A lifetime ago, Abe had laughed at his Bubbe and his parents as they’d eagerly pored over the Rosh Hashanah cards that flooded their mailbox every September; embossed greetings from elderly relatives, business acquaintances, and the neighbors next door (“You see them every day, Bubbe, it’s so silly”; “Abie, you just don’t understand”).

Well, now he understood the power of a greeting, a blessing before a new year. As he prepared to leave England once again, to return to the field of battle he’d left two months before, he read and reread the letters he’d received these past few days, right before the new year was to begin. His mother’s tearful admonitions to stay safe in this coming year; his father’s words of pride at his son’s Bronze Star, awarded to Lieutenant Levine for taking out a full German battery on D-Day plus 2; his Bubbe’s jokes that hardly camouflaged her anxiety over her only grandchild; and of course, Annie’s daily letters, full of the new words Mutty had started to say, with her love and concern only coming through in the last few sentences of each letter: they were sweeter than the honey cake his Bubbe used to bake, than the carrot tzimmes Mrs. Horn had served on the one Rosh Hashanah he’d gotten to spend with his wife.

What intrigued him most, though, was the postscript on Annie’s letter, the very first time he’d gotten more than simple regards from his father-in-law.

My dear Abe, I hope this finds you well. With the Yamim Noraim approaching, I will take this opportunity to wish you a year of safety and peace and health. Your wife — my daughter — is doing a wonderful job with little Mutty and the two yesomim, and I am very proud of her. Look after yourself — we are very proud of you, too. May HaKadosh Baruch Hu bring you back soon, safely, to the family who awaits your arrival every day. Kesivah v’chasimah tovah, Yeruchum Freed.

Abe had always regarded Annie’s father with mixed emotions: admiration tinged with awe for his fixed principles, combined with puzzlement at his unusual reticence and self-control — did the man ever feel anything? Annie had told him how the two orphans, particularly little Artie, had opened her father up somehow, and these few sentences, simple but loaded with unarticulated feeling, showed him she was right.

And I can use all the blessings I can get right now.

His unit, after six difficult and bloody weeks fighting in Normandy, had been sent back to England to recover and regroup. It had been a welcome respite, though Abe had to admit that he was beginning to feel impatient — the Allied armies were marching through France and Belgium, meeting fierce German resistance, and here he and his men were just hanging around doing more training. When they’d finally been given their orders for their next jump, he felt more relief than tension.

Still, the timing was unfortunate. In what was going to be the largest airborne assault in the history of warfare, three divisions of paratroopers were going to Holland, in the hope of breaking through the German lines and heading straight to Berlin. They were jumping on the day before Rosh Hashanah.