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|"Shimmele!" she called toward the opening. "Shimmele!"
There was no reply.
"Where can that boy be?" she wondered. Yesterday, he had disappeared from one in the afternoon until seven at night. She had wandered the whole camp, going from tent to tent, in search of him. Why, she had even peaked into the shack that served as headquarters! In the end, she had found him at the playground.
She didn't like him going to that area of the camp. Even though the camp held only Jews, some of the people did not act like Jews. They did not study Torah or keep mitzvos, and they walked around without kippas. Those in charge set up a small playground for the children. There, all sorts of activities not to her liking took place. Yet, of all places, that was where Shimmele liked to go- The poor boy! He had spent so many long days and nights in a bunker. After that, he had lain on that wooden board on the boat, hungry and thirsty. She understood him. He longed for carefree fun.
Those bareheaded Jews frightened her, though. She didn't really understand the songs they sang or the stories they told. She was afraid they would have a bad influence on her Shimmele. What should she do?
If only he had never gone there.
With these thoughts in her mind, Mrs. Berger picked up the water bucket and started on the path to the spot where she would wait for the water truck. In the distance, she saw Golda waving to her.
"Where are you going?" Golda asked as she came closer.
"We're almost out of water. I'm going to wait for the truck."
"Where is Shimmele?"
Mrs. Berger sighed. "Shimmele? I don't know where that boy ran off to. He's getting wilder and more independent with each passing day. He's becoming hard for me to handle. Just the other day, he stood at the fence talking with a British soldier! Can you imagine? For this alone I wish we could go to Eretz Yisrael already."
"Give me the bucket," Golda offered, "and I'll wait for the water truck. It will be a long wait, not the best thing for your tired legs."
Mrs. Berger handed her the bucket gratefully. "Thank you very much. Now I can go look for Shimmele. It's like this every day. This morning, I asked him to come back soon, and I haven't seen him since."
Leaving Golda to wait for the water, Mrs. Berger set out on her search, peaking into every tent she passed by.
"Did you see Shimmele?" she asked everyone she encountered.
People in the camp were used to seeing the kindly grandmother searching for her mischievous grandson.
"No, we didn't see him," many replied with a shake of their heads before continuing on their way.
Some people had seen him. Some of the people Mrs. Berger asked had seen Shimmele standing near the fence, and others had seen him at the camp's small store. One person said he had seen the boy hoeing the garden behind the shack that served as a clubhouse.
"The poor, old woman," they said to each other behind her back. "She's no match for that boy of hers. He needs a firmer hand. She won't be able to rein him in too much longer."
From out of nowhere, Shimmele suddenly ran straight into his grandmother's arms.
"Bubby!" he cried out in joy.
"Shimmele!" his grandmother exclaimed in surprise mixed with worry. "Where were you? I've been looking for you all day."
"I was in cheder," he said, breathless from running to greet her. He knew she would be happy to hear about the cheder.
"Cheder? There's a cheder here in the camp?" his grandmother asked in astonishment.
"Yes! Today Reb Yankel Hoffman came over to me and told me about it. He said it was at the shul and that he was the teacher. Look we got this!" Shimmele waved a worn copy of Chumash Bereishis. "Today we learned 'Bereishis bara Elokim.' We also learned some mishnaynos. Reb Yosef, the shoemaker, was there, too, and he told us a story."
"Were you there the whole time?"
Shimmele nodded. "Since the morning," he said with a smile. "It was a good story. Reb Yankel said that we have to learn a lot before we get to Eretz Yisrael, so that we're not behind the kids there. We have to show them that we know Torah, Mishna, Gemara and how to daven the same as they do, even though we had to hide for so many years and couldn't learn in cheder."
"Yes, mein kind, you have a lot to make up for," his grandmother said, feeling a surge of pride in the boy. She touched his peyos, as if to make sure they were still there.
"May Hashem bless them for organizing such holy pursuits," she murmured to herself. "There have always been Jews who made sure Torah would never be forgotten among the people. In the ghettos, under the worst conditions, they gathered the children to teach them Torah. They had no food to give the hungry youngsters, but of food for the soul, they had plenty. Sometimes," she mused, "that's needed even more."
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