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The Future

Zhanna Slor

It was starting to look like all three of his children would end up in the ground beside their ancestors

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

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Photo: Shutterstock

B enjamin had spent his whole life in Katerynoslav, Ukraine, and never once did he imagine leaving it.

He’d married his wife in his own backyard, on a cold spring morning, surrounded by cherry blossoms. He’d buried his parents in the cemetery down the road, right beside his grandparents and great-grandparents.

In Katerynoslav, he’d become a parent himself — three separate times he’d fallen in love with a squirming pink body. But it was starting to look like all three of his children would end up in the ground beside their ancestors, Moshe and Yechiel both gone from cholera before reaching even the age of one. Then he came home one day to find his only remaining son, Chaim, just as ill.

His heart sank straight into the pit of his stomach like an anchor; Chaim had just turned two. He and his wife, Rivkah, had already celebrated Chaim’s birthday, relieved that G-d had at least spared them one child. But there he was, quiet in Rivkah’s arms, with the same tomato-red cheeks and parched lips Benjamin had witnessed too many times. His wife’s hands were raw from washing the poor child’s cloth diaper so many times in one day. More than that, she looked defeated.

“Benjamin,” she cried, from the cold kitchen. The table held only a single candle, nearly melted. Tin saucers were scattered around the stove. Cheesecloth hung from the wood-paneled ceiling. “Oh, Benjamin, we are cursed.”

“Perhaps the poor boy will recover,” Benjamin said, sitting down next Rivkah, though in his heart, he did not believe it. Already he was feeling the pain of another loss coming, and he tried to brace himself for it, but found that he couldn’t.

“Just like the others?” she asked. She started crying even harder.

Benjamin looked her in the eyes. “Let’s pray. If G-d wills it, then our boy will be healthy again.”

Through her tears, she nodded.

But the next day, Benjamin returned from the jewelry shop he owned to find his son in even worse health, his wife in even more distress. In the light of dusk, he was overwhelmed with such an intense sadness he thought he might drown if he didn’t do something.

“I will go see the rabbi,” he told his wife, watching her. She was only 21, but she looked far older. “He will know what to do.”

His wife merely nodded; she had no energy to do more.

 

It was dark when he arrived at the rabbi’s home. A little girl answered the door immediately; Raizel, he thought she was called, though it was hard to keep track when there seemed to be a new one nearly every year for the last two decades. She told Benjamin to follow her. Through the large entryway, past a roaring fire and shelves of large books and manuscripts, he found the rabbi in a closed room, a religious text in his hands. Without looking up, the rabbi turned the page and continued to read for a moment. Then he placed the book down on the table and closed it.

The rabbi waved a hand in his direction. “Pull up a chair, Benjamin,” he said. “What is the problem?”

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