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Freefall: Chapter 41

Miriam Zakon

Abe’s Bubbe tells Annie more about Aunt Cele’s unforgiveable behavior to Annie’s father. Annie tells Abe that they’re going to have a baby

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

K ol Nidrei…

From her seat behind the mechitzah, Annie couldn’t see Reb Leibush standing before the bimah, but she could clearly make out the words — awesome words, both frightening and familiar — that Reb Leibush solemnly intoned as the sun slowly set. Yom Kippur had begun.

While the congregation murmured the prayer, a strange thought flew into her head:

There has never been a Yom Kippur quite like this one.

She knew, of course, that the long, cruel galus had placed her people in the four corners of the globe. But had there ever been a Yom Kippur where Jews prayed and fasted while war raged throughout the world? Had Jewish soldiers ever fasted in foxholes in Africa, Italy, Russia, on dozens of tiny Pacific islands? And what of the Jews facing a fate no one dared speak about, but everyone suspected and feared: Jews crouching in bunkers, hiding in forests and monasteries and attics?

And her grandmother and the rest of Papa’s family, who hadn’t sent a letter this entire year, who seemed to have vanished; what about them? Were they, too, fasting and praying? Or had their decree already been sealed?

Mi’Yom Kippur zeh — From this Yom Kippur …

Abe and his parents and, of course, Bubbe, had always fasted on Yom Kippur and spent the day in their synagogue. Yet standing here, wrapped in the radiant purity of a white kittel, watching the awe-filled face of his father-in-law and hearing Reb Leibush’s plaintive cries, he realized that this was the first time he’d ever really felt the holiness of this day. Holiness — and something very close to fear…

Ad Yom Kippurim haba — until the next Yom Kippur…

By next Yom Kippur, I will be a father. Annie will hold our infant in her arms.

Will I live to see my child?

In the stuffy, overcrowded room something was kindled in Abe Levine, a stern and ironclad resolution: I will survive. My child will know his father.

V’nislach l’chol adas Bnei Yisrael — May it be forgiven for the entire congregation of Israel…

The soldier who’d served as chazzan last year in the Braun house was dead now, killed by an Afrika Korps bullet in El Alamein, so it was Sam Braun who was serving as shaliach tzibbur for the Yom Kippur services in his home.

The words, Moe mused, were the same as those he’d said all his life, but this “congregation of Israel” was as different from Anshei Emunah as Coney Island’s boisterous amusement parks were from the dignified tranquility of the Bletchley Park estate. He’d been shocked when he’d seen all these Station X personnel arriving; he hadn’t realized that so many of these bright, dedicated, and sometimes eccentric Brits were Jewish. Major Cohn, dressed for once in civvies, sat nearby, and so did Squadron Leader Johnny Miller, an RAF pilot and Rob’s fiancé, who’d joined them during a short leave.

In the hours spent together under Fanny’s watchful eye, and on Rosh Hashanah itself, Moe had gotten to know Rob a little better, but he still found her puzzling, contradictory, and sometimes downright mysterious. She was, as the Brauns had said, a proud Jewess who would not sully her lips with treife food, but she worked her Saturday shifts, explaining to Moe that “there’s a war on,” and her war work came before rabbinic rules. They’d had a “roaring row,” as Rob had called it, about that, an argument that left Moe both stimulated and frustrated.

Rob wasn’t the only Jew who was, to put it politely, inconsistent. Some of them declared themselves to be atheists, enjoying their bacon when it became available in the canteen, and even those who proudly proclaimed their Jewishness worked the Saturday shifts and played their cricket games on the holy day. And yet here they were, all of them, ready to pray and fast for the next 25 hours.

Gazing at the “congregation,” Moe said the final words with special emphasis and fervor:

Forgive, please, the sins of Your People… And G-d said, “I have forgiven…”

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