky’s negel vasser.”

Rivka hurried into the boys’ room. She passed a stack of ironed shirts to Moishe. “Please put these away in the closet,” she requested. “I have to leave for the Bornstein wedding in the next five minutes or I’ll miss the chuppah.”

Following her mother into the boys’ bedroom, Shoshy spilled a basket of clean socks on the nearest bed. “It’s so strange to have simchahs during the day!” she said, spreading the socks out so she could pair them.

“Yeah, Saddam Hussein is really inconsiderate.” Moishe’s understatement made her giggle.

“It’s funny how we’ve gotten used to so many strange things over the last few weeks,” Chaim mused. “Two of my friends made their bar mitzvahs in the early afternoon instead of at night because everyone wants to be home before the sirens start wailing.”

“Did you hear what Rav Chaim Kanievsky said about the gas masks?” Yossi asked.

All eyes in the room turned to the oldest Neiman son.

“Before the war, my friend’s father asked Rav Chaim if it was really necessary to get gas masks for his family. Rav Chaim made a gesture that seemed to mean no. After the air raids began, Rav Chaim was asked again by somebody else and he laughed. He said, ‘We’ll only need masks on Purim.’ ”

“Does that mean that there will be poison gas on Purim?” Shoshy gasped.

“The war is winding down,” Yossi reassured her. “Let’s hope it’s all over by Purim.”

“Taanis Esther is next week. What better time than Purim for the Jewish nation to be saved?” Rivka had returned to the room to say goodbye to her children before leaving the house. “Shoshy, you can manage with the little ones until Abba and I come home, right?”

“What will we do if there’s a siren?” Chaim turned a concerned face to his mother.