©2014, M.E. Allen and Ara Ogle
This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World known as “Dies the Fire,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2004. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by M. E. Allen and Ara Ogle in 2014, except for those parts derived from “Dies the Fire,” and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
We are more grateful than we can say to S.M Stirling for opening his world to us and to Kier Salmon for giving us this assignment — we’ve enjoyed it immensely!
Thanks also to Kier Salmon, Edward Jacobowitz, Tracy and Daryl Jarratt, Syril Victor, Karen Black, Igor Bunimovich, Robert Waldrop, Stuart Drucker, Gereg Muller, Holdt Garver, Bonnie Duke, and Diane Porter for patient and generous editing, feedback, and information on various subjects, including Degania Dalet canon, Oregon geography, weaponry and fighting tactics, the IDF, Chabad/Orthodox Judaism, and Portland’s Jewry. Special thanks to Hilary Palmer for contributing Samuel’s sermon in Go.
Table of Contents
Book One: Names
Sunday, March 15, 1998, 5:00 P.M. Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York
Monday, March 16, 1998, 10:45 A.M. Beth Abraham, Portland Oregon
Monday, March 16, 1:15 P.M. Oregon Health and Science University Teaching Hospital, Portland, Oregon
Tuesday, March 17, 6:00 P.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, Oregon
Tuesday, March 17, 1998, 6:13 P.M. Shir Chadash, Portland, Oregon
Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 8:00 A.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center
Book Two: And I Appeared
Tuesday, March 17, 1998, 2:30 A.M. Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York
Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 9:00 A.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, Oregon
Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 3:25 P.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, Oregon
Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 9:30 A.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, Oregon
Thursday, March 19, 1998, 4:30 P.M. Reed College, Portland Oregon
Friday, March 20, 1998, 3:30 P.M. Residential Street in Hillside, Portland, Oregon
Saturday, March 21, 1998, 2:30 P.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland Oregon, Portland, Oregon
Saturday, March 21, 1998, 5:30 P.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland Oregon, Portland, Oregon
Book Three: Go
Sunday, March 22, 1998. Southwest Capitol Highway, Outside Mittleman Jewish Community Center
Monday, March 23, 1998. Cook Park, Tigard, Oregon
Tuesday, March 24, 1998. Memorial Park, Wilsonville, Oregon
Wednesday, March 25, 1998. Langdon Farms Golf Club, Aurora, Oregon
Thursday, March 26, 1998. Interstate Five outside Aurora, Oregon
Friday, March 27, 1998. Saint Louis Fish Ponds, Marion County, Oregon
Saturday, March 28, 1998. Cascades Gateway Park, Salem, Oregon
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 1 —
Sunday, March 15, 1998, 5:00 P.M. Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York
“Yoter miday shmot hadashot…” Yavin grumbled to his wife in Hebrew, tugging irritably at the collar of his blue dress shirt; he never wore a tie. “Too many new names,” he repeated. “I’ve met thirty people in the past hour I’ll never see again. Too many to possibly remember. Yet every time I say ‘yes, ummm… you!’ I feel them judging me.”
“Hush, they are about to start leaving,” Mazal scolded kindly, also b’ivrit. Unlike her husband, who was starting to wilt after the four-hour-long event, she looked impeccable in a classy tunic dress of patterned green linen, setting off her mizrahi-dark looks to perfection. “What you really need to do is stop pressuring yourself to get your English perfect. You know that’s what is really bothering you. I’ve seen you walk into a roomful of IDF recruits and know them all by name ten minutes later.”
Yavin smiled back; she was right, after all. Physically average, he relied on his verbal skills to exert his dominance in social settings. His weathered, Eastern-European complexion had seen better days; his once-blond hair was now as grey as his eyes. A sharp beak of a nose dominated his face, giving him what he had hoped—when he was young enough to care about such things—was the face of an eagle, but had long ago resignedly concluded came across as merely weasel-like. While years of military life had given him a tough, stocky build, that was nothing unusual in his home city, Tel Aviv, and his 173 centimeters was distinctly below average here in the States. His awkwardness in English prevented him from taking control of his surroundings verbally, and he was obsessing over trifles to distract himself from the stress of the situation.
At least Mazal was right about the time, as well: the academics and book reviewers his publisher and his foster sister, Miryam, had invited to meet him were coming in one and twos and small groups to say how much they had enjoyed meeting him and discussing his book—Corn to Diamonds: the Decline of the Israeli Kibbutz. The afternoon mixer was clearly winding to a close, and he could see Miryam’s large apartment emptying out.
A few minutes later, Miryam, dressed in one of her snappy skirted suits—this one a sunny and unexpected yellow over a pale orange patterned blouse—finally walked the last attendee to the door. Yavin breathed a sigh of relief and collapsed on the couch, his expression nearly as zombie-like as that of his grandson, Natan, who was sitting with a glazed expression. Four hours of grown-ups talking about politics and history had taxed the jet-lagged twelve-year-old to the max. Yavin ruffled the boy’s tightly curled black hair—inherited from his Ethiopian father—and the boy yawned and gratefully flopped his head down in his grandfather’s lap.
Mazal and Miri began to gather up the dishes and wine glasses from Miryam’s giant living room. Well, it was enormous by NYC standards, where an area large enough to hold thirty people at once was palatial—by Tel Aviv standards it was merely roomy. It had once been several rooms, but she and her late husband—a native Manhattanite whose family had owned the pre-War building—had knocked out almost all of the walls in the apartment when they’d married; even the kitchen was partially open plan, with only a counter separating it from the main room. They’d then combined it with another apartment on the story above them, giving them two guest bedrooms and bathrooms as well as a master suite, complete with dressing room and study, all accessible by a spiral staircase in the corner of the main room.
After a reproving glance from Mazal, Yavin sighed. “Come on, Natan, let’s give the women a hand.” The near-teenager gave his grandfather an annoyed and sleepy glance, but let himself be levered off the couch.
Miryam allowed them to help her move the dishes into the kitchen and scrape any remaining food into the trash, but refused to allow them to clean up anything else. “Leave it. My cleaning lady is coming in the morning, and I’ll pay her extra. One of the privileges of being rich! I want to take advantage of every moment we have; it’s been far too long! Now call Gilah, and don’t reverse the charges. I don’t mind a long distance call on my bill.” She also spoke in Hebrew, and Yavin smiled as he turned off the ‘English’ section of his brain. Now that his family was alone, they could all stick to their most familiar language.
Mazal dialed and spoke to her daughter for a few minutes before handing the phone off to Natan. It had been a couple of days since he’d talked to his parents, and this way he could wish them good night. “Yes, Mom, I’m being a very good boy,” he said cheekily as he took the receiver from his grandmother.
Yavin grinned, settling back down next to Miryam on the couch. “He’s going to be a charmer, that one, like his uncle Eyal. I was a bit worried when Mazal wanted to bring him to America. In theory, it was a wonderful opportunity for him, and a chance to see his aunt and uncles, as well as meet his little cousin Shira, but I didn’t want to have to deal with a sullen homesick adolescent for two weeks. I still remember when we came to visit you that summer when all our kids were in their teens. I swear, I wanted to strangle them all within ten minutes of boarding the plane. However, he’s been a delight.”
“I can’t imagine any child you and Mazal had a hand in raising being sullen. A bit rebellious, perhaps. I remember that summer as being perfectly pleasant.”
Yavin snorted, but forebore to comment. Lior and Eyal, the twin babies of the family, had been fourteen that summer and as so often happened, Lior had grown up more quickly than her brother, and was constantly pointing out his immaturity, which only encouraged him to misbehave to annoy her. Furthermore, she and Gilah, her older sister, had fought constantly throughout their childhoods—and Gilah had been seventeen that summer, nervously on the cusp of her military service, and not in the mood to take any nonsense from her younger sister. Only sixteen-year-old Rivka had made any effort to enjoy herself, and that had ended with her falling in love with the boy in the next apartment, who’d taken her out to several clubs until she’d been brought back dead drunk at two in the morning in a police car. Now that he thought about it, Miri and her husband, Morry, had both slept through that debacle. Rivka had had to be forbidden the boy’s company, and had dramatically and tearfully refused to speak to her parents for the next three weeks.
Rather than remind Miryam of those unpleasant memories, Yavin changed the subject, “Listen, Miryam, speaking of being rebellious, why not come to Portland? I’m not asking you to traipse around with us afterwards to LA, Austin, or Bocco whatever in Florida—”
“Right. But in Portland you can see Eyal and Lior—Lior told me she hasn’t seen you since Shira was born—and meet the girl Eyal just proposed to; Devra Kohn.”
“Do we approve of her?” Miryam asked, straightening a couple of green silk cushions on the brown leather sofa.
“I don’t know. I haven’t met her either.” Yavin pursed his lips, thinking about Eyal. He was so proud of his tall, strong, trauma doctor of an offspring—but in the area of romance, he just didn’t understand his son. When I met Mazal, I knew she was the one… and the one was what I always wanted, what I was looking for. All our daughters were the same—the first serious relationship was it. Well, except for Rivka’s divorce, I suppose. But she still fell in love quickly or not at all, and—once out of her teens at least—she didn’t spend time with men who weren’t husband material. Yavin frowned to himself. While of course he supported his daughter, he’d liked his son-in-law as well, and had been disappointed when they hadn’t tried harder to keep their marriage together. But Eyal has just seemed to drift through life, casually seeing this girl and that, with no sense of urgency, of looking for or needing a partner. “Lior says she likes Devra. Apparently she’s not Eyal’s usual knockout-gorgeous-but-boring-after-three-months type—not that we’ve actually met any of those, just seen pictures and heard stories. This one is a fellow doctor, apparently, and he can’t wait for us to meet her.”
“Maybe he’s growing up.”
“Now that seems far too much to hope for,” Mazal put in, while rearranging the collection of matrushki that Miryam kept on a side table.
“So, you’ll come?” Yavin pushed.
“I can’t,” Miri snapped. “You know that—it’s midterms this week at Hunter. I have projects to supervise. Honestly, Yavin, you never listen to me. I told you I could come the following week during spring break, but no, you couldn’t schedule it that way.”
“It wasn’t me! My publishing company did all the bookings!” he protested. “Come on… be a rebel,” he urged, “and just come.”
Miryam laughed. “You never give up.”
“Nope. The whole world could change around him, and he’d never surrender,” Mazal agreed.
“Could change? You forget Mazal, it did; in ’48. And you’re right. He never surrendered.”
“I was twelve, Miryam!” Yavin protested.
“Regardless, it was hardly my decision not to surrender when the Syrian tanks appeared on the horizon.”
“What happened?” Natan piped up. He had finished his conversation with his mother some time ago and had just wandered back from the kitchen where he’d made himself a snack from leftover canapes.
“Nothing,” his grandfather said as Natan squeezed in between him and Miryam. “It’s an old story. From before you were born.”
“You never told him?” Miryam sounded astonished.
“It’s hardly a story for a child’s ears,” Yavin replied severely.
“Nonsense,” said Miryam, waving away his objections. “Parents these days coddle their children far too much. As long as true stories are told with care, they help prepare children for the world, not traumatize them.” She turned to Natan, opened her mouth, then glanced back at Yavin, as if waiting for him to stop her.
Irritably, he threw up his hands. “As if I could stop you, sister mine.”
Miryam smiled at the honorific. “So, Natan. When your father was your age, he and I were growing up in Degania Alef; your parents took you to visit there, yes?”
“Yeah. It was boring.”
Miryam grinned at his trusting honesty. “I’m sure it was. Back then, however, it was still pretty exciting, because Israel wasn’t a state yet. We were still under British rule, but they didn’t pay much attention to us.”
“The mandate, right? I studied it in class.”
“Yes. And we lived very close to the Syrian border; but the borders were pretty… debatable, at that time. In any case, the year your father was to turn thirteen—”
“How old were you, Aunt?”
“I was sixteen. Already planning how to get off the kivutza and into civilization! Now, things were very tense, because Israel had declared its independence, and all five of our neighbors had declared war on us to stop us from becoming a country.”
“Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and…” Natan paused, with a horrified expression on his face.
“Iraq,” his grandfather put in.
“I knew that!” Natan insisted.
Miryam grinned. “We were closest to Syria, and we were sure that their attack would come right through our area. But we couldn’t get any reinforcements from the haganah. They were spread too thin as it was. And then one night, the Syrian—”
“Hold on,” Yavin interrupted. “If you’re going to embarrass me with this story, you’re going to embarrass yourself as well. What about your dream?”
“Oh,” Miryam lowered her eyes in surprise and embarrassment. “That was just a coincidence.”
“Are you kidding me? A coincidence? And all the other dreams, the way you could tell what weather we’d be having and what mishaps, injuries to guard against, those were all coincidences?”
“Unconscious correlation. And ordinary caution. I could tell the weather from small signs, just from being very accustomed to the climate, but I couldn’t put a conscious handle on it, so I called it prophecy. And anyone can predict that when a child is running around with no shoes, they’re going to get a scrape; that’s not magic.”
“What dream?” demanded Natan, bouncing up and down in his seat. “What prophecy? Magic?”
Yavin grinned as Miryam closed her eyes in resignation. He couldn’t believe how much his mystical, mysteriously powerful sister had turned to science as her new faith after marrying an American doctor and attending college in the States.
“Your aunt dreamed that the Syrians were going to attack before it happened. And, because she’d had many ‘unconscious correlations’ before, the adults made preparations, so we were ready,” Yavin explained.
Miryam made a face at him, and continued the tale. “I was behind the firing line, reloading rifles. Your father was supposed to be there, too; but the Syrians came with a tank and broke through the defenses, got into the kibbutz proper. It was threatening to turn into a disaster. But then your father ran through, toward the front lines, and threw a Molotov cocktail—that’s like a bottle of alcohol on fire, so it explodes when it breaks—and hit the tank. Others followed him, doing the same… and we drove them off. Afterwards our fighters teamed up with the reinforcements that finally arrived under Moshe Dayan, and won a series of battles against the Syrians. It was a very important part of the War of Independence.”
“And that’s the story,” Yavin summarized hastily. No matter what Miryam said, there was no need to go into his bout with what was now termed PTSD, or how Miryam had helped him though it, setting her on the path to becoming an eminent child psychologist.
“Wow, Saba. I thought you were just a hero when you were grown up,” Natan said.
“No, now I’m just an officer. And a retired one at that.” Yavin said. “If you don’t mind, Miryam, why don’t you pick a restaurant, and I’ll take us all for an early dinner before we go to see Les Miserables.” It had been years since he’d last visited NYC, and while he’d no doubt have plenty of opportunities in the future now that he was retired, he intended to enjoy himself to the fullest.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 2 —
Monday, March 16, 1998, 10:45 A.M. Beth Abraham, Portland Oregon
Jodi Green tried to put a pleasant expression on her face, but all she really wanted to do was find some quiet corner and cry herself out. No mother-in-law jokes had ever applied to Rose Green, the lovely lady they had just buried. And now instead of wallowing in her grief, Jodi had to stand, and eat, and mingle, supporting her daughter, who had never experienced the death of anyone closer than a goldfish before, and all the while listening to everyone talk about what a extraordinary person Rose had been, so kind and loving, a vital member of the Jewish community. For some reason, it was much harder than the death of her own mother, whom they had lost to an agonizingly slow decline by Alzheimer's five years ago. She had spoke on the phone with Rose three days ago, received comfort and advice for dealing with her twenty-three-year-old son’s first heartbreak. Rose had been so proud of Daniel, who was in his first year at Georgetown Law. Now the lively little old woman was gone, and her beloved grandson hadn’t even been able to make it out for the funeral, he was so hip-deep in midterms.
She stifled a sigh as the conversational waltz brought her and Caroline near some of the most unusual guests at the funeral: the sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren of her brother-in-law, who had all flown out from Brooklyn to pay their respects. He was three years younger than her husband, and she vaguely remembered Bert and she vaguely remembered Bert as a gangly teenager in the days when she and Abe had first started dating, before he’d left to go to college in New York and fallen under the spell of the haredi community there. Now, as the stolid leader of a Chabad congregation in Brooklyn and his mother's roots to become the stolid leader of a particularly haredi congregation, using his Jewish name, Chaim. He was an imposing figure in black, fur hat, tallis, and peyos, standing next to his brother, some distance away from the women of his family.
“Can you tell them apart?” her daughter whispered in her ear.
“Your uncle and your father?” Jodi asked, surprised. “They do look rather alike, even after all this time, but the clothes and hair make it pretty easy, no?”
“No,” Caroline said, giving her an annoyed glance for her thickness. “My, what do you call them, cousins-in-law? My cousins’ wives, at any rate.” She jerked her head to the side of the room where two dark haired women—wearing hats and dressed in similar black boxy skirted suits with dark pantyhose—stood surrounded by a gaggle of children. The children ranged in age from a pair of babes in strollers to two not-quite teenage girls—the oldest were the younger sisters-in-law, rather than the children, of the wives. A little distance away stood four young men in black suits and broad-brimmed hats, talking quietly among themselves in Yiddish.
“I suppose I ought to go over and say something to them, but I keep feeling like they are judging me. Why do you think Uncle whatever-his-name is brought them all out here?”
“I think he’d like you to call him Chaim. He started to use his Jewish name over thirty years ago, after all; I doubt he remembers, most of the time, that he ever had a different name. At least, that’s the way it works for me and my last name. And Chaim brought his children and grandchildren as a sign of respect to the matriarch of the family, of course. Plus, I think he and your father wanted the two halves of the family to meet. And why would they judge you?”
“Oh, they each had four kids by the time they were twenty, and I’m twenty-one and don’t even have a boyfriend. What would we talk about?” Caroline said, trying to make it seem like a joke; and failing.
“They only have two and three children and they are a both a few years older than you, and they look very sweet. Go and talk to them. It’s your hangup, not theirs. Ask them about their children; that will make any mother happy ”
Then, left alone as her daughter went to talk to her outlandish-seeming relatives, Jodi walked over to stand by her husband, in a circle of men that included her brother-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Greenberg—Albert Green-that-was had changed his first name and gone back to the original family surname—and Rabbi Rafael Friedman, the leader of Beth Abraham, the Orthodox synagogue where the reception was being held, and in which Abe and his brother had been bar mitzvahed decades before. Rose had still attended weekly services there, with Abe to escort her in later years, but Jodi had come only during the high holy days, when the crowds had kept her safely hidden from the rabbi’s notice.. Rose had insisted on introducing both of her grandchildren to synagogue and enrolled them in religious school when they got to b’nai mitzvah age, but neither of them had had much interest, and after the first few weeks of protest, Abe and Jodi had agreed that they shouldn’t be forced.
Jodi rather regretted not pressing Abe to join one of the reform or conservative congregations, so that their children could have had a religious experience that didn’t seem so detached from their day-to-day lives as secular Jews, but Abe had always maintained that ‘the synagogue I don’t go to is Orthodox.’
“Rabbi Friedman,” she said, nodding to Chaim and slipping her hand through her husband’s arm. “that was a beautiful eulogy, thank you.”
“Mrs. Green was a bright spirit in all our lives,” Rabbi Friedman replied. “I know that I am going to miss her. I am pleased to meet Rabbi Greenberg at last, as well. I only wish your wife had been able to join you as well, Chaim. Barbara, my wife, would have been eager to make her welcome. She has been delighted to have so many women in her home. We very much regret that we never had any daughters.”
“I’m afraid Chaya had to stay home to look after her business,” Chaim responded, looking genuinely unhappy. “She had a number of important meetings this week she could not reschedule.”
“Really?” Jodi asked, surprised, before she could help herself. “What does she do?”
“She supervises a business that makes tachrichim—funerary garments,” he added in response to Jodi’s blank look. “And my youngest daughter-in-law is too far along in her first pregnancy to fly, so they are keeping each other company.”
“How wonderful that she has her own business,” Jodi said. “I found it hard to work even part-time with just two children. How does she manage with six, Chaim?”
Chaim looked taken aback, as if the notion of children being a lot of work had never even occurred to him. “Well, I am also very involved in raising the children; my work allows me to be home much of the day and to take them with me when I need to go out. And we live in a Jewish neighborhood, in an eruv, in fact, so we know and are friendly with all of our neighbors. I am frequently able to leave the children with another mother on our block, even without any notice. And, of course, occasionally, we also host other children in our home while their parents are otherwise occupied.”
Jodi wanted to say that Abe had been an involved father too, but it sounded a bit too much like she was trying to top Chaim—and, she reminded herself severely, it wasn’t as if Abe had ever considered working from home to spend more time with their children—so she just said, “That sounds very nice. Modern life can be isolating.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Abe said, “We had some very good friends while the children were growing up. We never knew who’d be in our kitchen or what house the kids would end up in after school.”
Jodi smiled at him. He always knows just how to support me, she thought fondly. “Maybe it wasn’t so different, after all.”
“Abe tells me you were the last person to speak to Mother. How did she sound?” Chaim asked.
“She phoned me to ask if I could pick up a few things at the store for her. She sounded fine. We chatted a bit about Daniel. He’d—just broken up with a girlfriend.” No need to go into the fact that he’s just moved out of his Christian girlfriend’s apartment. “And when I delivered the groceries I let myself in with my key as I often did, and she was sitting in her chair, with her knitting in her lap as if she’d just fallen asleep. It was very… peaceful. An aneurysm.”
“I hadn’t realized you’d found her. I am so sorry if I brought up a painful memory,” Chaim began, but Jodi shook her head.
“No, I’m a nurse practitioner. Death doesn’t bother me. But her loss does. You were blessed in your mother, you and Abe. She was remarkable, raising you as a young widow.”
“I know. I am just sorry my children and grandchildren saw so little of her.”
Jodi suppressed the thought that if Chaim had remained Albert and stayed in Portland, that wouldn't have been a problem.
“Indeed, this modern world brings along some enormous inconveniences with it; chief among them how far people end up from each other!” Raffi agreed jovially. “I’m from Philadelphia originally; most of my family are back there, or in Israel. But on the other hand, it means that Jews are spread out all over the world.”
“Have you travelled much, Rabbi Friedman?” Abe asked.
“Not really,” he replied, offhandedly. “What about you?”
“Years ago I went to South America for a summer, as a graduate student, and helped design bridges to be built out of lowtech material in the Andes,” Abe replied. “I hitchhiked for a month afterwards.”
“And I have been to Israel,” Chaim put in. “It was a wonderful experience being in a Jewish country.”
“Indeed,” Raffi said after a moment of silence. “I attended yeshiva there. And a number of our active older people are there now. We sponsored a Golden Tour to Israel for Passover this year; they just left, in fact—over two hundred elders from the greater Jewish community here, forty from Beth Abraham alone. They'll be gone almost five weeks.”
Jodi couldn’t help but notice how Chaim had, apparently unconsciously, shifted so that the group of men now stood in such a way that she was excluded. She fumed a bit silently, wondering if it was worth tugging on Abe’s arm to make room for herself, or if she should just let it pass. She decided a funeral reception wasn't the place to make a stand for feminist principles and went to look for Caroline. As a practicing nursing professional for over twenty years, she had learned when such a stand was and wasn’t productive.
The three young women had apparently exhausted the names and ages of the children, and Caroline was rather desperately giving a monologue on the paper she was writing for her cross-cultural communications class—ah, the irony! Jodi thought laughingly—as the mothers and two young aunties tried to keep the little children quiet. “Let me find out if the nursery is open,” Jodi suggested. It was, and Barbara Friedman led the Greenbergs down the stairs.
“I feel like we are exiling them,” Caroline said, “but I’m rather relieved to see them go. You are right. They are sweet. But aside from Grandma, we have nothing in common. Well, they fly back to New York on Tuesday. I don’t suppose I’ll see them again.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 3 —
Monday, March 16, 1:15 P.M. Oregon Health and Science University Teaching Hospital, Portland, Oregon
Devra Kohn glanced around as she entered the hospital cafeteria, hoping she’d be lucky and find Eyal also on break. They tried to sync their rest periods when on-call, but for two residents in one of Portland’s busiest hospitals, rest periods were rare and unpredictable. Shortly after he’d proposed Eyal had suggested—although suggest was a milder verb than was probably applicable—that they live together. Devra had pointed out that not only would her very conservative parents object strenuously to Devra moving out, but that she and Eyal had more chance of seeing each other at the hospital than anywhere else. She hadn't added the economic objection. Living with her parents was helping her pay off a fair chunk of her loans early. Meanwhile, he’d found a new apartment just a few blocks from her parents’ home, so that on the rare occasions they were both home and not passed out asleep, they could meet up easily.
The truth was, she might have been willing to fight her parents on the issue, but she wanted to train him a bit longer before they lived together. Eyal’s apartment could have served as a practical demonstration for why bachelors living alone were a byword for disorder.
“We must be the only engaged couple in the US who have to sneak sex,” Eyal complained frequently, but she just smiled and suggested that he clean up the bedroom a bit so she could get in the mood.
Eyal wasn’t there. She sat with her friend Leah—another peds resident—instead, and pulled out her sack lunch. The hearty homemade sourdough sub, packed with her mother’s roast beef, horseradish, bean sprouts, and havarti cheese, was much better than the hospital’s food. Packing food from home was cheaper, and she was determined to not be paying off student loans until she was forty.
Leah—who kept kosher—pulled her lunch from the microwave. Soup and a hunk of bread with the distinctive braids and poppyseeds of challah—the aroma of leftover chicken soup tickled Devra’s nose. Probably leftover Shabbat dinner, she thought. And Leah had a slice of delicious looking chocolate cake. Be brave, you’re on a diet, Devra reminded herself. Mom will never forgive you if you don’t look your best in the dress she is making—she is so happy to be able to make me one just like the one she wore, that was left behind with dyedushka i babushka when we moved.
She only had a few memories of life in Russia; mostly of the nightmare years in school, filled with the teasing that a plump, plain, brainy girl could expect. Arriving in the States, she’d been placed as an ESL student in the local Community College and studied long hours in the night and during classes. She’d stunned her family and teachers by learning English quickly, well enough to transfer to the state college, graduate early, and dive into medical school at the same age as her peers. Her life had been about school, studies, and professional and academic success for so long, it had taken a major shock for her to open herself up to more… personal… concerns. Fortunately, Eyal’s first kiss had provided a more than sufficient jolt to her system.
“So,” said Leah. “Did I tell you what the ED nurses are calling Eyal?”
“I’ve heard. Dr. Eeyore. I don’t get it.”
“Because he’s so charming. Just the opposite of serious, gloomy, old Eeyore.”
“Ok, that must be some kind of British humour, like calling the longest street in town Short Street. And Eeyore is a donkey. A homely donkey. He’s on the wallpaper on the peds floor.”
“Exactly. Opposites in all ways…” Leah grinned at her, and she had to smile back. In any case, any small measure that might cut down the competition for Eyal had to be good in her book. Before they’d started dating in the second year of her residency—his fourth—he’d gone through the female nurses and residents like an alpha stallion through his mares. That had been one reason she’d refused to go out with him for so long, although he’d started courting her the moment they met. Having been too busy, inhibited, and shy in college and med school, she’d finally lost her virginity to him after he’d met her challenge of six months of chastity, and was glad she’d waited.
“Well, I still think it’s a silly nickname. But certainly better than mine.”
“Don’t be silly, Mother Goose fits you perfectly. You might as well accept it; you’re basically a fertility goddess. Would you prefer Isis, or Saint Anne, or something?”
“Now, why are you giving my girl a new name?”
Devra jumped a little with startlement, then flushed and arched with pleasure as Eyal came up behind her and kneaded her shoulders with his strong, capable hands.
“Eyal…” Leah drawled threateningly.
“So sorry. Why are you giving my woman a new name?”
“Not much better.”
“Dame? Lady? I’m pretty fluent in English, but there might be some better words I haven’t discovered yet…”
“It’s implying that she’s your property that I have a problem with,” Leah said, ignoring his teasing tone.
“I believe that is what that ring on her finger indicates,” Eyal continued, always happy to bait Leah’s feminist convictions. As she reddened with anger, he continued, “Ahhh, but the ownership goes both ways. When she refers to me as her man, I’m over the moon with happiness.”
Leah snorted, but finally realizing that he was baiting her, subsided.
“What about beloved,” suggested Eyal’s companion, with a purr in his voice, as he took the last seat at the four-top table and pulled his chair in close to Leah.
Now both women snorted, and Eyal groaned.
“Thanks, but when I want to give Devra such titles, I prefer to use Hebrew. And to be alone.”
This time, Leah smiled. Devra found it hard not to grin. Somehow, when Eyal said such things, they sounded sincere, not smarmy. Unlike his friend Matthew—Dr. Kepler, cardiologist—who was horribly incompetent in his attempts to charm women.
“What’s new in the ED?” Derva asked. Eyal, as a trauma specialist, spent most of his time there.
He laughed. “You’ll enjoy this one—you know how we all have trouble understanding Dr. Tsing?”
“Sure.” Derva nodded. He was a visiting attending doing an exchange with one of OHSU’s professors, and while he was an excellent physician, and could write and understand English very well, his heavy accent often left staff and patients alike befuddled.
“Well, a patient this morning asked for an interpreter. The nurse was a bit confused, since the woman was speaking excellent English, but asked, ‘What language do you need?’ And the patient said, ‘Whatever he speaks at home.’”
“So what did they do?” Leah asked.
“One of his first years, Dr. Yang, said she could understand him, and offered to repeat what he was saying for the patient, and the patient was okay with that. After all, that’s what usually happens.”
“Listen,” said Devra, tidying away her lunch bag. “I know I’ve asked you before, but if you can, do come to Mittleman Wednesday night and hear Eyal’s father speak on the future of the kibbutzim. I want it to be a success so his family will be in a good mood when they meet me. So far, only his twin has met me.”
“Lior loves you,” Eyal reassured her, “And so will the others.”
Devra gave him a panicky look.
“I’ll try to come,” Leah agreed. “It sounds interesting, anyway.”
Eyal stood, giving Devra a comforting squeeze. “I have to get back to work. Walk with me?”
She nodded, and they left together.
“Hey,” Eyal continued as they walked out the door, “Really, my parents will love you. Remember, I survived meeting your dad, and I swear he said something about having a gun and a shovel in Russian when you introduced us. At least my parents are ready to join the twenty-first century.”
Devra managed a shaky giggle. “That’s what I’m worried about—you’ve had so many girlfriends, what if they don’t take me seriously?”
Eyal looked surprised, then somewhat shifty, as if he were juggling internal gears, thinking of what was best to say.
“What? Eyal, I know you’ve had lots of girlfriends, I don’t mind not being the first as long as I’m the last.”
“It’s not that…” he said slowly. “It’s just… you’re actually the first girlfriend I’ll be introducing to my parents. Since high school, anyway, and then they were just part of my circle of friends. I’ve never introduced anyone to my parents as a woman I’m in a relationship with. So they already know you are different.”
Devra was nonplussed. Then she hugged him. “I knew you’d never been in a committed relationship before, but I didn’t realize you’d never had even a girlfriend serious enough to introduce to your parents!”
“I was waiting for you, just as much as you for me…” Eyal said, completely sober for once.
Devra beamed at him.“After the big family dinner on Thursday when our parents meet, everything will get easier.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 4 —
Tuesday, March 17, 6:00 P.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, Oregon
“So, Jason, those cakes must be something really unusual, huh?” Elana asked her date quietly.
“Huh?” Jason muttered, without moving from his bored, head-propped-on-fist pose.
“Well, you’ve been staring at them for the past ten minutes straight.”
Jason blushed, jerking his head up. “Uh… right. Um… sorry.”
“They’ll cut them as soon as the speeches are done and we’ve eaten. And then we’ll get to dance.”
There were two cakes; one a traditional towering wedding cake, all white fondant and pink roses, and the other a confection in silver lace icing to mark her parents’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, the date Ekaterina had chosen for her own wedding as well. The symbolism had pleased their parents, and the fact that it was an afternoon wedding on a weekday let Katie avoid having their parents’ entire network of Portland connections present, as most of them weren’t close enough friends to be willing to spend a vacation day to attend the wedding.
Elana sighed. “It’s okay. I really appreciate you coming along to this. I know spending an evening with a ton of boring old people you don’t know isn’t your idea of a good time. Especially since you aren’t even getting sex out of it.”
“That is too bad,” Jason said. “You look wonderful in that dress.” He sounded as if he was reading off an internal teleprompter instead of remotely aroused, but Elana gave him points for trying. It was a pretty neat dress as far as bridesmaid’s dresses went. For her only attendant—Katie had way too many friends to insult the majority by choosing a manageable number as bridesmaids—her sister had chosen a cerulean sheath that showed off Elana’s bright blue eyes and blond hair. At twenty-three she could carry off the tight-fitting, gravity-defying bodice.
Next to her, Jason was smart in his dark suit; and as a male Jew he was acceptable to her parents, despite his youth. At some point, I’ll get a steady girlfriend, and I’ll have to fight that battle, but it isn’t worth ruining Katie’s wedding when I don’t have a female date to bring to it, anyway. She was lucky that Jason was willing to come, annoying though he could be. They’d bonded when he’d shown up at her dojo six months ago as a wet-behind-the-ears freshman: puzzled, confused, clueless as to what he was and mad at the world for trying to push him into a box he didn’t fit. He’d so reminded her of herself, four years before.
She knew she’d disappointed her parents in so many ways: graduating from college without any honors or distinctions—not even cum laude, her father had groused; and becoming a paramedic for the adrenalin rush—and honestly, because she couldn’t stand the thought of all the years of study—instead of a doctor or lawyer. Katie’s choice of profession, teacher, was at least respectable for a woman. Having a lesbian for a daughter, even a discreet one, didn’t add to their joy.
Looking over to where her parents sat, wreathed in smiles, she could tell that nothing was spoiling this day for them. Katie, her train bustled up, was walking from table to table on her new husband’s arm, greeting guests and accepting felicitations and congratulations.
“Will you wear a dress or a tux for your wedding?” asked Jason.
“Hush,” she hissed. “You’re not doing your job.” Fortunately, their neighbours at the table, all elderly family friends, were passing around pictures of grandchildren, and were too deaf to hear the byplay.
“Oh, sorry. I know it must be tough to be in the closet. I mean, I don’t—”
“Thank you for the sympathy,” Elana rescued him. “And I’ll wear a dress—a slim, elegant one, not long, white, and puffy like Katie’s. She looks lovely in it, but it’s not my dream dress.”
“Yeah, she looks hot,” Jason said automatically—with about as much sincerity as a grapefruit. Elana stifled a sigh. One of these days this kid is going to shake off his parents’ conditioning and realize that he’s gay. And he’ll probably start being a lot easier to hang out with.
Unfortunately, one of the old ladies wasn’t all that deaf.
“Are you talking about your wedding dress, dear?” her mother’s childhood next door neighbor’s mother-in-law asked.
“Is there going to be another wedding in the family?” asked another archly, making goo-goo eyes at Jason. He suppressed his look of horror masterfully.
“Not any time soon,” Elana replied. “After all, Jason is still an undergrad. He can’t possibly ask me to marry him until he has a degree.” The ladies nodded in agreement. As Jason began to make strangled noises, Elana decided she’d teased him enough. “Can I get you some more punch, Mrs. Popovic?”
“No, dear. So you and Jason aren’t close to setting a date? Isn’t he a little younger than you?”
Ikes… outwitted myself. She’s not going to let me escape.. “Could I see those lovely pictures of your grandsons? I just caught a glimpse of them. Are they triplets?”
“No!” Mrs. Popovic sounded vaguely insulted. “They are cousins, although there are only eight months between the eldest and the youngest. Here, this one is Gregory…”
With an inward sigh, Elana surrendered to her fate. She could hear Jason on her other side, subjected to a lecture from an old man about not letting the right girl get away while his wife sat between them, stone-faced. She wondered what their story was.
“Elana!” A nattily dressed man in his thirties waved at her.
Saved by the queen! Elana thought happily. Joel Shapira was one of her favorite people. She’d met him a year ago when Katie had begun to plan her wedding. Once she’d met his “business partner” Davy Lockhart, she’d felt comfortable asking him if he knew of any nice—or naughty—girls to introduce her to. She was getting pretty sick of bars and online dating sites, and the college crowd was too young for her now. And while none of the women they’d set her up with had been the love of her life—yet—she’d had some good times and made some good friends.
“Right,” he began, all-business, but pleasant. “It’s 6:10, that means it’s time for the toasts. First you, then the best man, then the bride’s parents. We’re planning to wrap them up by 6:30. You wrote a lovely short speech, so keep it snappy. Don’t go off track with long drawn out remembrances; like we told you before, no one really enjoys those besides the speaker. Then, we’ll give everyone the chance to finish their plates and wipe their eyes, if necessary, before we cut the cake at 6:45, then dancing opens at 7:00 sharp. Just take a deep breath, look directly at Katie and Ron, and pretend they are the only people in the room.You look beautiful, and you’ll do a wonderful job.”
Elana nodded, impressed by his directing skills. Smiling, he handed her the microphone, and began clanging on a glass to get everyone’s attention.
“Good evening, everyone,” she began, clenching down on her nerves with the first few words, then finding her stride, “as you’re all aware, I’ve known Katie all my life. She had a happy eleven months as an only child, and then I showed up to ruin it.” She paused for laughter. “No, truly, she was the best sister anyone could ever ask for. We did everything together—until she discovered boys!” That was the closest she’d allow herself to poke a toe out of the closet, and even so, she could see her parents tensing a bit before she moved on, though the rest of the audience just laughed, thinking she was alluding to a late blooming on her part. “I’ve known Ron for a week longer than Katie has—I rear-ended his car, and he came by a week later just to make sure I was okay. The first time I saw him, I thought ‘wow, he’s exactly Katie’s type!’ And when he came by, I was able to introduce them. The rest, as they say, is—”
Pain! The words of her carefully prepared speech went out of her mind as she grabbed at her head, white light filling her vision. The mike fell on her foot, and the pain in her head was forgotten. Hopping and swearing, it took her a second to realize that the lights had gone out. What on earth? She rubbed her eyes, shaken and confused, as alarmed voices began to raise all around her. Driven by her trained emergency instincts, she retrieved the mike, and realized that it was out as well. Fortunately, she’d taken several theater classes in high school, and knew how to project.
“Hey, everybody!” She raised her voice. “Everyone, calm down. It’s just a power outage, and no reason not to continue to celebrate Katie and Ron! Let’s warm and light this room with love and friendship instead of electricity.”
Feeling her way to where Joel was standing, she hissed, “So, what are we going to do?”
“It’ll be okay,” he answered in a normal tone of voice. “We’ve got tons of candles, since we were planning on doing a light a candle for your wish to the bride and groom thing later. We’ll start setting them all up, but don’t sweat it—I’ll bet the power will be back on before we even get them out of their boxes. This will just be a funny story for Katie and Ron to tell the grandchildren.”
But, thought Elana, what was that pain?
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 5 —
Tuesday, March 17, 1998, 6:13 P.M. Shir Chadash, Portland, Oregon
“Rabbi Z?” A young brown-haired boy, kippa’d but wearing a Legend of Zelda tee-shirt and jeans, politely but insistently called Lior’s attention away. Alone for a moment, Yavin reflected on cultural differences. This was the first time he’d ever been in an American synagogue, and the weird clash of strange yet familiar was throwing him for a loop. No self-respecting Jewish mother in Israel would send her boy to shul in such clothes; that was certain! The Renewal Jews his daughter had joined here were so casual and light-hearted about their faith… and also so sincere! To him, accustomed to the stark contrast between the formality and seriousness of Israel’s datim, religious Jews, and the insouciance and indifference of its chilonim, secular Jews, the mix was bizarre.
Still lost in his pensivity, Yavin meandered through the basement room to the buffet table. One thing was universal in every Jewish community he’d ever visited. Yemeni, Ethiopian, French, American, the Polish-Russian kibbutznik community he’d been raised in—where there were Jews, there was food. And someone in his daughter’s congregation made a mean potato knish… It would take his mind off tomorrow, when he’d have to give a talk on his book. The whole project had snowballed out of his control in the last few years, since he’d first written an impassioned letter on the privatization movement among the kibbutzim, and it had been featured in Ha’aretz, the oldest newspaper in Israel. That had become a series of articles, and then a book. He’d been surprised when the Israeli publisher had sold the English rights to an American university press, and that press had put a small book tour together for him. He hated public speaking, especially in English, but with his wife at his side, and the brilliant PowerPoint she’d put togeth—
Flash. Halfway across the room, he staggered as his vision went white. Bright lightning lanced through his eyes as a sharper pain, worse than even when he’d been shot back in the six-day war, stabbed into his brain. A split-second later, it was gone—erased as if it had never been, without even a lingering ache. Mah karah?
A man a few yards away echoed his thought, in English—“What the fuck?”
It took a second for Yavin to realize that his sight was dark because the lights had gone out, not because he was blinded. The eastern-facing windows at the top of the social hall let in barely enough light at sunset to be able to make out the bodies and shapes around him. He looked for the familiar outlines of his wife and children—there was Lior, in the middle of a knot of scared teens, including his grandson, Natan. Her husband, Toby, daughter Shira in his arms, was coming up next to her—he must have been talking to that group of adults behind her, where Yavin’s son, Eyal, and his fianceé, Devra, still stood.
“Habibi?” Mazal slid a reassuring arm around Yavin’s waist. “Sweetheart?” Sighing relief, he pressed back against her arm and forced his combat-ready body to relax a bit. Whatever was going on, his family here with him were all safe.
“Is everyone alright? The power’s out, I think?” he called.
“Yeah, I’m flipping the switch and nothing’s happening.” somebody said from the direction of the door. Everyone milled around for a few minutes. Chickens with their heads cut off, waiting for someone to cut through the babble, thought Yavin.
“Right, let’s stay calm.” That someone was Lior, raising her voice above the crowd as she walked into the center of the room, just before Yavin moved. He felt a quick surge of pride in his little girl. “Everyone, it looks like we’re having a power outage—maybe all the fuses just blew, and that’s what we felt just now. It’s pretty dark down here, but the sun won’t completely set for a few minutes yet, so why don’t we all—in an orderly fashion!—head upstairs into the sanctuary?”
Yavin followed people up the narrow stairs, down a long hallway, and through two ornate double doors, into the sanctuary. Pierced by long, thin stained glass windows on the eastern and western walls, it was a beautiful melange of colors as the setting sun angled its light through. Yavin snorted to himself. Another difference that had had him stuttering in disbelief when he’d been told; the sanctuary didn’t face in the traditional eastern direction because it hadn’t been built as a synagogue: his daughter’s tiny congregation paid half-rent for the building to—and shared the space with—an equally small Christian group, whose church it was. Once in, Lior walked up to the bimah and faced the crowd.
“Okay, can someone go check the fuse box? It’s just outside on the left and around the front entrance.”
“Yeah, I got it.” A tall, lean young man just inside the hallway doors waved his arm and headed back out.
“Meanwhile, why don’t the kids come up here and sit around the bimah, and I can tell a story…” Lior shot a look at her father; he’d never played favorites, but he and Lior had always been able to communicate most clearly with each other. This look said ‘I’m going to keep people calm—you figure out what’s up!” Yavin nodded back to her and, hand-in-hand with Mazal, headed toward the back of the sanctuary. He waved over his son and Devra as well, and a few other adults followed them—those without young children, he presumed, as most parents were herding their children up toward the bimah and sitting cross-legged behind them.
“Can someone grab some candles? Or a flashlight, maybe?” he asked the group at large. “We’re still getting enough light to see—barely—from these windows, but it’s getting dark fast.”
“No problem,” said a light soprano. “We should have at least one flashlight somewhere, and I know we have candles up the yin-yang. I’ll go rustle them out.”
Yavin blinked at the unfamiliar words, but after a second of confusion, figured out what she meant.
“And I have a flashlight in my car. I’ll go grab it.” A few other voices murmured that they also had flashlights, and shadows walked off.
Yavin paced a bit toward the door and back. There wasn’t really anything else to do—likely enough the man who’d gone out to the fuse box would fix the problem any moment now. If not, if there was a downed power line or some similar problem, those people who had gone to get candles and flashlights knew what they were doing, and there wasn’t anything else Yavin could do to help them.
Mazal laid a comforting hand on his arm, and he stilled. “I’m sure this won’t be too much of a problem.” She spoke quietly, but commandingly and reassuringly, and the adults still with them huddled in to hear her. “Meanwhile, is this weather normal for Portland? I think it hasn’t stopped drizzling since we arrived!”
A chorus of light chuckles greeted her inane query. “It’s pretty normal for spring,” volunteered another female voice, this one husky with age. “It must be very different from Israel!”
Differences in climate between Israel and the Pacific Northwest kept them occupied for another tennish minutes, as people began to start trickling back in, grumbling disjointedly.
“My flashlight isn’t working,” complained the baritone voice. “It’s been in the trunk for months, the batteries must be dead.”
“And my car isn’t—”
Yavin tuned it out—whinings of small minds, he thought dismissively—until the young man who’d gone out to check the fuse box came back in. Headed towards Lior, he changed direction at Yavin’s wave and joined the small group.
“It’s not us,” he said peremptorily. “It took me awhile to find the fuse box, but it’s completely dead, no power coming in. All the buildings around us are dark—there are no lights as far as I could see in any direction—not even cars. ” As that sunk in, all the adults began muttering. This was a residential neighborhood, but there should have been some cars out in the streets at quarter past six on a Tuesday evening.
“My car’s internal lights—” began one of the complainers.
He stopped speaking abruptly as a compressed and distant thump rumbled through his feet. Everyone jumped and the whole building shivered. Yavin felt Mazal grip him harder. The light was mostly gone, but he could feel Eyal looking at him from a few feet away. They were all familiar with how a distant crash-impact or explosion felt and sounded when it rocked the earth beneath your feet. Images flashed through Yavin’s mind—blood everywhere, people screaming—just last year, he’d been close enough to a restaurant bombing in Tel Aviv to run in and help carry the wounded out. It hadn’t been the first time.
“B’seder…” Yavin began. “Eyal?” His son moved closer to his father. “And you—what’s your name? I’m sorry—I got introduced to too many people tonight.”
“I’d imagine so, sir. It’s Zachary, Zach Cohen.”
“Right. Let’s go out and… what’s the word—reconnoiter—a bit.”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
Yavin snorted in amusement.
“Sorry, sir… I’m ROTC, Cadet Captain, University of Portland. You, um, you remind me a lot of our LTC.”
Yavin laughed. “That’s fine. I’m pretty used to being sir’d at home, anyway—you just caught me… what do you say… off-guard. Let’s go—I have a very great desire to understand what is going on here.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Walking through the dark streets of South Burlingame, Yavin’s lips pressed tight together. This makes no sense. They’d walked around in a wide circle for fifteen minutes and nothing was moving other than pedestrians and a few bikers. No moving cars, no lights… and no planes above them. It was brighter out here than it had been inside the sanctuary—the sun had set, but dim light still gloamed behind the clouds on the western horizon. The only other light that differentiated the skyline at all was a red tinge to the north and east—it flickered, like a fire burning.
“Sir,” Zach said, “that looks like it’s over across the Willamette and toward the Columbia… where the airport is.”
Yavin nodded. “I’m afraid that makes sense—”
“How’s that, Aba?” Eyal asked
“Beni…all the lights are out. All the cars are out. There’s no power, anywhere, that I can see… only thing I can think of that would do that is a bomb. Which means the planes got knocked out, too.” Zach and Eyal stared at him, horror on their faces.
“A bomb… you mean, you think someone nuked Portland?!” Zach choked out.
“Yes, it seems pretty unlikely. But I don’t know what else would cause this. And… there was that flash of light, right when it started…”
“When you’ve removed the impossible…” Zach muttered to himself.
“Do we need to worry about radiation?” Eyal asked. “I never learned that much about nukes… do the radii for the electronic effects and the physiological overlap…?”
“No, wait a minute, sir,” Zach said. “We can’t see any lights as far as we can see. I’m pretty sure a nuke big enough to knock out all of Portland and more would radiate in the visible spectrum and cause radiation burns, other problems. And… I mean, I’m not seeing any mushroom cloud anywhere.” Yavin stopped and thought that one over, and had to admit the young man was right. Leaping to conclusions, ignoring evidence… sloppy thinking, Yavin. But what else could it be?
“No—but that smoke column looks pretty ominous.” Eyal interjected. As one, Yavin and Zach turned to the northwest. A plume of black smoke was rising up toward the sky, a lot closer than the distant orange glow on the northeastern horizon.
“That looks like it’s maybe two miles away… three on the outside.” Eyal said, almost conversationally.
“Mittleman is that way. So’s Beth Abraham…” Zach’s voice began rising to a higher register, and he broke off at Yavin’s emphatic hand chop.
“Let’s get back to the synagogue. We’re going to need some help.”
❀ ❁ ❀
They hurried back to Shir Chadash, grabbed every man and woman who could run a ten minute mile, or had quick access to a bicycle, and double-timed it toward the smoke. Yavin had had a couple more swear words to use when they found that no one had a working car or flashlight. Part of his brain—and all of everyone’s who’d stayed behind, he was sure—was spinning in circles, trying to figure out what could possibly be going on to cause this effect. He suppressed that part, however, in the urgent need for action.
When they found the fire and smoke it was a scene of horror. A tanker truck had smashed into a strip mall of one-story buildings. Fuel had splashed everything in sight and ignited. The mall was burning out of control, and the fire spread to the row of townhouses just behind it. Against the backdrop of flames, Yavin could see people streaming in and out of them. People valiantly but vainly fought the fires with a bucket brigade from a bubbling hydrant at the corner, under the direction of a lone fireman, the neon yellow and reflective stripes showing brightly against the firelight. A knot of people, several laying on the ground, were gathered in the street in front. Probably people hurt or damaged from smoke inhalation, Yavin noted, his mind pulling up analysis to make sense of the dimly seen shapes and noises.
“The townhouses are part of one of the Orthodox communities here,” Zach moaned.
“Right,” Eyal stated. “I’ll set up triage where those wounded are; the wind’s blowing away from it so it should be safe. You two get people out of the houses, get any injured over to me.” Yavin nodded and hurried over to the first house, where a man and some young, crying children, were hovering over a woman collapsed on the lawn.
For a little while, life turned into a thoughtless exertion of effort after effort. Run into a house, shouting… try to find the people, get them out, usually tearing them away from searches for precious possessions and pets… haul any wounded down the street to Eyal… repeat with the next house. Finally, the buildings was cleared. It seemed like hours, but from the way his body was feeling Yavin guessed it had been only twenty, maybe thirty minutes. They were in complete darkness now; a darkness such as he hadn’t experienced since his last time out in the Negev desert late at night. No powered city to reflect off the clouds, no building lights to mark the horizon… the building that had originally caught fire was now bare bones and ashes, but the townhouses still sent up bright orange and yellow flames creating flickering patches of wavering light that obscured more than they illuminated.
They’d tried to extend the bucket brigade to fight the house fires, but the fireman had quickly judged it simply too far from the hydrant to do any good—he’d apparently had no firehose or any other tricks of the trade with him, save his suit. Sighing heavily, Yavin stumbled down the road to Eyal’s triage area, where a knot of people were talking despondently. They muttered brief acknowledgements to him as he approached, united momentarily as fighters in the same cause.
“Yavin,” he introduced himself shortly. “Anyone have any idea where the firefighter went?”
“He left once we got all the people out. Said he was going to try to get to the station,” an older man answered, stockily built with a greying beard and bushy hair—wearing a kippa, Yavin noted. “I’m Rabbi Friedman of Beth Abraham, over there, by the by.” They shook hands. “Ata Israeli?” he asked, with a strong Yiddish-American accent.
Yavin cracked a smile. “That’s a lot to gather from a few words, Rabbi. Yes, Yavin Zeitouni, from Tel-Aviv, saal—that’s Lieutenant-Colonel, or close enough—in the IDF. I’m here visiting my daughter.”
“Yes, of course—I know your daughter, Lior. I was going to your talk tomorrow at Mittleman, on the future of the kibbutzim. I… don’t suppose it’ll be happening now…” The Rabbi’s facade of normality cracked as he looked around him at the ruin of house and home and a keening moan broke from his throat.
“Hrmph. Kol akava l’tova, I guess.” Yavin replied sardonically. “To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to giving that lecture.”
Rabbi Friedman’s forehead creased and he stopped the moaning. “All… what? to good? I’m sorry, I’m not really fluent in modern Hebrew any more.”
“It’s a colloquialism, Rabbi,” Eyal threw out from where he was helping an elderly woman a few feet behind them. “In this case, we might say, every cloud has a silver lining.”
“Rabbi!” A voice shouted from down the block. “The synagogue!” They turned as one. The Rabbi groaned. The roof of the nearby synagogue caved in on the left side in a shower of sparks.
“It must have caught from the gas lines, below.” Rabbi Friedman muttered despondently, a moan still underlying his voice. “They connect…”
“Stop him!” a voice shouted. Everyone jumped. Yavin turned, running, wondering why the rest simply stood by the rabbi, keening and swaying.
They must be wiped, from the shock and fire, he decided. Yavin ran toward the front of the synagogue, leaving the others behind. A young man had just run through the double-doored opening, despite the restraining arms of several bystanders.
“Is there anyone else still in there?” he shouted at the knot of people.
“No, of course not, they were all out helping,” answered a distraught older woman. “He went in after the Torah scrolls. It’s our synagogue.”
Yavin blinked in surprise. “The Torah!”
He swore. “Elohim save me from idiot, glory-seeking heroes. B’seder…” Taking off his jacket, he ran back to the bubbling hydrant. He soaked the jacket and himself in the weak spray, threw the jacket over his head, and ran into the burning building.
Inside the broad, smoke-filled lobby he pulled a sleeve of his jacket higher to cover his mouth and ran through the pair of open double doors on his left. He wanted to save the boy, but he wouldn’t be opening any closed doors to do it. Squinting through the smoke, he could see pews, a bimah, and on the bimah, a wooden ark. He couldn’t see any flames, though the wall on the left of the bimah was glowing red—and it’s not usually the fire that kills you, he reminded himself, keeping his mind active to combat the terror.
Running half-bent over to avoid the thickest smoke, he ran forward, looking for the boy. He stumbled and stayed down on hands and knees as the hot, smoky air stabbed into his lungs. Near the bimah, he saw the ark was open and empty. Behind it and to the left, the boy lay on the floor, collapsed under a slightly charred box or suitcase, flames chewing from an open cupboard on the wall. Yavin could see his hand moving. He opened the door, and got caught in the blast.
“Come! Let’s get you out of here!” Yavin gasped, pulling the boy back.
“The… Torah…” the boy gasped out, refusing to let go of the box. Yavin cast a quick glance at the active flames. It felt like time had slowed down as he tried to process the different actions he needed to do to keep both of them alive.
Swearing again, Yavin opened the box. With reverence, even then, he pulled the Torah out and put it in the boy’s hands. “Your responsibility,” he rasped. “You are mine.” He heaved the young man up over his shoulder. Coughing, he scudded back down the aisle, sacrificing lowness for speed. Grunting with effort, he staggered back, trying not to breath and to stay conscious as he stumbled out of the building.
Bursting out the front entranceway, he collapsed, his lungs heaving like bellows in the cleaner air. Hands reached out, pulled him, lifted him, the man off his back, the precious burden.
“Give him some room!” he heard his son shout. Eyal has everything under control, he thought fuzzily. Must be okay to pass out now. And he did.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 6 —
Mittleman Jewish Community Center Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 8:00 A.M.
Lior rubbed her face wearily. The previous evening and night had been the most tiring, stressful, and heart-breaking of her life. The agony continued as dawn’s light drove her out of bed, only a few hours after she’d finally fallen into a despairing, broken sleep. Beth Abraham, the synagogue closest to Shir Chadash and with whose members she had close relationships, was a charred ruin, many homes ashes and smoke; and three members dead in the aftermath of the fire.
The oxygen canisters Eyal had scrounged for some of the survivors didn’t seemed to be working properly; the oxygen flowing unevenly, not matter how Eyal had fiddled with the valves. She gave thanks to God that her father, despite several hours of unconsciousness, was going to be fine; but even as she did, she felt guilty for her gratitude. Too many others were suffering losses for her to be happy about being spared.
After the fire at Beth Abraham had been contained—mostly by standing back and letting it burn—the survivors had walked up the street to Mittleman Jewish Community Center. It was the closest large building, familiar to all and had some limited medical facilities. It was also still opened and staffed. Eyal had sent a volunteer to Shir Chadash to tell Lior and she had organized the trek over to the MJCC. Eyal had organized the movement of the injured to there, including with her father. She rubbed her eyes again and sniffed, remembering her shock and Mazal’s sudden grip on her arm as they saw Yavin’s body brought in.
But Yavin was alive, and breathing well, so Lior had been grateful. Pastor Marks had arrived with his own set of refugees; he only lived a few blocks away. Things had gotten crowded; their usual arrangement worked well because the two congregations almost never needed the building at the same time.
Mittleman, by contrast, had plenty of room, having been built to support all the Jews in the city. Many of them had stayed over-night, stranded far from homes across the city. Lior had walked her usual twenty minutes home with her husband and child. So had others who lived nearby, but they had all come back at first light, seeking answers and direction.
As soon as she’d arrived Lior sent teens out on their bicycles to look for the few members who hadn’t made it in for the social—about half were brought back; the others refused to leave their homes or weren’t even in them. Her bike couriers reported a fire in the Parkrose district and a chaotic downtown with many people trying to take control and fights breaking out over lines of authority.
With the sixty-seven people who’d gathered to meet their beloved rabbi’s parents, they now had a total of eighty-six exhausted and frightened people huddled together on and around the bleachers of the indoor basketball court that echoed and magnified their murmurs. Elsewhere in the building, there were other refugees—there’d been at least one event at Mittleman the night before, and the refugees from Beth Abraham were all here—but these people, in this gym, were her charge. The building still had no power, but the tall clerestory windows let in enough light.
Lior heaved a sigh, handed her sleeping two-year-old daughter to her husband, and walked into the middle of the court.
“Boker tov, everyone… sheket, b’vakesha!
“Adam, when I said ‘shekhet’ I meant for you to please be quiet, and stop chatting with Alyssa.” Blushing, the two teenagers jumped away from each other. Lior smothered a smile. While this wasn’t the time to show it—everyone needed to feel that someone serious and competent was in charge right now—it heartened her to see some signs of life going on as usual.
“Okay,” she began. “We need to have a productive conversation, no panic, no hysteria. So, please, whenever anyone would like to speak, raise your hand, and wait for me to call you up to talk. Firstly, what do we know? Does anyone have any information about what is going on?”
A tall man stepped forward from the edge of the circle of congregants, waiting a moment for Lior to nod and give him the stage. He was Ezra Isaacson, an older member of the synagogue who taught religious school and served occasionally on board committees. He and Lior weren’t friends; there was a big cultural and social gap between an American man in his sixties and a recent Israeli immigrant who’d just barely passed her thirty-first birthday. But she respected his faith, and knew him to be a good teacher, and a devoted husband and father. “I don’t think any of us understand exactly what’s happened, Rabbi,” he said. “But the generalities are clear enough—cars, electricity, guns aren’t working—the Almighty has taken away the technology being used to destroy the Earth, punish us for our wickedness like Sodom and Gomorrah…”
A dozen overlapping voices started up at once.
“Here now, Ezra, that’s going a bit far—”
“Don’t be ridiculous—”
“Wait a minute, guns aren’t working either?” someone gasped. Someone seated nearby began whispering to them, doubtless filling them in on the tests that had been done earlier, after the bike couriers had brought back that news from downtown.
“I don’t believe God would—”
“Ezra, we’re not meant to take—”
“But do you think—”
“What in the—”
Yavin’s piercing whistle cut through the babble, and he stepped forward to join his daughter.
“Everyone, I love an argument as much as the next Jew, but right now we don’t have the time. In English you have a saying, I believe, ‘God helps those who help themselves?’ Regardless of what exactly is going on, or what caused it; some military experiment, or God, or green-eyed monsters from space, our priorities are clear. We must act together to survive, as we have always done, as God has led us out of—damn it, what’s the word—apocalypse, after apocalypse, through the ages.” Everyone stared at him in shock. Even his daughter.
“A—aba…” Lior stuttered hesitantly. “It’s a power outage. Okay, it’s citywide, and this is obviously a crisis, but it’s hardly an apocalypse scenario. Unless anyone’s seen a bunch of zombies running around?” Now everyone turned to stare at Lior, and she winced as her attempt at humor fell flat.
Her father paused for a second, obviously not wanting to undercut Lior’s authority. “This obviously isn’t just a power-outage,” he pressed on after a moment. “You heard about the planes, what Ezra said about the gunpowder. Anything run by batteries—like flashlights—isn’t working either. What are the chances that all of that stops working at once? What could cause such a thing?”
There was an uncomfortable silence as everyone digested that. Lior’s mind, which had been flying in all directions for the past thirteen hours, slammed to a sudden halt. Breathing heavily, she fought aside her fatigue to think about what her father had just said, and began to shake.
“Ok, so what action do we—”
“We need to help our neighbors, be a light—”
“Get out of here, I say, head for the—”
“What about food?”
“We need to buckle down, build a fort—”
“Quiet!” That was Eyal. He stepped to the front of the room and set up a flip chart. Lior snorted. There was no chance of anyone being able to read his foreign doctor’s handwriting from several feet away. But knowing her twin and his control issues, it would probably make him feel better. “This is what we know. The lights don’t work. Cars don’t work. Planes don’t work.”
“And it’s not an EMP,” a voice called from the back of room. “There wasn’t an explosion above us. EMP is a localized phenomena. The area beneath a dirty bomb.”
“Thank you,” said Eyal, and wrote Not EMP
“For now we have water; the city is fed by a gravity system, but soon food will become a problem,” called out another voice from way back on the bleachers. After a moment, Lior recognized Davy, one of her congregants who ran an event planning business with his partner. Davy and Joel often volunteered to run events at the synagogue, and she and Toby had had them over to dinner several times. They were a delightful couple, with a twelve-year-old son.
Eyal wrote No food.
“Why?” demanded half a dozen voices.
“When the lights come back on we’ll be fine…”
Yavin whistled again. “This will go a lot faster without interruptions. Consider how food gets to Portland—by trucks, which don’t work, over roads that are now probably blocked by wrecks and dead cars. The airport will be unusable for weeks with that crashed plane blocking the lanes. We don’t know how wide an area is affected, but I think that for the next few weeks at least, food will be in short supply.”
That provoked another buzz of voices; but now they were starting to sound scared rather than dismissive.
“Okay, so we need to make sure that we have enough food; I think it would be good for us to remain here, at Mittleman.” Lior began thinking aloud. “We need to to start working to bring the community together, here—”
“What happens when we run out of food?” a woman’s voice interrupted her—a worried mother, Lior guessed.
“We need to get some kind of fort, like I said!” yelled another voice—now Lior recognized Dahlia Ruven, another of her religious school teachers. “If we’re not going to have enough food to feed the whole city, it’s eventually going to come down to fights over what food there is left. We need—”
“We need to get as many people together as possible—the whole Jewish community here, anyone else who wishes to join us—and go out to seek a new land, where we will make a new settlement, in exile still, but truly this time to be a light to the nations.”
Lior’s mind stuttered to a stop yet again, as she wheeled around in the direction of the new voice—one that most certainly did not belong to a member of her congregation.
It was a light, reedy, slightly accented voice; every word laden with significance and presence, cutting across the babble and somehow drowning out the louder, ragged, fear-laden voice of Dahlia Ruven. Everyone turned toward the doorway; a dark figure stood out against the bright light pouring in from the windows behind. The newcomer exuded an awesome presence akin to, yet far more powerful than the aura of sanctity that Lior had felt from those few righteous people whom she had felt to be touched by the divine. Those quiet words dropped onto the assembled crowd like a stone into a pond, quieting the congregation as the proclamation rippled out to reach them. From the corner of her eye, Lior saw Dahlia settle back into her seat, stunned.
“Aunt Miryam?” Lior gasped, in disbelief.
Yavin, Eyal, Lior, and Mazal from the bleachers, all spoke together in their shock at the sight of the tiny woman who had just entered the court: Miryam, Yavin’s older kibbutz-sister from Degania Aleph. She was a force to be reckoned with: aquiline features now roughened a bit with age; short, curly mahogany hair—her natural color, albeit dyed to hide the gray—and surprising green eyes; barely reaching five feet but with such a force of personality and charisma that her true size stunned people anew every time they saw her. In memory, she was a giant.
“It’s a long story.” Miryam smiled, taking over the meeting effortlessly. “But a relevant one. So why don’t you all get comfortable and listen?”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 1 —
Tuesday, March 17, 1998, 2:30 A.M. Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York
And I appeared, suddenly—straight from a dream about counseling Harry Potter for emotional neglect—in Times Square. Miryam Shein stopped scribbling in her dream journal for a moment to take a shaky sip of water from the glass next to her bedside table, then continued. She had to get this down before it disappeared from her memory… although the way she was feeling right now, it would never leave.
It was at night, just outside of the Minskoff theater, the lights and cars and people brilliant and blinding. I was dressed to the nines, something purple and flowy, and I remember thinking that my heels were too high, and pinched my toes—I never have full sensory in a dream; pain or pleasure, my sense of touch is always a bit faded. So that was my first warning that something unusual was going on. I knew I was dreaming, but everything still seemed very important. I turned toward uptown, seeing all the cars and people, and I was filled with a sense of incredible—sadness. Empathy. Like in counseling when someone is telling me some horrible story; like I knew that something horrible had happened—or was about to happen—to these people, but there was nothing I could do to prevent it.
All of a sudden, every light shut off. The world went black. No light, anywhere, not even from the bridges or the highest buildings. I looked up to where the Empire State Building should have been lighting up the sky, and saw all the stars hanging there instead; brighter than I’d ever seen them. Usually you can’t see any stars from Manhattan, the light pollution is too heavy. But this was brighter than the sky seen from the middle of the Negev. And then the screaming started… cars slamming into each other in the blackness, distant explosions… and then I had the pleasure of flashing through every horrible lingering death I’ve ever seen or imagined. Like a montage of pain and anguish. People starving, dying of dehydration, fires, sickness, murder… even cannibalism.
Miryam reached out again for the glass of water, and knocked it to the floor. Breathing heavily, she buried her head in her hands. She hadn’t had a nightmare like this in years… since the few months after her husband’s death, when she’d had them every night—
Her breathing was turning into hyperventilating. Throwing off the bed clothes, she threw the dream journal at the wall and ran into the bathroom, tearing off her pyjamas as she did. Stepping into the walk-in shower they’d put in when her Mordecai grew too frail to get into the bath, she turned on the water full blast, and lifted her face to the spray. Ice cold at first, it soon warmed to blood heat and higher. She clutched her arms around herself, hugging, trying to give herself the comfort Morry was no longer there to provide, until she started to cry helplessly. She collapsed down to the tiled floor, hugging her knees to herself, letting the water run on against her head, until she couldn’t cry any longer.
Almost thirty minutes later, the water turned cold. She pulled herself out of her crouch and reached up to shut it off. Standing up, she almost fell over as her stiff muscles protested their abuse, and managed, trembling, to pull on a terry-cloth robe. Stumbling into the bedroom, she sat down momentarily at her desk computer to type a quick note to her grad students and the administrator of the department that she was ill and wouldn’t be in that day, then did a few tai chi positions until she could move smoothly. Taking off the robe, she changed into a new pair of silk pyjamas and walked back into the bathroom. She hung up the robe and stared at her reflexion in the bedside mirror. Her sopping hair framed her haggard face and she looked ready for the grave. Opening the mirror, she took half of one of the three year-old Ativans she’d had stashed in the back of the medicine cabinet there, turned, and went back to bed.
The second dream hit her mid-morning, just as her drugged consciousness began to rise out of the deepest level of sleep.
At first, the dream was similar. Standing in the middle of a crowded city street, she watched as the lights went out. Cars crashed, people screamed… hearing a noise above her, she crouched to the ground as a planebarreled through the air above her head, motors dead, wings barely sustaining the enormous weight.There were differences: this time it was barely sundown instead of being already night; there were fewer crashes, as the streets had been less crowded. And then, the montage of death repeated; this time the plague and cannibalism were mercifully mostly absent, but replaced by images of violence and fighting, blood and entrails spilling on the ground... people being worked to death on little food in scenes that reminded her horribly of the Holocaust pictures she’d seen too much of. She broke, and screamed, and reality fractured. But this time, instead of fleeing for reality, she seemed to float away from the horrific scenes, into the air, flying away from the sun—and down again, too soon to have gone far, descending toward a large, flat-roofed complex. As she settled back down upon the ground, a crowd streamed out of the doorways. Leading them was Yavin, her brother, cradling a Torah in his arms. He walked up to her, smiled, and freed one arm from around the Torah to clasp her hand. Together, they walked off the curb, into the street, and away. And she awoke.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” she spat out. No one answered, and she sat up in her bed yet again, throwing off the bedclothes yet again. The clock on her bedside drawer read 9:07 A.M.; she’d been asleep for just under six hours, then. Stomping into the bathroom, she hovered indecisively between the shower and the bath, then changed directions, kneeled in front of the toilet, and threw up.
Thirty minutes later, she booked a plane ticket for Portland.
❀ ❁ ❀
I’m going to make a complete fool of myself and get a letter of reprimand from the Provost. Miryam Shein twiddled her boarding pass nervously, waiting impatiently in line at the gate. This has got to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done. Well, since puberty, anyway. She sighed. Despite being currently filled with self-deprecatory doubt, in her sixty-seven years of life, she’d learned to trust her dreams and instincts, though she’d never before tried to ask anyone outside her family to believe in something so outlandish and superstitious and … pseudoscience-y.
She finally got to the head of the boarding line, and handed her ticket over to the airline employee, who cordially wished her a good flight. Squeezing down the aisle past all the luckier flyers, she sighed. She hadn’t flown coach in decades, but it had been the only seat available at the last minute. Eventually, she reached row 26, where she’d been assigned.
“Please, Madam, let me.” A man was pointing to her carry on bag, obviously offering to heft it up to the overhead compartment for her. He was a fairly young man, mid-thirties perhaps, olive-skinned, close-shaven beard, short, curly, dark hair—typical mizrahi, she thought, wondering if he was Jewish as well.
“Thank you.” She was never the type to deny a man the chance to be chivalrous; besides, at five feet nothing, she felt it was the responsibility of the taller people by whom she was surrounded to ease her way in life. “I see we are to be seatmates,” he said, as he stowed her bag in the overhead compartment. “Would you mind taking the window seat? Two of my children are across the aisle, and I want to keep an eye on them.”
“Certainly I don’t mind,” she answered, settling into the window seat with pleasure. The young man then settled a small toddler into the seat next her before taking the aisle seat. Looking past him, Miryam saw the man’s two other children, a young boy who looked around seven or eight and a girl on the cusp of puberty, well-manneredly taking their seats across the aisle.
“My name is Alain Bakri,” the young man introduced himself, speaking across the toddler’s head. He used the French pronunciation, Miryam noted with interest, with a short, nasal vowel, and the final N almost swallowed.
“Miryam Shein,” she introduced herself in turn.
“Are you traveling to Portland for pleasure, Madam?”
Miryam repressed a snort. “I’m visiting my family.” she answered. No need to get into the real reason I’m running off to Portland like a lunatic. I want to get to Shir Chadash, not Bellevue.
“Ah!” he said. “Where do they live? I’m from Portland, myself; we didn’t even touch the ground in NYC on this visit, just changing planes on our way home from France.”
“I don’t know the name of the neighborhood,” Miryam replied, “but they live near Shir Chadash; that’s the synagogue where my niece is the rabbi. I don’t suppose you have heard of it?”
“Ah, yes; one of the Progressive congregations. Yes, I know them; we live very close to their synagogue, actually, in South Burlingame, although my family are members at Rodef Shalom.”
Growing up and going to University in Israel and then spending most of her adult life in New York City had made her an aficionado of accents—his had been educated French, buried under several years, maybe decades, of general American—but with a tinge of something harsher underneath. Plus, of course, the use of the term “Progressive” to refer to the more liberal branches of Judaism was a dead giveaway of European origin. Americans said Reform.
“Ah, you are Jewish as well, then,” she answered, giving no hint of her inner appraisal. “And French; or Maghrebim, perhaps?” Turnabout being fair play, she’d revealed her own origin by using the Hebrew term for Jews from North Africa—the term had resulted from a linguistic game of telephone, having come into Hebrew from the French try at the Arabic word.
“Yes, from Algeria—my family went to France after the Independence, but I married an American and have been here, since.”
“Ah… and how did the two of you meet?”
He smiled. “During college; she was doing a year abroad, in Paris, and we met at the Sorbonne. We did long distance while I finished my degree, and then I came out on a fiancé visa.”
Miryam smiled. “A rare story; I’m a professor in NYC, and I’m more accustomed to dealing with the repercussions when long term relationships end than seeing them succeed. Mazel tov.”
“And you? What brings you to visit your niece, the rabbi? A wedding, a birthday? Not a funeral, I hope.”
Miryam winced. The last thing she wanted to do was explain how she’d abandoned her students and subordinate professors so close to midterms to follow a dream that, in her lowest moments of doubting herself, she thought might have been brought on by foolishly eating an entire Crumbs’ red velvet cupcake before bed. She didn’t feel like defending inexplicable psychic abilities to someone who might well be a devout skeptic. But, now that I think about it, if I were not a devoted, responsible professor—normally, at any rate—I would have had a perfect excuse to be flying to Portland today.
“My brother from Israel and his wife and grandson are here to visit my niece and nephew,so I came over from New York to visit with them.”
“Ah!” He seemed satisfied. “Family binds tighter than any other bond, they say.” He smiled happily.
Miryam watched as the little boy put his head in his father’s lap and went to sleep. Smiling, she turned the conversation to family, and then spent an hour listening to the man wax lyrical about his children and wife, interjecting the occasional comparison to Lior, Eyal, and her other nieces and grandchildren. She discovered that his daughter and older son, Ella and Jacob, were twelve and eight respectively—along with the three-and-half-year old, Ben—and that they’d been visiting his family in Montpelier during the older children’s spring break. She learned that his wife, Sarah, was a chemistry teacher, teaching in a private high school.
“Once the children are old enough, they will get free tuition to the private school, which is an excellent perk,” he explained. “And their summer and winter breaks are mostly the same. But during the spring break we must suffer for another few years, they’re always out of sync.”
Eventually, her disturbed night began to catch up with her. “I hope you’ll excuse me, Alain, but I am going to try and catch a few winks. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“But, of course,” he agreed genteelly. “Can I lend you a pillow? It does not appear as if my children will be obliging enough to use it.”
When she awoke, the plane was touching down. Helpfully, she assisted Alain in readying his children for deplaning. In recompense, Alain wouldn’t hear of her waiting in line for a taxi. “Tell me the address; I am sure we’ll drive very close by. My wife is coming to collect us, and she’ll be overjoyed to give you a lift. You told me you have only the carry-on, so little luggage it won’t be a problem at all. Please, Madam, I like to think someone would do the same for my mother.”
Smiling, she acquiesced. Indeed, they were met at the gate by a lovely woman of Alain’s age, honey-haired and grey-eyed, who rapturously embraced her husband and children, and didn’t bat an eye when told that she had been volunteered to deliver a random old woman to synagogue.
“Of course, of course, I know right where that is. Beautiful building. I love how the two communities get along well enough that a Christian church and a Jewish synagogue can share a space.” She efficiently organized Miryam and her family and their luggage out of the airport building and into an old station wagon, with Miryam in the front seat, even though she insisted that she didn’t need the extra leg room. “Ahh, but I will enjoy being squeezed in with my children far more than you will, Miryam,” she pointed out. “And Alain, being a chivalrous and sexist Frenchman, wouldn’t dream of letting a woman drive.” The laugh the couple shared at this point made it clear that she was being facetious—but she got her way in the seating arrangements.
As they left the airport and joined the traffic flow, Miryam lost herself in musing as she listened to Sarah expertly elicit vacation stories from her children, with the occasional correction or explanation from her husband. I like these people, Miryam thought. I must invite them to Yavin’s talk. I like that striking up friendships with new people and offering to do them not-so-minor favors is so common for them that Sarah shows no surprise or displeasure at it. I like how well behaved, but obviously secure and loved, these children are. If something happens… if my dream comes true… She pushed the thoughts away with an effort of will. She was a silly, superstitious old woman. Nothing apocalyptic was really going to—
Without warning, hot spikes of white light drove into her eyes, setting her brain on fire. She screamed. A moment later the pain and light were gone—as was, she noticed immediately, every other light; all the signals on the dash were dark, and the street lights, which had just been beginning to flicker on in response to the setting sun, had all gone out.
My dream, my dream… Lord our God, ruler of the universe… what pattern are you weaving now, with all of us the threads?
Fortunately, perhaps, the Banfield expresswayhad been stuffed with cars heading home during the busy rush hour—they’d been going no more than twenty miles an hour, and with superlative driving Alain—who was cursing in French, something about vegetables, according to her limited vocabulary in that language—had avoided both the car in front of him, and being hit by the car behind him.
She could hear Sarah calming Ben in his carseat, and calling to the two older children in the way-back of the station wagon. “What happened?” Sarah asked over the child’s wails.
“Damned if I know,” Alain replied fervently, then apologized for his language. There was the sound of shouting as people got out of their cars and began to yell at each other over fender benders. With a New Yorker’s instincts, Miryam stripped off her gold chain with its Star of David pendant and her wedding band and tucked them into her cleavage, then rearranged her coat so it buttoned tightly. No need to tempt people.
Sarah had quieted Ben and hushed the older children’s chatter.
“Are you alright, Madam?” Alain had stopped cursing and was calling insistently to her.
“I’m fine,” she said. Then, imperatively,“and I need a map.”
Puzzled, but obedient to her professorial voice, Alain reached over and opened the glove box, spilling several folded maps into her lap.
“Several of those should be of Portland metro,” he said. Miryam nodded and started studying the maps as Alain stepped out of the car, and Sarah wormed her way out to join him. It took her awhile to find a map with enough detail to show where SW Maplecrest Drive crossed Terwilliger Blvd.
“Alain,” she called.
“Alain, please, call me Miryam.”
“Miryam.” He smiled in an absent-minded fashion, but she could see the worry and fear underlying it. “Would you mind stepping out to join us?” He punctuated that remark with a meaningful glance back at the children, and she nodded, getting the message that he did not wish to worry them with adult conversation. She stepped out, closed her door, and crossed around the car, where Sarah and Alain were staring up at the sky.
“All the cars stopped at once.” Alain said, the very normality of his vocal tone underscoring his disbelief. “We can’t see very far from the highway here, with the barriers on the side, but I can’t see a single light.”
“What could possibly be going on?” Sarah asked, a catch in her voice. “Look up at that plane, Miryam. It’s not just the cars that aren’t working.”
It took a moment for Miryam to spot the little plane, coasting down, clearly struggling to maintain a level pitch. "Where can it land?" she asked, her voice shaking. It was one thing to dream all those deaths... now she was going to witness it.
Alain hesitated. “I don’t know…” He turned, following the little aircraft by the dull gleaming of its side windows. “With any luck, the Willamette.”
Miryam shuddered, imagining the panicked pilot, trying to find a place to land in the crowded city, with the uncertain light at sunset, all his expertise insufficient to save his passengers.
“Alain, Sarah… do you have any idea what could have caused this?”
“I have no idea,” Sarah replied bluntly.
“Well…” Alain started, then stopped, his thinking visibly grinding to a halt.
Miryam nodded as he reached the conclusion she had expected — that something truly bizarre was going on.
“I… have something of an idea. But it’s going to sound absolutely crazy.”
Alain let out a strangled laugh. “Miryam, we are stuck on an expressway with several hundred cars that all stopped at the same time, watching a plane fall out of control in the sky … very little is going to sound crazy to me right now.”
Miryam took a deep breath. “Okay…” She paused again. For a moment, she was shocked by how hard this was to say; like fighting to lift a boulder from her chest. She had suppressed it for so long… “When I was a child… a teenager… I had dreams. That came true. About little things… and about big ones, once… when the Syrians invaded northern Israel, where I lived. I haven’t had such a dream in a long time. But last night, I did.
“I was not actually planning to fly out here, today. I had midterms, and responsibilities. But this morning I had two dreams. The first, a vision where I was standing in the middle of New York City, and I saw all the technology that city was built on just… stop. And everyone there died.” She shuddered, the visions of death crowding her mind once again. “I woke in a panicked sweat. After I had regained my calm, I went back to sleep. And then I dreamed of Portland. And the same thing happened, but in that dream there was a glimmer of light. Some people escaped the darkness, and survived. And I knew—I knew —that I had to come here, to Portland, to save my family.
“I believe with all of myself, that this dream was… prophetic, and not in any kind of metaphorical way. I had to come. And now, now, all technology has switched off, just like my dream showed. I’m sure of it. That is why the planes are in trouble and are falling out of the sky, why the cars’ engines quit, why the lights went out. Everything technological has been switched off. And it’s not going to switch back on. So, I need to get to my family, as soon as possible.”
As if the landscape was psychotropically punctuating her impassioned speech, an enormous wha-thump sounded just as she finished. They all jumped—Sarah gave a small cry and jumped into Alain’s arms as he clutched at her frantically. Turning with dreamy inevitability, Miryam saw a red glow light the clouds to the north. It was close… so close. And big—a huge passenger liner, dwarfing the small plane they had been watching earlier. Casting her gaze around the darkening sky, she confirmed that it was clear—the smaller plane must also have come to earth.
Alain gasped. “That was a passenger airplane; a big one. It just came out of the sky and crashed! I didn’t hear anything until it hit… its turbines were dead! I think that church over on 102nd must have been hit.” Miri couldn’t see a specific structure; the airliner had landed tail-up in a huddle of buildings and the red glow of flames was getting stronger.
“That’s Parkrose,” Sarah keened. “My friend Lindsay lives over there, she has two kids…”
“There’s nothing we can do,” Alain said gruffly, obviously fighting back his own grief and fear.
Suddenly terrified, herself—of rejection, of mockery, of being a Cassandra who could see the future but never change it—Miryam turned back to the couple. “Alain, Sarah, I know I must sound crazy, but… maybe we could just stick together… for the next few days. Stay in touch. So that if I’m right…” She trailed off, miserably. Alain and Sarah looked at each other for a long moment, then began murmuring in French, too rapidly for her understand. Miryam turned away and walked a few yards toward the front of the car, trying to give them some privacy.
Around her, other stalled travellers were similarly milling about, talking, some huddled around raised vehicle hoods attempting to fix their dead engines. Miryam waited five, then ten minutes for Sarah and Alain to come to a consensus, then sighed and returned to them.
“I need to get to Shir Chadash,” Miryam said. “We can walk at least part of the way together, since you said you lived near there. Either way, it’s better to get moving than to stay here.”
Sarah nodded and looked pleadingly up at her husband.
After a long pause, Alain sighed. “All right. But the house is a long walk from here, cherie, ten miles about, and Shir Chadash is farther; on the other side of South Burlingham.”
“Ella and Jacob can do it,” Sarah said. “We did that walk for cancer thing last summer remember, and they managed. And Ben’s stroller is here; I never took it out of the trunk after I dropped you off.”
“Alright.” Alain agreed, reluctantly, still looking bemusedly at the car, as if he expected it to start working again, at any moment. “Let’s go through the luggage and make sure we have everything important.”
It took about ten minutes for Sarah and Alain to get their things and the kids ready. Ella and Jacob each had a small backpack into which they stuffed as much as they could carry, as Alain and Sarah triaged the three large roller suitcases and combined everything they couldn’t bear to leave behind in the smallest suitcase, a roll-aboard Alain had brought on the plane. Miryam also offered to take a few extra things in her carry-on.
As the family packed, Miryam could see the crowd sorting itself out; the wounded were laid by the road and covered with borrowed coats, sleeping bags, or car rugs. People began shoving the cars to the center barrier, leaving the right side free. An off-duty cop sent a party to the nearest hospital. Travellers either bundled themselves into comfortable positions in their cars to await help, or set out walking to destinations unknown. Miryam hoped they would find safe havens—but doubted it.
“Are you certain you can walk so far, pulling that suitcase, Miryam?” Alain pressed.
“Of course I can,” she snorted in exasperation. “I’m sixty-seven, not dead. I can keep up with someone pushing a stroller. Anyway, what other choice do I have?”
❀ ❁ ❀
Over six hours later, Miryam settled down farther onto Alain’s couch and accepted a cup of tea from Ella with a grateful sigh. It was still another few miles to the synagogue, and she was too tired to walk any further without a rest and some food. In any case, it was now past midnight; there might not be anyone still there, and whoever was, would likely stay until morning. As soon as they’d walked into the apartment, Alain had excused himself and left to check on Sarah’s parents, who apparently lived close by. Sarah had found a Sterno burner, put water for tea and some soup on to heat, and gone to tuck Ben into bed.
“Dr. Shein, can I get you anything else?” the girl asked. Miryam smiled. In her opinion, modern American children were far too coddled; not taught enough skills, responsibilities, and manners. It was good to see the occasional exceptions. “We have some nice cookies.”
“No, thank you. I’ll wait for the soup.” Ordinarily Miryam would be taking in details of the apartment, but now she was too tired to noticed anything but the comfort of the worn couch.
“I can take care of myself, if you want to go to sleep until dinner is ready.”
Miryam laughed out loud. “I’m sure you can, but I’m a little keyed up right now… do I look that tired?”
“How about I make you a deal—I’ll rest my eyes if you share this couch with me.”
Ella thought this over. “Okay.” Miryam kicked her pumps off—all that ‘foresight’ and I didn’t think to wear comfy walking shoes?—and lifted her feet onto the couch, pulling a pillow over to the side to support her upper torso and head. Ella climbed up on the couch and curled next to her.
❀ ❁ ❀
Miryam came awake all at once—she’d always slept very lightly—and looked up. Alain, a few feet away, smiled. “We let you sleep… it’s morning now, however, and the power—and everything else—is still out. From your urgency last night, I thought you would likely want to get going at first light.” Miryam nodded, sitting up and rubbing her eyes, letting Ella’s head slide down to her lap. The poor girl was still out like a light. Miryam checked her watch—she was still groggy enough that the 10:15 A.M. reading surprised her for a moment, before she remembered the time difference.
“Is that working?” asked Sarah from across the coffee table. “Mine isn’t…
“It’s an antique.” Miryam responded. “A gift from my late husband—you have to wind it up once a day. It’s a bit past... seven? A three-hour difference from the East Coast, yes?”
Sarah nodded. “The light woke me at dawn, which felt like about an hour ago, so that sounds about right. Well, good to know that at least clockwork still works. What could cause this?”
Miryam sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve always been a woman of science, for all I worship God… but there are some things in life for which science has no explanation.”
A middle-aged woman, well-put together with short, silver-streaked brown hair and a smart sweater dress, but looking weary and distraught, walked into the room through one of the inner doorways. “Sarah—Becky said Sam’s talked to friends over in South Portland. Apparently there’s been some fires over there, Beth Abraham burned down, but the Mittleman Center is open and taking in the injured. A synagogue in Portland, burned to the ground—the firemen could do nothing!” Sarah cut her eyes over to Miryam and, noticing her presence for the first time, the woman colored.
“My mother,” Sarah interjected. “Mom, This is Dr. Shein. She and Alain met on the plane—she is visiting family in Portland—and we invited her over, as it was too far for her to walk alone to meet up with her family. Miryam, my mother, Elaine Tuttleman. Alain went to check on them last night—they live in an apartment about a mile away. Given the situation, they decided to come stay with us until phone service, at least, is restored.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Dr. Shein: I apologize for my rudeness,” Elaine began, walking over to shake Miryam’s hand.
“Please, call me Miryam,” Miryam answered, smiling. “And no apologies necessary. It was a dreadful night, and it sounds like things have not gotten any better with the light of day—it is enough to overset anyone.”
Elaine shook her head. “I had hoped I would never see such a day in America. This is why my parents moved to this country.”
“It wasn’t arson or anti-Semitism, Mom,” Sarah interjected. “I cannot take in what has happened in the past eight hours, but let’s not borrow even more trouble.”
“Sufficient unto the day…” Miryam murmured. “Listen; my brother, Yavin—not a brother by blood, but we were raised together on the kibbutz—was to speak at Mittleman tonight. I wonder if he’s there now, if that’s close to where this synagogue burned down. He’s very good in a crisis, he would have gone to help if he knew it was happening.”
“Mittleman and the synagogue that burned down are less than three miles from Shir Chadash.” Alain answered. “They’re surely aware of what is going on. Perhaps we should go straight to Mittleman, then? It’s closer.”
Miryam paused, thinking. “Yes, that sounds good—I feel very sure he is there. And if I am wrong, we can come back or send a message to him to join me there.”
“Very good,” Alain approved. “Sarah—once the children wake up, you and your parents can bring them there, as well?”
Sarah looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded. “I suppose that makes more sense than waiting here, and forcing you to come back and tell us what’s going on.” She shook her head. “This not having any way to talk to someone but walk to where they are… it is so bizarre!”
Miryam nodded and levered herself off the couch. Toeing over her pumps, she slid her right foot into the first and winced. They didn’t have a large heel, but it was enough that the six-hour walk had left her feet quite sore.
“Let me dig out some sneakers for you, Miryam,” Sarah said, noting her expression. “I bet some of Ella’s would fit you.”
Alain and Miryam said their goodbyes and headed out. The early morning was overcast, with raindrops falling here and there, mixed with the odd cherry blossom petal. Alain had thoughtfully brought an umbrella for Miryam. He was wearing a rather disreputable soft hat that kept off the rain. Without the children, he and Miryam were able to move quickly and quietly through the streets. At this point, over twelve hours into the emergency, people had weathered the first crisis—or had died—and were mostly hunkered down in their homes, waiting for things to go back normal. On the hike from the airport, they had stopped twice to aid people trapped in crashed vehicles or needing directions, and they’d detoured around fights and fires four times. This walk was much easier, and Miryam was almost able to pretend that everything was fine… the scent of petrichor mixing with the aroma of the wet flora was intoxicating, and Portland was beautiful in the grey morning light. But the unnatural silence, the plumes of smoke on the horizon, gave the lie to the apparent peacefulness.
Miryam felt tears pushing their way up her throat several times during the walk, as she looked at the pleasant houses and green lawns, the blossoming cherry trees and swing sets in the yards, and imagined them abandoned, devastated, filled with corpses. Alain seemed less filled with doomful foreboding, but also more uncertain, looking around at a world whose treasonous changes frightened and bewildered him.
It took them a little over a half an hour to get to the community center. It was open, the doors propped wide to help the windows light the halls within. Torches and candles held in improvised sconces showed that how the building had been lit the night before. There were two teenagers outside the main entrance, welcoming people and directing them toward the right areas for their needs. Miryam asked if Lior or Yavin Zeitouni were present, and was told that the most of the congregation of Shir Chadash were congregating in the basketball court. “Right through those double-doors, over here,”the helpful teenager elaborated, leading the way as Miryam hesitated in the doorway.
Miryam sensed a pivotal moment in time… it felt like something hanging heavily in the air above her—at any moment, it would fall, and everything that came after would be colored by the impact. As the teenager guiding her pushed open the door at the end of the corridor, she began hearing raised voices echoing into the atrium.
“We don’t have the time.” Yavin’s voice called to her as she hurried through the open doorway. “In English you have a saying, I believe, ‘God helps those who help themselves’? Regardless of what caused this, some military experiment, or God, or green-eyed monsters from space, our priorities are clear. We must act to survive, as we have always done, as God has led us out of apocalypse after apocalypse, through the ages.” After a moment of silence, a dozen new voices started up again. She paused a moment to listen further.
“Okay, so we need to make sure that we have enough food; I think it would be good for us to remain here, at Mittleman.” That was Lior’s voice “ We need to to start working to bring the community together, here—”
“What happens when we run out of food?”
“We need to get some kind of fort, like I said! If we’re not going to have enough food to feed the whole city, it’s eventually going to come down to fights over what food there is left. We need—”
Feeling the opportune moment, she walked through the doorway with as much dignity and presence as she could muster.
“We need to get as many people together as possible—the whole Jewish community here, anyone else who wishes to join us—and go out to seek a new land, where we will make a new settlement, in exile still, but truly this time to be a light to the nations.” She blinked a minute in the bright light filtering in from the clerestory windows on the far wall of the huge baseball court. Those had not been her words… rather, Someone had seemed to speak through her.
Staring at her in shock and awe were over seventy people gathered in a rough circle; half arrayed on the bleachers and half on the plain floor in front of them. As her eyes skipped over the crowd, she identified Yavin, Lior, and Eyal front and center, and Mazal sitting on one of the bleachers next to Lior’s husband, Toby, who was cradling Shira. She’s gotten so big! was Miryam’ fleeting thought. The pictures had not prepared her for the reality. It really has been far too long since I visited.
“It’s a long story.” Pulling herself together, she smiled. “But a relevant one. So why don’t you all get comfortable and listen?”
After a second, Yavin came forward and embraced her. She smiled and hugged him back, feeling a startling sense of déjà vu. This was not a greeting between oft-separated family and friends such as he had given her over the past forty years. This was a little brother, desperately seeking reassurance, comfort, and safety in his older sister’s arms. After a long moment, he turned, with his arm still around her, and walked her forward toward the group.
“Everyone, this is my older sister—not by blood, but family all the same—Dr. Miryam Shein. In our kibbutz, growing up, we called her Miryam haNevi—Miryam the prophet. She has a gift of knowing when things are going to happen. Important things. She saved my life, more than once. So let’s all listen seriously to what she has to say.”
Several of the Shir Chadash congregants looked dubious at this introduction, but far fewer than Miryam would have normally expected at anything but a New Age convention or some such. Already the… Event… that had happened the day before was adjusting people’s notions of what was possible and believable. But what do I say? she thought desperately. How do I make them understand, make them believe, what I know?
“Hello everyone,” she began. “ Last night, I had a dream—no, the night before that—” She paused, uncertain of how to continue. And then, in the silence, she heard a still, small voice go on. It took a long moment to even realize that it was hers.
“I dreamed of death and destruction. I dreamed of darkness…all the lights, going out. First, I was in New York and then here, in Portland....and I believe they were emblematic of a Change occurring in every city in between, in every city and town and village and house around the world. I dreamed of an apocalypse, of almost every human in my sight, as far as I could see, doomed to die within a year. But here, in the darkness of Portland… I could see a light. Something to be brought out and saved. We are in a new age of darkness, and the cities, this city, Portland, that you have called home, is now death to you.
“Yavin, my brother, will show you the way to life. We will go south… to the country, where we can find friends, and food, and build shelter. We must find and convince as many people, here in the Jewish heart of Portland, to come with us. We will create a new people and a nation, for surely in this new world that is upon us, it is death to try to cling to the old ones.”
And just as suddenly as she found her voice, it stopped, and she stood fumbling for a chair, overcome with weariness. She had been borne on a wave of Power, and it left her drained, ready to collapse. Eyal ran over and helped her to the bleachers.
Other than the sound of their movement, there was complete silence. People simply… sat. Stunned in their tracks. After about five minutes of this, Yavin stepped forward.
“Everyone, as I told you, I trust in Miryam completely.” There was more silence. Miryam reopened her eyes, and blinked, sat up straighter. To her surprise, no one had broken out into instant objections, although many looked disbelieving or hostile. Instead, everyone in the room—seventy-plus pairs of eyes—were fixed on Yavin, waiting for him to continue. Their energy and focus were palpable, and Yavin seemed to draw strength from them as he spoke. Miryam was impressed. She knew he hated public speaking, especially in English—he was sensitive about his fluency, and his frequent pauses to find the right words.
“Also, I think that there is logic in what she says. We have already spoken of how food shortages will be a major issue if this continues. Now that we know it will continue—” Several people stirred or opened their mouths as if to protest at this, but Yavin barrelled straight over them—“getting away from large populations of people is the obvious first step. We need to get out to a place where there are fewer people, and more land that can be cultivated, animals that can be herded, places where new structures can be built.”
Yavin paused, and, as if released from a spell, everyone began talking at once. Still sitting wearily on the bleachers, Miryam caught only snatches of conversation.
“Staying put and waiting for help makes sense!”
“What help? Miryam said, the whole world—”
“If you think that was crazy—”
“—power of the the Almighty on her.”
“This can’t last—”
“—my kids need—”
“—can’t just abandon everything!”
Struggling to her feet, Miryam prepared the professorial voice she used for enormous student lectures. “Obviously we aren’t going to pack up and leave tonight. But, before a week is out, my family and I are leaving. You can all sit here and argue until you starve, or you can save your lives and the lives of your families by coming with us. Go, stay, it is entirely up to you.” Her voice cut across the din.
“We should aim to be ready to leave by Friday.” Lior put in. “That way we can take Saturday to honor the Shabbat and make double-sure we have everything we’ll need, and we can head out Sunday morning.”
Yavin nodded in acquiescence. “There is time, if you are not yet convinced, to think over what you have heard and decided if you will save yourselves and come with us.”
“In the meantime, I would advise that everyone stay here at Mittleman if your homes aren’t within walking distance. If you do choose to go home, please let us know where you will be. Remember that phones aren’t working; the only way for people to communicate right now is to find each other and talk in person,” Lior directed her congregation. “Right now, Riva Reitzman, Mittleman’s director, has lent us enough sleeping bags from the school to bed down here in the basketball court.”
At that, the meeting broke up, with everyone going their separate ways. Miryam found herself sitting down gratefully on some sleeping bags in the corner, with Mazal, Yavin, and Natan on one side, and Toby, Lior, and Shira on the other.
“So,” Yavin joked quietly in Hebrew as they hugged and greeted each other, “I guess you decided to skip midterms after all?”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 2 —
Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 9:00 A.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, Oregon
The hours following the ‘apocalypse conference,’ as Lior was calling it in her head, felt like a weird combination of a camping vacation and the worst day at work she’d ever had. On one hand, everyone seemed filled with a certain pioneer spirit, being forced to rough it; on the other hand, everyone seemed to want to talk to someone in charge, and since Miryam had decided to take a nap to sleep off her jet lag and muscle soreness—I can’t believe she walked from the airport!—and her father seemed to be intimidating most everyone, whether on purpose or by accident—and I suspect the former—that meant everyone was badgering Lior. Thirty minutes after she and her family had sat down in the cafeteria with trays of breakfast items, she’d barely managed to take three bites. At least she’d chosen granola, yogurt, and fruit, not a breakfast that would be damaged by sitting for a while. The Mittleman staff had managed to put on a decent breakfast for everyone currently staying at the center, but Lior wasn’t one for a large breakfast even when she wasn’t hiding morning sickness.
Tired of fielding questions and reassuring people who wanted to speak to Yavin, Lior brightened considerably when she spotted two men she knew, dressed in spiffy but crumpled suits, soot-stained and minus their ties. She jumped up and beckoned them over. Finally some people who will help add answers, not more questions!
“Aba, this is Joel Shapira and David—Davy,” Lior added with a smile, “Lockhart. They’re married, and run a wedding planner agency. You remember them from fighting the fire last night?”
After her father nodded, rising and shaking hands, Lior added, “They’ll be very useful to this…” she paused, looking for the right word. “This… Exodus we’re planning.”
“Wedding planners?” her father asked with a puzzled expression and a glance at his son and daughter-in-law-elect, who were sitting across the table. Clearly, Yavin was wondering if his daughter had become bewildered, finally, by the stress and was thinking about Eyal and Devra’s still-unscheduled nuptials.
“Wedding planners,” said Joel. “We manage large events—sometimes as many as a couple thousand guests, moving around from, say; the rehearsal, to the photos, to the ceremony, to the reception. Events that take place over a weekend, at several different venues. We are experts at logistics.”
“And we specialize in interfaith weddings, so it takes a lot of drama to throw us,” added Davy.
“Ah, said Yavin, “I see. So moving and feeding a few hundred people during a crisis won’t be so different.”
Joel laughed. “The only difference I can see is, everyone will be less upset and stressed out.”
“B’seder.” Yavin nodded his head sharply. “ I officially appoint you… Wardens of the March. Let’s sit down here and have a quick meeting—what sort of people do you want in charge of what.”
“Right,” Joel agreed. “The first thing we’ll want is some deputies—warm bodies with a few brains, basically, just enough to follow basic orders. We find that having a few ladies in pretty dresses—or maybe in this case, tough looking guys—roaming around looking for trouble spots, with just the basic authority to tell people to cool down and not move until we can get there, is an absolute necessity.”
Davy reached for his laptop carrying case, and then pushed it away with a sigh. ‘Got any paper?”
Lior produced several large pads of paper and some sharpies that she’d snagged from the Mittleman art supply closet before the apocalyptic conference.
❀ ❁ ❀
Nearly three hours later, she was still sitting in the same place—although at least she’d managed to finish her breakfast. She, Yavin, Joel, and Davy had been hammering out logistics, answering questions, and courting potential followers all morning. They’d been joined by a few useful people, at least. Chief among them were Abe Green—one of the Beth Abraham refugees and a city planner who’d been invaluable in the organizational planning—and Anya Giles, a librarian from Portland University. Anya had been working late at the Change; her frantic husband, a member of Lior’s congregation, had nearly collapsed with relief when she’d arrived at Mittleman around ten in the morning, after spending the night at the downtown campus. She’d immediately taken over the job of recording decisions, and adding the task of listing names, occupations, and useful skills of everyone who came to talk to them.
A little after eleven o’clock, Miryam finally entered the cafeteria, and made a beeline for the coffee before coming over to join their table. She was attended by a young couple who she introduced as Sarah and Alain Bakri, the people she’d met on her way to Mittleman from the airport.
“Oh good, you’re here.” Lior greeted her. “There’s someone you and my father need to talk to—stay here, get some food, I’ll bring her.” Hurrying away, she bounced out of the cafeteria and down the hall to the Executive Director’s office.
“Riva,” she called, poking her head inside. “I need to introduce you to some people.”
“They have some questions about using the facility. It will only take a moment.”
Riva sighed. “Okay. Listen everyone,” she said to the three people who’d been sitting in her office—who were now giving Lior the stink eye. “This is a good moment for a break, anyway. We’ll reconvene in twenty.” And she let Lior lead her back to the cafeteria.
“Everyone,” Lior introduced as soon as they got within earshot, “this is Riva Reitzman, the executive director of the Mittleman Center. Riva—Yavin Zeitouni, my father, and Dr. Miryam Shein, my aunt, are the ones you need to talk to.” She gestured to where the two siblings were sitting next to each other.
Yavin and Miryam took Riva’s measure. Since Lior had last seen her the night before, Riva had taken the time to take her hair down and wash off her formal makeup from the wedding reception she’d been at when the survivors from Beth Abraham had descended upon Mittleman, but she was still in her little black dress, albeit in stocking feet rather than heels. With her silvery black hair pulled roughly back, fresh daytime makeup, and considerable personal charisma, she exuded an air of weary competence.
“I’ve heard all about you; had a dozen people come in to tell me there was an apocalypse prophet squatting in the baseball court. You had visions that Portland is going to crumble into the rivers? And your brother or brother-in-law is going to lead us all to the Promised Land?” Riva spoke with lighthearted sarcasm, but her disbelief was evident.
Lior gave her father a meaningful look, and he nodded in response. This was why she’d known she had to arrange a sit-down with Riva as soon as possible. If they were going to operate out of Mittleman until they left town on this—Exodus—they would need her understanding, permission, and cooperation.
“Yavin is neither my brother nor my brother-in-law, but a man I grew up with in Degania Alef.” Miryam responded gravely, “All the children on the kibbutz were raised together in crèche, and Yavin and I have stayed very close, so we call ourselves siblings for convenience’s sake. And yes, God sent me a vision, warning me that Portland is doomed. Not just Portland, however. Without technology, all the cities and urban areas are death-traps. I know that Yavin is the best person to lead those who will follow us to safety. But we need a base to work from. Share the resources of your center with us. Let us gather here, and march from here on Sunday.”
Riva blinked at Miryam’s evident sincerity and scarily contagious conviction, but rallied. “If you’re the one with these… visions… why wouldn’t you be leading, then? This isn’t the medieval era, whatever may be wrong with the power. We don’t need a man to lead us.”
Miryam laughed lightly. “Believe me, of all of Yavin’s qualities, his masculinity is the last one I would rely on to prove his worth as our leader. It is his leadership experience, intelligence, and personal integrity that I rely on. He has forty years of experience in the Israeli Defense Forces, running battalions of people. A certain amount of military knowledge is going to be essential in the days to come. I avoided military service by moving to the United States. And I know from my work as an academic that my strength lies in leading small groups, not in organizing large groups of people. Certainly, we will be working jointly and running all decisions past each other, but the final logistical decisions will be his because he is more qualified to make them. ”
“Hrumph.” Riva responded, unable to find fault with that. “But what if the power and things comes back?”
“They’re not going to.” Yavin was emphatic. “But even then, you’d have a burnt out city, a grounded fleet of airplanes, a leadership in chaos, and who know what other challenges to make life as we knew it untenable. The roads alone will take weeks to clear. You have seen a demonstration of the extent of this disaster? That it’s not just a power outage?”
Riva nodded, looking unhappy.
“So… imagine things did suddenly start working again.” Miryam took up the thread of the argument with well-oiled precision born of her and Yavin’s long relationship. “We still know, now, that they can be taken away like that.” She snapped her fingers. “That means massive Change. Can we ever really rely on our technology again, knowing it is unreliable?”
Riva paused introspectively, as if Miryam’s words had finally made her look beyond the immediate crisis—and what she was beginning to see frightened her.
Miryam was too skilled a psychologist to press at this point. With a quick glance, she signalled Yavin and Lior to let Riva mull things over, instead, and they waited in silence for a moment.
Finally Riva spoke. “I can’t force people to go with you… I don’t want to go myself.”
“We’re not asking that.” Lior responded. “Only to be able to use Mittleman’s facilities and resources as a base while we gather those who do wish to leave.”
“You are leaving on Sunday, right?”
“Until then you can have use of the facilities, certainly—will the gym be large enough to hold you all? If not, I’ll find more room for you. When it is time for you to leave, we’ll divvy up what current supplies we have proportionally. Any resources you bring in, of course, you can allocate as you please, and likewise for anyone else. But, honestly, I think that before then, the lights will be back on. Miryam is right that you might not be able to fly back to Israel, but otherwise things won’t be so bad.”
Although Miryam and Yavin looked ready to continue arguing, Lior gave them a quick minatorial glance, and they nodded, agreeing silently to leave Riva with her illusions intact. There would be plenty of time to revisit things later. Meanwhile, they had the permissions they needed.
As Riva took her leave, Lior slid gratefully back into her seat at the table with what Yavin called the command staff. While she wasn’t showing yet, the metabolic load of her pregnancy was already leaving her more tired than usual—and this had hardly been a usual past few hours. Suddenly, someone slipped a pair of hands onto her shoulders, kneading a bit. As she looked up, her friend, Becca, smiled at her. She smiled back, the warm fondness she felt for the woman cutting through her general emotional state of fear and uncertainty. “Lior,” Becca said, “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Something wrong?” Lior asked. Becca gave her a droll look, and after a pause, both women laughed for a moment.
“Nothing new is wrong,” Becca said. “I just checked on the kids in the nursery. They are fine. I was wondering if we shouldn’t send bike messengers to the other synagogues and tell them what’s going on.”
“Yes!” Miryam said urgently, looking up from her notepad. “We should try and get as many people to come as possible. Tell them of my vision.”
“They will just think we have flipped from stress.” Lior demurred. “Let’s invite them to a meeting here and have Miryam and Yavin do a presentation. That will be more convincing.”
“Bikers, bikers…” Anya muttered, flipping through the masses of paper in front of her. “I need index cards, and colored pencils and some files boxes, by the way.”
“We’ll take care of it.” Joel agreed, making a note himself. “Micah, you run along to the classrooms and see what you can scare up,” he told his son, who’d been sitting nearby with a comic book.
“Ah, here it is. People who are onsite and have a bike with them.” With a flourish, Anya pulled a piece of paper out of the stack, and started copying names off it onto a fresh piece of paper. “You know,” she commented. “I haven’t done this much writing by hand in years. My fingers keep cramping up. I wonder if I can’t dig up an old typewriter or something. In the meantime we’re going to have to find some children and teens with decent penmanship—”
“Hold on, people,” said a new voice from some distance away. They all turned in surprise to see a well-built young man in a rumpled, too–large dark suit, straighten up from where he’d been leaning with his back to a nearby table, evidently eavesdropping. “There are plenty of ways to make copies using non-electrical means. Carbon copying, spirit duplication, hectographic—”
“What duplication?” Yavin asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Spirit duplication. It’s an old kind of copying.” Sarah Bakri answered. “I don’t think it would be best for our needs. Hectographic is a lot easier. ”
“B’seder,” Yavin said patiently “And what’s that?”
The young man grinned. “You know how you can rub some silly-putty on a newspaper and get a mirror image of the text on it? It’s like that. Only… more so.”
“I teach high school chemistry.” Sarah explained. “I show everyone how to make hectograph copies every year in class. We just need some gelatin, glycerin, sugar, water, and paper. I have all the stuff I need in my classroom. I just need to go get it.”
“You can’t go off by yourself,” Alain protested. In the end, he and the young man who introduced himself as Jason de Costa went with her while Miryam refereed Yavin’s, Abe’s, and Joel’s arguments over the lists.
Lior listened intently. Her life, and those of her husband, daughter and unborn child, depended upon their discussion. And yet, so enormous was the Change, that at times she almost forgot that… and then she would remember, and understanding would wash over her again, bringing with it pain, grief—and a burgeoning anger at whoever or whatever had taken away her world.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 3 —
Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 3:25 P.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, Oregon
Mazal was minding the children’s crèche when Miryam wandered in looking for her. “Mazal!” She greeted her urgently. “We need you for the meeting.”
“What? Why? I’m on-shift here with the children… and I’m not a leader, why would I need to be there?”
Miryam gave her astern glare. “Mazal, this isn’t a business or academic meeting. This is a religious-social community crowd, that we need to force to transition into an entirely new group identity. Part of that will be them really getting to know the putative leaders, and that means getting to know their spouses and children as well. Eyal and Devra, Toby and you, all need to be there. You will help the audience feel that they are becoming truly acquainted with Yavin and me.”
Mazal sighed. “Alright. But I need to find a replacement here, and wash up… what are we doing for bathroom needs, anyways? Someone brought in a camping toilet for the children, and we’ve all been using that…”
Her friend laughed. “We filled up as many tubs as possible before the water pressure died, and we have the chlorinated water from the pool… right now, it’s going first to drinking, then to cooking and washing, and then the grey water that’s left is being hauled up in buckets to flush the toilets: and we’re abiding by ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down,” Miryam switched back to English for that last, clearly memorized bit, then continued on b’ivrit again. “There is a ladies’ down the hall. I’ll walk with you and fill you in.”
Mazal let the other crèche monitors know that she was leaving, and would send a replacement, and gave Shira a goodbye hug. The little girl cheerily hugged them both and went back to playing with blocks.
The two women began walking as Miryam detailed decisions made and people met. “Yavin has planned a route to take us to the countryside around Medford—hopefully we can take up farming around there. Did you know, the people I met on the plane, who came with me last night, are joining us officially. He’s a blacksmith—an artist, but he says he can make anything out of iron—and she’s a high school teacher—chemistry—so they’ll be invaluable. We’ve had a couple of new rabbis join us, both from the same synagogue it seems; the one that got burnt out last night. Pretty much all the people from that synagogue have joined us, except for a few who are waffling because they have family members too old or sick to make the march. Yavin has found a new protege, some Israeli grad student who interned with the IDF combat engineers, named Alon. He has developed a weapon for us; blades fastened to long poles, and they managed to set up a workshop and make a few. They’ve also gotten some similar things from a gardening supply store, of all places. Somehow that made it all very real to me. All over again.”
Mazal nodded, tears coming to her eyes for a minute. “Yes. I’ve been having that happen all day. I’ll fall into a rhythm of doing normal things, as if I am just on vacation still, and I’ll forget, and then something will remind me where I am and what is happening.
“Oh, Miryam, I am so glad you are here. I do not how I would manage this without you. I am afraid I will break even with your support. Natan keeps giving me this look that breaks my heart. It seemed such a wonderful opportunity for him—two weeks in America—and with the Passover break coming, he’d only miss a week of school. Now, I’m grateful to have him with me… but I don’t know how he will weather this crisis without his parents. I just wish the whole family had come.” She sighed. “It’s sad… Yavin had a problem with Adisu at first.”
Mazal nodded. “A racial problem… he suppressed it, of course, and he was ashamed, I think, to feel it… but he did not at all like it when Gilah brought an Ethiopian home.”
Miryam raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Are you sure it wasn’t more of a cultural issue? I mean, that was back in what, ’85? Such a recent immigrant…”
Mazel gave her a jaundiced glance. “Adisu’s family were some of the earliest Beta Israel immigrants—they came over in ’77. Adisu was 17—only a little older than I was when I came to Israel, so culturally, he’s as Israeli as I am.”
Miryam lifted her hands in surrender. “We all have some unconscious racism, I suppose.”
Mazel sighed, and nodded. “He worried about their children facing discrimination, especially. And Adisu felt it… and was very stiff with Yavin for quite a while. But in the past few years, especially as Natan has gotten older, they’ve become very good friends. And now I am afraid we’ll never see....” Mazal’s voice broke, and she was silent for some time. “What if I can’t cope?” she asked finally.
“You are a strong woman, Mazal. You’ll be there for Natan and Yavin. And then you can come and talk to me.” They started up a staircase.
“And you, Miryam? After working with some of those poor, sad, abused children you wrote about, who comforted you?”
“Morry was always there for me, and my friends. And I had my own counselor—and my own technique. I’d imagine a fishbowl upside down, trapping all the bad parents inside and locking their harmful words and deeds in with them. And the fishbowl was there for all to see, shaming them. What has been hardest for me is dealing with the idea, even among other academics, that the parents are some kind of essential, precious, never-to-be-meddled with ingredient in child development. I got along just fine seeing my parents a few hours a day, thank you.”
Mazal smiled. “So did Yavin...but to be honest, Miryam, as a parent, I was happier living with my children.” Even as she spoke, memories came flooding back, of Gilah and Rivka as toddlers at the beach, as proud big sisters each holding a twin, of her terror at Eyal’s bris, where she had cowered outside the room in her mother’s arms while Yavin held the baby. Ruthlessly, she pushed them away.
Miryam smiled in return.. “I understand that—but it’s for you, not just for them.”
“Absolutely… I would have made a terrible kibbutznik mother; much too selfishly loving. But then, I was eleven when we came over from Iran. My early childhood model was a traditional family structure. My own mother used to get scolded quite a bit for neglecting her tasks so as to spend more time with us. They eventually just assigned her full-time to the crèche.” They shared a laugh. After a minute, Mazal worked up her courage to ask the other woman something she’d always wondered, but never felt close enough to say. “Miryam, did you never want children?”
Miryam gave her a sidelong look. “Ah, the eternal question. No, I didn’t… I sort of always assumed I’d have them anyway… but I never got pregnant. Morry and I discussed going into a specialist, seeing what was wrong. But when we talked about it, we realized that neither of us really wanted children. I had my students and my patients, he had all his patients and med students. It just never happened, and both of us were content with that.” Miryam smiled, reassuring Mazal that the question had not annoyed her.
“On a more practical note,” Miryam continued, “Becca, who likes campfire cookery, and Noa of Noa’s Nosh, a kosher caterer who works with Joel and Davy, have set up this amazing kitchen on the outside basketball court and we are going to have barbeque for dinner and mixed grill for lunch tomorrow. After the egg salad for lunch today—not much egg, but a lot of lettuce and greens—with rice pudding for dessert to use up the milk before it spoiled, that will be welcome. We’re not going to offer snacks at the meeting, however.
“But, of course, I have to do my prophet Miryam song and dance again.” Miryam finished, sounding resigned. “I left my tambourine in New York.”
“I don’t think you’ll ever be able to stop.” Mazal pointed out. The two women laughed again, but in a very different tone.
After visiting the restroom, they walked into the cafeteria, and ran across Natan, in the center of a group of American boys his own age. Equally fascinated by each other’s strangeness, they were playing a game where the American Jewish boys, all around Bar Mitzvah age, would chant a few memorized lines from a Hebrew prayer; and Natan, who’d been raised as a secular Jew and had only rarely, if ever, heard the prayers, would translate them on the fly into English. The Americans, who in many cases knew only generally—if at all—what the prayers were about, were evidently intrigued both by the literal translations, which were at times unintentionally funny, and by a black Jew who spoke Hebrew, while Natan found the boys’ weird accents and intonations in their rote Hebrew hilarious.
In the cafeteria Miryam helped Mazal find someone willing to replace her in the crèche, and then led her to the anteroom behind the auditorium where Yavin awaited them.
“Miryam, Mazal” He greeted his sister and wife with a relieved smile.
Mazal imagined he’d been seeing a lot of less welcome faces walk through that door today.
“Riva tells me the football field—soccer, I mean, as they say here—is the best place to have this meeting,” he continued. “I’ve been out there, and it looks good. Lior is going to introduce us, get everyone thinking together; they all know her, of course. But she says it will be up to you and me to explain what we think is going on and what we want to do.” He made a face as he finished and held up his left hand, palm down, level with his face. “Look at this; I’m already shaking, I’m dreading this so much.”
Mazal came over, took the raised hand, and kissed its palm, her heart filling again with love for her beloved partner. “You’ll do fine. No one expects you to be perfect, or a professional speaker. You just need to talk from the heart, tell them what you know.”
He nodded, unconvinced. “I suppose… Miryam, you know what you’re going to say?”
She sighed. “Not really… I am hoping that when I get up there, I’ll know what to say.. .or rather, that Someone else will say something through me. That’s what happened before.”
“Mazal has made a nice set of flip cards for me,” Yavin said dryly.
Miryam chuckled. “Perhaps we should just have her speak… my biggest fear is that I will revert to professorial mode and start lecturing about how people’s brains react in a crisis.”
Mazal raised her eyebrows. “It doesn’t seem like that would be so bad?”
Miryam snorted. “It does if I start using big words as if I’m talking to a bunch of grad students and upperclassmen, believe me.”
“Ema, Aba, Doda!” Lior called from the doorway. “Hurry up, people are already gathering!”
The three of them joined Lior there, and then walked with her down the hall and outside. Mazal saw her husband gulp visibly as they walked onto the grass and gave him a reassuring hand clasp. The space was barely a quarter full, but that still meant there were over two hundred and fifty peoplecrowded together on rows of white chairs that had clearly been brought out for the occasion.
Lior walked onto to a series of plastic panels that had been locked together to form a “stage” in front of the chairs while waving the others to join Devra, Eyal, and Toby in the front row. “Good afternoon, everyone.”
She paused, and a few people called greetings back.
“I expect you have all come here for answers. We have some, though they may not be the answers to the questions you have, but first let us take a moment to say a misheberach for those who have been hurt or who are having trouble coping with their illnesses due to the terrible events of the last twenty-four hours or so… Our thoughts are especially with the Jews of Beth Abraham. And I would like to invite their cantor, Levi Wiess, to lead us.”
A middle age man stepped up on the stage, nodded to Lior, then faced the audience and began to chant. The various people gathered in the audience joined in, although Mazal could see some of them stumbling over the chant a few times—not as if they didn’t know the words, but as if they were accustomed to singing them slightly differently. She scarcely remembered the prayer, and just moved her mouth without making any sounds. When the prayer was over Lior thanked the cantor, and as Levi returned to his seat, she waved her father forward.
“This is Yavin Zeitouni. As some of you may know, he was scheduled to speak here on the future of kibbutzim in Israel. Now instead, he is going to speak on the future of the Jews in Portland, but first,” and here she gestured Miryam to her side, “Dr. Miryam Shein will share with us a divinely inspired vision she received two nights ago. I know that to many of us it may seem strange that the Eternal is taking an active role in the deeds of the people of Israel in these modern time, but I think the events of last night show that we are no longer living in normal times. With planes falling from the sky, gunpowder and electricity no longer working, the fact that the cars and telephones have stopped operating is minor in comparison.”
“Not so minor as all that, Rabbi Z!” called a voice from the audience.
“No, indeed.” Lior acquiesced. “But I believe that all of it is part of same Change. Please, lend your ears to Dr. Shein.”
Miryam walked up and took Lior’s place on the stage and dutifully began to speak.Obviously uncomfortable, she recited the facts of her vision as if presenting the board minutes at a committee meeting, and the audience grow restless. Mazal smothered an automatic wince. She knew that Miryam found suddenly being a conduit a divine power she had suppressed for decades disturbing, but this was a bad time to get cold feet. There was none of the magnetism and conviction about her now that there had been the night before, or even earlier that morning. Miryam evidently felt the difference as well, as she drew quickly to an end and turned the presentation over to Yavin.
“Do you know what is going on?” he asked the audience.
Mazal dutifully shook her head, along with most of the others.
“Neither do I,” Yavin answered his own question. “But I can easily see what will happen. I was present in Israel in 1948, when all was chaos—disorganized armies everywhere, families on the run, no one sure what the best action to take to protect their people. This will be a hundred times worse, because there will be no haganah and Irgun coming together to fight off the invaders. No telephones to communicate across miles, no tanks and cars to bring the defenders to where they are needed in the nick of time.”
Mazal saw her husband and Miryam shared a darkling look of anguished memory. She had not been present in ’48, thank God; the persecution and eventual flight from Iran had been traumatic enough for her. Meeting her husband’s eyes, she saw, for a minute, something else looking out of them—something familiar, but not her lover. Rather, it was the same thing she had seen looking out of Miryam’s eyes during her startling arrival in the basketball court the night before, that had been absent from her speech minutes before. Just at that moment, a sunbeam broke through the clouds overhead bathing Yavin in light.
What pattern do you work within us, Eternal One? Mazal wondered, half internal whisper, half prayer, her mind running through old, unused pathways she hadn’t traveled since childhood. Is this your design, Oh Most High?
Yavin continued after only a second’s pause. “The large cities of the world are going to be death traps in this crisis. With no sewage running through the pipes, no food being driven in on the roads—it will be a dark time. Miryam and I are leading our families,”—at this he gestured to where his family sat—“and their communities, and all others who will follow us, out of the city before all order breaks down completely.”
“Where to?” Asked another voice from the audience—this one genuinely pleading for information, rather than antagonistic. “Where can we go that will be safe?”
“We will go south.” Yavin replied. He was not using the cards in his hands. “I have talked with the people from the community who know this region well, and have friends in that area, and they tell me there is good farming land there, with few inhabitants. I grew up in a kibbutz, one of the first in Israel, in fact, as did Miryam, and my wife, Mazal. We will gather others to us who know the land here, and build a new life for our people.”
“But what if the lights come back on?” asked a lean, rangy man, one of the few sitting in front row. He did not yell, but projected his voice so that it carried throughout the room. There was one that was used to speaking in a public setting, Mazal thought.
“Mr… I’m sorry, I don’t know your name?” Miryam asked. A weight seemed lifted from her, as if she felt enormously relieved by the seeming passing of a divine torch to Yavin, and her tone here was pure Miryam, in all her academic politician, community leader glory.
“Nathan Feinstein, JD. I’m a prosecutor, environmental law. We deal in facts.” Left unspoken was and not visions.
Playing to the audience, however, Miryam pressed on, “I realize a witness based on a dream may not be impressive to one used to dealing with facts and figures, but do you have any facts and figures that explain the current situation?”
“Invisible teacup!” Nathan retorted hotly.
Mazal exchanged a confused look with Yavin.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof!” Nathan was on his feet now.
“Yes, they do.” Miryam answered. “And personally, I think the fact that every combustion engine and electric machine in the city has stopped working is a fairly extraordinary proof.”
“And I think,” added Yavin, “the fact that Miryam showed up here, just before all this happened, when she had no plans to journey to Oregon, is also very extraordinary. But in any case, and I have said this all along, that even if the lights come back on, our best course of action is still to leave the city and make a new life in the country. The old way of life is disrupted beyond repair, and it grows more so as every hour passes. If power and everything else is restored as we are on the road, those who wish can still turn back.”
Nathan subsided, still muttering to his seatmates. Lior stood and quickly walked forward.
“Are there other questions? Comments? Very good. Joel, Davy, and Anya, the people at the table behind the chairs, are handling logistical details, for those who wish to join us.” Lior called, walking back up to the stage. The three stood and waved cheerily.
“What happens to those who can’t come—the elderly, the sick? We can’t just abandon them,” called out a woman who looked to be in her late sixties, sandwiched between two ancient people whom Miryam assumed were her parents. A pair of walkers were propped against the aisle seat.
Yavin sighed. “If my children’s survival depended on them leaving me behind, that is what I would want them to do. We will do everything we can to help people who have health problems along the way, but for people who just aren’t going to survive living out in the open, traveling fifteen to thirty miles a day for several days—you’re going to have to make that choice, we can’t make it for you. We will certainly leave those people who choose to stay with as much security and supplies as we can. We also have to face the fact that some people are going to start dyingnow that their medicines are going to run out—I’m sure some of you have heard that the oxygen tanks don’t seem to be working right, either—I know that will be an issue for some people.”
Lior spoke again. “We have a group of doctors and nurses ready to talk to patients and their family members about these kind of problems in the library after the meeting is finished.”
“What do you plan to do once you get to this Promised Land in the south?” That was Nathan Feinstein again. That one’s going to be a problem, Mazal realized. While he was talking, she leaned over to Toby and asked, “Who is this guy? He’s influential in one of the synagogues here, maybe?”
“Yes—he’s one of the movers and shakers in Temple Emanuel,” he replied. “He’s held pretty much every job on their board at one time or another—he’s the VP right now. And Temple Emanuel is the biggest synagogue in Portland. They’re very influential in the American Jewish Reform Union.”
Mazal nodded and redirected her attention back to Nathan. Fortunately, many years of academic life had taught her to easily follow two speakers at once.
“How will you live? What kind of society do you plan to set up? What kind of government? I think I speak for all the Reform Jews here when I say that we’re not interested in living in a theocracy—or even a religiously dominated democracy like the State of Israel has become.”
“To answer the first part of your question, we will establish farms,” said Yavin. “Perhaps only subsistence farms at first, but with work and luck, we will prosper. We already have a committee working out the details of vegetable farming and looking into obtaining grain seed. It is our hope to find herds of sheep as we pass by Eugene.
“The march will operate under military authority—that’s the only way it’s possible to move a large group of people in a crisis situation, and keep them safe. I will be in charge, and will appoint others to positions of authority, starting with Joel, Davy and Miryam. Once we arrive and get things set up, we will hold elections. I imagine with such a small number a direct democracy will work well enough. Kibbutzim are normally communes, with everyone having a voice and a vote. I, for some reason, expect that the majority religion will be Judaism.”
That got a laugh.
“But we will have freedom of religion, and toleration for the different strains that make up Judaism. Believe me, as a secular Jew, I’ve never agreed with the way that some of Israeli law operates under Orthodox law. With respect to the Orthodox among us, while they can certainly observe such customs as they feel appropriate, we won’t be making any religious practices required or living under religious law—”
“Will you be electing a president?” Nathan asked.
Yavin eyed him with annoyance. “This isn’t going to be the State of Israel writ small, but it won’t be the USA reborn either. I expected we will start by electing a committee to design a small government. A president of a few hundred people may not be necessary. This is all a bit early. We need to get there, first.”
Lior intervened. “Again, anyone who is interested in coming needs to talk to the people at the table in the back. They’ll take some basic information. It’s not a commitment to come with us. If you have questions about what to bring, Anya has information sheets…and questions about the March itself can be answered by Davy and Joel.”
The meeting broke up, some people leaving, some going to Anya or Davy and Joel, and others standing around in small clumps of conversation. From one of the latter, Mazal heard Nathan’s voice raised above the general din for a second:
“Completely disorganized, have no idea what they’re doing. Thankfully, it won’t matter, the real government—”
She sighed. Despite her faith in Miryam’s prophecy and Yavin’s common sense, she half-hoped that one would decide against the journey. From her academic career, she was all too familiar with the type; opinionated, forceful, attracted to power. They were good at heart, most of the time—Mazal had met few genuinely evil people—but tended to be driven by cover your ass mentalities; unwilling to take any action without talking it to death, making all responsibilities—and blame—crystal clear. Preferably with an annotated, hundred-plus-page document of bylaws and addendums they could use in any future blame game. To be fair, those kind of mentalities were usually created by having been involved in too many experiences that did fail due to lack of planning and clear responsibilities—but it didn’t make working with them any easier.
“Unfortunately, if we don’t convince him, we’ll likely not be bringing any of the Temple Emanuel congregation along with us,” Toby murmured in her ear, showing an uncanny ability to follow her train of thought. “The fact that neither of their rabbis came to this meeting shows how seriously—or rather, not seriously—they’re taking this. From what Nathan tells me, they’ve mobilized the entire synagogue to help people in the area east of the Willamette, where the plane came down—there’s been a lot of looting and general civil unrest, and a lot of their congregation lives over there. I don’t think many of the leaders of that synagogue are able to look past the short-term crisis right now.”
Mazal smiled. “Reading my mind now, ben sheli?”
Toby smiled back and was about to respond when—
“Excuse me, Toby?” a young male voice spoke tentatively, and Mazal looked up in the slightly rabbit-like face of a young man in his mid-twenties.
“Ah, This is Rabbi Kaplan. Sam; my mother-in-law, Dr. Zeitouni. Mazal, Samuel Kaplan is the junior rabbi of Rodef Shalom. His mother is the cantor there; he grew up in the congregation. I don’t see either Mrs. Kaplan here…?”
“Please, call me Samuel.” The young man smiled up at Mazal.
“And I’m Mazal,” she responded, returning the friendly expression.
“My mother is home with my wife.” Samuel continued. “She’s pregnant, at thirty-eight weeks and didn’t feel up to the walk. Toby, I’m deeply troubled. My training, my conscience, tells me to stay, to help the people here… but also to save the lives of as many as possible, which would suggest persuading people to go with you. And the two seem to be in conflict. Do you know what Lior—”
“As few as one in five thousand Jews left here in Portland will survive.” Miryam said from behind them—or rather, someone else spoke through her lips; her every syllable rang with conviction and a certain otherworldly detachment.
Why now, and not before? Mazal wondered.
“If you want to save anyone, I suggest you join this Exodus.” Miryam continued. “It is the last hope of all the people here.”
Samuel looked briefly awed, some part of him obviously sensing something out of the ordinary, but then looked even more troubled. “Perhaps I am meant to stay and help them… and Tirza hasn’t had an easy pregnancy; it’s our first. If she can’t walk a few blocks, how can she manage this march? What resources will be available if she gives birth on the road?”
“I suggest you come and talk to the doctors, Samuel. Heidi, my wife’s wonderful midwife is coming, and I think she’d be able to deliver a baby anywhere. She spent time working overseas in rather primitive conditions…” Toby’s voice trailed off as he led the young rabbi away.
Mazal sighed, and sat down. She missed her children, her home, her life. In the past twenty-four hours, every time she’d looked into a new person’s face, she’d wondered whether that person would still be alive a year from now.
Next year, in Jerusalem, we say, may all be free. Now I wonder… next year, will anyone still be free? Will anyone even be living?
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 4 —
Wednesday, March 18, 1998, 9:30 A.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, Oregon
For the tenth or twentieth time since the Change, Toby Ziegler blinked back tears. Every time he saw his daughter, he couldn’t help fearing for her future. Some people expected the lights to magically come back on any moment. His pragmatic, slightly pessimistic personality didn’t allow for that sort of hope. His father-in-law had this wonderful, if slightly insane, plan, and as far as Toby could see, it was the last, best hope for mankind—or at least for his family—and he intended to support Yavin as much as a geeky CPA could. Right now, Lior was up to her ass in alligators, so he’d taken over full care of Shira, making sure she’d had clean diapers and breakfast, and as soon as there was a toddler room set up for babysitting, he made sure she was happily settled there. As Lior says… by doing my daily duties as they come to me, I am a hero.
“Bye, bye, Songbird,” he said, kissing his daughter. “Daddy will be back soon. Have fun playing.” She made a beeline for the pile of Duplo bricks. He smiled. With one parent who could work from home and one who could take her to work, preschool hadn’t been a necessary expense. As a result, she was very socialized to adults, but wasn’t very used to being around a lot of children her age, and he’d worried about her in the crèche. Fortunately she’d loved the room full of toddlers and toys. She’d always been a serene, happy baby, facing new things with calm equanimity.
Before leaving the crèche he checked in with Mazal, who seemed to be finding comfort in taking care of the children. “I’m going to do a run back to the house. Do you want me to bring your suitcases, or are you planning to come home tonight?”
“Oh, thank you, Toby. Bring the cases, please. Yavin won’t leave his HQ. And some towels—all the ones in the gym are wet. We’ve hung them over the fences outside, but they will take forever to dry.”
He walked home, past stalled cars and worried-looking people sitting on their front porches. He could see a few places where people had made fires on the driveways or pavements to cook or boil water. People sat in chairs in front of store facades, keeping watch for looters; although in a couple of cases, the owners had opened up and were holding fire sales for cash.
Heh. Fire sales. More like apocalypse sales.
There was a faint odor of burning still in the air, and occasional bits of ash floating around from the Beth Abraham and Parkrose fires. His eyes smarted from the chemicals and soot—and from exhaustion and weariness—a constant reminder of how much had been lost.
A woman came up to him, a photo in her hand. “Have you seen him? Have you seen my husband?” He politely looked at the picture before gently saying, “I’m so sorry… no.”
As he opened the front door, Ginger Tom rubbed around his ankles, and another unwelcome thought struck him. How the hell were they going to bring a cat, who went hysterical in a carrying case, on a long trek? Lior and Toby had taken him in as a rescue shortly after they’d moved in together, and he’d accompanied them when they’d moved their home from Cincinnati to Portland — and nearly gone catatonic locked in the car for the week-long road trip.
Well… cats are useful, right? He can keep rodents away… he sighed. Ginger Tom was a valiant hunter of flies and yellow jackets, but had never, in his guestimated twelve years of life, managed to catch anything larger.
Toby dumped and refilled the cat’s water dish, and poured out the geriatric food from the veterinarian for him. Then he went upstairs and into Shira’s room, to pack. He found a packet and a half of diapers, then, reluctantly, went to the back of the closet for the three dozen cloth diapers and various newborn-sized covers that they had valiantly tried for the first week before giving up and switching to Luvs. No doubt someone else could use the covers, and they’d have to manage with the cloth ones somehow. He vaguely remembered Lior laughing about using breadbags as plastic pants.
While he was up there, there came a hammering at the door.
Crap. The doorbell probably doesn’t work. He hurried downstairs and opened the door. On the doorstep stood a neighbor from down the street, Laura Grant. She was shaking.
“Laura! Are you ok? Come in…” They had a friendly community here, with block parties and joint garage sales, so he’d have known her and her husband fairly well even without her daughter’s occasional playdates with Shira. He guided her in the door, and she gratefully sank down on their living room couch. Looking at her distraught face, he decided to get her calmed down before attempting serious discussion. He wisely put some water on their camping stove for tea and pulled out his personal comfort food, raspberry Milanos. They sat together in silence for a few minutes as they waited for the tea to heat, and Laura unwound enough to nibble on a Milano. She looked as if she had gone without sleep since the Change. Finally, the tea kettle whistled, and he poured. Laura’s breathing deepened and slowed as she clutched the hot mug.
“Bill is away, in Chicago, and Emily has a really bad earache. I left Audrey looking after her, so I don’t want to stay long.” Toby nodded.
Audrey, Laura’s daughter from a previous marriage, was twelve, while Emily, Laura and Bill’s child together, was two years old. Bill was an advertising exec, and often traveled for business. “ I was just hoping that your brother-in-law could come and have a look at her—I tried carrying her to the hospital last night, but we couldn’t really get close. It was chaos in the dark, so I brought her home, and then just as it was getting light, all this blood and pus started streaming out. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s not that serious,” Toby said, reassuringly. “It happened to Shira last year… the eardrum ruptures and all the infected matter pours out. It ends the pain, which is a good thing. Shira was given ear drops. If they haven’t expired, you can have them for Emily—if Eyal thinks it’s a good idea.”
“Oh, thank you so much,” Laura replied, and burst into tears. Toby quickly snaffled the box of Kleenex off the coffee table and sat next to her, putting an arm around her. She cried for a few minutes into his shoulder, then pulled herself together with a few deep breathes, pulling out several of the tissues. “I’m sorry… I’m so embarrassed; I’m not usually like this…”
“But you’re not usually in an apocalypse situation, with two young children depending on you, one sick, and no one to help.” He said jovially. “It’s alright, Laura. You can depend on Lior and me to help out, any way we can.”
“How long do you think this is going to last, Toby? And how is Bill going get home? If he has to take a train out from Chicago, it could be days yet.” Toby stopped dead for a second.
This woman is never going to see her husband again, he realized, a lump rising in his throat.
“I’m… not sure, Laura.” He replied carefully, swallowing it down. “Right now, we’re operating on the assumption that this… Change… is going to last forever. After all, if we assume the worst, we’ll be prepared for anything, right?”
She stared at him in shock, disbelief, and dismay; and then, following the thought to its inescapable conclusion, gulped. “But… if it never goes back to normal… how will Bill get home at all? He can’t walk from Chicago to Portland! No… it can’t last forever!”
“I don’t know, Laura. But I think right now, you need to focus on your children, and keeping them safe. That’s what Bill would want you to do. Now, my wife and I, and a lot of our family and friends, are leaving Portland by the end of the week. It’s just not safe here—no food is coming in—people are going to start getting desperate, and with no guns, the police aren’t going to be able control them.”
“Guns don’t work?” she gasped.
He nodded, controlling his sympathy. “They don’t. Nothing technological, past the iron age, at least, seems to be working. Now, I would advise you to join our group. We can keep your family safe, and fed. You can leave a note for Bill at your house, telling him where you’re going.”
“Where are you going? Do you know how far of an area this covers, then? ”
“South, down past Eugene.We feel we have to assume it’s everywhere—there have been no planes flying over, no other communication from the outside world. If that’s so, we’re going to set up a kibbutz—that’s like a farming village, but everything held in common. My father-in-law was born in one in what is now Israel; that was set up back at the turn of the century when they didn’t have access to a lot more technology than is working now.”
“Before I married Bill, I studied horticulture… and if we aren’t leaving for a week, that allows a lot of time for things to get back to normal. Or for Bill to find a way to home…”
Toby decided this wasn’t the moment to say any more on the topic of things getting back to normal. She needed to keep some of her illusions intact for a while longer, if she was going to function, and her daughters needed her functioning.
“I’m about to pack up and go to the Mittleman Jewish Community Center… it’s our headquarters until we set out. You and the girls would be very welcome there, though you’ll be sleeping on the floor… I’ll help you pack when I’m done.”
“Thank you so much, Toby. If you could grab me those eardrops, I’ll go back to Emily. I think we’ll be most comfortable in their own home until we leave, but I’ll start packing things up—”
“Just essentials,” he interrupted. “No more than you can carry, although you can bring along anything you think might be unusual and useful for the group: your spinning and carding materials, for example—there are some lists back at the center. Oh, do you have any extra diaper wraps that would fit Shira? We’ll need them in a few days.”
“Oh, yes, we have lots—we only use cloth diapers for Emily. I’ll need directions to the center. Will you be back here? What about the Carsons?” she asked, naming another neighbor on the same block, with whom they were both friendly.
“Anyone’s welcome to join us.” He answered. “And… yes, I’ll be back at some point later today, and I’ll bring Eyal or Devra, one way or the other, but just in case, I’ll leave directions to the center now. I’ll bring over the lists later.”
“Does it matter that we aren’t Jewish?”
“No, not at all.”
“Well, I’ll take my tea with me, then?” He nodded in permission, and she continued, “and get back to the girls. Thank you so much, Toby, and… say a prayer for Bill, please.” Her voice broke at the last.
“I will,” he assured her quietly, swallowing down a thick lump in his throat. Imagining Lior, stuck alone with Shira in this situation. Imagining himself, in Chicago, trapped away from his family, no way to get home. Stop. Just stop.
Suddenly needing to see Lior and Shira, he hurriedly grabbed up two large duffle bags he’d packed with his, Lior, Shira, Yavin, and Mazal’s most essential things, and went out into the garage. Grabbing Shira’s kid trailer, he loaded it full of bags and towels, some of Shira’s favorite toys—we won’t be able to take them with us, but she might as well enjoy them until we leave—pillows and blankets, and a few items of perishable food, and then hooked it up to his bike. More food went into panniers and front baskets. Smiling, he added the half-full carton of ice-cream that Shira loved. They’d managed to keep their freezer still fairly cold over the last twenty-four hours, since it had been shut and was frosted over inside, but it wouldn’t last forever. I wonder how long it will be before she can taste ice cream again?
He pulled out into the street, then, having a second thought, went back and pulled out Lior’s bike as well. I’m pretty sure I can stay on my bike and bring hers along as well… as long as I go slow. Just one hand on my handlebars, one on hers. He nodded to himself, then experimented a bit in front of the house. It was easy enough—he’d biked often enough to be able to go no-handed on most easy grades, so biking one-handed was simple.
It only took him twenty minutes to bike back to Mittleman. He arrived in time to eat lunch with Lior, who hadn’t moved from the ‘headquarters’ table since breakfast. The table was covered with food, drinks, papers and writing instruments, and surrounded by at least a dozen people. Some of whom he knew, like Davy, Joel, and Becca from Shir Chadash and Yavin and Miryam; many he didn’t. Just as he sat down next to Lior, Mazal came down with Shira. Seeing Toby, she smiled and sat down next to him, cuddling Shira on her lap. The little girl whimpered and reached out for her father. Mazal sighed and lifted her over; with an apologetic glance to his mother-in-law, Toby accepted his daughter and settled her in front of him.
“We should make sure to tell people what kind of food to bring, as well as how much,” Joel was saying. “We want to stick with food that’s as light in weight and heavy in calories as possible. No soft drinks — they’re dehydrating — or canned goods — too heavy for the amount of calories.”
“Speaking of which,” Toby piped up suddenly, the image of Ginger Tom appearing in his head. “What about pet food? We should go and clear out a pet store — ours is on this special food from the vet so that his urethra doesn’t get blocked.”
A young man from across the table snorted with laughter — Toby glared at him.
“Toby —” Yavin said, with an unusual, gentle tone in his voice. “We can’t take pets with us. We can’t afford to waste time and resources on animals.”
“Well, unless someone has some horses,” the young man muttered.
Everyone ignored him.
Toby blinked, genuinely nonplussed. “But — our pets are part of our family.”
“They’d help keep morale up!” Becca said supportively. “And the cats and dogs can be helpful — they can hunt, keep pests away…”
“Our modern pets aren’t trained to do any of those kind of things,” said a middle–aged woman with stacks of filing cards and pens in front of her. “They’re not even used to feeding themselves. Cats, especially, don’t travel well. They’d require a lot of care.”
“We cannot bring pets.” Yavin stated firmly. “They will eat food human beings need. They will slow us down. They will take space needed for vital supplies. In fact, we should be considering them as a food source.”
“Absolutely not!” Miryam gasped. “Do you know how scarred that would leave the children who are being asked to give up members of their families?”
“They’re animals.” Yavin spit out between clenched teeth. “What is important right now is saving human lives. I had a dog as a boy, remember? I know how attached children become to their pets, but this is a matter of life and death.”
“Well, we can’t just tell people to abandon them.” Joel argued. “It’s irresponsible. Animals left in Portland will die of starvation and neglect and being eaten by larger predators, just the same as humans would. We’ve taken these animals into our homes, named them… they’re our responsibility.”
“Antoine de Saint–Exupery.” Miryam murmured meditatively. “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
There was an uncomfortable silence as they all eyed each other.
Lior stirred at Toby’s side. She drew in a deep, shaky breath, but spoke up firmly. “We need to talk to Dr. Einstein. She could run a clinic. A — an euthanasia clinic. I’ll go and fetch her.”
Toby stared at her aghast, feeling betrayed. Shoshana Einstein was a veterinarian, a member of Shir Chadash, and a good friend of Lior and Becca. She loved animals more than anything. Toby couldn’t imagine forcing her to euthanize several hundred animals in a few days. And to do that to Ginger Tom!
In the few minutes it took to find the vet, the committee tried to settle other matters, but no one could concentrate. When Shoshana Einstein entered, she looked serious. “Davy filled me in. I’m going to start straight out and say that I don’t like this idea at all. Putting perfectly healthy animals to sleep; it’s just wrong!
“But, Doctor —” Miryam began.
“I wasn’t finished!” Shoshana said irately. She pulled up a chair and sat with a heavy sigh. “As I was saying, I don’t like this. But. I agree that transporting most pets — other than large, well–trained dogs or other service animals — would be a disaster on an evacuation. They’d need to be fed large amounts of meat or have dried food carried for them. Food, by the way, that people can eat, though it’s mostly not kosher. And we certainly can’t just abandon living pets behind us. We might be able to get some of them adopted, by those staying behind —”
“They’re just going to die anyway,” Yavin put in.
“Let people keep some illusions, Aba,” Lior scolded. “In any case, we can’t force people to have their pets put to sleep! All we can do is make recommendations, and forbid anyone from taking them with us.”
“Except for service animals,” the woman with the files reminded them. “And very well–trained dogs… horses, as Jason pointed out. Or, if anyone has rabbits — I agree with Miryam that eating pets would be psychologically scarring, but we could breed them for food.”
“If we get hungry enough, eating pets is going to be less psychologically scarring than dying,” Yavin pointed out. “I agree bringing rabbits would be acceptable. They’re quite tasty, actually, nice lean meat.”
“Dog is supposed to be a red meat,” Jason said thoughtfully. “Like beef, but stronger–tasting.”
“Afterwards I’m going to want a bottle or two of wine, and to be left alone with my boyfriend for a day or so,” Shoshana said. “I don’t mind telling you I’m going to find this pretty brutal. I have five cats myself, all with some sort of disability.”
Lior came up and embraced the veterinarian. “This is going to be hard for everyone, but most of all on you, Shosh. You’ll have all the support we can give you.”
After that, the conversation turned to other matters — Toby did his best to be seen, rather than heard, keeping his attention on feeding Shira and making sure Lior ate something. Finally, Shira expressed her displeasure at her mother’s inattention and so Lior took her little family and their lunches into an empty office. She locked the door for for half an hour while she played horsie with her daughter. She and Toby filled each other in on their mornings. Then she rocked and cuddled the little girl until she was sleepy, and put her down on the floor.
“I’ll feed her when she wakes,” Toby said, as he and Lior ate their egg salad sandwiches and rice pudding. “I invited Laura Grant to come with us—Bill is in Chicago—she is going to lend us diaper wraps. And I think that is the strangest sentence I have ever uttered.”
Lior came over and sat in his lap. “I keep thinking about your family.”
“Don’t. There is nothing we can do for them.”
“I know, but—”
“Lior, if we go there, I’ll lose my grip.”
She paused, then nodded, cuddling in close. “I understand, dearest. Right now, I can’t think about the new baby. I just fantasize that in five months we’ll all be safely settled in Aba’s new kibbutz, and nothing bad will have happened in between.”
They sat in silence for a moment, then Lior spoke again. “I’m sorry about Ginger Tom.”
“It’s… okay, neshama.” Toby said. Lior smiled at the Hebrew endearment. “You were right. It’s tough — so tough! — but he’s old and he needs the special food — he wouldn’t survive on the road, and he’d be miserable.”
Lior nodded sadly. “Also — there have been some arrangements made for funerals, for people who died in the Beth Abraham fire. The Beth Abraham cemetery is too far away, so we’re using Rodef Shalom’s cemetery—the one right near the Riverside/Greenwood Hill cemetery. Hevra Kavod HaMet, Rodef Shalom’s burial society, recruited some younger male members and has been digging graves all morning. They are having the funerals as soon as they can carry the bodies there after lunch. Apparently Raffi was up half the night organizing it. I’d like to send a representative from Shir Chadash—I’m needed here too much. I thought of Becca, but she’s involved in cooking dinner.”
“I’ll go. I can ask your mother to watch over Shira. She never naps for much more than an hour in the afternoon. Mazal can change her and take her back to the toddler room for the afternoon.”
“Toby, you are a wonderful rebbetzman.” Lior teased softly, using a mish–mash Yiddish English word she’d made up for him as a play on rebbetzin, which meant rabbi’s wife.
“Rebbetz, ribbitz, ribbit.” Toby croaked, then began singing softly. “Why are there so many/songs about rainbows/and what’s on the other side” Lior joined him and they continued, skipping to the last line of “their” song. “Someday we’ll find it/the rainbow connection/the lovers, the dreamers, and us.” He bent and kissed her softly.
❀ ❁ ❀
The funerals were stark, all the more so because everyone knew that the chances of anyone being able to place a grave marker in a year—or ever visiting the sites, for that matter— were negligible.Rabbi Friedman tried to find words of comfort for the mourners, but he mostly focused on how the dead would want the living to seek to preserve themselves in this strange new world forced upon them. He did not mention Yavin’s march in so many words, but on the walk back to Mittleman, he fell in with Toby.
“Thank you for coming. I know you and your good wife are very busy just now. And your father–in–law. I owe him a debt that I can never repay.”
“How is Eli?”
“Recovering. He’s supposed to take it easy for a few days. Otherwise I would have had him out here digging with the other young people. I never thought I would live to see the day when the Almighty again took a direct hand in the events of Israel, or sent a prophet among us.”
“You believe Miryam is a prophet?” Toby asked, a bit surprised.
“It seems incontrovertible to me. But not to you?”
Toby thought about it for a moment. While Lior’s relationship to God seemed to be a direct pipeline of song and dance, an almost palpable spiritual connection to a source of light and joy, his connection to the faith of his forebears was more scholarly. He was more interested in genealogy, in tracing his family roots, and in the various migrations of the Jewish people over the centuries.
“I don’t know, Rabbi,” he began. “I guess I thought it was a lucky coincidence that she’d had these dreams… but I guess another name for that could be a miracle.”
“Now, don’t tell me you’ve been studying kabbalah—you know you’re too young!”
Toby laughed. “No… only time I’ve discussed that is when one of Lior’s friends did something with numbers and my name once—Tobias, of course—and said I was playful, spiritual, and flexible, and Lior said that my parents had given me the wrong name.”
“I wouldn’t take that too seriously. And on a more serious note, I am sorry I will be missing Yavin and Miryam’s talk. Not that I need convincing, but the more information I have to share with my people the better.”
Toby passed on the information he’d been given by Lior, and they began the trek back to Mittleman. They reached it just after dark. After going indoors, Raffi went off with his congregants, and Toby again sought out his wife.
“How did the presentation go?” he asked.
“Mixed results. Come and eat dinner with us. And then Aba’s sending out people to start gathering equipment—some of the people who’ve joined us own useful businesses, apparently, and he wants to negotiate with the owners of a few others, like the gardening supply store they bought stuff at this morning. I expect you’ll want to go.”
“Does he have enough people?”
“More than enough for what he’s got planned.”
“Then I want to take you and Shira home. I have your bike with me, so it won’t take long. It will be cold when we get there, but no colder than here. We can tuck her in between us until she falls asleep, and then wrap her up well in her crib. And after that, I’m going to make love to you… I don’t know when we’ll have the privacy again.”
Lior blushed and leaned into him. One of the things he loved about her was how easily she responded to him.
Neither Eyal nor Devra showed up for dinner, but Jodi, the nurse practitioner, exhausted as she looked, agreed to bike over with them and look at Emily Grant’s ear. “I need some fresh air,” she said.
She wobbled a bit on the borrowed bike as they set off with an escort who would accompany Jodi back to the community center. While there hadn’t yet been any unrest around Mittleman or South Burlingham, the reports of violence and looting from other neighborhoods, especially downtown Portland, made this a sensible precaution.
Once at their house, Toby rummaged around in the medicine cabinet by candlelight for the drops that had been prescribed for Shira earlier that winter while Lior heated a pot of water on their camping stove to give the toddler a sponge bath. Toby planned on having a bit of wash too. Then, while Lior bathed Shira, he took Jodi over the the Grants.
Laura had her house lit by candles, and had a pile of equipment in the middle of the hall. “You’ll never guess,” she greeted him, “but I found a treadle sewing machine. I never learned how to use it, but how does the saying go, ‘needs must when the devil drives?’” She was shaking slightly.“Thank goodness I decided to remodel the kitchen and get gas. It was worth the expense. And you and Lior must come over and use it. And I’m babbling, aren’t I?”
Toby smiled and hugged her. The sewing machine—a huge, bulky thing that must have been a bitch to drag into her front hall from wherever she’d had it squirreled away—would doubtless be too heavy to bring along, but there was no need to dampen her enthusiasm now.
Toby introduced Jodi, who quickly examined Emily and agreed that she should use Shira’s drops. He noticed that Laura had pulled down a double mattress into the living room, and piled it high with blankets. “I thought we’d feel better if we all slept down here together,” she explainfed. “Audrey, just run into the kitchen and fetch Toby’s tea cup for him, please.” Tears began to stream down her face. “I’m sorry. I can hold myself together for a while, and then I start crying. I know it’s not good for Audrey and Em.”
Jodi spoke decisively. “You are all coming back to Mittelman with me. You need to be around other adults. You can collect your gear in the morning. Do you have bikes? A trailer for Emily?”
“A bike seat. On Bill’s bike,” Laura’s sobs redoubled.
Audrey appeared with the tea cup and handed it to him. She had apparently overheard Jodi, for she looked relieved, and immediately began to get out coats.
“Go home, Toby,” Jodi said. “I’ve got this.”
Feeling relieved and a little guilty, he took the tea mug and left her to it. Nodding farewell to Jodi’s escort, who was hovering just inside the doorway, he charged through the dark back to his house. Liormet him just inside the front door of their house, snuggled in a warm bathrobe, her hair wrapped in a towel.. “Shira’s already asleep. There is still some hot water on the camping stove.”
He came and put his arms around her. “Go up and wait for me… just give me five minutes to wash up?”
She kissed him, hard, took one of the candles she had burning on a side table, and went up the stairs, accentuating the natural sway of her hips for his benefit. Smiling, he watched her, then turned to lock the front door.
Turning back, he took off his winter jacket and shirt, and then plunged his hands and arms into the pot of water. Splashing up water, he drenched his face and head several times. Lior had left a wash cloth, and stripping, he quickly rubbed down the rest of himself, then sprinted up the stairs, naked.
Lior was looking a little chilly in his favorite nightgown, the blue one with the tiny straps, but she opened her arms to him as he dove in under the covers. She cuddled close as he shuddered with cold. “Do you remember the scene in Mrs. Brown where John Brown jumps in the lake and shouts, ‘My heart is in the highlands?’” he asked.
“What?” Lior sounded confused.
“He should have said, ‘my testicles are in my armpits.’”
“Well, we’ll have to see what we can do about that,” she purred.
❀ ❁ ❀
Shira woke at some point in the night, wet and crying, and after fumbling with matches and a candle, Lior changed her and brought her into bed with them. “We’ll have to learn how to do that by feel,” she murmured sleepily.
The adults woke again at first light. “Back to Mittleman, I guess,” said Toby. “I’m starting to lose track of time. What day is it?”
“Jesus H. Christ—sorry, love, but the Christians have all the good cusswords. I can’t believe it’s not even been two days. And we leave in three more. I think I’m going to spend today ferrying Laura’s possessions to Mittelman. I didn’t tell you, but she was a bit hysterical last night. Jodi was going to pack her and the girls up and take them back to Mittleman.”
“Surely not the whole morning?” Lior asked. “I think my father was hoping you could join some of the supply search teams, to try and find local store–owners willing to open up and make some sales for credit or checks or whatever we have left.”
“No, but I want check on the Carsons, too. I should be free by nine or ten. Will that work for Yavin?”
“I expect so… we can check in when we get there. Oh, Toby, it’s… well, a bit much, isn’t it?”
Toby laughed. “Do you remember when you were in labor, and I said I couldn’t take hours of it?”
“And Heidi said you didn’t have to. You just had to take one minute, and then another, and then another… I remember.”
“Yes, That’s all we have to do now.”
“Okay.” Lior smiled at him. “Let’s go, minute by minute. Do we have anything left in the house for breakfast, or are we eating at Mittleman?”
“I pretty much stripped the cupboards bare. Let’s get dressed and go. If Shira doesn’t wake up, we can wrap her in a blanket and strap her in the trailer without waking her up. She’ll be cranky if she doesn’t get to eat right away.”
“What, you don’t think you can spoon feed her air and promises while riding a bike? C’mon, man, multi–task!”
Laughing, Toby threw her discarded nightdress at her.
❀ ❁ ❀
At Mittleman they were down to dry cereal, but there was still some fresh fruit—and plenty of instant coffee left, which the adults felt was much more important. Shira was happy with Cheerios. No sooner had Lior taken a sip of coffee than Becca summoned her to a conference, and she went with her mug in one hard and a bowl of Cornflakesin the other.
Yavin came to sit with his son–in–law. “Toby!” He greeted him cheerfully. In the past few days, Toby had learned, somewhat to his horror, that his father–in–law was a true morning person. Nodding in greeting, he focused on keeping Shira’s Cheerio tornado within acceptable boundaries. “I have some jobs for you,” Yavin continued.
“Yes, Lior thought you might, but I need to run a couple of errands first—I should be free around ten, I guess. I don’t have a working watch.”
“When you are ready, go find Alon. I’ve given him the list of essential tasks. Unfortunately, I have far more of them than I do men—people, I mean—I trust completely to carry them out. He’ll assign you the highest priority task left when you get to him.” Yavin paused—a bit portentously, Toby thought. “You know that when Lior said she was going to marry an American, Mazal and I were worried—nothing personal, you seemed a nice young man—but there were the cultural differences, and it cemented that she would be staying so far from home. Now it seems that it was a blessing. I can’t think of many men I’d rather have at my side in a crisis like this. Or who I’d rather have taking care of my daughter.”
“I’ll do my best, for her, and our chil—ddd…” he broke off awkwardly. He’d been about to say children, but Yavin and Mazal didn’t know they were expecting another child. That news was to be have been shared at a family dinner the night after Yavin’s lecture on the future of kibbutzim. If he blurted it out, Lior would kill him.
His father–in–law appeared not to notice. “I’ll take the little one to the crèche. Po, Shira, bo’i l’saba. Toby, good luck with your errands. Hurry back.”
❀ ❁ ❀
After a day of running around doing errands for Yavin, the very last thing Toby wanted to do was go to the euthanization clinic they’d set up outside the MJCC. But Lior had promised Shoshana that they would both be there. Lior and Raffi and Samuel had all given quiet dinnertime sermons the night before on the responsibility pet-owners owed their charges, and Lior felt the need to support those of her congregants who followed her advice, as well as her friend, the vet.
Toby, of course, was there to support Lior.
Large pits had been dug to hold the carcasses. The Exodus’ pet owners brought in the animals in various carriers and cages; cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, one torpid snake, some mice. Toby went first; he’d biked back home at the last possible minute, struggled to get a yowling, panicked Ginger Tom into his case with a minimum of bloodshed and a growing feeling of guilt, and brought him back to the center.
Others — the smart ones, Toby thought — followed his example and brought in their pets quietly, without a fuss. But far too many people came sobbing and still protesting, insisting on taking out their pets for one last goodbye, and telling them all the while that there wasn’t anything they could do, that Yavin hadn’t given them a choice. Their tears and looks of horror as Dr. Einstein took the animals quietly and killed them with a quick, professional twist, brought a lump to Toby’s throat.
About midway through the line, two parents brought up a little girl, no more than eight or nine, with a small Abyssinian cat cradled well–manneredly in her arms — miraculously well–mannered, given the number of other cats and dogs and mice present.
I can’t believe they brought her! Toby thought incredulously. What kind of cruel — monsters — would do that to a little girl?
Tears streamed silently down the little girl’s face as she petted the cat helplessly.
Dr. Einstein glared at the girl’s parents as she tenderly took the cat from the girl.
“What’s his name?” she asked.
“He won’t feel a thing, I promise. I want you to give him a kiss, and then go with your parents and don’t look back. When you get to where you are sleeping, draw a picture of him, and write down the things you loved about him, ok? And keep that paper with you. He’ll stay with you in spirit.”
Toby wondered how many times Shoshana had had to give that piece of advice — and how long it would be before this child found any comfort in a cold, flat piece of paper.
It was, as Dr. Einstein had prophesied, a brutal few hours before the relentless stream of pets ended. Toby and Lior stood with her until it was over, then helped her pack up her materials. As they walked away, she finally broke down and began to sob.
“Oh, Shoshi —” Lior keened with her. “I’m so sorry.”
Liam, her boyfriend walked up. Shoshana had asked him not to be present until it was over; not wanting him to think of her as a murderer, she’d said. He wrapped his arms around her for a moment, then led her way.
“Is it worth it, Lior?” Toby asked bitterly “Even if it makes the difference between life and death — it is worth this?”
“We do what we have to,” Lior said, a dark, foreboding look on her face. “There are only two things we are not permitted to do, if we have to, in order to survive.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 5 —
Wednesday, March 19, 1998, 4:30 P.M. Reed College, Portland Oregon
Walking into his single dorm room, Jason da Costa tried to flick on the light by habit, and cursed yet again when the lights stayed stubbornly off. Kneeling in front of his Atari, he uselessly hit the power button… on, off, on, off… and kept himself from bursting into tears by the thinnest of margins. It was his version of prayer. And it went unanswered. He was tired, and frightened, and despite the fact that all they did these days was argue, he wanted to talk to his parents. He knew things were not going to get better, despite how everyone in Reed from the college president to the head resident kept talking about the temporary emergency situation and saying that things would be back to normal soon.
They all might talk about a military test gone wrong, or interference from celestial bodies, but their scared eyes gave away their total cluelessness. He knew for certain what had happened. Miryam, the scary old chick who’d spoken at Mittleman, might say it was God, but he’d known God was a myth ever since that bully had tried to drown him in the toilet in the synagogue bathroom at the tender age of six, and the rabbi had told his parents he was equally at fault for being an intellectual bully. He grinned, as he always did at that memory. He’d fixed that particular brat good, thought it had taken several years of martial arts study, and gotten him kicked out of that particular synagogue a few months before he’d been supposed to have his bar mitzvah. It wasn’t like there hadn’t been plenty of other synagogues in LA to which they could transfer. No, God wasn’t real, and he hadn’t decided to wake up from centuries of ignoring them just to punish mankind for their sins.
It was clear to him that the interference came from a much more natural, if equally celestial, cause. The aliens had bypassed the SETI project and made contact in a harsh and brutal way, slapping humanity down, taking away the tools that the humans, in their arrogance, had mastered too soon for the comfort of the interstellar community.
Sighing, he pushed himself up from the game console.
“Right… my Batman armor will definitely have to come…not my blades, I don’t think,” While last year’s comic con at San Diego had proved that he couldn’t wear the armor all day—despite being only hard plastic and faux-leather, it was hot, and heavy—it would still be some protection in a fight. The katana and naginata he’d prepared for the upcoming year’s samurai costume were plastic as well, and dull-edged. They’d be no use. But… he rummaged in his closet for the staff he’d used for his Gandalf costume the summer before Freshman year. At the time, he’d been less than pleased at losing his bid to play Aragorn in the group costume. Now… he grinned as he came up with the six-foot length of actual wood he’d cut illegally in Griffith Park and carved in woodshop. It had been a pain to drag around all day at the Con, but now he knew why—beyond natural rebelliousness and feeling cheap after his parents had made him pay for a new computer and gaming setup for college on his own—he’d decided against the fiberglass replica the costume shop sold.
Pulling off the grey sack attached to the staff, he frowned. He’d never been outdoorsy, and the only decent backpack he had was his laptop bag, not nearly big enough to carry any decent amount of supplies. But… he left the room, walking down the hall. Reaching the sixth door, he knocked, paused, knocked again, then tried the doorknob. It turned, and he grinned. He’d have bet his full signed set of the Chronicles of Amber that the Colorado hillbilly would forget to lock his door before heading off to spend spring break skiing in Aspen, and he’d have won. Glancing down the hall both ways, he slipped nervously inside the room.
The room looked ransacked—Doug had never mastered the art of putting things away—but that would make it all the easier for Jason to liberate the heavy-duty, full of gizmos, Jarler hiking backpack hanging from the back of the closet door. As fast as he could, he dumped out the contents on the bed and gave them a quick once-over, sorting out anything that looked useful in a back-to-the-iron-age way. He found fire starter and first aid kits, a compass, a Swiss army knife, and some water purification tablets, stuffed them back into the bag, and then dashed back to his own room, grinning from the adrenaline of the theft. Doug’s never going to make it back to Portland, anyway, so it’s more of a liberation than a theft, he thought self-justificatorily.
He looked at the purple printed list he’d helped create at MJCC earlier that day—they’d been all set to put the teenagers and older kids to hand-copying them when he’d brought up hectography, which had been featured in one of the gamers’ LARPs earlier that year. Luckily, there’d been a chemistry teacher handy to mix the fluid.
Food headed the first list. He didn’t bother scanning through that one. All he had was three packages of Ramen noodles, which went into the bag; a giant bag of potato chips, which he started munching on; and two six-packs of coke. Soft drinks were explicitly listed as DO NOT bring. He opened and drank one of the cokes while he read over the clothing list. For a moment he was reminded of packing for camp with his mother, and choked back tears. For all that they’d never understood him, he was his parents’ only child, and he knew they would be desperately worried about him. Worrying about them was futile. There was nothing he could do from so far away. He focused on the list, again.
Four changes of underwear, six pairs of socks…
At the bottom of the list a warning in all capital letters told him his baggage would be checked to make sure it conformed to the master list.
And right below that in large letters was written “NO PETS! NO Exceptions!”
Jason shook his head in disbelief. He still couldn’t believe they’d had to have that fight, and about a stupid cat, at that. Now, if anyone had some kind of awesomely trained dog, like his parent’s Huan, that’d be different.
He’d been at Mittleman Jewish Center last night for a friend’s sister’s wedding. He often played Elana’s beard at family functions; they had a lot in common, and had hung out frequently since they’d met at the dojo at the beginning of the school year. He hadn’t actually heard Miryam’s speech, but gossip about it had spread, and she’d been pointed out to him the next day. Jason had gone to Yavin then and there to volunteer to be with the group moving out of Portland. Extensive reading of both history and alt-history, not to mention science fiction, had taught him that a modern city without power was not a good place to be.
During a more or less sleepless night he had made his plans. He wasn’t going to be the lone atheist in a crowd full of religious fundies if he could help it. Elana said she—along with her whole family, actually—was going; after having survived one cluster-fuck of an apocalypse in Bosnia, they weren’t keen to go through another on their own. But he had other friends; at the dojo, at the Science Fiction Club, and at the Gamers’ Dungeon. He had no doubt he could persuade others to join him. He wasn’t going to be the only fanboy on this journey.
After a day spent making connections and ensuring he’d be remembered by sitting in on planning meetings and offering advice to Yavin and Company, he’d been ready to set his plan into action. He started by suggesting they ransack REI. As he’d guessed, Yavin wasn’t yet prepared to send a team all the way into downtown Portland, but was ready to send off Jason on his own recognizance to take up the task. He’d commandeered a bike. His car, a graduation gift from his parents “so that he’d be sure to visit more” was dead. Luckily, Mittleman was only a forty-minute bike ride from Reed. He’d even had time to swing through downtown, stop by Portland Judo, and scout out the REI. His sensei had characteristically been mustering any of his students who stopped by for do-gooder missions, helping the police keep order and the like, but Jason had been able to talk a couple of his friends into meeting him later that evening. When he’d gone by REI, the outdoor recreational equipment store was deserted. Jason had contemplated a smash and grab, but a wandering cop convinced him that night would be a better time, with the cover of darkness and a few accomplices to help out.
The Science Fiction Club met every Wednesday night in the Music Lending and Listening Library, which was Reed’s nerds’ favorite hangout, due to its huge collection of comic books. He’d be willing to bet that most of the members would be in the MLLL tonight, exchanging notes and theories on the current crisis.
Reminded, he rummaged in his night-stand and pulled out the his pocket watch. Opening it, he grinned. At least one item of technology was still working. It was a ridiculously cool-looking piece—gold, engraved with intricate patterns, and showed the phases of the moon—and he’d made winding it a nightly ritual since his grandfather had given it to him for his Bar-Mitzvah. It was a quarter to five, which meant he had time to run by the Gamers’ Dungeon, pick up people, and post a note before heading over to the MLLL for six o’clock.
❀ ❁ ❀
Four hours later, he headed out into the night with eight cyclists at his back. The Gamers’ Dungeon had been a bust, unfortunately—completely deserted. Too many of its members were just too technology-bound to show up if there was no power, disdaining the old ways of paper, board, and dice. He’d left a note, however, and two of the guys who’d shown up to the SF club meeting said they’d been to the Dungeon and seen it. Meanwhile, SF club, as he predicted, was fully attended. While that twat Marissa had managed to counter-marshal several of the members into following her plan to go out and bring alms and relief to the masses—what wasit with people who couldn’t understand that in a crisis like this, trying to save everyone would equal everyone dying?—the people who’d gone to her camp were, for the most part, good riddance. Fantasy readers and idealists; useless, the lot of them. Well, except George, the EMT; Jason regretted his defection. But Elana was a paramedic as well, so he’d have some med skills on his team no matter what. Otherwise, Jason had gotten all the people with actual survival skills and crisis experience; even if some of it was only theoretical.
It took them a bit over an hour to bicycle up to the REI; in the dark, they’d had to go more slowly, and detour around streets full of stalled cars and looters. Outside the REI Elana, and Peter, another friend from the dojo, were waiting. Filled with triumph at all his plans falling so perfectly into place, he was all set to charge in, but at Peter’s suggestion, they posted a couple of lookouts. Breaking in would be easy, if nerve wracking. The building’s front wall was made entirely of windows, each big enough to pull out a bike—but that was a lot of glass to break and get out of the way.
“We should heave a trash can into the window, then run,” said Elana, “ around the corner, and wait. If no one comes in fifteen minutes, it’s probably safe to go in.”
Jason didn’t like to set a precedent of following someone else’s orders—particularly Elana, who was older than him and super competent—but it seemed foolish to countermand such sensible advice, so he, Peter, Elana, and Eric broke the bolts holding one of the nearby metal cans to the sidewalk, lifted it up, threw it through one of the windows, and ran. A quarter of an hour passed. He checked the time on his watch with matches, then lit a couple of candles and passed them to Elana and Arwen—he had no idea what her real name was, but that was what she wanted to be called this semester. “Remember, first of all, storage and carrying capacity. I want a baby trolley for each of these bikes, plus you should all get backpacking bags like mine and bike panniers. Then, four-season sleeping bags—just the ones designed to roll into their own bags—compasses, other tools, especially any fire lighters that’ll still work—ooo, lanterns, too. We can hang those off the bike handles. Cold-weather gear, especially the expensive stuff from Japan. Coats, boots and extra laces. Those pup tents that fold up real small. Concentrated camping food and camping dishes. Camp stoves. Fuel.”
“We know,” Arwen said grumpily. “We memorized your stupid list.”
“Water purification tablets and drops,” Elana recited, “coils of rope, bungee cords...” her lightly-accented voice faded as she gingerly stepped through the broken window and vanished into the store.
Those left behind worked on getting the rest of the glass out of the window frame, and three more—salvagers, Jason decided to call them—took candles and joined the first two. Bit by bit they brought out their haul. A couple hurrying down the street toward them suddenly turned away and hightailed it in the opposite direction. Jason felt a thrill of power. He was keeping watch and directing operations, and found that his grasp on his staff was too tight. With an effort of will, he loosened it.
Then he noticed that Peter was cutting all the price tags off the equipment and stuffing them in a bag he’d had someone bring him. Jason walked over to him. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
“I’m going to leave it by the cash register with our credit card information. That way if the lights come back on, we aren’t thieves. And we can return most of it. If they don’t, we haven’t lost anything.”
“That’s—” Jason bit back the impulse to say stupid. Of course the lights weren’t going to come back on. But if this charade made Peter feel better, well, keeping up morale was part of a leader’s duty. “Sure,” he said instead. “If you think you are going to hit your limit, I’ll give you my number, too. ”
“Damn straight you will. I hit tilt about two thousand dollars ago.”
Elana found what she thought was an off-list jackpot in a number of bottle dynamos buried in a sale bin and some high quality bike lights. She brought them out to Peter, who was able to retrofit one of their cycles.”They make a bit of noise,” he complained, “but we aren’t exactly stealthy to begin with, and it will be a lot safer.” But they didn’t work, much to Jason’s disappointment, who had thought the extras would make excellent trade goods, and they’d have worked better than the finicky hurricane lanterns they’d found. As he stood over them, fuming inwardly, Logan Kessel, one of the freshman gamer/sf nerds—who were all now following Jason around with worshipful eyes—came up hesitantly.
Jason kept himself from looking around to find who was being thus addressed by the barest of margins. Then, he felt his scowl lessen significantly. No one had ever treated him—in his own right, not as his parent’s son—with respect like that before.
“Yes, Logan, what is it?”
“My older brother is really big into bikes—thinks he’s gonna be the next Lance Armstrong, and all. Anyway. I picked up a bunch of bike skills growing up… and I can tether some of those alley cats to the bikes, and we can load those up.”
“Those things over there that are like the back of a bike without the front wheel and handlebars. They’re meant to be fastened onto the back of an adult’s bike so you can tow a kid. We can put training wheels on them to make them more stable, and then put the trailers behind that. Two per bike even, for the people who can pull that much. It would be harder and take longer, but it’d let us carry more.”
Jason grinned. “Perfect, kid, get to it.” Logan grinned back and started pulling out tools.
They loaded up the alley cats with panniers and packs strapped on with bungee cords, then tacked on the baby trailers to make a real goods train for each person. Logan went through and checked everyone’s load to make sure it was balanced and the gears, wheels, and pedals were clear.
They finally finished loading up, with a pair of lanterns on each set of handlebars, although Jason had made everyone leave some space for extra goods. After his success here, he planned to move right on to his next target—a hardware store, in search of Bowie knives, machetes, axes, or other weapons. He figured that any traditional weapons store would be sold out or looted by now, but ironmongers might have been overlooked. There was an industrial supply warehouse off of 99W: he’d visited there a few times for cosplay tools. It was about halfway to Mittleman, so that would let them travel faster for the first leg of the journey, with lighter loads.
The goods train he was pulling torqued quite a bit, and he felt heavy and unwieldy—turns were an iron bitch—but no one fell. He’d hoped that with the lanterns, they had be able to travel faster, not being afraid of running over something they couldn’t see, but the extra weight and awkwardness of their loads more than canceled out that advantage. Burdened by heavy loads and darkness, swerving around stalled and overturned cars, it took them about two hours to get to the warehouse; a ride Jason estimated he could have probably done in one in daylight, unburdened, on a normal day. No matter—once they got back to Mittleman, they could all take a well-deserved rest.
However, once they got within eyesight of the warehouse, Jason cursed vehemently. The place was all lit up inside; with kerosene, he’d guess by the flickering, although from the intensity it looked like they’d rigged up some reflectors. Whoever it was, they weren’t being at all shy about it—Jason’s party could easily hear people shouting orders and directions at each other, laughing and joking, from one-fifty yards out, where they stopped, crouching in the bushes at the edge of the parking lot.
“Well?” whispered Elana in his ear. “It looks like this place is already being looted out. We should move on.”
Jason scowled at her. They weren’t looters, like some common petty criminals. They were salvagers—doing what needed to be done, saving what they could from the wreck of a civilization.
“They can’t be looters.” He whispered back. “The cops are still around, even if they can’t stay on top of everything. I saw some earlier. No looters would take the risk of being that obvious. I bet the owner is figuring to make a bundle selling to crazy survivalists—as he’ll think it. More loss to him for taking money. I brought my checkbook, who else did?” Logan, Peter, and Ginny—Genevieve Adler—all raised their hands.
“Right.” Jason replied. “The others will stay with our stuff, under Elana’s command. No point in showing off what we got and tempting people. The rest of us will go in, see what we can still get.” Everyone—even Elana, Jason noted with soaring ego—nodded shortly, taking his commands seriously.
Jason led his strike force up toward the store. As they approached the entrance, he saw a middle-aged, portly man standing in the doorway with a clipboard.
“Like I said, the owner,” he commented aside to Logan.
“My good man,” he began the conversation, “We’d like to make some purchases—I assume you accept personal checks.”
The owner raised his eyebrows, looking unimpressed. “Sorry, kid.” He said, sounding not at all sorry. “I already promised all my inventory to the Mittleman Group. I and my family are heading out of town with them on Sunday, with all we can carry. You’re welcome to come back then, if you want, take whatever’s left that suits your fancy, no charge.”
“The Mittleman—”Jason broke off with an exasperated snort. Great minds do think alike, apparently. “I’m leading a group with them!”
“Oh yeah?” The owner smiled, then. “Avi Grudner, at your service. Put her there!” He held out his hand, which, after a moment, Jason sighed and shook. “But are you on the list?”
“What list?” Jason asked, surprised.
Avi waved his clipboard. “If you aren’t here, I have to clear you with Alon. Yavin’s PA. He wants to make sure they end up with just the right equipment, so he limited the people who could choose it. Hey, Alon!” He bellowed, looking behind him into the store.
A tall, good-looking guy—mid-twenties, athletic build, the sort Jason tended to hate on sight—came over. Jason rolled his eyes. The guy was even a ginger. In his experience, all red-headed males were evil. Flames of hell know where to roost.
“Alon, this boy says he’s on the list—”
“My name is Jason da Costa, and I don’t know if I’m on the list or not,” Jason said with an attempt at dignity. “But I spoke to Yavin this morning about leading a group from my community out of Portland with the… Mittleman Group.” A bare noob could come up with a better name than that, Jason thought derisively. I’ll have to see what I can manage… “He assured me we’d be a asset. I was around the center all morning. I’m the man who came up with the idea of salvaging from REI.” Jason left unspoken the and where were you during that time? “My team and I have been collecting vital supplies all night.”
“Ah.” Alon said. “Well, Yavin didn’t mention your name to me, but everything’s still very much coming together right now.” Jason’s eyebrows raised at the man’s heavy Israeli accent—growing up in LA, he knew enough to recognize the accent and not be surprised at the speaker not looking stereotypically Jewish, but a ginger was a new one on him. “I’m an acquaintance of his daughter, Lior. We already have the manpower here to empty what we need, though. What supplies have you gathered?” He sounded as if he expected Jason to produce nothing more than a box of matches.
Smirking, Jason answered, “Why, I’d be happy to show you, Alon. And there’s more where that came from.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 6 —
Wednesday, March 20, 1998, 3:30 P.M. Residential Street in Hillside, Portland, Oregon
Becca Bercovich bicycled down the street, tears running openly down her cheeks. She could put them down to allergies and the wind if Elana, her escort, noticed. Her mission to Tifereth Israel had been an epic failure. The sephardic Jewish community there—mostly Turkish and Greek in origin—had always felt just a little alienated from the center of Portland Jewry despite their location just two miles away. Too many different traditions, different customs, different languages. And so now they were all going to die.
That’s not really fair, I suppose. The community here has never been hostile along the Ashkenazi-Sephardic lines the way some back East and in Europe are. Besides, the northeast synagogues, Shaarie Torah and Temple Emanuel, have ignored us so far… and we’re having trouble convincing Rodef Shalom, as well… The synagogues in the neighborhoods of Southwestern Portland had all sent representatives to Mittleman in response to Lior’s urgent summons, and the representatives had mostly been convinced after talking things out with Yavin and Miryam. Unfortunately, the ability of the representatives to convince their entire congregations to leave everything they’d ever known behind had not been as widespread. The kibbutznik prophets had found—somewhat to their and their acquaintances’ relief, to be sure—that they couldn’t simply summon the kind of divine possession that Miryam, and later Yavin, had seemed to operate under. While their personal charisma and certainty weren’t as unreliable, their ability to convince people normally was significantly smaller when talking before a large audience rather than individually or to a small group—Yavin, particularly, is an absolutely horrific public speaker—and they were convinced they couldn’t take the time to speak to every Jew in South Portland one-on-one. The synagogues closer to downtown Portland had been engaged in tzedakah ever since the Change: going out to fight looters when possible, setting up medical response stations, and helping people stranded away from home with food, shelter, clothing, etc. Their intense focus on the task at hand made them particularly resistant to Yavin and Miryam’s message; they hadn’t had the time to really reflect on what had happened and realize that the end was nigh.
The end is nigh. Man, I sound like some crazy Christian preacher standing on a sidewalk preaching the oncoming apocalypse. Maybe they’re right and the government will be coming in with helicopters and dumping relief packets any minute…
She shook her head violently, knocking herself off-balance on the bike for a second before she caught herself. While the sheer awe of Miryam’s presence and personality had begun to wear off, Becca had no doubt of the truth of her message. Any Jews that remained in Portland was doomed. Perhaps one in five thousand would survive, Miryam had said.
Miryam haNevi… Miryam the prophet, sister of Moses, water-bringer…will we be wandering in the desert for forty years, next? Becca sighed. She had been a fairly unobservant, but very spiritual, Jew, all her adult life. After getting out of her parent’s Conservative, traditionally stifling household she’d experimented with Paganism, Buddhism, and several new age trends—the Seth Material, now that was life-changing. But everything else she’d encountered, while influencing her private metaphysical beliefs, just hadn’t brought the same sense of home and belonging that Judaism did. At Shir Chadash, she’d been able to bring her loves of mysticism, philosophical debate, and music together with that sense of home. She’d found a sense of purpose serving the community as the executive director. She’d met her husband Michael there five years back, and then three years later, she’d gained the best friend she’d ever had when they’d hired Lior as the synagogue’s new rabbi.
And now it’s all over. My life, Shir Chadash, Portland… all gone. Why?
“Ummm, Becca? Are you okay?” Her escort, Elana, who’d been following her on another bike, was suddenly next to her and speaking.
“What?” Startled out of her pensivity, Becca looked up—into the back of a jeep. After a moment of puzzlement, she started to laugh. Lost in thought, she’d biked straight into the back of one of the innumerable cars stalled out on the roads. Fortunately, her front tire had lodged neatly under the spare tire on the back of the jeep, bringing her to a stop and holding her up so gently she hadn’t even noticed.
“Hey, ladies! Whatcha doing?” A voice shouted at them from the direction of one of the houses on the residential street.
Still laughing, Becca palmed the flip knife from her jacket pocket, dismounted from her bike, and turned to face the man who’d shouted at her, keeping the wedged bike between their bodies. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Elana dismounting also. She kickstanded her bike, advanced, and settled into some kind of martial art stance, with her legs spread and bent, her arms bent at the elbows and held squarely over her legs.
No, not a man, she thought, appraising the person before her. He was blond, handsome, well-built and muscled, but with considerable puppy fat lingering along his jawline and stomach. That’s a kid, nineteen at the very most, despite the muscles. But he could still be very dangerous. After being traumatized by a rape attempt at a college fraternity party, she’d taken self-defense classes regularly over the past twelve years, but had never been called upon to use them until fights had broken out the day before at Albertson’s. Now she felt grimly determined. Two and a half days of no power, no running water, and little refrigeration capability wasn’t yet enough to drive the population of a wealthy neighborhood like Hillsdale into desperation—the fights over groceries had been more about fear of the oncoming unknown than current need. But, the people who did understand what was going on, realized that very soon there wouldn’t be enough resources to go around; and they also understood that without guns and modern communication, the police couldn’t possibly keep order. So far the bicyclists had been safe enough—but they were sending them out armed and in pairs.
“What’s going on?” the boy asked. “If you’re looking for trouble, you’d better move on. We can put up a fight.”
Becca’s eyes narrowed. Despite his threatening words, she wasn’t getting any sense of active malice from this kid. He sounded distraught and fearful more than truly angry.
“We don’t mean you any harm. I just got lost in thought and ran into your car, is all. But, I’d be open to an exchange of information, friendly chat? My name’s Becca, this is my friend Elana… are you alone here? Are you ok?” The boy took a deep breath and shook himself out of his tense, threatening pose. Elana straightened up, relaxing as well.
“Hey… I’m sorry. My name’s Sean. I’m here with my brother and his boyfriend, and we’re pretty friendly with the neighbors. I think we’re heading out of Portland in a few days, so if your people need anything, we’re going to have to leave a lot behind.”
Becca smiled. “Actually, we’re—
“Sean!” Interrupted a yell from a nearby house. “What’s going on?”
“God, Rick, I’m just talking to someone!” The boy shouted back. Becca revised her estimate of his age a few years downward. Meanwhile, the man—no doubt Rick—headed out of the house and toward them. He was a tough-looking guy, well-tanned white, probably mid-twenties, around six feet tall and well-built, with his black hair cut fashionably long. He wore an embroidered sword belt around his waist, complete with sheath and sporran all in matching black leather with green tooling, which set off bells in Becca’s memory.
“Hi… can I help you?”
“Sir Percival?” she asked, half-incredulously. It is a small world. “Of…Greenvale, right? I saw you at the May Crown last year—you defeated Sir Victor last spring in the quarter final, right?”
The man stopped, surprised at her recognition, then grinned and moved forward again. “Yes, that was me: very tactful of you not to mention how I got soundly trounced in the semis later… I’m sorry, I don’t think we met?”
“No, I’m fringy. Just make it to a couple of events a year. Becca Bercovich.” They shook hands; his shake was firm without being overpowering, his hand large and much more heavily callused than she was accustomed to. “This is my friend, Elana Danon. We were biking by and I got lost in thought. Sean rescued me from the evil clutches of the tire tyrant, there.” She gestured to where her bike has still held stationary by the jeep. After a moment lost in puzzlement, Rick began laughing. He shook hands with Elana, as well, although she seemed to be taking the role of strong and silent bodyguard fairly seriously.
“Well, my partner, Ronnie, will have to compose an epic commemorating this epic victory! Sean’s first feat of derring-do… where were you heading on that gallant steed? We haven’t really been able to keep track of what’s been going on in the rest of the city.”
“I was just coming down from Homestead, heading toward Mittleman Community Center, right between Multnomah and Hillsdale. A pretty big group of us have been gathering there… we plan to head out of Portland pretty soon. Your… brother, here?”
“He told us you were planning on heading out as well?”
“Yeah, one of our SCA friends—did you ever meet BD?—convinced us we should. She said, if this goes on for too long, we’ll be real screwed with no food getting trucked in, the pipes and sewers not working, and all. We’re not so certain it’s necessary, probably there’ll be a relief effort coming in soon, but… better safe than sorry, you know? If the power comes back on, well, if we’re out backpacking, we can just come back. Anyway, we could use a vacation.” At this last, he glanced sidelong at the boy, who glared at him.
“Absolutely,” she agreed. “And… well, I’m no scientist, but some of the folk I’m with are, and they say this makes absolutely no sense in terms of anything they’ve ever learned or heard of. Like—Someone—just changed the laws of physics. Intentionally. So if Someone did this intentionally, it must have been for a purpose, right? And presumably they’re not going to change it back until that purpose is fulfilled, if ever. And I don’t think that’s likely to be anytime soon.”
The formidable young man looked very darkly thoughtful, for a long moment. Then—
‘What?” She blinked.
“You kept saying ‘Someone’ like you were meaning to say something else. Who do you think caused this?”
Ah. She hadn’t realized she’d been that obvious. Well… “ Honestly… I think it was God. I’m Jewish… so’s Elana and most of the people in my group at Mittleman.” Elana nodded confirmation behind her. “This reminds me of the Flood, the Deluge… God changing the world, because it wasn’t working out right. And… ok, I know this sounds crazy. And I swear I’m not a fundy-nut or anything, we’re very liberal Jews, but…what better explanation is there, little green aliens from Mars?”
“I thought Martians were gray?” Sean interjected, then wilted at his brother’s withering glare. “Man, sorry… bad joke.”
Becca smiled. “No, Martians are green. The gray aliens come from Othala.” At the two men’s blank stares, she shrugged. “What, you’ve never seen Stargate?” She heard Elana snort a bit, stifling laughter, behind her.
As Rick grinned and opened his mouth to respond, they all turned at the sound of a bike coming down the block. Even as Becca settled once more into battle-readiness, she reflected that things had truly Changed. Three days before, submerged in the constant din of Portland and hearing adjusted to compensate, she wouldn’t have noticed a bicycle approaching until it was right on top of her. Now they all had time to step out of the street and ready themselves: knowing of his Society background, she was unsurprised when Rick drew his sword, revealing it to be live steel, sharp-edged, and fully functional. As the bicyclist got closer, however, Rick swore quietly and sheathed his sword.
Striding back out into the road, he called, “Emma? What’s wrong?”
As the woman pulled in closer, Becca thought for a minute she had a child with her, as she had a Trek child trailer hitched behind the bike, but it was full of bolts of fabric.
“Rick… hey.” As the woman slid off her bike, she let it drop and ran to Rick’s side, embracing him fiercely. “Where is Ronnie? I need to talk to you both, right away.” As she let go of Rick, she noticed Becca and Elana for the first time. “Who are they?” she asked sharply.
“Come on,” said Rick, shepherding the three women towards the house and motioning for Sean to follow. “I’ll explain inside.”
As Sean made tea on a gas stove that sputtered, Rick made introductions. His partner, Ronnie, was lighter in coloration than Rick with blond hair and blue eyes, but otherwise similar in height, build, and handsomeness. They all settled down on two small couches set in a conversational grouping in the living room—women on one side, men on the other, Becca noted amusedly. Very frum.
“So, what’s going on, Emma ?” Rick asked.
“I’m not sure where to start…” Emma muttered fretfully.
“‘Begin at the beginning, continue until you get to the end, and then stop.’” Ronnie quoted, grinning briefly.
“The beginning…” Emma sighed. “Roland—Frank, I mean, my husband—and I were just beginning to process what’s happened when the Armingers showed up on our doorstep this morning.”
Rick and Ronnie both recoiled, their faces showing anger, disgust… and fear, Becca realized.
“The Armingers?” she asked.
“Malmsey of Blackthorn, and Lady Aliénor of Gévaudan .” Rick responded. “I don’t know if you know them at all…”
“No,” Becca responded. “I recognize the names, though.” Indeed she did. While Lady Aliénor was only a semi-familiar name, Blackthorn was fairly infamous in the Society as the man who’d brought a live ox to a tournament and killed it with his broadsword. A womanizer, misogynist, and a homophobe, she’d also heard, although as usual with Society gossip she took that with a large grain of salt. Gossip, evil tongue, lashon hara… I always took that seriously before, but now everything religious seems more important.
“He’s decided to take over Portland. Now that the power’s gone—guns don’t even work, had you figured that out?—he’s going to set up the middle ages ‘as they should have been’, and make himself king, although he’s calling himself Lord Protector.” Ronnie, Rick, and Becca all snorted in unison at that one, getting the ghastly historical in-joke, although Elana and Sean looked clueless. Emma favored them with a thin smile.
She paused and drank a sip of tea. “Anyway, his men-at-arms or whatever you want to call them, have been collecting the nearest and dearest of people he thinks will be useful to him. To keep them safe, supposedly, but it’s clear he means them to be hostages. Rick and Ronnie know that Roland is a knight and I’m a weaver and spinner as well as a damn good dressmaker, and I teach fiber arts.” She added in an aside to Becca—who was getting weary of the oh-so-polite condescension—and Elana, who looked indifferent. “They came and took our son, Emmond, this morning—apparently we didn’t quite make the inner council. Probably because they were worried we wouldn’t put up with some of the stuff they’re planning on—like ‘getting rid’ of nine-tenths of the population in Portland, by whatever means necessary. “
Getting rid of… that so does not sound good… Becca thought, then refocused as Rick started to speak. .
“Um…” Rick looked uncomfortable. “I don’t want to… be rude, but… I sort of thought you were fairly… close? To the Armingers? Norman, particularly?”
Emma made a face. “I had a brief friends with benefits relationship with him—that ended almost a year ago. Roland and I have always had an open relationship,” she added for the other women’s benefit. “Nothing serious… he’s a attractive, forceful man, I’m a sub… anyway, yes, the four of us have been friendly for a while. He and Sandra—that’s his wife’s mundane name—still trust us—more or less. As much as they trust anyone. But, they are taking hostages from everyone; Norman and Sandra want levers on all their new nobility. It seems like everyone’s being watched.” Emma rubbed her eyes a minute, looking haunted and stressed.
“But Sandra let me out on a run to a fabric store this afternoon, and I made a detour here to warn you guys. You were Roland’s squires… and friends. I know that you won’t be welcome by Norman—I don’t know if he actually hates gays, or if it’s just another part of the role he plays—but it won’t make a difference to the people he’ll kill. And I hoped—well, I doubt there’s anything you can do—but if you can think of any way to rescue Emmond...?”
Rick and Ronnie looked at each other gravely.
Sean spoke up for the first time. “Like a commando raid?” His eyes were bright and eager with visions of glory and adventure.
“We aren’t Navy SEALS,” pointed out his brother. “Emma, do you even know where they’re keeping the hostages?”
She shook her head, distraught. “Right now, they’re just on the move with Norman. I don’t know where they’ll end up…” She choked off a sob.
Rick sighed. “We’d need a lot more than three knights—assuming Roland could get free to join us—and a squire to pull off a rescue attempt against Blackthorn of Malmsey and all the force he’ll have at his disposal… .”
“I understand.” Emma answered wearily. “I had to ask…”
“Maybe we can help,” Becca said impulsively. She wasn’t getting a great first impression of this woman—but no one should have to suffer having their child being held hostage by a psycho. Yavin was IDF—he might know how to rescue hostages. “If you find out where they’ll be held… I’m part of this group, we’re planning on leaving town soon, but in the meantime, we’ve got a number of current or ex-military. We’re headquartered just a mile or so away. Can you come with me and explain what’s going on to our leader?”
Emma, looking torn between hope and doubt, hesitated. “Yes…but not right now. I’m expected back any moment; actually I’m stretching things just being here. But… Ronnie, you remember that park near our house, where you used to train with Roland? There’s a notice-board, for community flyers and events and the like. I can probably get there unsupervised several times a day. I’ll try and leave a note, letting you know when I could next get away for a few hours? And any other helpful information.”
Ronnie nodded. “That’s no problem, it’s not too far away. We can send Sean to check it once an hour or so… before we head out. He’ll just look like a jogger. I think…we can stretch it and stay in town another day or two, Emma, but no more. We were planning on leaving this morning, and it’s all the more reason to do so now that you’ve told us this.”
Emma nodded. “I think that’s wise.”
“You can also just come straight to Mittleman Jewish Community Center.” Becca added. “If you get free without much notice.”
Emma nodded, made hurried goodbyes, and left.
“Ronnie, we’ve got to help her!” Sean shouted as soon as she’d left the house.
“Sean! Not the time.” Rick gave him a fierce glare. The teenager glared back, and then slammed out of the room. There was a moment of silence.
“I’m sorry—” Ronnie began.
“Ronnie, Rick—” Becca interrupted suddenly. “Why not come with us? And Sean, of course. We’re planning to leave on Sunday, so that would give you time to help Emma, and a safe group to stay with until then and protect you on the road. You won’t be the only non-Jews.”
“But will we be the only gays?” Rick asked, striking a queenly pose. Becca burst out laughing.
“Oh, please. At least ten, maybe fifteen percent of my synagogue is LGBT, and lesser parts of the others—actually, at HJC—the Humanist Jewish Congregation of Portland—it might be higher. You can hang with Joel and Davy if you decided to be swish, they’re good friends of mine. Okay, some of the older, more conservative people might not be exactly approving, but surely you are used to that in any mixed group?”
Ronnie and Rick exchanged another of those densely encoded couple looks.
“I think…” Rick began.
“That would be a good idea.” Ronnie concluded as his partner nodded.
“I should probably explain…” Ronnie added with an unhappy inhalation. “My and Sean’s parents were killed the night of… Tuesday night. A plane fell near their house, up by Halsey. Sean was out with some friends, came back to find his whole neighborhood, the place we grew up, in flames. So… we could use a change of scene, for sure. He’s not dealing too well.”
Becca nodded. “I wondered… he seemed to be blowing hot and cold something fierce. We’ve got some great psychologists at Mittleman, I could get someone to talk to him, maybe?”
Rick nodded. “That’d be great. And… it’s good you have those. I have a feeling we’ll all have a great need for psychologists, soon.”
With Becca and Elana’s help Rick and Ronnie packed up what they could carry of their household immediately, and accompanied Becca back to Mittleman. Arminger might well know their address by now, they explained, and they didn’t want to take any chances. At Becca’s request, they sent Sean ahead of them, to explain to Yavin and Lior why she and Elana were delayed, in case they decided to send out search parties. They didn’t hear from Emma again until the next morning, when she left a note saying that she’d come to MJCC that afternoon.
❀ ❁ ❀
Emma arrived on time, alone, and Becca took her into the cafeteria, to the group of tables that Yavin had continued to use as an “office.” He had established early on that he would stay out in the open, where anyone could come and watch him at work—no need for private meetings, he’d said, that would set people’s hackles up.
He was making one last attempt to convince the representatives from Rodef Shalom—assistant Rabbi Samuel Kaplan, and his mother, Cantor Naomi Kaplan—and the representatives from Temple Emanuel, Nathan Feinstein and the director of the religious school there, Sophia Higgins. Samuel, Naomi, and Sophia clearly believed Yavin and Miryam’s warnings, and Nathan, although still claiming to be unconvinced, was obviously leaning their way after two days of no power and the gunpowder demonstration—but they had so far been unable to convince their synagogues, and were unwilling to abandon them. Yavin was giving it one last go to try and get them to come along; without their entire synagogues, perhaps, but with as many people as they could bring.
“But people here need us,” Naomi was arguing. “All the more so given how bad Miryam says it will get. We can’t just leave half our community here.”
“And surely the government will be restoring order and sending aid,” added Nathan.
“Yavin,” Becca said, “Sorry to interrupt, but I think everyone should hear what Emma has to say… with an open mind. It affects all of us—especially anyone thinking of staying in Portland and hoping for a rescue.
“Emma, can you please tell them everything you told me yesterday—about Arminger, I mean?”
When Emma had finished, Becca asked, “Do I need to remind anyone how miserable the Middle Ages were for our people? If this guy hates gay people because he thinks it’s how a Norman nobleman is supposed to be, how do you think he’ll feel about Jews? Do we want to be here for a recreation of the Expulsion, perhaps? Another fun round of ‘kiss the cross or kiss the sword’?”
In the silence that followed, Emma spoke. “I was hoping that in exchange for this information, you could rescue my son. He’s being held with a bunch of other hostages—Sandra told me this morning that they’ll be kept in a ‘craft village’ somewhere. I know I can find out the exact location from someone, if you’ll commit to the rescue. My husband and I could be very useful to you—there’s not a lot about pre-Industrial era cloth production and management I don’t know. I have my own herds of alpacas and wool-sheep, just outside of town. And my husband is a knight; he could teach people how to fight.
“And… Norman isn’t just looking to take over Portland. He’s ambitious to rule a whole kingdom. It would be worth your while to spoke his wheels now, before he gets off the ground. Like Becca said, he doesn’t like Jews. Or anyone, really, but… ” She trailed off as Yavin’s expression gave her no encouragement.
Yavin sighed heavily. “Ms…?”
“Ms. Sherman, I have a lot of sympathy for your situation. I have two daughters and two granddaughters back in Israel whom I may never see again. But, we just don’t have the resources to do what you’re asking. Several of us are military, but none of us accustomed to fighting in a non-technological world. This man, Arminger, he sounds like he’s already built himself a sizable army who know what they’re doing and it’ll only grow. He’ll be guarding against any attempt to take the hostages, surely. I understand your point about Arminger not being a friend to us. But I can’t risk my people in an unknown operation with so much risk and so little chance of success.”
Emma began to cry.
“You are in a position to safeguard your son. I know that you find this man abhorrent, but if you cooperate with his wife, you may earn her trust, and she may restore your son to you after this first crisis is past and they’ve consolidated their power. I am sorry, but that is the only hope I can give you.”
Distraught and angry, Emma made a disjointed farewell and stormed out.
As she walked away, Yavin turned to the others. “I’m not sure there is anything I can say that would be more persuasive than the words you have just heard.”
There was a moment of silence and the four looked at Yavin.
“I agree with you, Mr. Zeitouni.” Nathan Feinstein said unexpectedly. “I felt that I had a responsibility to the community here, to my city…but it sounds as if the best I can do for my community is to get as many people to leave Portland with us as possible.”
“My wife is due any day,” said Samuel, sounding distraught. “Go, stay...?”
“Ask her,” his mother said firmly. “Tell her what you learned today. She’ll know what she wants to do. I know that if I had the choice, I’d rather give birth on the move but in safety, than in a hospital with no power, waiting for the medieval S.S. to break down the door. But whatever she chooses, I’ll stay or go with you.”
“I already wanted to come.” Sophia put in. “With this information… I think that Nathan and I can bring… maybe six, seven hundred people? Half of Temple Emanuel’s everyday community. The High Holy Day Jews are another story. But most of the parents with kids in my religious school will come. They’re used to trusting me… and they’re terrified for their children.”
Nathan nodded. “So far, they’ve been trusting Rabbi Rosen when he said we needed to stay, and help. Sophia wasn’t able to make much of a dent in that with talk of prophecy… we’re an agnostic bunch. But with me backing her up, and this story…” He and Sophia, with newly resolved purpose, headed out. The Kaplans followed a moment later.
“I’m sorry I put you in that position.” Becca apologized to Yavin. “I should have realized there wasn’t much we could do.”
Yavin smiled wryly. “I’ve been doing my best over the past few days to convince people I’m a superhero. I don’t blame you for believing it.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 7 —
Wednesday, March 21, 1998, 2:30 P.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland Oregon, Portland, Oregon
“Right—now remember you have a shield!” Rick encouraged his squire. “It can be a weapon, too; you need to use its force, not just forget it’s there when you’re not on defense.”
Sean nodded wearily.
“Okay, let’s take a ten minute break,” Rick said.
Sean moved just far enough to lean his sword and shield against the wall—he’d been well trained to never drop a weapon—and then collapsed onto the ground in a heap of clinking metal. This week was the first time Rick had him working out in armor, although it was just chainmail; they’d managed to belt Ronnie’s set tightly enough to fit him. Before, it had been an expense his parents were unwilling to spend on a seventeen-year-old SCA enthusiast who was still growing like a weed. Now, it was a vital necessity—although Rick didn’t like to think about why that was.
“Man, that is so cool!” called a voice from the nearest doorway. They’d been practicing on the open green lawn between Mittleman Center and the parking lot; after walking back with Becca the day before, they’d been assigned a storage closet as their home away from home. It was a tight squeeze, maybe four feet by six, but Rick appreciated being given a private family space rather than being housed in one of the classrooms that had been given over to single men. Sean didn’t need to be confronted with a bunch of teenage boys suffering from testosterone poisoning, and Ronnie needed Rick’s comforting physical presence at night. They had loved their parents very much. Even while sympathizing with his lover and brother-in-law’s grief, Rick felt a bit envious of that. He’d never felt much affection from his WASP-y, much-older parents, and while he’d mourned their deaths in his early twenties—cancer and a car accident—it hadn’t really shaken his world. In fact, if he was honest with himself—which he usually tried to be—it had been almost freeing. Sean was more than shaken—his life had exploded, and Rick had dragged him off for some sweat therapy at the first opportunity.
Speaking of testosterone poisoning—he turned to see who had shouted at them. It was an average looking young man—average height, build, coloring—still with a bit of puppy fat, but solid muscle underneath, Rick judged. He was wearing a Batman t-shirt over black jeans, in defiance of the early spring drizzle.
“Hi!” The young man strode over to join them. “Jason da Costa.” He held out a hand, “I haven’t seen you around before—and I’d definitely remember. Did you just arrive? Do you want to join my group? We’ve got some great people, but could use a couple of real fencers, for sure!”
Rick grinned. He’d met a hundred young men like this one—eager, inexperienced, and fascinated by all things antique and all things bloody. “Thanks, but we’re with the Shir Chadash group. I’m Rick and this is Sean, my brother-in-law. We got recruited this morning by Becca Bercovich. You’re welcome to join us, though, get a lesson or two.”
Sean snorted, leveraging himself up with the aid of the handy wall. “Yeah, but it’s not a D&D game. These things hurt, even the practice swords. I’m going to be black and blue tomorrow, and I’ve been doing this for seven years.”
The boy gave Sean a jaundiced glance. “I’m a black belt. Judoka. I’m not a stranger to a few bruises. But… you can teach it, as well as do it? Like, you’ve got experience teaching?”
“Sure.” Rick shrugged. “Been teaching fencing since my teacher knighted me, eight years ago. So has my partner, Ronnie—we met as squires.”
“That is awesome. Seriously, that is just fantastic!” Jason enthused, almost shouting in elation. Rick raised his eyebrows. This level of excitement he wasn’t quite used to…
“You need to come meet Yavin, I think he’s in the cafeteria—you haven’t met him yet, right?”
“Um… no… I imagine he’s pretty busy for social calls.”
“Oh, this isn’t going to be a social call! Don’t you understand? We have nobody who knows how to teach real modern armed combat.”
“Modern?” Rick questioned.
“Well, modern since the Change! Guns are the antiques now, man. And the people who know how to fight in armour with swords are going to be kings! C’mon!”
Carried along by the kid’s enthusiasm, Rick followed, waving at Sean to gather up the weaponry and come along.
If Yavin was surprised to see Jason burst into the cafeteria followed by a man in a rather smelly padded jacket and a youth in an overlarge shirt of chainmail, juggling two swords, a pair of helmets, and a couple of shields, he didn’t show it, just excused himself from the knot of people he’d been talking with and came over.
“What is it now, Jason?”
“Yavin, I present Sir Rick and Sir Sean—”
“Actually, I’m just a squire,” Sean put in awkwardly.
“—they have swords—real broadswords, not those flimsy willow wands that the guy from OFA has—and they can fight with them, and they can teach others to do the same!”
“It’s not that simple,’ Rick began. “It takes years to learn to fight effectively with a sword. Not to mention, we don’t have two thousand swords with us to outfit your whole army.”
“Yeah, but I bet a guy with even a little sword training would be better equipped to defend himself against the starving hordes than a guy with none.” Jason said, giving him a look that said: don’t screw it up! “We can get swords from somewhere, or make them, or something!”
“What we could do,” Rick continued smoothly “is start anyone who already knows some fighting, like Jason here, on fencing—a lot of the basic martial arts training will translate well—and start everyone else on quarterstaff. That’s a weapon you can make easily, from a resource all around us, and that you can learn to defend yourself with—even against a sword—effectively in just a little while. All three of us have extensive experience with quarterstaves.”
Yavin nodded thoughtfully. “Come and sit down. In fact, Becca mentioned you, and your expertise, to me over dinner last night. I would have come looking for you—as soon as I got a spare minute anyway,” he added, looking wearily over his shoulder where the knot of people Jason had pulled him away from waiting impatiently. “We’re setting up a defense force—calling them the shomrim— that’s Hebrew for guards, watchers. Alon, my aide de camp, came up with a idea for a sort of, hmm—he called it a polearm—a blade attached to a long, thick stick, easy to make. Similar to a large number of gardening implements we got from a gardening supply store.”
“Sure,” Rick agreed. “I’ve done halberd work. I think we—Ronnie, my partner, is also trained in antique weaponry and fighting—we can be helpful training with those, too.”
Yavin nodded. “We’re setting the shomrim up in a pretty basic organization, for now—squads of ten, under the command of a squad leader, organized into companies of sixty to seventy, depending on how many people with command experience I can find. Right now we’re just requiring armed service of healthy men between eighteen and forty, and any women and older men who want to volunteer—a surprising number of them do. I’d like to put you both in charge of a company—we’re extremely short of real fighting men, especially those with any teaching or leadership experience. Also—speaking of ‘that OFA guy’, can you please go grab Daniil, Jason? I believe he’s getting lunch—I sent him out to his house on the edge of town to bring back his weaponry, he just got back.” Jason scowled, but nodded quickly in acquiescence and left.
“OFA?” Rick asked.
“Oregon Fencing Association. One of their teachers—a former Olympian, in fact—is Jewish, and a member of Rodef Shalom, the conservative synagogue here. He’ll be a few minutes, probably—let me just deal with a few things, I’ll be right back.” Yavin stood, and was quickly engulfed by the urgent petitioners who’d been waiting a few feet away.
Rick looked at Sean. “Every time I think we’ve reach the bottom of the the rabbit hole we’ve fallen into, a new rabbit hole opens up. Do you think we’ll ever get used to this strange new world?”
“Not if guys like Jason keep popping up and dragging us off. He doesn’t look much like a white rabbit, though.”
“But hey, you’ve got my vorpal blade,” Rick joked, nodding to the swords Sean carried.
A few minutes later, Jason came back into the room trailed by a tall, greying man, slender except for broad shoulders.
With eyes seemingly in the back of his head, Yavin made his apologies again and walked back over. “Rick, Sean, I’d like you to meet Daniil—
“Daniil Sergeyevich Perlmutter, at your service.” The man half-bowed with a flourish, spreading his arms wide.
By reflex, Rick and Sean bowed in return. “Your humble servant, sir,” said Rick, while Sean practiced being seen and not heard.
Yavin grinned. “Gentlemen, I will leave you to your discussion. Pull Raffi Friedman in. I need an army capable of defending our people, as soon as possible. Run everything major past me, of course, but I’m depending on you to make that happen.”
“Yes, my lord!” Rick snapped smartly, then smiled sheepishly. “Um, sir, I mean. We can do that.”
As Yavin left, Daniil and Rick shook hands, both gripping firmly; taking each others’ measures. Sure must be an interesting story with this guy. Rick thought. With all these people. I think I’m going to enjoy getting to know them.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 8 —
Wednesday, March 21, 1998, 5:30 P.M. Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland Oregon, Portland, Oregon
Mazal Zeitouni looked up with a tired smile at her grandson’s call. She was sitting alone in Riva’s office, taking a moment’s breather. The past four days had been brutal. Driving herself with Yavin and Miryam’s contagious sense of urgency and her own reasoned fears, she’d fought to help bring her family and their community through this crisis. But now, while the crisis showed no sign of abating, they’d come to an eye in the storm. Decisions had been made, questioned, fought, and made again. Supplies had been gathered, riots had been quelled, hurts mended, and the dead put to ground, if not properly mourned. And now, with everyone and everything ready to leave, they had decided to take this sabbath day to breathe a little. To rest. To begin to cope with the new reality they’d been so abruptly born into at sunset four days before.
“Ken, neched sheli?” Yes, grandson mine? Natan, at first treating their straightened circumstances with the glee of a brave and curious twelve-year old for high adventure, had become quieter and more withdrawn as the days passed and his loved ones stank of terror and anger and grief. “Ma nishma, kol be’seder?” What’s happening, is everything ok?
“Lo tov, Savta…” Not good, Grandma… Tears coming suddenly to his eyes, he rushed forward and threw his arms around her waist.
“What is it, sweetheart?” she asked, still in Hebrew.
“Grandma,” he choked out, between sobs, “I’m never going to see my parents again, am I?” The question struck as a palpable blow to the heart, and Mazal bent her head over his as she fought not to join him in his tears.
For the past four days, she’d dealt with emergency after emergency in the same calm, unruffled manner that she’d learned as Jewish adolescent being airlifted out of an angry and hostile Iran, and continually repressed thoughts of home. Even as mind and lips had said ‘forever’, the heart, as it so often did in a crisis, had lagged behind. But now, in the bright spring morning of this Shabbat morning, it came home to her that she would never see her two oldest children again, nor the baby grandchildren they had laid in her arms—save this poor boy, orphaned as so many of her people had been before. Yet as her heart ached and her lips opened with false words of reassurance, she knew suddenly that to lie now would be an even harsher cruelty than the world had already handed him .
“No, Natan. I don’t think so. Your grandfather and Aunt Miryam believe that this is a permanent Change. And in that case… Israel is just too far away. We cannot cross two continents and an ocean without a plane, or a powered boat, to find your parents. I am so, so sorry.”
But…” Natan’s voice quavered. “Grandma, why would God warn Aunt Miryam to come, and not my mother?”
Mazal clenched her eyes closed and, sitting down, drew her grandson onto her lap. “I don’t know, my gift. Perhaps your mother did have the same dream, but she didn’t remember it when she woke up, or thought it was just a nightmare. Maybe Miryam was more open to a message at that moment. Or God could have meant the dream to save the community here, not just one person. I can’t say. Our people say ‘God sent ten plagues down on the earth, and nine of them fell on Jerusalem’. Throughout our history, we have suffered more than any other people. We don’t know why. All we can do is keep going, as our ancestors did, and keep our hope alive.”
“I will try. But… it’s so hard!”
“I know. It’s hard for me, too.” She could, now, take a little time to be weak, she thought, and bent her head over his and let her tears fall.
Yavin found them there, together still, when he came searching some thirty minutes later, and he stayed with them until they all were called to havdalah services. Havdalah was the official end of shabbat, a symphony of voices singing and candlelight flickering, sweet wine and redolent spices; a service that engaged all five senses to create a tangible barrier between the shabbat and the weekdays. Time to make a separation: between the holy, and the profane; between the extraordinary, and the everyday; between the past, and the future. The old world was gone; the new one would rise from its ashes.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 1 —
Sunday, March 22, 1998. Southwest Capitol Highway, Outside Mittleman Jewish Community Center
“Bo’u. B’seder. Go now,” Yavin ordered.
In the end — or rather, the beginning — it all boiled down to that. Nearly two thousand people had gathered in the parking lot outside of the Mittleman Center, laden with goods and supplies, and moved out on his quiet command.
It was, as was common for the season, an overcast, rainy day, hovering around ten degrees Celsius; the smell of the humidity filled the air, and a gentle mist quickly settled on all of the tarp — and plastic-covered loads. As the columns gathered up, a few solitary sunbeams managed to stab through temporary gaps in the clouds, and sent shadows and glints of light dancing through the crowd. Yavin saw Miryam smile and raise her face to the sunbeams, as if greeting an old friend who had been too long absent or ignored.
What an omen of hope for our new life, he thought optimistically.
Yavin tugged Miryam out of her bemusement and forward; they walked hand-in-hand at the head of the entire cavalcade, just as she had prophesized. As Yavin adamantly and fearfully refused to give another speech, Davy and Joel had instead dramatically orchestrated the initial parade of the march for maximum effect on morale.
Just after Yavin and Miryam came a small float, propelled on each corner by one of the four rabbis. Its base was a simple flatbed cart from a bulk supply warehouse; poles were fixed to the corners of the cart, with horizontal rails between them at waist-height, all wrapped in decorative and functional blue crush-velvet padding that absorbed sweat and kept the wood from slipping under clutching hands.
In deference to the steep slopes of Southeast Portland, there were teams of people with rope-brakes, ready to rescue the rabbis if the cart starting running away from them. The crowning glory of the cart was a beautiful chuppah that had been pressed upon them by Sarah Feldman, one of the matriarchs of Rodef Shalom. Old and frail herself, and with a disabled husband, she was remaining in Portland.
Her eldest son, an agronomist, was in the crowd, leading a family party of ten. A son, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were staying behind with the family elders, despite Mrs. Feldman’s orders, cajolements, and finally tears. The family chuppah showed the Jerusalem skyline bright with blues, oranges, reds, and greens, embroidered with Hebrew letters in silver and gold threads that glinted in the sunlight.
Four Torahs in carrying cases brought the color scheme down to earth, dominating the spectacle and anchoring every eye within view, although they were balanced by boxes carrying menorahs, tallis, and other ritual objects. Shir Chadash and Beth Abraham had brought their Torahs, along with all the fitter members of their congregations; the congregants from Rodef Shalom and Temple Emanuel, although forced to leave the majority of their people behind, had each been allowed to bring one of those two huge congregations’ extra Torahs. Only tiny contingents had come from HJC and Tifereth Israel — less than thirty people each — and they’d not brought much at all with them.
Elana, Alon, and Zach, three of the first and fittest and most skilled volunteers for the shomrim, walked just behind the rabbis, each waving a large Israeli flag. There’d been some small opposition to that from the most liberal members of the Exodus, who were uncomfortable seeming overly supportive of the State of Israel. But Lior had, in her gentle but persistent manner, pointed out that the Mogen David, blue on white, had been a symbol of the Jewish people long before the modern State.
“And the Holy Land might as well be as far from us as the moon!” she’d said, cementing her argument. “Its people, and its politics, and its struggles, are severed from us as irreparably as the continents from one another. The flags will now symbolize only what meaning we give them. And they will give our people heart.”
The March exited the parking lot and took a sharp left turn on Southwest Vermont Street. The turn brought them in almost a full u-turn to walk along the length of the parking lot, huffing and puffing with the sharp grades. When they finally reached the crest of the hill, Yavin took the opportunity to stand on the height for a bit and review the March; Miryam continued leading the cavalcade down the slope. Absently he kicked the sword Daniil had pressed on him out of the way. I’m going to have to learn to use this thing. It’s not much like the knives I trained with back home. A whole new world to learn… and at my age!
The rabbinical families followed directly behind the Torah cart, the strongest among them holding the ropes that would keep it from rolling away. Yavin’s inclination had been to order everyone to stay with their communities, but he had been overruled again, by Lior this time. “The Greenbergs are feeling bereft enough without their mother and grandmother,” she’d argued. “Don’t make them walk without their father as well.”
Chaim’s wife had stayed home in Brooklyn, where she’d been born and raised, to attend to business, and as Yavin watched them, he realized that Lior had been right; the clan was clearly feeling its loss. They walked in a clumped group, clinging close to where their father pulled his corner of the Torah cart. Their faces were drawn and pale, with reddened eyes underlined by large bags and shadows bearing silent witness to nights spent in sleepless worry and grief. Chaim’s third son, who looked barely twenty-one, walked with tears openly streaming down his cheeks — in addition to losing his mother, he had left his wife, seven months pregnant with their first child, behind in New York City.
The demonstrations and proofs of the Change that had taken place over the last few days, in addition to Miryam’s visions of New York’s devastation had ripped all hope from their hearts. Two of the adult sons had their wives with them, and between them they had five children under six. What few possessions they had were slung about the children’s strollers or in donated packs on their backs. The fourth son, at eighteen, was leading his younger sisters, thirteen and eleven, by the hands. Abe Green, Chaim’s brother, walked with his relatives; he and his family, a wife and adult daughter, stuck out like sore thumbs among all the dark hasidic wear, looking like an advertisement for Old Navy in their jeans, long shirts, and coats. Like their relatives — and too many others — they were missing a family member as well, a son who was attending school out of state. As Yavin watched, Chaim’s oldest son leapt forward to help his father push the Torah cart up the last ten feet of the steep incline. Father and son linked arms and continued onward, as they crested the hill and the Torah cart began its majestic descent.
Behind the Greens and Greenbergs, Mrs. Kaplan supported her daughter-in-law on one side while Barbara Friedman, Rabbi Friedman’s wife, was on the other. The Freidman’s younger son, Saul, walked with her, while Eli, the brash young man Yavin had rescued from the fire, pushed their flatbed. They’d generously offered to add extra items from other families onto their loads. Yavin’s wife Mazal, his son-in-law Toby, and their grandson Natan walked there as well, pushing their flatbed of goods. Granddaughter Shira perched on top, clutching her favorite teddy by one leg. By Miryam’s orders, every child had been allowed one favorite, prized possession.
“They won’t overburden us,” she’d said, shrugging off all opposition. “And it’s important for us not to lose what makes us human, what makes us feel safe.”
Behind the rabbis’ families marched ranks of men and women carrying pole arms — a number of them were, ironically, converted pruning hooks and hoes — and quarterstaffs. More brought up the rear and covered the flanks. The various congregations, groups, and independents walked surrounded by the protective ranks of newbie warriors. Some people walked bikes that they would ride when the road opened out; others pushed and pulled various conveyances, piled with their goods and the common foodstuffs. The most useful carriers, the large flatbeds, were interspersed with regular shopping carts, baby strollers, library bins, wheelbarrows… anything that would roll and carry a load.
Joel and Davy had set up a logistics center in the approximate middle of the March, with goods trains designated for medical supplies, cooking gear, water, and tents and bedding all stored securely in the Exodus’ few real wooden, raised-wheel carts — most of which came from the gardening supply store they’d visited on the eighteenth. Eyal and Devra walked there with the rest of the on-duty medical staff; they had enough doctors, nurses, physician assistants, certified nursing assistants, and emergency medical technicians in the group to rotate in four-hour shifts and still give everyone time to walk with their families. Joel and Davy walked armed with clipboards, pushing traveling file-boxes in cleverly designed little grocery carts made up of three vertical baskets and surrounded by a fleet of messengers around them wearing the white armbands that denoted people assigned to logistics.
A few lonely people stood at the edge of the parking lot waving them off. The very old and others who would not survive the journey, and the brave souls who had volunteered to stay behind and care for them in the center were not among them. Those goodbyes had been said indoors.
Yavin found his eyes prickling, and pushed down the tears with an effort of will. They had been left with a limited amount of supplies and hollow promises of rescue, but he doubted that any of those vows had been believed, by the givers or the receivers. Yavin had wanted to keep anyone from making them at first, but in the end had held his silence; they needed their illusions, he supposed. The friends who did come outside to bid farewell only added to the grief and bitterness of the moment; they were close friends, even family, of those going on the Exodus, but whether through disbelief, inability to handle change, or loyalty to others, they had chosen to stay behind. The farewells said now were even more full of tears, guilt, and recriminations than those that had been said earlier.
The rear guard began to clear out of the parking lot, and Yavin shook off his sorrow and began jogging down the hill. He rejoined Miryam’s side at the head of the March; a good half mile down the road, past the right turn onto Bertha — still going downhill, albeit more gently. A white-arm banded messenger pedaled up to say that the rear guard was now cautiously descending the steep slope of Vermont street. The front of the March walked down Bertha until they reached the Fred Meyer, which they had stripped of usable goods over the past week, and made a wide right turn onto Barbur Boulevard.
While tight, it was much clearer on Barbur than I-5, (which they could see into, as it passed below and to the right) but they were still forced to slow frequently as they weaved their way between cars near intersections and stop lights. At that, the situation was much improved now than it had been the day of the Change, as many had done the work of moving those cars out of the thoroughfare when they returned to strip them of goods and valuables.
Where possible, the front-rank shomrim moved remaining vehicles to the sides of the roads; the few minutes spent doing that saved time as the whole cavalcade that followed would move faster on the cleared tarmac. They still ran into constant problems: the steep hills were difficult for everyone. Three times, grocery carts overturned despite the preparations taken against capsizing, and their pushers had to halt to gather up their scattered loads; some areas of the March were much slower than others, having higher percentages of the very young and very old. People came out from the apartments and houses that lined their route as they passed, gawking, cat-calling, and asking questions.
A few made spur of the moment decisions to join. Yavin, frustrated by the glacial pace, gave instructions for them to catch up down the road if they could. Others tried to bargain for — or steal — the Exodus’ goods. The shomrim found themselves presenting arms, crossing poles and shoving away the thieves when voices raised in protest. The various captains of the vanguard fretted over the March becoming too spread out, and called several halts for people to catch up and make certain that the flanks were well-guarded. After four hours, they reached another Fred Meyer, on 99 just past the I-5 turnoff and before Highway 217. Yavin called a lunch break, instructing the March to spread out into the large parking lot and use the restrooms — miraculously, the water was still running.
“We’ve barely covered five miles,” he said consulting his map. “We need to pick up the pace.”
Miryam smiled. “Like the Exodus from Egypt, we can only go as fast as our slowest member. But things will go faster as we gain more experience.”
“I’m afraid the slowest is me,” Tizra said. Heidi was taking her blood pressure with their prized, ancient sphygmomanometer, which had been preserved by a retired doctor.
“Hmm,” the midwife said. “It’s a bit high and your heart rate is up. Do you still have your meds? Are there enough until the baby comes? This afternoon I want you to ride on one of those big bike cargo trailers. Hop off and walk for half an hour for each hour you ride.”
“Hop?” Tizra asked. “More like lumber. I have enough meds for ten more days. It’s up to the baby if that is going to be enough.…”
Joel, who had been standing near, discussing logistics, turned and nodded. “I’ll do some load rearranging.”
The cooks distributed cold sub sandwiches prepared the night before; some people prayed before eating while others dug right in. One mixed faith couple sat side by side; she muttered the motzi in Hebrew and he crossed himself after silently praying. Lior led a version of the motzi new to Yavin; after the Hebrew, they sang a verse in English.
“We give thanks to God for bread.
Our voices RISE in song together,
as our grateful prayer is said.”
The whole congregation rose and jumped into the air at “rise” and then settled back down as they repeated the whole thing once more in Hebrew. Yavin shook his head in astonishment.
Afterwards, he spoke quietly to his daughter. “You seem like a new person to me; this dancing, singing rabbi.”
Lior smiled. “I know how you feel about services. You alway looked so polite and so bored the few times we attended as children.”
“I’ll admit, I’ve felt divorced from the rote and ritual of observant Jews. To me God is in the land and the people. But when I see how your people look to you and how you respond their needs, it fills me with pride.”
Pride, and an unspoken sense of emptiness and envy, such as he had never felt before.
“Your Shir Chadash seems a songful group,” he added. Lior had been leading marching songs throughout the morning, and teaching them to others who walked nearby.
“Well, if I left it to you, we’d be marching to army cadences full of words you still don’t think I understand,” she jested.
Yavin grinned in response, and had just tilted his bottle up to take a first swallow of water when a shadow loomed over him.
“We need to talk,” boomed a doomful voice. Yavin and Lior looked up. The Chabad rabbi, Greenberg, was standing over him. The man looked about fifty, with the beginnings of grey in his black wavy hair, which he wore short, save for the peyos curling down each side of his face. His eyes were surrounded by smile lines, but at this moment, he was far from smiling. Instead he wore a stern expression that thinned his full lips and brought down the corners of his mouth. His wide, cow-like brown eyes bored into Yavin in a most unbovine fashion.
Yavin controlled a grimace and managed an attentive look. He’d never been overly-fond of the ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel. Even setting aside the way they avoid service in the armed forces that bled to protect them and still keep that damn sense of superiority… no, actually, that is pretty much my problem.
“Yes?” he said now.
“That woman —” he pointed at Lior, though he knew her name “— was singing. Women have been singing all day. I might, barely, be willing to make allowances for choruses including women, but we’ve been easily able to distinguish the individual women’s voices.”
Lior stiffened, but as her father held up a hand, she relaxed.
“And?” he asked.
He knew where this was going, but wanted to make Greenberg spell it out. He might dig a hole for himself.
“Come, Colonel —”
“You’re Israeli. You must know the laws. Kol isha specifically forbids —”
“We are not in Israel. For that matter, in Israel women are not required to abide by the Talmud or Tanakh unless they want to. We do have freedom of religion, you know.”
Greenberg frowned. “I was assured when I agreed to join this expedition that our beliefs would be respected. Besides, as I understood it, this is a movement for Jews. We should be returning to our faith, not fleeing from it. The Mishnah states that an observant man should not listen to a woman other than his wife singing, because it can lead to lustful thoughts.”
“I think that is the man’s problem,” Yavin retorted, feeling the tips of his ears begin to burn as temper flushed his face.
“As a community, we must all look out for each other! A chaste woman should reserve the beauty and sensuality that is her singing voice for her husband only, just as she should reserve the sight of her naked body to him alone.”
Natan, sitting next to his grandfather, pricked his ears up at the mention of naked women. “If I could remind you, Rabbi,” Mazal said, “There are children present.”
Greenberg did not look abashed. “No one is too young to understand modesty and begin studying the law that is their inheritance. For that matter, some of the displays of immodesty in this camp are extremely disturbing for any Jewish group —”
“Chaim,” said Yavin, holding on to his patience by the thinnest of margins, “sit down, and we’ll try to settle this.”
Grudgingly, Greenberg sat on the edge of a flat bed next to Yavin.
“Now,” Yavin began. “I am absolutely not willing to force any person here to observe halakha against their will.” He paused, his grey eyes boring into Chaim’s in turn, willing to wait him out as long as necessary. Finally, the rabbi gave a curt nod. “However, we can talk about what we can do make things more comfortable for you and yours.”
Thinking quickly, Yavin began to put ideas together in his head, creating a synthesis between the ways the IDF did things in Israel, and the needs of the moment.
Chaim grunted. “I understand that you don’t want to force observance. But the Change is clearly a call for us to return to our faith. Even Dr. Shein, your sister, said as much. Surely that means we should encourage people to explore the mitzvot.”
“Some people may choose to do that in the future. But right now we’re discussing rules for the March, not what you can encourage people to do. Rabbi Ziegler, do you like it or not, is the leader of her congregation. And she will continue to lead them in prayer. I know that you want to remain close to the other rabbis, and your family wants to remain close to you, but perhaps at the times of prayer, you should separate.”
“Or wear earplugs.” Mazal muttered.
Yavin gave her a quelling glance.
“And because you are the smaller group, it would be easier for you to move out of earshot. I’m not sure what issues of immodesty distress you. We are all bundled up in winter clothing at the moment. Perhaps you would like to form a separate group, maybe with some of the other orthodox Jews from Portland? We are already planning to ask people to stay within their assigned areas of the March, so as to make logistics easier. You can certainly have your own area of the camp, as long as everyone is free to choose whether to stay there or not. And you can establish the rules there and ask that anyone who enters abide by them.”
Greenberg sat deep in thought for a few minutes, then nodded slowly. “That is a good compromise. We will not be forced to mix with those that are not being observant and we will be an example to all of the deep joys that come from living by the Law.”
“Excellent.” Yavin breathed out an inconspicuous breathe of relief. “I’ll have the Wardens make the arrangements. We can put you in the front and center, just behind the vanguard, so that you will still be able to see the Torah cart. We will tell everyone that area is restricted to the observant. I imagine a number of the Modern Orthodox would be pleased to join you. Perhaps we can hand out some knotted string or something for people on the edges to carry… I’ll leave that up to my logistics people.”
“I’ll start spreading the word. Thank you, Yavin.” With a grunt of effort, Chaim levered himself to his feet and left.
Lior frowned after him, and once she was certain he was out of earshot, commented, b’ivrit, “Thanks, Dad. But… he’s going to have to learn to deal with me sooner or later. I don’t like having you act as an interpreter. It sets a very bad precedent.”
“I understand your worry about precedent, Lior, but we’re in crisis mode here. I need to keep everyone moving together, and to do that, we have to compromise, and move slowly. Not all Change comes suddenly with a blast of light.”
Lips compressed, Lior nodded.
Yavin returned to his lunch with a sigh of gratitude. But just as he raised his bottle of water to his lips for the second time, yet another voice hailed him. This time Yavin drained his bottle before looking up.
It was Nathan Feinstein and Sophia Higgins, the leaders of the nearly seven-hundred strong delegation from the Temple Emanuel synagogue.
“Hello, Yavin,” Nathan began genially. “So far the March is going splendidly.” He spoke as if it were a golf outing that Yavin had organized. A tall, lean man, Nathan looked downright natty in his Northface jacket. “Hello, Mazal. You look lovely, as do you, Miryam and Devra. Lior, I heard the wonderful singing you were organising. It really put heart into us. Eyal, Toby; how are you doing?”
What a brownnosing schmuck. Yavin managed a polite, “Thanks.”
The women nodded noncommittally, while Eyal and Toby ignored him.
“I’m afraid we need to talk about the rations,” Without being asked, Nathan plunked himself down next to the leader. “I know you want to be generous, but as you yourself say, hard times call for hard choices. Our food supplies won’t last forever. And it’s a pretty large lunch you are serving us.”
Yavin chose to ignore the implication that he was buying popularity with food. “The thing is, Nathan, that walking the miles I have planned for today, loaded down with supplies as we are, is hard work for those who aren’t used to it. And we are burning calories to stay warm. Yes, we need to conserve our food supply, but we also can’t afford to turn into a group of sick people because we are hungry and cold. We have a dietitian on board, and are trying to keep the food at two thousand five hundred calories a day for the adults.”
“Well, Yavin, you’re the boss.” Nathan stood easily, held out a hand, which Yavin shook bemusedly, and then he left. Sophia called good-bye as she followed in his wake.
“What do you think that was about?” asked Yavin, still speaking English.
“Trying to build power,” replied Miryam and Mazal at the same time. They looked at each other and grinned. Mazal gestured to Miryam to continue.
“He reminds me of a new assistant professor. Anxious about whether and when he’ll be getting tenure, in a hurry to establish himself as someone to be reckoned with — especially by the people in charge.”
“Hmm,” said Yavin. “He’s too friendly and too — what is the English, Lior?”
“I think the word you want is smooth.”
“Yes, smooth. He was more interested in how I’d react than in how much we are eating.” He shrugged dismissively. Finally, he was able to focus on his food; while the morning had been only a light stroll for him, stress and lack of sleep still managed to give him a healthy appetite. The smoky cheddar cheese, bean sprouts, and onions combined well with the thick sourdough bread, spritzed with a raspberry vinaigrette.
After finishing it, however, he winced. We have plenty of bean sprouts and onions, but not that much of this good cheese. Too much of what we were able to find was the big tasteless blocks. And we couldn’t bring along this fancy bottled vinaigrette at all; tomorrow it’ll be just plain vinegar and olive oil. Plus, our bread reserves will only last us a few days; there was no point in trying to bring more, it’ll just get moldy or stale anyway. Then we’re down to those boxes and boxes of matzah we bought and made. Shuddering with distaste, he pushed the thoughts away. They would find ways to manage. “Let’s see how Joel and Davy’s plans for mass dishwashing are working.”
The afternoon was a long, hard slog. Yavin was used to long rambles in the countryside and beaches around Tel Aviv, but most of the others were not in such good shape. As they grew tired, small children were passed from arm to arm or tucked in among the loads of goods. The older people and even some of the young ones were using walking staffs cut from branches of roadside trees or leaning on the arms of their companions for support. Tirza Kaplan looked uncomfortable on her cargo trailer, holding on for dear life with every jolt, though she said she felt nothing like labor pains. Yavin supposed that when those did come, they would have to stop the whole March for however long it took her to give birth.
Yalvin had moved his position to the center of the column. Raffi Friedman — the former Marine sergeant trading in his pole of the Torah cart for a pole topped with a knife — led the vanguard, and Daniil commanded the rear.
“We are strung out over two kilometers now,” Alon reported. “And people are starting to fade. I don’t think we’re going to make anywhere near fifteen miles today. Even if it were safe to march in the dark, people don’t have the stamina.”
Yavin pursed his lips. “Come over to the side of the road with me.” Once there he watched the people streaming past for a moment while he dug in his pack for the detailed map. Many were limping, and some of the older people looked to be near the end of their strength. And he noticed that a lot of them were struggling with recalcitrant shopping carts. Alon was right. He was expecting too much of pampered American civilians. He opened the map and spread it out on the hood of a stalled car. “We are half a mile from Cook Park. We’ll stop there. Grab some of the messengers and send word up and down the column.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 2 —
Monday, March 23, 1998, 9:00 A.M. Cook Park, Tigard, Oregon
“Someone is stepping on my face.” Joel groaned.
“What?” Davy, laying half under him, mumbled into his shoulder. “No, too early for that kind of thing…”
Joel tried to roll off of him, and realized he was too wedged in. He thought the little feet drumming on his nose belonged to his biological son, six-year-old Dan, and the gentle snore to Dan’s mother, Deena. “Lord, when will this night be over?”
“You are the first — and last — men I’m ever sleeping with,” came Kira’s voice from the other side of the tent. “What is it about men that they always take up two times the room — even if they’re small men?”
“When are you going to get up?” a little voice squealed.
Yep. Definitely Dan. Joel thought with a groan. Micah — Joel and Davy’s gangly twelve-year-old legally, and Kira and Joel’s by blood — was just entering his somnolent teenage years, and Noah — being raised by Kira and Deena and genetically Davy’s and Deena’s — had never been a morning person. He’d slept through the night at six weeks, and refused to get up without a fight every morning since; unsurprisingly, since he refused to go to sleep with the same vigor. Heretofore, Joel had only had to fight that fight on Kira and Deena’s weekend vacations four times a year — he wasn’t particularly looking forward to that aspect of blending their two distinct — albeit biologically related — families.
There was a minor earthquake next to him as Kira managed to turn over and started crawling out of the one-person sleeping bag she and Deena had squeezed themselves into.
“Dan, if you don’t stop stomping on your father’s face, I will hang you up from a tree by your long intestines and invite eagles to come in and chew on them,” she said matter-of-factly.
Dan giggled, not at all concerned. “Will it tickle?”
Dan stopped kicking. Mentally processing the last minute, Joel did a double-take. She had never before called him Dan’s father, although biologically he was. He sat up and looked over at her, eyebrow raised. She had an introspective look on her face — she hadn’t realized she was going to say it before she had, he realized. Looking up and meeting his gaze, she shrugged, a half-smile pulling her lips up.
An answering grin grew slowly on his own. Before the Change, they had been so careful to keep their families separate. They’d all been close friends ever since college, but when they’d decided to be each other’s gestational surrogates and donors for artificial insemination, they’d agreed to be careful to keep the parenting of their children distinct. Now Joel looked around at the faces of his family in the dim dawn light, and, for the first time, couldn’t figure out why he’d been so afraid. In this new age, life seemed a much more fragile, precious thing. The more loved, trusted adults in his children’s lives, the better. He could no longer picture his sons Noah and Dan growing up thinking of him only as their playmate Micah’s dad and their mothers’ friend.
“I’ve got to find the privy,” he said prosaically. “I’ll take Dan with me.” It was still odd putting on coats and boots to go and pee — he’d not been camping since the last time his father had forced him on a bonding trip when he was twelve. The false dawn provided just enough light to keep to the paths and avoid stumbling over rocks and tree roots. As they walked, the world began to come alive with birdsong, and a sudden gust of wind set the tree branches and bushes whispering. Joel breathed in deeply, enjoying the way the morning crispness momentarily cut through his mental fog as well as the scents of too many sparsely washed people gathered closely together.
Once back, he turned his son over to Kira — the rest of the family was still sleeping — and went to check on the cooks, taking his clipboard and notes with him. The head cook had an antique windup alarm clock, and was supposed to get the rest of the cooking staff up and started. He was pleased to see the fires going and people beating up batches of biscuits. He accepted a cup of tea (the morning’s coffee was already gone), and wandered over to Yavin’s tent, looking for signs of life.
He was not surprised to see Yavin outside, getting a lesson in swordcraft from Daniil, while Rick and Ronnie trained two other students nearby. A few dozen yards away, two large groups of men and a few women were being led through two different-looking series of martial exercises by Alon and Jason da Costa. Across the field within the Orthodox section, the men were gathering for morning prayers, each black-clad figure davening separately like a dandelion in the wind.
Does Lior do those as well? Joel wondered desultorily. Shir Chadash never did them officially, as far as I recall, except as part of Shabbat morning services. It doesn’t require a minyan, anyway, right? But maybe it would be good to have something religious for everyone to do first thing in the morning. Get the morale going…
Until he’d found Shir Chadash, Joel had had a rather complicated relationship with God. While he’d never been able to shake the belief in the deity’s existence his parents had instilled in him, he had decided that if he ignored God, perhaps God would just ignore him, and let him get on with his very non-kosher lifestyle. It had never occurred to him that he could have a religious life without being observant — he’d known Reform Judaism existed, of course, he’d just never really understood it. Under the Conservative value system his parents had inculcated in him, some of the more burdensome Jewish traditions could be relaxed, but the basic values — observance, virtue, and many, many happy babies — were non-negotiable.
Not that I didn’t get around to the many, many happy babies part — just on my terms, not theirs. I just wish they had been willing to even meet Micah. I really thought, once I gave them a grandchild, they’d come around. Maybe… they would have come to his bar mitzvah next year. Joel choked down a lump in his throat. He’d never know, now; his parents still lived in Boston, where he’d grown up.
Davy’s secular, Oregonian parents, however, had been delighted with Micah. They had respected his sexuality, but feared that they would never have grandchildren. Davy was their only child after they had lost a younger son to Tay Sachs; they had been delighted when the couple had started their family. They also thought of Dan and Noah as their grandchildren, and protested at not being able to see them more often. Thankfully, they had hiked in from Gresham the day after the Change. While in their mid-sixties, Joan and Henry were quite fit — Jacques Cousteau-like — and were actually doing better in some ways on this trip than their son and various children-in-quasi-law. They had a habit of journeying around the Cascades every summer, and had their own puptent and backpacking kits with such now-priceless amenities as a solar shower and a water filter.
Joel considered a quick dash across the field to find Lior and possibly sing the morning blessings with her, but before he’d made up his mind, Yavin spotted him and beckoned him over. “Up with the sun, I see — good.”
More like up with the son, thought Joel with an inward grin. Outwardly, he put his business face on. “I expect you’ll want to make up some distance today. I warn, you, though, I think we’ll have to build up everyone’s endurance slowly. Today we should be able to make our original goal from yesterday, the Coffee Lake Wetlands.”
“I hope we get a little farther than that, Joel!”
“It’s actually pretty far, sir, seven miles: we detoured off our route when we realized we weren’t going to make it yesterday. We’ll have to backtrack a bit onto 72nd, and then from there, we can take an I-5 on-ramp. We’re past that traffic jam where I-5 and 217 cross.
“This March is harder than people thought it would be. I don’t know about you, but I’m as stiff as a board from sleeping crammed into a tent with too many people and lying on the cold, hard ground. The tent has a waterproof bottom, supposedly, but it still felt damp.” He stopped. Yavin looked decidedly unsympathetic.
“Joel, if you wanted to die in a comfortable bed, you should have stayed in Portland. Besides, the best way to unstiffen your body is to get it moving! Last night I had to talk — I don’t know how many — families out of turning back this morning. I’ll tell you what they told me in basic.” He thought a moment, obviously mentally translating. “If you don’t think you can do something, pretend to do it until you can.”
Joel snorted. “We say ‘fake it ’till you make it.’ I thought that piece of advice was only about starting a business, though.”
“It works for live fire exercise, too! Now, I want to talk to you about reorganizing some of the supplies to make room for more people to ride on the carts. Eyal tells me we have several sprains and other minor foot and leg injuries. No one gets to ride without the okay from one of the doctors, though.”
“Yeah, the last thing we need is a bunch of tender-footed tweens jumping on for an easy ride,” Joel agreed. “By the by, I’ve noticed that Natan seems a little lonely — he spends most of his time with his grandmother instead of the rest of Shir Chadash’s boys his age. A little cultural difference can be a big deal at that age. Do you think we should put him and our son Micah on water hauling duty together — give them a chance to get to know each other — when we camp this evening?”
Yavin sighed. “Natan’s always been a bit shy and introverted — and the fact that his family is gone, lost back in Israel, can’t be helping. By all means, if you think your son would be able to get through to him, let’s throw them together.”
“Right.” Joel began to turn pages on his clipboard. “Let’s go look at the loads while we eat breakfast. Those shopping carts are being a constant headache — I want to switch as much of the heavy stuff over to the flatbeds as possible. Unfortunately, the wooden carts we’ve got are already completely full.”
“I don’t know if that’s a great idea,” Alon commented from where he’d been eating a granola bar a few feet away. “The only reason the flatbeds haven’t been giving you as much trouble as the shopping carts is that they aren’t loaded for their maximum weight. If we increase the loads, we’ll have just as many problems with them — they have the same kind of tiny wheels. And a whole overturned flatbed takes a lot more time to get going again than a shopping cart. And then you want room for the injured. What we should be doing is revamping as many of both as we can with bike wheels. Bigger wheels and more ground clearance will make all the difference in maneuverability.”
Yavin sighed. “We only have a third of the Exodus mounted as it is, and it’s not enough. And you want to take apart the bikes we do have?”
Joel noted the noun, complete with an audible capital letter E — he’d been hearing their journey referred to that way more and more often in the past twenty-four hours. Given what Becca’s friend, Emma, had said, perhaps they were escaping from slavery preemptively, before a ruler who ‘knew not Joseph’ could arise. “Maybe we can find more bikes as we go. Get the shopping carts and flatbeds more mobile and get everyone mounted.”
Yavin snorted. “You’ve certainly got my authorization to grab every bike we can along the way, by any means you can think of — short of violence, of course. I want to keep… let’s say, at least twenty-five percent of the group mounted, but you can have any bikes over that number to take apart.”
“Aye-aye, sir.” Joel saluted.
Yavin looked pained. “Aye-aye is what a sailor says in response to a direct order, Joel. Let’s keep things on a civilian footing, please.”
“Whatever you say, Col. Z.” Joel answered flippantly, and grinned at Yavin’s scowl. Alon looked like he had to smother a smirk as well. Yavin could play casual all he wanted, but in Joel’s opinion, he — and everyone else — needed to be reminded that he was running the Exodus as, essentially, a military dictator. It would help combat the temptation to keep that going, once the crisis was past.
They agreed on a planned journey of at least seven miles — Yavin retained the hope of making it further — and were all underway by eight o’clock. According to Yavin, they should be able to advance a mile every half-hour, and make their goal by lunchtime — Joel still thought he was kidding himself, but it wasn’t worth the argument.
The vanguard led the March out of the camp at a little after 7:30 am. They’d divided the shomrim into squads of ten each, and grouped the squads into bands of sixty or seventy, giving them nine companies, to match the nine individuals Yavin had found with at least a modicum of amount of experience commanding armed groups. All answered at the moment to Raffi, and Raffi to Yavin. Each company had a different place in the March, Each company had a different place in the March, with three companies off and six on shift at any given moment during the day.
One company comprised the vanguard, whose responsibility it was to break the path, clearing cars and other obstacles out of the road. Jason da Costa, whom Joel had come to know only too well over the past few days, was currently walking in the front of that group with his squad of merry nerds, all singing the walking tune from the Lord of the Rings at the top of their lungs, each in his or her own key. Ronnie, one of the newcomers that Becca had brought in, had been appointed the commander of the vanguard, and was currently just behind the ten Middle-Earthers, laughing quietly to himself.
Fourth Company was out scouting, all mounted on bikes — the rest of Jason’s nerds were with that group, under Elana’s command. I suspect splitting them up into different companies was a deliberate attempt by Raffi to limit Jason’s empire-building, although he was smart not to try to separate them all up into different squads. Too obvious.
Three others companies guarded the left, the right, and the back of the March; and the final group was under Joel and Davy’s command, wandering throughout the March, looking for fights, injuries, breakages, and any other problems they could solve. Yavin planned for the companies to cycle through the different tasks through the day and week, changing shifts at lunch and dinner.
I’m in two minds about that: it makes sense to have the shomrim be as flexible and uniform in skills as possible, I suppose, and perhaps it will help with endurance and morale; but it also means that I have to constantly train fresh, green newbies from scratch. By the time my original hundred from today’s first shift get back to me, they’ll have doubtless forgotten everything!
Today, the order of the rest of the March was different, adjusted by what they’d learned the day before. The Torah cart was now in the middle of the column, with the supply carts, so that everyone could see and take heart, although they kept the Mogen David flags at the front. The leaders, Yavin and Miryam, moved back to walk in the middle as well, so that they had the shortest communication times to both ends of the column. With the exception of Raffi, who was still busy helping to drill the new shomrim, the rabbis walked with their congregations.
As Yavin had suggested, the large contingent from Beth Abraham joined Rabbi Greenberg directly behind the vanguard, in what Joel and Davy called — as a private in-joke — Little Williamsburg. All other congregations followed behind, in no particular order, although Yavin had instructed everyone to stay with their group, and appointed leaders to make certain no one fell out of rank. While everyone had to stay within his or her group, however, the groups themselves moved around the March quite a bit; sometimes this group marching to the front on the strength of a particularly motivational speech, sometimes that group falling back to repair a broken cart. As they started off this bright Monday morning, Shir Chadash was in the lead, motivated by Lior’s energetic new marching version of Debbie Friedman’s ‘l’chi lach.’
Well, the lyrics are appropriate… Joel mused, listening. ‘On your journey I will bless you’ — I sure hope so! We can use all the blessings we can get.
The morning went well. They almost kept to Yavin’s schedule, and covered nearly four miles in three hours. There were other groups of travelers on the road, on bikes or on foot, who mostly gave the Exodus as wide a berth as possible; some passing them to the north, most heading south.
Once a lone man pulled a red wagon with a dog’s carcass on it straight up the line of the March. The Exodus spread aside, giving him plenty of room as he walked through them, muttering to himself. Dr. Holtzman, a psychiatrist, tried to speak to him, but when the man ignored her, the doctor shrugged and let him pass.
Another time a family — or, at least, two adults with three kids — on bikes overtook them, and rode on the verge, passing them quickly. “Don’t look at them,” Joel heard the presumed father say sharply. Joel wondered if the man spoke from fear or prejudice.
Around eleven o’clock they were crossing the Tualitin River when Elana came riding back from the scouts’ forward position in high alarm. Ronnie sent her back through the ranks to Yavin’s headquarters right next to the Torah cart — or, as Joel had heard people calling it, the Tabernacle.
“There’s a group coming up I-5 from the south,” she reported. “Only a few people and some dogs, but they’re driving like hundreds of sheep. It’s going to be tough to let them through… we might have to move everybody to the southbound side of the road. Or, at least, cram all the carts up to the center divider.”
Everyone’s ears perked up at the word “sheep.”
“Mmmmm, lambchops…” Joel mused. “I have to say, sheep are the only live animal I look at and think… huh, you’d be tasty.”
Yavin burst out laughing. “Well, I doubt we’ll get any lambs from these guys… and believe me when I tell you that adult sheep, mutton, are not anywhere near as tasty unless you can roast them just right. Especially if they’re wool sheep rather than meat. After helping to herd them as a child, I mostly look at sheep and think: Oh dear Lord, please let it not kill itself before I’m ready to shear it. Still, either kind would be useful, and edible in a pinch. I wonder what they would take in trade.”
“If they’re heading for Portland, maybe just the advice that it’s not a good place to go right now,” Miryam put in, walking over from where she’d been eavesdropping at the other side of the Tabernacle. “We could invite them to join us!”
Yavin gave her a pained look, and Joel snorted back laughter. Miryam’s evangelical fervor was clearly starting to conflict with Yavin’s practical nature.
“First,” said Yavin, “we need to make friendly contact. You and me, out front, two old people, looking harmless.”
“You’re not going to look harmless in front of a crowd of two thousand people.” Alon commented. “And I would feel a lot better if you took some guards with you, just in case.”
“Have the rest of the shomrim put down their arms at parade rest,” ordered Yavin. “I’ll take Elana and Alon with me and Miryam. You too, Joel; you have the inventory of supplies with you. I don’t suppose they’ll want a nice set of Shabbat candlesticks. Those we could spare.”
With the shomrim flanking them, Miryam, Yavin and Joel stepped out in front of the March. As the vanguard closed behind them, and they advanced alone into the unprotected space between the March and the herd of sheep, Joel felt goosebumps on the back of his neck and his shoulders trying to raise themselves in a wary haunch. En mass, the sheep seemed much less cuddly and delicious than the lambs in the petting zoo where he and Davy had taken Micah years ago. In fact, if they didn’t stop soon, they were going to walk all over him. And up close they were larger and smellier than he remembered.
A smallish black and white dog ran out before the sheep and stopped in front of one, barking. When that sheep stopped, so did the rest. The dog was joined by another, and at a whistle, both circled the herd in opposite directions. At the same time, a woman walked around the edge of the herd, towards them. Behind her they could see three other figures at various points around the herd, one leading a heavily laden pony. All carried shepherds’ crooks and baseball bats.
“Hello!” Yavin hailed her as she came closer. “Care to join us for lunch?”
“And you are?” she shouted back, with a hostile edge in her voice.
“Yavin — my sister Miryam — our friend Joel, and about two thousand of our people, trekking down south, looking for farmland. Maybe after lunch you could sell us some sheep for information, or we’ve got some trade goods.”
“Have the lights come back on in Portland?” She was close enough now that she didn’t have to shout. “I keep checking my watch, but it’s still not working.”
“Nothing seems to be working,” Miryam said. “And what is your name?”
“Sally Landry. My children are with me — Mary, Tom and John. We figured that by now they must be getting pretty hungry in Portland and we’d get a good price selling the yearling wethers.”
“What’s the difference between a wether and a sheep?” asked Joel.
“Pair of balls,” said Sally nonchalantly.
“We don’t want to stop for lunch, but we’d be willing to trade.”
“Come into camp,” Yavin invited.
“Oh, I’m quite comfortable here.”
Joel sighed. It was obvious that Yavin wanted to get her on his turf, offer some hospitality to soften her up a bit, and it was equally obvious that she was an old horse trader, and not about to give him that edge.
There was a moment’s silence, neither willing to give the other the advantage of making the first offer, then Miryam must have decided to throw a spanner in the works and break the traditional pattern of bargaining. “I doubt there is much we could offer you in the way of food — you have it on the hoof, and it’s too soon for you to be desperate for bread or vegetables. Do you need the services of a doctor or dentist? No? Well, our offer to tell you how things are in Portland stands.”
“I can guess how things are in Portland — dark, cold and hungry. We’ll be moving on now. You’ll want to get your people off the blacktop.”
“There’s a new boss man in Portland,” Yavin said.
“Is he a strong man?”
“Yes, but not a good man.”
“Strong is all that matters,” Sally said. “A strong man can keep law and order.”
“How do you know you’ll be safe from him?” Joel asked.
“He’ll need to eat, too.”
As Joel watched, Miryan and Yavin exchanged glances.
“Twenty sheep, and I’ll tell you what we know of him,” said Yavin.
“One, if I think the information is useful.”
“Ten, and we get the sheep upfront. And we choose them.”
“You! You wouldn’t know a healthy sheep from one with scabies.”
“Scabies,” retorted Yavin loftily. “are caused by five different parasites. The signs are yellow sores and liver damage. We choose the sheep. And then I give you the information.”
“But only five sheep.”
And she stuck fast at five, turning and walking away when Yavin refused. Sighing, he called her back. “Let’s go look at sheep. Elena, go and fetch Dr. Einstein and Eli the shochet.”
When the vet and the ritual butcher arrived, Joel watched from a distance as they and Yavin looked in sheeps’ mouths, at their feet and ran their fingers through their wool. When they had picked five and Dr. Einstein and Eli took them away, Yavin spoke with Sally.
He finally finished, saying: “The man’s name is Norman Arminger. He was still based in Southwest Portland when we left, but I have no doubt he’ll control it all, soon. He has a fantasy about turning the world into the Middle Ages and is willing to murder to do so. He’s prepared to kill off Portland’s surplus population. I know it sounds fantastic, but you need to stay far, far away from Portland.”
“Sounds like I need to find him and tell him I can help supply him with food. Get on his good side.”
“For the sake of your children, Mrs. Landry, won’t you come with us?”
“You are a bunch of fools wandering about in the wilderness. Coyotes will chew your bones.” On that poetic note, she turned away again, calling over her shoulder, “Now get your people to one side. I need to get my flock through.”
The prospect of a mutton dinner next Sabbath cheered most people. Dr. Einstein rigged makeshift collars for the sheep, discouraged people from naming them, and gave shepherding lessons on the fly to a group of volunteers.
Joel sought out Davy and told him the full story. “The woman’s a stone cold bitch,” he said. “Her kids looked like they might be in their late teens, early twenties at the most. Yavin managed to talk to each of them, but they all went with their mother. I don’t think they really believed him — it was like they thought he’d made up this crazy story to get his hands on their sheep. Like we couldn’t have overpowered them. Part of me thinks we should have — you know, saved them from themselves.”
“You know,” said Davy, “sometimes being the good guys and letting other people do what they want really, really sucks. And now that the herd’s gone by, we have to get the whole back half of the March back on the road and up to the I-5/205 interchange and set up for lunch. Get them moving and then stop them all again, just as we get some momentum going.” He gave an annoyed sigh, and scrubbed at his face with one hand.
Just as Joel was considering some reassuring words, Davy waved a disclaiming hand at him. “I know it’s on our agenda to acquire farm animals,” he said cheerfully. “Just bitching, you know. It figures that the first ones we found would be neutered. I was looking forward to breeding our own herds.”
Joel laughed. “Am I going to have to start calling you Jacob, with all your flocks?”
“Sure, but I won’t be a chump and give them all to my brother to make peace.”
Joel gave Davy a sharp glance. “You know… that might be a really smart thing you just said.”
Davy cocked his head at his spouse questioningly. “I was just making a joke…?”
“Yeah… but think about it. For all this Arminger guy is probably a power-hungry psychopath, he’s right that there’s just not enough to feed everyone. Which means we’ll probably have to fight for food, in the end. Why else do you think Yavin is insisting on training everyone to fight?”
Davy looked unhappy. “That so blows. And not in a good way.” They both smiled wanly, making an effort to be cheerful — Davy even chortled fakely a bit at his own joke.
It took a while to get everyone moving again after lunch. And just as the last few started down the grassy slopes of the interchange it began to rain gently. Hoods went up, and hats down. Hands dug into pockets and baby carriages had their rain covers zipped up. Tarps were spread over the vulnerable supplies and the March kept on going.
“Eck,” Alon muttered. “I hate this country’s weather. Why didn’t anyone tell me that about the US: all rain, rain, and occasionally for a change in the winter, more rain.”
Davy laughed. “The whole country’s not like this. Just the Pacific Northwest. Haven’t you traveled around at all?”
“I visited LA and NYC on my travel year. It was raining both places. And I’ve gone to Eugene and Seattle for a couple weekends. It rains there, too.”
“Travel year?” Joel put in, interested. “You spent a year traveling? When? And where?”
“After I finished my army service and before starting college. Most Israelis do; save your Army pay and go as far as it takes you. I managed to visit Australia, New Zealand, and the US, including Hawaii, India and Japan.”
“They must pay well,” Joel said dryly.
“My family helped, and I’d saved through high school too. Plus, you have to know how to travel cheaply — get deals on flights, stay in hostels, backpack around — some kids only make it to Cyprus and Greece, or just to Dharamsala, if they’re trying to be luxurious. I’d been making plans since I was twelve to go around the world.”
“What did you like best?” Davy asked
“Ayers Rock, in Australia; it just feels so old, like the beginning of time. Although the US was a lot of fun, too — lots of very friendly girls — s’why I decided to come back here for grad school when I got offered a scholarship.”
Joel wondered if the program at the graduate school had had anything to do with his choice, and decided that thought made him officially an old fart at forty-two.
Davy laughed. “Well, we wouldn’t know anything about that. Are girls really more friendly here than in Tel Aviv?”
Alon grinned. “Hey, more for the rest of us! And actually, I don’t think they are, to average guys — but I am only an average guy in Israel. Here in the US, I’m a dashing foreigner with a hot accent. Plus, the Jewish girls love an Israeli. And the shiksas think I’m exotic.”
“So — and purely out of intellectual curiosity, because Davy and I are committed — do gay Israeli guys think that all American Jewish gays are hot for them?”
“Oh, totally. That’s the thing — American Jews think that all American Jewish guys are doctors and lawyers, pale skin and bookish, but that all Israeli guys are all buff and hot and tough-military guys. I suppose there’s a kernel of truth there, but mostly it’s a lot of BS. But all things being equal, the accent definitely gives you an edge.”
“Huh.” Joel shook his head, bemused.
“We did a wedding where the groom was an Israeli wine exporter — and he was certainly not buff,” Davy pointed out. “Pasty and slug-like.”
Just then one of their bike messengers rode up. There had been a cart collision in the Temple Emanuel group: two men were coming to blows, the women were screaming at each other — except for one trying to join in the fight — and the onlookers were taking sides.
“No rest for the wicked,” said Joel and he and Davy peddled off, calling to some of the in-column shomrim as they went.
They sorted out the mess, cautioned the leaders of the group to keep the two families far apart, took a tour up and down the column, and then checked in with Yavin. “How’s our speed?” asked Davy. “We seem to be a little slower with the rain.”
“Yeah, the slippery roads are taking a toll on the carts. I think Alon is right, we’re going to have to make refitting them with bike wheels a priority. And before you start singing the song, yes, you were right as well. We’ll probably not make it much farther than yesterday’s goal.” Yavin grumped. “I want to get at least a little farther, though, for morale.”
“Do you have a stop in mind?” Joel asked. He could make up seating charts in his sleep, but map reading was not a skill that came easily to him, yet.
“Your father-in-law mentioned Memorial Park to me. It’s just a couple miles farther down I-5 than Coffee Lake, and similar amenities, apparently.”
“And when you say amenities, you basically mean, grass, grass, some water, and more grass, right? Not nice restaurants or decent bathroom facilities.”
Yavin raised an eyebrow.
Joel winced. He hadn’t meant to sound snarky, but suddenly the toll of being responsible for the well-being of two thousand people overwhelmed him. It was time for them to dance the hora and go home.
“Joel, take some deep breaths,” Davy urged, coming up and rubbing his hands up and down Joel’s arms. Yavin stepped aside politely.
In and out, Joel told himself, in and out, remembering how Deena had coached Kira though Dan’s birth. If she could bring a child into the world, I can do this. He met his partner’s eyes and managed a small smile.
“Right. Grass means a place to dig a latrines. And places to pitch tents. But not too close to the latrines. Water means we can drink. And maybe wash a bit. And tomorrow I might change my shirt.” He hadn’t changed his clothes, day or night since they’d set out, except, per directions, to put on clean dry socks to sleep in, even if that meant putting damp or dirty ones back on the next morning.
“Yeah, I wasn’t going to say anything, but you are smelling a bit ripe, honeybear.” Davy said sweetly. After a beat, they both cracked up.
“Okay, Yavin,” Joel called. “Memorial Park it is.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 3 —
Tuesday March 24, 1998, Memorial Park, Wilsonville, Oregon
Three times now, Chaim’s life had changed completely. The first change had been slow, beginning when he’d been when he was only eighteen, accepting the invitation of a Chabad rabbi who had approached him on the street during Sukkot and invited him to attend a service at his synagogue. From the moment he’d stepped inside the small dark room and heard the chanted prayers, he’d been entranced. There was in intensity that he’d never felt before, despite growing up in a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Portland. He immediately joined Rabbi Cohen’s study group, and soon progressed to studying privately. Before the end of the school year, he had dropped out of Columbia, and gone to board with the rabbi’s family. The next autumn he was enrolled at yeshiva, and knew that he’d finished a complete transformation from Albert Chaim Green to a new man named Chaim Greenberg.
The next change had come a mere four years later, and taken but a moment, when a nurse had placed his newborn son in his arms. He had known beyond a shadow of doubt that he would do anything for his child; in that instant he had become a father.
And now the third Change, this change with a capital C, was upon him. And it seemed to him that it would be both sudden and slow — an instance of pain and light and then the rest of his life adjusting to it. He wished, as he wished a hundred times a day for the past week, that Chaya — oh, how she had joked about their names, both meaning life — was with him. He imagined that she was with Ariel’s wife, Reyna, and they had both gone to her parents. But he didn’t know, and that ate at him, almost as much as the fear that he could not protect his children and grandchildren. Should I not go to find her? Surely, if there is even the slightest possibility of surviving such a journey, it is my duty to try to reunite with her? Never would I willingly make my wife an agunah. And yet… God seems to be telling me to go with this new prophet, this second Miriam. I am needed here, by my children and grandchildren, and by this community. My heart is so torn, I do not know that I will ever be able to stitch it back together.
Morning prayers were over. Rabbi Friedman had asked the entire congregation of Beth Abraham to march in the orthodox area. Chaim was having a little trouble with the fact that some of the younger women — in the Orthodox area! — were wearing tight trousers, and claimed to have no skirts — or even looser pants! — to change into.
He had to admit, he was not in a very good mood this morning. He was tired and aching, and he’d awoken several times in the night, painfully cold on the hard ground, tangled in the sleeping bag, crushed with four other people into a tent made for three, and found that even prayer brought him no solace. Silent tears had trickled down his face; in the end the only thing that had brought him comfort had been realizing that for the first time since the Change, Ariel seemed to be sleeping soundly. His son’s improvement, despite their similar losses, gave him hope for his own eventual recovery from his wife’s absence.
Now that prayers were finished, he surveyed his campsite. His daughters-in-law, Leeba and Raisel, were still changing diapers and preparing to nurse their infants, so Chaim decided to send his youngest son, Asher, and the girls, thirteen year old Baila and her eleven year old sister, Eide, to get their breakfasts. As he approached them, two other women walked up. One he recognized as Devra Kohn, Yavin’s future daughter-in-law; the other, a brunette of about forty, looked harried and weepy, and was carrying an infant. Devra went up to Leeba and Raisel, and began talking to them. Chaim went to listen.
“ — member of Beth Abraham. Her son is adopted. He is only seven weeks old, and was on a special soy formula. She is running out. I was hoping that you ladies would be willing to wet-nurse him. I know it’s a lot of extra work, but we can find some Orthodox girls to help with your children.”
The women, each with a blanket-covered infant at the breast, looked at each other in momentary indecision.
Then Leeba said, “Have you asked any other women?”
“Yes. We have several formula-fed infants, and several nursing mothers on the March, and I’ve been trying to match them up so that the women with older babies of their own will have younger foster infants. To be honest, while I have had two successes, some women have refused, for a variety of reasons. I thought if the two of you took turns feeding him it wouldn’t be too much work.” The two women bent their heads together, then turned to look questioningly at their father-in-law.
“Of course they will,” Chaim answered for them. “It is a the greatest mitzvah to save a life. What is the little one’s name?”
“Sasha — after my father, Alexander,” said the mother. “He died last year. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“I didn’t catch your name? Where is your husband?” Chaim queried.
“I’m Stacy Lowenstein. And I adopted as a single mother.”
For a moment Chaim was speechless. He had heard of such things among the goyim, but never by a nice Jewish girl. Still, perhaps a marriage could be arranged… he expected there were some single older men on the March. Neither of the Wardens were wearing a wedding ring, for example, though one of them, he wasn’t sure which, had spoken of a son during one of their logistical conversations. “Is the child Jewish?” he asked. “I mean, was the birth mother Jewish?”
“No,” replied the woman. “But Rabbi Friedman performed a conversion at the bris; I belong to Beth Abraham.”
“We won’t need to perform a conversion, then,” he responded, relieved. “You must travel with us, it will make taking care of Sasha easier,” he continued briskly. “Now, Dr. Kohn, you mentioned some young girls who could help us. I would like to meet their families…”
Despite Yavin’s urging for an early start this third day of the Exodus, it took a long time for them to get going. People were aching and tired, and more than one family stopped by the roadside and refused to go on, until being coaxed by neighbors and friends to continue. Some of the older people had to be loaded on the flatbeds that had carried now-eaten food.
Chaim, on the other hand, got his little group ready to go quickly. The tents were struck and packed in a shopping cart, with the bedding in a second cart. The babies, protesting, were strapped in their strollers. Leeba managed to produce a few Dove chocolates to keep them happy.
“That’s the last,’ she said in Yiddish, “no treats tomorrow morning.” In an aside to her father-in-law, she added, “It’s not good for them to be cooped up all day like this. Perhaps we should try to find one of those flatbeds and put sides on it somehow, so they could play a little while we’re on the move.” They shouldered the loads, and, with Asher and Avram pushing the carts, went to take their places at the head of the March. They strung the twine that the March Wardens had requisitioned for them, marked with occasional down-hanging triangles of blue cloth for visibility, between four carts at the corners of the Orthodox group — the front two being pushed by pedestrians, the back two being pulled by bikers — delineating the area of halachic observance.
As they cleared the edge of the camp, Chaim lifted his voice in the traveler’s prayer.
Y’hi ratzon milfanekha Adonai Eloheinu v’elohei avoteinu shetolikhenu l’shalom v’tatzidenu l’shalom v’tadrikhenu l’shalom, v’tagi–enu limhoz heftzenu l’hayim u’simha u’shalom. V’tatzilenu mikaf kol oyev v’orev v’listim v’hayot ra’ot b’derekh, u’mikol minei pur’aniyot hamitrag’shot levo la’olam. V’tishlah b’rakha b’khol ma’a’sei yadeinu v’titnenu l’hen u’hesed u’rahamim b’einekha u’veinei khol ro’einu. V’tishma kol tahanuneinu ki El shomei’a t’fila v’tahanun ata. Barukh ata Adonai, shomei’a t’fila. Vu-mi-kol’imru, amein.
He then repeated it in English for the benefit of the Modern Orthodox among them.
“May it be Your will, God, our God and the God of our fathers, that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace. Save us from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world. May You confer blessing upon the work of our hands and grant me grace, kindness, and mercy; in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow upon us abundant kindness and hearken to the voice of our prayer, for You hear the prayers of all. Blessed are You God, who hearkens to prayer. And let us say…”
Everyone around joined in a resounding “Amen!”
A little while later, Dr. Kohn came back with three teenage girls and their fathers, and after introductions, the girls seemed thrilled at the prospect of pushing strollers. Chaim invited the fathers to walk with him at the head of the group. Since Rabbi Friedman was busy helping with the new shomrim, Chaim regarded himself as the de facto leader of the Orthodox section. He’d wanted to run a study group enroute, but once they were underway, he found himself too out of breath to do much teaching or pay close attention to the other men’s responses. It was hard work keeping his footing on the wet slippery ground, even with the unaccustomed heavy hiking boots Yavin had insisted everyone wear. He had to admit that had been a good idea. Wearing his leather dress shoes, he would have slipped on the wet asphalt several times by now.
Looking back for a moment, he saw Asher struggling with his shopping cart. One wheel was stuck sideways, and although his son stopped and straighten it several times, the reluctant wheel kept popping out of alignment. “Ariel,” he called, “Give your brother a hand.”
Ariel looked up from his stupor, and went to help. Chaim noticed that one of the teenage helpers was leading five-year-old Frayde by the hand, with her aunt Baila on the other side. They would swing the little girl along, to shouts of delight. He smiled. Life goes on, even in times of darkness, when we almost wish it would not.
His attention was caught by an odd movement a little further behind his granddaughter. An older man, red-faced, gasping for breath, had halted, leaning forward and resting his hands on his knees. Suddenly, he fell forward, grasping at his left arm. People directly behind him halted in surprise as those nearest to him screamed in alarm; others streamed past on either side, and then turned back to help as they realized the situation.
Chaim made his way through the crowd to the man’s side. Two men were kneeling side by side, one opening the fallen man’s jacket, loosening his belt, the other feeling for a pulse. Chaim grabbed a passing teenager. “Send world to Yavin we have a heart attack,” he said.
The boy ran off, flagging down a passing bike messenger. Chaim looked for the man’s family — there was a woman supported by two teenage girls standing by, clutching each other in alarm and grief. “Your husband?” he asked.
“Yes, my Jeff. He had a heart attack two years ago — but he lost weight, did cardio therapy, drugs — everything he was supposed to!” She was trembling, but there was nowhere dry for her to sit. Asher came up beside them, pulled one of the tents from their shopping cart behind him. It made a lumpy seat, and she lowered herself gratefully to it, her daughters still close by, their hands on her shoulders. Once again, Chaim wished for Chaya, who could take the woman in her arms and comfort her.
But in answer to his need, Beth Abraham’s rebbetzin was there. “Carole,” Barbara Friedman said, and held the woman tightly. “Drs. Wasserman and Stone are doing their best.”
“But… it might not… be enough,” Carole gasped out.
“No,” answered Barbara gently, “it might not…”
And it wasn’t.
Yavin, Miryam and Raffi appeared a few moments after the doctors gave up trying. Carole and her daughters were weeping over the body. As Miryam approached the women, Yavin and Raffi came to speak to Chaim, standing somewhat apart from the huddle of mourners. Yavin ran a hand over his chin. “Chaim, Raffi… advice on how best to deal with this… situation?”
Chaim spoke, thinking as he did. “I think the most respectful thing and the best we can manage within the Law is to carry the body with us, wrapped in a sheet or other cloth until we come to a body of water. There we can put up a screen, as we do for the privies, and I — or Rabbi Friedman — will supervise the chevra kadisha. I know members of the burial society have come on this Exodus. They can wash and dress the body as usual. They arranged to bring takhrihim with us, against just such an occasion. We have learned to our sorrow that it takes some hours to dig a grave, so it may be after sunset before we can bury our brother, but the Almighty will understand. The family will have to sit shiva in their tent, and the community will do the camp work for them.”
Rabbi Friedman nodded. “I concur. Hevra Kavod haMet from Beth Abraham will prepare the body.” He turned and walked back toward the grievers. “Carole, Dani, Megan; I am so sorry for this terrible loss. Come and sit by the side of the road for a few minutes, and join the March again at the end. Let us care for your husband and father.” Another woman came in and helped Carole to her feet, picking up the tent and moving it to the verge. The two women embraced, crying.
“Cindy’s husband was out of town on business the night of the Change.” Raffi muttered to Chaim quietly. “Carole’s been a pillar of strength for her this past week. Too much tragedy…” he walked over to the two women, shaking his head in sympathy. Already whispers of the news was passing down the line of March, and someone came up with a white sheet to use as the shroud.
Feeling that the bereaved family was in better hands with their own rabbi, Chaim went to see Yavin. “We need to stop as soon as possible to bury the deceased,” Chaim explained. “Somewhere that there is a body of water.”
“I know, you said that earlier.” Yavin replied shortly. “We are stopping by a lake, soon. We will do our best to get there as fast as possible. But we are not making a special stop.”
Chaim realized that he wasn’t going to win this argument with the leader, and trying further might lessen his future credit with Yavin. So he took his place again, and the Exodus moved on. They came the the place where the the biker scouts had halted, and they and the shomrim walkers made changeover. Chaim was glad of the rest. As soon as they set out again the wheel came off the shopping cart, and it had to be abandoned. The March streamed past as they redistribute the loads.
Badly shaken by the man’s death, he nearly collapsed himself when less than an hour later, someone shouted, “Another heart attack.” Thankfully, the bystander had overreacted — it was just a teenage girl, who had fainted. Soon after that, Yavin called a break. Chaim went to join the other three rabbis and, along with various other leaders, they went to gather around Yavin.
“Alright.” Yavin announced, glaring at his son and future daughter-in-law, who were standing with a few other doctors. “We’ve only covered three miles in three hours. However, I’ve been told that if I keep pushing the March, the doctors plan to go on strike on behalf of their less fit patients.”
“You could split the March,” suggested Devra, “let the more in-shape people move ahead at their own pace, and the less healthy follow.”
“”That’s not a good idea.” Daniil, one of the military leaders, protested. “We’d have to split the shomrim to protect them all, which would have a deleterious effect on morale and training, and besides, eventually we’ll have to stop to let the rest of the March catch up anyways.”
“In any case, you’d be putting pressure on those who lag behind, to push themselves. What they really need is at least a day’s rest.” Dr. Gross, one of the Exodus’ few GPs — and a member of Beth Abraham whom Chaim had met before — advised.
“Well, to be honest, even the in-shape people could use a day’s rest,” mused one of the March Wardens — Chaim kept getting their names mixed up, and had mentally tagged them ‘brown’ and ‘black’ for the colors of their hair. This one was Black-Hair. “We need to spend some time collecting new bikes and trying out Alon’s idea for improving the shopping carts and flatbeds.”
“We will rest on Shabbat,” Yavin said. “It’s only Tuesday.”
“The less fit need an additional day,” Dr. Gross insisted.
“Fine. So, we take a day to rest. Where?” Yavin bit out, annoyed at the delay and not trying to hide it.
An older woman, who Chaim hadn’t met yet, pushed her way into the circle. “There are two golf courses, and some state-run rest stops, about a mile — maybe less — down I-5 from here. Pretentious member-run places, of course, but likely most of the staff and members will have flittered off home by now.”
“And while they may not have a lot of bikes, I bet we could use the wheels from the golf carts for the same purpose!” The black-haired March Warden sounded enthusiastic. “Excellent plan, Mom!”
“B’seder.” Yavin agreed. “They’ll have to have an onsite water source. Mrs. Lockhart, will you and your husband please give the directions to Commander Ronnie? His company will be leading the March for the next leg.”
They reached the Langdon Farms Golf Club just after three, finding it deserted. The Greenbergs waited patiently by the side of the road while the scouts and logisticians went over the area carefully, checking for resources and dangers. Finally, they were approached by the brown-haired March Warden.
“Rabbi Greenberg, thank you for your patience,” he said. “Please pass our appreciation on to the congregation.”
Chaim smiled and nodded pleasantly, cursing his forgetful mind. I can remember esoteric branches of the Law, but not the name of a man I’ve been introduced several times? I know it’s either David or Joel, but close only counts in horseshoes…
“The club restaurant, Langdon’s Grill, and the snack bar were stripped of food, and there’s no running water. However, we’ve tested the water in the pond and stream of the golf course, and they’re both decently clean, although we’ll want to boil everything just in case of giardia or other parasites. Now, we’re setting out the groups on the green nearest to the Club and restaurant, but there is a limited amount of space inside, which we’re allocating to the elderly, sick, and very young. Your daughters-in-law would qualify, given that they’re breast-feeding, but there isn’t room for everyone. Would they prefer to be inside with their children, or to stay with the men?”
Chaim pursed his lips in thought, then called out to his sons and their wives. The space offered was roomy and comfortable, being part of a converted barn. The March Warden obligingly repeated the question, and in the course of his explanation, introduced himself as Joel Shapira. Chaim breathed a sigh of relief, and performed a quick mnemonic so that this time he would remember. B’seder, he thought. Black hair has an ‘a’ for David, and brown hair an ‘o’ for Joel.
“I would rather keep our whole family together,” Leeba stated, and Raisel nodded silently. Leeba had always been the most outgoing of Chaim’s three daughters-in-law — he and Chaya had discussed asking her to apprentice to Chaya’s business. “Also, Mr. Shapira; do you think we might be able to convert a couple parts of the stream into mikvot?” She blushed slightly, sending her husband a sidelong glance. “I know there are a few other women on the March who are in need of a mikvah, and the men would likely want one as well before morning prayers, if at all possible?”
Chaim nodded his firm support, pride filling him.
“Umm,” Joel said. “I don’t see why not. What would you need?”
“Nothing much, we can do for ourselves. Just some privacy screens — and even those we can set up. We just need your permission to find a calm area of the stream, and declare it off-limits to anyone not coming for immersion.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Joel said. “I’ll have my mother come by, if you don’t mind, and walk the stream with you, to find a spot that is alright with you and works for us as well?”
Leeba smiled in gratitude and nodded her agreement. And it was tactful and thoughtful, Chaim admitted to himself, for the Warden to choose a woman rather than a man.
After that, Joel walked the Greenbergs to their assigned area on the greens. Leeba and Avram were quite capable of directing the others in setting up their camp, so Chaim took himself off to attend to rabbi’s business. He only had to ask a few people for directions before he found Rafi with the chevra kadisha, by the natural pond at the north end of the course, preparing the body of Jeffrey Weisz — and since Raffi seemed to have the matter well in hand, left him to it. He offered to return later to sit and pray with the body, but Raffi assured him that the burial society had enough members that each could take a turn without anyone going short of sleep.
As he headed back toward the main building to seek out others in need, a woman approached him. She looked to be in her late twenties, and like many people, she had a haunted look, symptom of the dark emotions that hung heavily over them all: grief, anger, shock, and denial.
“Yes? What can I do for you…?” He paused invitingly, waiting for her to fill in her name.
“…Rachael?” he asked, giving the ‘ch’ the Hebrew guttural pronunciation.
“I have a question… it’s been troubling me since the Change. I don’t really go to synagogue, but my parents raised me Orthodox. I’m a student —” she passed a hand over her eyes “ — was. I was a graduate student in philosophy…” her voice trailed off.
“Come inside and sit down with me. I am sure we can find a quiet corner.” He modulated his tone to be as reassuring as possible, and spreading his arm wide behind her body without touching her, he shepherded her towards a quiet corner of the garden. There was a nicely made iron and wood slat bench there, and he sat at one edge, gesturing her toward the other. “Now, Rachael, what is troubling you?”
Rachael sat. She unzipped her coat in the unusual warmth as the sun broke momentarily through the clouds and drenched them in light, but kept on her hat. Chaim wondered it was out of consideration for his presence.
“My father and mother were flying from Philadelphia to Antigua when the Change happened. They go down every year for their anniversary. But… I can’t remember exactly when their flight was supposed to land. It might have been just after the Change, it might have been an hour before… I feel, in my heart, that they are dead. There is just… a place, missing. And I know that even if they made it, I will never see them again.”
“I am so sorry for your loss. It is never easy to lose one’s parents, no matter how or when it happens.”
“Yes. But… I want to mourn them, to follow the rituals… as much as we can right now. My grandfather died just a few years ago, and it was so important for my father to sit shiva and say kaddish for him — I know he would want me to honor him the same way.”
Chaim nodded thoughtfully, his mind beginning to race. This was the part of being a rabbi that he most relished — turning over precedents and talmudic discussions in his head, wrestling with the technicalities of the law to bring out the spirit underneath, that created a life of holiness for those who took the time to find and follow it.
“Well, as a woman, you are not required to say kaddish.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What? Why? I want to.”
“And you may — especially if you have no brother?”
“No… I’m an only child.”
“The Kaddish must be recited at services before breakfast and at dinner time, and so cannot be made mandatory for women, who may be mothers and wives that must attend to their families. But they may perform them if they choose, especially if there is no one else do so. This does not mean there is any qualitative difference between a son and a daughter, or anything of the sort. In fact, daughters, in my experience, and that of the sages, are often closer, and may bring more honor, to their parents.”
“But if I came to services tomorrow, or went to Shir Chadash’s services, I could recite it?”
Chaim cleared his throat, provoked a bit by the suggestion of competition. “Which…. brings me to our next consideration. To perform mourning rituals, you must know for certainty that your parents are truly dead, not just lost to you in the sense that you will never see them again. And of that we cannot be certain. You can not recall the time their plane was to land. It may have even arrived early. They may well have been safely away from the airport at the time the Change happened. Halakhah emphasizes that we must be completely certain that a person has died before we may observe mourning rituals. The spirit of this halakhah is that life is precious. We should always try to preserve the hope that our loved ones are alive, if there is any hope that they may be. If there are other reasons, such as a widow wishing to remarry and have children, we may look more closely for reasons to declare that person dead, but that is not the case here.”
Rachael began to cry. “They may be alive now, but for how much longer? Two old people, in a strange country… They are both in their fifties.”
“My dear, so am I. And consider what has happened here. Some might say it would be outlandish to have hoped for a second Moses, another prophet Miriam, to arise among our people and lead another Exodus. But it appears that this is exactly what has happened. Who can say what has happened to your parents? They may be just as fortunate.”
From pure habit, he reached in his pocket for the clean handkerchief that Chaya would have made sure was there each morning. The pocket was empty, bringing a lump to his throat. But Rachael had pulled a rather grubby wad of tissue from her own pocket and was dabbing at her eyes. “I hope so. Yes, I do hope.” She managed a little smile.
“That’s right. Hope. And it will make you feel better, too. You remember how you told me you wanted to mourn your parents in part because it was important for your father?”
“Then, it would also be important for him that you observe the Law in this, and live a full life, with hope. If you like, I can teach you a psalm to say, to pray for your parents’ protection.”
“In Hebrew or English?”
“I think I’ll learn it more easily in English — and it would be more meaningful for me.”
Chaim nodded and pulled his miniature Book of Psalms out from his jacket pocket — he knew this one by heart in Hebrew, but hadn’t said it in English in a while. “It is Psalm 91. We’ll read the whole psalm, and then, if we can find something to write with, you can copy it out.”
They went through the psalm line by line, he reading it out (sometimes with a few words of exegesis) and she repeating it.
He who dwells in the covert of the Most High will lodge in the shadow of the Almighty.
I shall say of the Lord that He is my shelter and my fortress, my God in Whom I trust.
For He will save you from the snare that traps, from the devastating pestilence.
With His wing He will cover you, and under His wings you will take refuge; His truth is an encompassing shield.
You will not fear the fright of night, the arrow that flies by day;
Pestilence that prowls in darkness, destruction that ravages at noon.
A thousand will be stationed at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not approach you.
You will but gaze with your eyes, and you will see the annihilation of the wicked.
For you said, "The Lord is my refuge"; the Most High has made your dwelling.
No harm will befall you, nor will a plague draw near to your tent.
For He will command His angels on your behalf to guard you in all your ways.
On hands they will bear you, lest your foot stumble on a stone.
On a young lion and a cobra you will tread; you will trample the young lion and the serpent.
For he yearns for Me, and I shall rescue him; I shall fortify him because he knows My name.
He will call Me and I shall answer him; I am with him in distress; I shall rescue him and I shall honor him.
With length of days I shall satiate him, and I shall show him My salvation.
After he finished, Rachael was silent a long, reflective moment, casting her eyes down to her lap, then said, “Thank you. I appreciate your time. I can’t promise I’ll feel hopeful all the time, but this will help.” She pulled a small notebook from her pocket and a pen. “My dad taught me to record every purchase I made,” she said. “I’ll copy the psalm in the back of the book.”
Chaim waited while she copied it, handed the book back to him, and thanked him again. Then he began to look for a minyan for afternoon prayers — not that it was required, of course, but it was preferable, and he thought it shouldn’t be too hard. Indeed, it took him no time at all — he’d noticed that even many of the Reform Jews were turning back to traditions in these troubled days — and while most people hadn’t thought of doing so on their own, they were willing to take a few minutes from whatever task they were working on.
He took the opportunity to speak a few words before beginning the kaddish.
“Welcome, everyone. I’m afraid we don’t have enough seferim for everyone, but if you don’t know the words, saying amen at the end is equivalent in the Almighty’s eyes to saying the prayer in full. Um, since unfortunately we don’t have a mechitza” — he raised his voice as a couple curious women came walking up to his group — “I think it would be most appropriate for the women to gather a distance away.”
One of the women flushed, the red color obvious on her pale skin even from some distance away, and pulled her companion away.
“While prayer at any time is always appropriate, a Jew does not confine prayer to when he needs the Lord the most. A Jew makes his relationship with the Almighty an ever-present reality in his life. Prayer should be second nature — a part of your existence, a daily celebration of being a Jew. Someone who waits to pray until one is in desperation will probably not be able to pray comfortably and authentically when that time comes. By observing the ritual, daily prayers, you become comfortable and easy with the Eternal One. Right now we are about to observe minchas, the afternoon prayer. It is appropriate to recite minchas anytime after midday and before sundown, although you can recite it later if circumstances dictate. We begin with the Rabbi’s kaddish —”
As he began into the familiar lines of Hebrew, he felt a great sense of peace and wellbeing fill him. This was what he had been meant for: leading the people of Israel — scattered, forgetful, feeling abandoned by their God — back into their covenant.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 4 —
Wednesday, March 25, 1998 Langdon Farms Golf Club, Aurora, Oregon
Well, this day isn’t starting out much better than the last. Nathan thought groggily, as he crawled off the yoga mat he’d put under his sleeping bag and out of the too-small pup tent he shared with Aaron Leech. Supposedly pup tents were meant to sleep two, but they were both tall and Aaron was built like a linebacker — they overflowed and stuck out of the tent like two pigs in a nylon blanket. He’d been unable to sleep properly for the last couple of hours, waking over and over again from the same dream — that he was in his own bed at home with the lights on and the sound of cars outside. Warm and safe and so far away.
Right next to this pup tent was the large, family-sized tent Sophia shared with her husband, their two sons, her sister-in-law, and her teenage nephew. He glared balefully at it before turning away to find the latrines. While he’d been the one there for Sophia for the last two years, her husband Mark was the one who got to wrap himself around her at night now, comforted by his family’s presence, while Nathan endured Aaron’s snoring and occasional restless leg syndrome. He’d tried to persuade Sopia that this was the perfect time to leave Mark — obviously, their earlier deal to wait until her kids were out of the house was kiboshed now.
She could even bring the kids as far as I’m concerned. I may not have had any kids with ex-wife #1 or ex #2, but that was because I never liked babies. I’d be happy to be a good stepfather to her two teenage sons. They’re good boys, smart, eager, funny. But she just keeps saying, again and again, that they’re too young for her to break up their family. They are fifteen and seventeen. How much longer are they going to be too young? How much longer does she expect to sacrifice our happiness?
After staggering to the slit trench and back, he reached inside the tent for his yoga mat and began by stretching his muscles one at a time before settling into child’s pose. He stayed there — outstretched, supplicating, just breathing — for a long moment before moving into the rest of his morning workout. The last eight days had been one long nightmare. As an environmental lawyer, he’d always been philosophically opposed to the modern, dirty, polluted, technological world, without really thinking about how much he was a product of that world. He’d joined the Exodus expecting — foolishly, as he now realized — a leisurely stroll through the sunny countryside to some lovely farms where he could start a bucolic new communal life. He’d envisioned Mark — technoholic that he was — just fading away, while Nathan built a charming house for Sophia with the boys’ help.
Not only had the countryside proved further away than convenient, the March itself was emotionally and physically hellish. And not sunny at all, although he supposed that shouldn’t have been a surprise, in the Pacific Northwest. Emotionally, he was spending twenty-four hours a day forcibly tied to his mistress and her husband, joint leaders on this idiotic quest, while Mark “found himself” and reengaged with the family he’d ignored for fifteen years. Physically, Nathan’s yoga and leisurely strolls around Portland, while keeping him lean and flexible, had not come near to preparing him for walking from dawn to dusk every day.
If I feel this bad after three days of it, how must the older, less fit people feel? We’ve already lost one man to heart attack… I suppose we had no choice but to go on, but the way the body was just… carried along with us… brrrr! It still gives me the willies.
And it had been at Yavin’s insistence that the March continue. He hadn’t liked the man from the moment they met. Nathan supported a two-state solution — hated how likud’s influence resulted in the brainwashing of most American Jews, hated how just being Israeli somehow meant being more Jewish than actual religious observance and study, in Israeli and most Americans’ eyes, both. The last thing American Jews needed was compulsory religious observance like Israel, compulsory military service like the IDF.
Even if no one else could see it, the man was setting himself up to be a military dictator. He’d just assumed control of the March. There was no physical danger that Nathan could see, yet their youth were being forced into this shomrim, and being trained into blind obedience — to being unthinking, bloodthirsty robots. At forty-one and without young children, he’d only just escaped himself — and he had seen the disapproval in the eyes of Yavin and his closest henchmen when he’d failed to volunteer like a lot of the other fit over-forties. There was no provision made for being a conscientious objector; even the most religious and observant among them had to join. Even the State of Israel had never gone that far! Only women were exempt, although they could volunteer as well; and when he’d tried to point out to Yavin how unfair that was, Yavin had just accused him of talking out of both sides of his mouth, and said it was necessary to appease the Orthodox. Well, Nathan could see where that line of thought would go. The Orthodox would insist on continuing to chop away at their civil and human rights until they were living in a theocracy.
Scylla and Charybdis — either we end up in a military dictatorship run by an IDF colonel, or a theocracy run by the Beit Din, the religious Court of Rabbis. Some choice.
Finishing up his practice, he found himself back in child’s pose, thoughts still buzzing around in circles like a swarm of angry wasps inside his head. Usually yoga both relaxed and invigorated him. Not this morning. Forcing himself to his feet, he rolled up his mat and put it inside his tent. Aaron and the Higginses were all still sleeping. No chance of a quick word with Sophia. I’m seizing the next opportunity I get to talk to her. This situation is unendurable.
Yavin had given the Exodus a day off Marching and said breakfast would be served until nine o’clock, at which time everyone but the shomrim, anyone with metal-working or mechanical experience, and the cooks, were supposed to check in with one of Joel’s and Davy’s lieutenants for chore duty.
Breakfast, he noted sourly, was cream of wheat served with powdered milk. So much for the ‘twenty-five hundred calories a day’ Yavin had talked about so proudly. There was a rumor going around that baths were being arranged at the club locker room, and that people could take clothes with them to be washed out. He could see men stringing drying lines across one of the putting greens, which added credence to the rumor. When he got back to the tent, it was deserted. He changed into his second pair of jeans hooked out a clean shirt, socks, underpants, and his towel, and bundled up his dirty clothing, adding the pair of warmer flannel-lined jeans he’d worn since the Exodus had started.
As he walked through the trees separating the greens where Temple Emanuel had been assigned to camp and the main headquarters of the golf course — which, of course, Yavin had taken over for himself and his family — he blinked at the long lines of disassembled golf carts and wheelbarrows crowding the parking lot. He hadn’t been this way since they’d settled in a little after three the day before, as they’d eaten dinner in their walking groups the night before rather than all together. He nodded in grudging approval. Anything that gets us out to the countryside — and out of these tents — faster, has to be a good thing.
At the door of the men’s locker room, one of Wardens’ guys looked over his washing, and told him to take the jeans back. “They won’t dry in time, buddy — just spot clean them.”
Nathan hated to be bossed about by a kid about half his age, but figured pretty much everyone knew more about laundry than he did. He just sent everything out. So he took the jeans back to the tent. When he returned to the locker room, he was given a bucket of hot water, a slippery bar of soap, and strict directions. “Wash yourself. Then wash the clothes. Rinse out your shorts and socks and shirts. Wring them well. Tip the water over yourself to rinse, down the drain. Give us back the soap. Use the bucket to carry your wash outside, hang it up and bring us back the bucket. Then report for duty.”
He pressed his lips together, swallowing down his objections and following the instructions. He’d never done well with people giving him orders. Already the military regime was working its way into even the most mundane of tasks. This wasn’t his idea of a bath and laundry — although, to be honest, he didn’t see how they could manage bathtubs of hot water. But surely they could manage to set up some sort of communal laundry, so that a few people could do the work for everyone. It would be less work, in the end — washing five shirts wasn’t much harder than washing one.
Feeling cleaner and dressing in clean clothing did do something to improve his mood. When he reported back to the chore tzars, they asked him go out with a group of three others — two women and another man — for firewood.
“The shomrim are getting in some badly needed training time, and we don’t have too many other able-bodied people,” Joel told him and the others — with a jaundiced look toward Nathan and the other man, which Nathan did his best to ignore aloofly. It’s not like Joel has volunteered to join the military, that he should be judging me, he thought, knowing he was being hypocritical and not caring.
“There’s supposed to be a pretty big grove of trees nearer to I-5,” Joel continued. “Can you go there, pick up as much dead wood as you can find, bring it back?”
“No problem.” Nathan answered for them all, and turned on his heel and led his fellows away. In the golf course’s parking lot, the four of them stopped and exchanged introductions.
“Debbie Acker, human resources at Portland U.”
“David Nehemia, with Tifereth Israel. Pharmaceutical rep.”
“Liz Krupnik, Shir Chadash. I was an office manager for an architectural consulting firm.”
Nathan nodded to all and sundry. “Nathan Feinstein, environmental lawyer and vice president of Temple Emanuel. We should probably get wheelbarrows or something. If there’s any left with wheels still on.”
They checked in with Alon, who was supervising the project to convert the shopping carts with better tires, and were given a wheelbarrow. “Just bring it back when you’re done, we’ll be busy here all day,” he told them.
Pushing the barrow in turns, they trekked out to the Portland-Hubbard highway, then walked down it until they found a path leading west. They followed that until it ran out into the wooded area, then split up, looking for deadfall.
Nathan wandered aimlessly through the forest, picking up sticks and breaking off the occasional hanging branch. After having spent three days constantly in the company of others, he relished the opportunity to be alone. The purely manual labor, performed on his own, seemed almost freeing. For the first time on this March, he had a chance to really take stock and reflect — not struggling to maintain the facade of okayness he’d felt the rest of Temple Emanuel needed to see in their leader, nor forcing to keep himself going as the March pulled away at his endurance and sanity, nor clutching his few moments of quietness, as he had during yoga this morning. Real, strategic, thinking.
Yavin hadn’t tried to set up any real kind of government or council to form his ‘Exodus.’ He’d just sort of declared that he and his family and that seriously scary tiny woman from Manhattan were leaving, and anyone who wanted to live should come with him — under his military command. He’d promised elections and a return to democracy once they were “settled” — but Nathan knew all about how leaders could stretch vague promises like that. After all, just because we’ve stopped moving, doesn’t mean we’re settled, right? No, of course not. And as long as he can imagine a potential threat to his people, Yavin will find a reason to maintain his command.
Nathan did not judge Yavin to be a bad guy, really — he was clearly just used to a certain way of doing things, used to command and a military life. He was used to thinking of offense and defense, action and reaction — black and white. The problem is the world isn’t black and white, and militaries can’t rule people — especially people used to a democratic republic — without tearing things to pieces and trampling human rights. When your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start looking like nails. You might even turn some of them into nails, when they could have been… I don’t know. Something not hard and sharp. Ticky-tack? Nathan grinned as the over-extended metaphor fell apart in his head.
In any case, Nathan’s duty was clear. He needed to do everything in his power to make sure that Yavin’s grasp on command remained shakeable. That people remember their roots, that they were still American citizens, and even more than that, human beings, with all the rights those two statuses implied.
He wondered if he could enlist any of the rabbis his cause. Not Lior, obviously, and Raffi was completely lost in hero-worship after Yavin had saved his son, but Sammy or Chaim — or Bert, whatever his name was — might be worth a try. Although it grated at him to even think about allying with a Chabad ultra-orthodox. Chaim’s brother might be a better option — while he wasn’t a rabbi, he had a lot of influence when it came to laying out the tent city and placing the latrines and the kitchens. That was power of a sort — and he’d have to be inhuman not to be influenced by Chaim’s low opinion of Yavin. If Abe threatened to go on strike it would put a spoke in Yavin’s wheel for sure. Joel and Davy might be approachable as well. They’d shown a few moments of spirit, unwillingness to let Yavin do their thinking for them — and as a gay couple, they could surely see where growing influence by the Orthodox would take them.
As he straightened up from picking up yet another piece of wood, he smiled. Really, this wasn’t all that different from his old job — he was still the underdog, fighting the good fight for a noble cause. At least he had a better chance keeping democracy alive here than he’d had defending the environment against Big Oil in the old world. And truly, doesn’t the Change show that Someone is on my side?
“Excuse me!” A voice startled him out of his reverie. Looking up, he realized that he’d wandered clear through the woods, and was in sight of the rest area next to I-5. A man — in his early thirties, Nathan judged, dark-haired with a beard that looked as if it had been close-shaven a few days before, in shape and medium height — was waving at him, walking towards him from a small campsite with a firepit and puptent. The man was wearing a kippa, he noticed with interest, and a good-quality fleece coat over black levis, although both looked like they could use a wash.
“Yes… can I help you?”
“Yes… my name is Uri Dubnov. I’m heading up to Portland, and thought you might have heard some news… about the road conditions, the city? Do you live around here?”
“Sure… and no, actually, I’m with a pretty large group of Jews that’s walked down out of Portland, left on the 22nd. Nathan Feinstein.” Nathan held out his hand, and the other man crossed the last few feet between them and shook it.
“Large group of Jews, you say?” Uri asked with evident interest.
“Yes… to be honest, we figure that the city is not going to be a good place to be. With all technology above steam and muscle gone, near as we can tell…” Nathan let him voice trail off. He didn’t want to commit himself too far until he knew how far in denial this man might be. No need to come off as a nutcase.
“Yes… I was in Eugene on the night, myself. Took quite a few days to really believe what was going on… but after a while, it was hard to ignore. No electronics, no combustion, and obviously it has to be pretty damn widespread, or we’d be seeing relief come in from the unaffected areas.”
Nathan nodded, relieved to not be the guy explaining that the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real.
“Well… hard to ignore for me.” Uri continued. “Most of the Jews of Eugene are still holed up in a warehouse, waiting for the National Guard — or the Men in Black, for all I know — to come and rescue them.”
“Really?“ Nathan asked with interest. “We’re heading that way — perhaps we could meet up with them. Our group is pretty big on saving as many Jews as possible. We're planning to set up farming, in kibbutzim, down South.”
Uri cocked his head thoughtfully. “That… makes a lot of sense. Do you have anyone from Beth Abraham with you? My family is part of that congregation — I’m looking for my wife and children.”
Nathan winced. “Yes… actually, we’ve got pretty much all of Beth Abraham with us. You’d better come back to the camp with me. I’ve… not got the greatest news for you.”
He hurried the man back through the woods, explaining about the burnt-out synagogue and houses. Fortunately, the man’s family hadn’t lived in the Beth Abraham eruv, so it wasn’t likely they had been hurt in the fires.
Reaching the barrow, Nathan dumped his load of wood and pulled out the mini-notepad and pen he carried in his jacket pocket to scrawl a note to leave for his coworkers. Then he walked Uri back to the Exodus camp, checking in with the first white-banded logisticien he saw for directions to the Beth Abraham camping area. Sure enough, as soon as they crossed the stringed border, Uri recognized one of the other men, who greeted him with laughter and shouts of delight. As Nathan followed some distance behind, Uri was pulled through the tents, with more and more shouting people pouring out from the openings, until he spotted a dark-haired woman seated between two children on a tarp spread on the ground, sewing a torn hem in a winter coat while the older child, who looked about eight, read from a thin book.
“Cindy!” Uri cried. “Tzeitl sheli, neshemah!” The woman looked up in shock, then screamed in joy, the coat flying into the air as she leapt up to embrace her husband. The two children ran in circles around them, crowing in glee, then were embraced in turn as Uri’s wife fell to her knees, weeping with joy. An adolescent girl poked her head out of the nearest tent, then quickly ran out and was scooped into his father’s arms and spun around in a circle until she was laughing helplessly. A male teenager followed her, and patiently awaited his turn for a paternal greeting with a giant smile on his face and tears standing in his eyes.
Nathan found himself, too, with a lump in his throat. Amid all the horrors of the past week, all the luck so absurdly bad it seemed impossible, it was good to see that good miracles could still happen as well. And I must remember to tell Yavin that there are more Jews in Eugene, needing our help and an invitation to come. I’ll be the one they will owe for that, too.
If I hadn’t gone through the woods just then, he thought. Uri might have gone on to Portland never knowing he’d passed his family by the road. Who knows what could have happened to him before he could have learned where we’d gone and caught up with us… almost makes you believe that the Almighty is looking out for us, after all.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 5 —
Thursday, March 26, 1998. Interstate Five outside Aurora, Oregon
“Hey, Shira, slow down!” They were just a mile underway, and the little girl had caught sight of her grandfather ahead of them in the column and taken off, legs going like pistons. “Saba!” she called. Her father was after her like a flash, leaving Lior literally holding the bag, as he tossed back the sack full of dried fruit he’d been holding out for her. Laughing, she snagged it neatly, hooked out an apricot, and passed the bag on to her neighbor.
Ahead of them, one of her congregants snatched up the running toddler and handed her back to her father, who used the old child-control trick of putting Shira up on his shoulders, and jogged back to Lior’s side. They smiled, joining hands. Bennett, Becca’s husband, was taking a turn pushing their newly improved flatbed shopping cart, which looked quite bizarre with golf cart wheels on all four corners, but worked much, much better.
Lior smiled. Already, the nuclear family was beginning to break down under the forced intimacy of the March — and a good thing, too, in Lior’s opinion. She remember reading an account of a woman visiting somewhere in the South Seas who’d noticed that people didn’t watch their own children, but the children nearby them, and that was actually safer for the children. While Lior hadn’t quite been raised in the communal kibbutz fashion of her parents, her various quasi-aunts and uncles had still been heavily involved. When she and Toby had decided to take the contract with Shir Chadash and move permanently to Portland, away from her family and friends, it had been very important to her to make new friends quickly who would be involved and important in her childrens’ lives.
She had chosen those she wanted involved with her yet-to-be-born children, and front loaded by being heavily involved with their children: volunteering to bring meals, run errands, serve as in loco parentis for nights and weekends away, and be as generally helpful as possible, knowing this would establish bonds that would be redoubled when she and Toby started a family. It had worked a treat, especially with Becca’s family: Becca’s eight-year-old son, Cyrus, and six-year-old daughter, Tamar, doted on Shira. A few months after Shira was born, when Becca’s husband, Bennett, had made partner in his law firm, they’d even chosen to buy a house just a few blocks from Lior, giving both their children a second home whenever they needed it.
Lior remembered a conversation she’d had with Becca just a few months earlier. Becca had related how much easier and more secure their lives had become once they had four adults invested in their collective children, rather than two. Lior had been horrified to realize that before they’d met, Becca and her husband, Bennett, had tried to do everything for their children themselves, not even involving aunts, uncles, and other relatives, except during the holidays. Working mother guilt, Becca had called it, but Lior had different ideas. The American way… humph! Disabling yourself in the name of independence, is what I call it. At least now, I don’t have to watch my congregants hurt themselves that way anymore.
During the past week of crisis, Lior had watched as the community around her had banded together: small families with children had joined to form larger units; unmarried or childless people had begun to form close groups, often around one or two stable couples; and some of the larger families had settled for adopting single adults as honorary aunts or uncles. Unless someone was downright antisocial or more comfortable as a loner, no one needed to be left out of a family group. And it was happening more or less spontaneously. She’d made an introduction or two for the unaffiliated people who’d joined up with Shir Chadash, but that had been all that was needed. Although she spent most of her time around her own people, Davy and Joel had told her the same thing was happening among the other groups of the March.
And speaking of those unaffiliated people… she thought, as she spotted Sean running back through the semi-chaotic moving crowd toward her. The young man had been one of her few failures in finding someone a proper niche. His older brother and brother-in-law had become part of the new shomrim’s commanders, and were busy sixteen hours a day training, strategizing, and organizing. Meanwhile Sean, at seventeen, was too young to be accepted into the shomrim — much to his dismay. The SF geeks had tried to be kind to him, as had Lior’s own post-b’nai mitzvah teens, but he’d shrugged them all off, unwilling to settle for second-best. He performed his assigned job, running messages for the March Wardens, with great attention to detail, but an obvious desire to be elsewhere.
“Rabbi Z, Rabbi Z, I just found something out. You can join the Marines at seventeen with parental permission!”
“I don’t want to join the Marines, Sean,” she replied, smiling inwardly. “In fact, I’m fairly sure they don’t even exist any more. But if I wanted to, my citizenship would be a bigger problem than my age. I’ve only just gotten my green card.”
“You don’t have to be a citizen to serve in the armed forces,” Sean answered, surprised into debate.
“Really? How interesting. Well, I did my national service already, I think that’s enough for me.”
“What did you do? Did you ever catch any terrorists?”
“No, nothing so glamorous — I was a secretary for a higher ranking officer for most of it. Pulled bag-checking duty at the bus and train stations a couple times. For the most part, all the really interesting jobs in the IDF are reserved for the careerists.”
“Whatever.” Obviously tired of being sidetracked, Sean pressed on. “What I meant was, that means that if my brother gives permission, then Yavin has to let me in. As Rabbi Greenberg keeps saying, there is precedent!”
Lior blinked. “I thought that going to Yavin was already your second try, after your brother said no.”
“Um… exactly? Sorry, you’ve lost me.”
Sean sighed in exasperation. “Exactly! Ronnie won’t say yes. So I need you to talk them both into it. Or even just Yavin. I’m sure Ronnie will go along with it if Yavin asks him to.” Lior stifled a laugh. She did not share Sean’s certainty of that at all.
“I’m not sure I think it’s a good idea,” Lior said. “And both your brother and my father know a lot more about the military than I do. If they say you’re too young, I’m sure they’re right.”
“Your father fought when he was only twelve. Natan told Joel and Davy’s son Micah, and Micah told everyone. He threw a molotov cocktail down the barrel of a tank!”
Lior sighed. About to protest that that had been a different time, when their country had been fighting for its life, and and Yavin’s homeplace invaded, she paused. The truth was, this was also a different time than just a few days before. They didn’t even have a country or homeplace anymore — and if they were attached, they might well need every fighter, just as the kibbutzim of Northern Israel had in 1948. And for all that Yavin, and Ronnie, and all the others were busy setting things up for this new and different time, she didn’t think they really understood it, in their hearts.
“If I ask, and the answer is no, will you let it drop? Do you promise?”
“I’ll be eighteen in six months… they just don’t take me seriously. I don’t think they will say no to you.”
“But if they do?”
He rocked back on his heels, thinking. “Rabbi, you are my last, best hope. Give it all you’ve got, and I promise if you fail, I’ll let it go.”
Lior turned and waved to Toby, then pointed further up the column, indicated that she was going ahead to talk to Yavin. With Sean in tow she set off. When she caught up with her father, he was deep in discussion with the head cook, but broke off smiling when he saw her.
“Jerry, we are going around in circles here,” he told the cook. “We need more food. I get it. We will find a way to obtain it. Now I need to speak to Lior.” Then, in Hebrew, “Manishma, lev sheli?”
Speaking English for the young man’s benefit, Lior began, “You know Sean. I understand he’s a good fighter, trained by his brothers. He’s hoping that with his brother’s permission he can join the shomrim. And like a good rabbi, he’s prepared precedents in support of his cause; apparently seventeen year olds were allowed to join the US Marines with parental permission. Aba, I don’t like the idea of young people fighting, risking their lives, but I think we are in a perilous situation, and perhaps it is not a good idea to overlook his skills.”
“Sir,” stuck in Sean, “You were a warrior at twelve.”
“I was a child caught up in the affairs of adults,” Yavin retorted sharply. “Don’t make me into something I am not.”
“Right now,” Sean said, “You are wasting my years of training.”
Yavin pursed his lips.
Recognizing that her father was thinking, Lior put a hand on Sean’s arm, and gave him a quick headshake to prevent him from speaking further.
After a pause, Yavin spoke again. “I was actually listening with an open mind when you talked to me before. I am not lowering the age of admittance into the shomrim, or making any exceptions — even if I were sure it was a good idea, which I’m not, I’d get — what’s the word, Lior? When groups of angry people try to kill somebody they don’t like?”
“B’seder, thank you. I’d get lynched by angry, scared parents. But we will start a training corps, for youth aged sixteen to eighteen. Sean will be their leader, with Elliott Katz, who is ex-military, in overall command.
“Sean, your first duty is to report to Rabbi-Sergeant Raffi with this message.”
Sean pulled himself up to attention, then dashed off. Lior hugged her father in thanks, and began to pick her way through the travelers to her family, stopping on the way several times to give a word of encouragement for congregants and others alike. With the retrofitted smaller shopping carts fastened together in flotilla with the outermost ones on golf cart wheels and the inner ones fastened to them in such a way that their wheels did not touch the ground, and the loads newly distributed, they were making much better time, and everyone’s spirits were up after the day and a half of rest.
When they broke for lunch, Loir sat with the other rabbis; Raffi, Samuel, Chaim, and Sophia sitting in as Temple Emanuel’s lay leader. In theory, they were meeting to discuss any professional problems, but in fact, there was very little of that nature. Rabbi Greenberg reported counseling a young woman who wanted to recite Kaddish for her parents, who might not be dead, and he and Raffi spent most of the hour happily debating that issue ad nauseum, while Samuel, Sophia, and Lior discussed newborn behavior.
“All she’ll want at first is to be fed and carried,” Lior said, “ She’ll be much easier on the Exodus than a toddler. Of course, Tirza will have to ride in one of the carts for most of the first few days. She’ll be in no condition to walk all day, having to wake up every few hours to nurse. But other than that duty, the community will be able to take over a lot of everyday tasks — that is, washing her up, carrying her around, changing diapers and baby clothes.”
Samuel was terrified for his unborn child, and felt he could better confide his worries to Lior and Sophia, mothers both, than his wife, whom he didn’t want to frighten. “Heidi says that the earlier risk of miscarriage has passed .now I just want Tizra to have the baby. The doctor said the due date is a guess. And Heidi says it isn’t dangerous, for her to go past it. But she’d rather, with the hypertension risk, that she didn’t.”
“Mmmm, yes, Shira was two weeks late; I remember the doctors telling me that fewer than ten percent of babies are actually born on schedule. I was screaming at them to induce… kept doing everything I could think of, playing tennis, going bowling, jumping jacks — but she took her own sweet time.”
“Tirza says if it doesn’t come out before the end of the month, she’s cutting it out.”
Sophia laughed. “I think we all felt like that. But, it’ll happen when it happens. That’s all you can really tell her.”
He nodded, morosely.
Lior hid a smile. Samuel would be a great father — but he was going to have to learn that he couldn’t solve all problems for his loved ones. Fortunately, the first few months with an infant tended to teach that lesson fairly well.
They had been back on the road for about an hour when she saw the advance scouts peddle through the marchers to Yavin. Word soon spread that three tractor trailers had jackknifed, effectively blocking the highway. Yavin called a halt, then went out with the scouts to investigate.
Lior frowned when she got that news. Her father was going to have to learn that he couldn’t take on all the dangerous tasks himself — but that was an argument for another day.
After about forty-five minutes a messenger came for her, and she joined her father at the base of one of the huge overturned trucks. She’d never realized just how large they were until she stood next to one. The doors at the back had been opened somehow, and she could see boxes stacked inside. Samuel and Raffi were already there, and she could see Chaim and Sophia approaching. So, apparently I’m here wearing my rabbi hat, not as daughter.
As soon as Chaim was in hearing distance, Yavin began. “These trucks are full of food. Not all of it is suitable for us, but there’s a lot of readily carryable stuff. That one is mostly soda and other soft drinks. Useless. But we’ve also got loads of potato chips, flavored dry food, pasta and rice and instant potato flakes, which are heavy calories in a light package —”
“Although absolutely disgusting, the potato flakes, I mean,” Samuel put in. “My mother used to make those, I hated them.” He paused, flashing an apprehensive micro-expression. “Uh… don’t tell her I said that.”
“Lior, is there anything added in the processing to make them non-kosher?” Yavin asked.
“Did you check the boxes for the kosher seal?”
“For the what?”
She smiled. “Most big food companies that don’t deal in meat — potato foods, for example — are willing to pay a little extra to have someone authorized by the local rabbis come out and certify that the food is ok. They include a little mark on the boxes, so that Orthodox Jews, and Muslims and the like, will be willing to buy their products. They also market it to the organic and yuppie crowds as food that’s been better certified and checked than what the FDA requires. It’s usually a little K or U in a circle, or the word kosher in hebrew.”
Yavin pulled out a pocket knife out, slit open a carton and pulled out a foil packet marked ‘Idahoan Original Mashed Potatoes. “This?” he asked, pointing to a U in a circle.
“Yep. We should take all of this we can carry,” Raffi said. “I’ll organize the unloading, and finding room for it. We’ll even add it to people’s personal luggage if we have to. We’ll have to check each box, however. Most brands have some kosher and some nonkosher lines.” Yavin nodded and began rifling through the boxes, pulling out one package each.
“We should bring all the food we can carry, regardless,” Sophia put in. “I’ll remind you, gentlemen, that the majority of the March does not keep kosher.”
Lior leapt into the fray before Raffi or Chaim could open their mouths. “Sophia is right. With most of the meals that are made in common, we will have to keep it kosher, because everyone is being fed from the same place. But instant mashed potatoes are something that each family can carry individually and make with their own implements. It is not necessary, and quite unwise, to force those who do not keep kosher to leave behind food they can eat.”
“There might still be mixing of implements,” Chaim protested. “Treif like this, we definitely don’t want anywhere near us,” he brandished a package from one of the other boxes, with the label read ‘Applewood Smoked Bacon: Flavored Mashed Potatoes.’
“Oh come on,” Lior said. “I’ll bet there isn’t any actual bacon in here…” She began reading off the ingredients label, “Idaho potatoes, maltodextrin, cheddar cheese blend, made out of cheddar cheese, cultured milk, salt, and enzymes — I wonder where you get enzymes from — whey, buttermilk…” she began skimming, “nope, it says the bacon-flavored crumbles are made out of vegetable protein.”
Chaim snorted. “Regardless of what they made the fake treif out of, it’s obviously not kosher. And they would have used rennet from a calf — that makes the cheese treif as well.”
Reflexively, Lior checked the box. Of course, there was no kosher symbol. “Well,” she said. “As Sophia says, well over fifty percent of our group doesn’t keep kosher. If we bring this food along for them, it will make it easier for the rest of us to keep kosher.”
Chaim looked indignant. “I suppose we could bring it for the goyim, but I would not want to keep kosher if it means my fellow Jews are not! And the goyim do not have a separate a cooking area from the rest of us, so what are we going to do, keep two different sets of loaders, handlers, cooks, dishwashers — it’s much easier to just keep the entire camp kosher!”
“Now hold on just a second!” Sophia said, raising her voice defensively. “This isn’t Israel, or some Brooklyn Orthodox neighborhood. I have no objection to your keeping kosher, I’ll even help by picking up kosher food when we find it, giving you your own area within the camp and March, like we have, but when it comes down to it, keeping kosher is your choice, and your responsibility. You don’t have a right to impose it on me just because it makes things logistically easier. Besides, logistically, it’s easier to take food when and where we can find it, and only keep one set of dishes and washing utensils, not worry about some idiotic laws that were written thousands of years ago!”
Lior mentally scrambled for some way to resolve the conflict as things looked about to escalate, but she was drawing a blank when Raffi spoke up for the first time. “I think Sophia is right.”
Chaim looked up at Raffi with shock, and a look of betrayal on his face.
“Chaim, you know I’ve kept kosher all my life, and I have every intention of continuing to do so, regardless of how it makes things logistically harder. But one of the many reasons I have never considered moving to Israel is that I am uncomfortable with how observance is forced there — how people must go to special, stigmatized stores if they wish to obtain nonkosher food, especially. A forced mitzvah is no mitzvah at all. I think kosher and nonkosher areas of the camp would be an ideal solution. As I understand it, there are already different kitchen areas, because there is simply no way to batch cook food for two thousand people with camp-cooking equipment. We can just make the separation between them more formal.”
“I agree with Raffi,” Yavin put in, finality in his voice. “I have never had a problem with the way Israel runs its food control, but most of our people here are Americans, and used to more freedom. Besides, Joel is right. We will try to make sure we keep getting kosher food, but we have to face the fact that there may come a time when your choice is between eating nonkosher food and not eating at all. If the more secular Jews and goyim among us are willing to eat this food and leave you the kosher, it will delay that time from coming.”
“That is my final word on the matter.”
Chaim subsided reluctantly, black thunderclouds still filling his face.
In an effort to defuse the tension, Yavin changed the topic. “Now, as far as the rest of these trucks, we need to concentrate on the food that’s lightest and easiest to carry. No canned goods —”
“Except for fruit and vegetables. Eyal is worried about scurvy,” Lior put in.
“Raffi,” Yavin continued, “send a message to Alon — we need to get the March off the road and around the trucks, then back on to highway. Move all the people who aren’t involved in the transport of loads first.”
“I’ll go,” Sophia volunteered, walking over to one of the bicycles laying by the side of the road.
Raffi produced a black marker from his coat pocket. “Never let it be said a sergeant was unprepared,” he joked, and began sorting through the boxes of food, marking some with a large K. Chaim put an arm around Samuel’s shoulder and led the younger man off, talking seriously. No longer needed, Lior made her way back to her family, ready for some peace and quiet — or rather, some boisterous but relaxing time with Shira.
Once around the blockage, the March halted for lunch. Soon after they halted, a call went out for volunteers. “The scouts have located a huge bike store. The shomrim need people to walk out with them and ride bikes back,” the messenger explained.
“I can go!” Toby called immediately. Lior gave him a sidelong glance but did not protest. She knew that his inability to join the shomrim due to his severe nearsightedness grated on him. He’d always thought of himself as capable and fit, but after one session with Yavin — given in private, to spare Toby’s feelings — he’d been forced to admit that the first thing that anyone would do in a real fight would be to knock his glasses off his face, and he was helpless without them. Instead, she hugged him hard to her.
“Love you, dearest.”
“Love you too.”
After a handing Shira off to Becca’s children, Lior busied herself with helping to organize lunch. By now, they’d gotten things down to a science. Fittingly, they’d ransacked the Jewish aisles in all the grocery stores before they’d left Portland, and brought along boxes and boxes of matzah. Also, Mittleman had been all set up to do their annual making matzah activity with the religious school, and had gone ahead with it, producing several dozen boxes of homemade matzah. It might be bland, but stored dry it kept almost indefinitely — how would you even be able to tell if matzah was stale? — and didn’t have to be cushioned against being squashed like bread. The people assigned to cooking; mostly those in their fifties and sixties — set out matzah, cheese, peanut butter, and honey, and other fillings on sheets of plastic — made out of cut-up garbage bags — laid out on the ground. At the end of the sheets, they put a few small baskets of fresh carrots and apples — they were rationing out the fruit and vegetables that kept, trying to stretch them as long as possible. Everyone else lined up and went through assembly line fashion, building sandwiches to taste, and adding one or two pieces of precious carrot or an apple — real food — at the end.
Or, arguably, building sandwiches to taste-less. Lior grimaced. While she found the Passover dietary restrictions meaningful, she had always found ways around the eating of more matzah than the seder required. Toby was downright rude about the unleavened bread, calling it the Jewish cure for diarrhea. Yet Becca claimed to love it… she’d been pressuring the cooks to make matzah brie in the mornings, but they didn’t have enough eggs. Resignedly, Lior munched her way though a piece smeared with honey and another with blue cheese spread. Just as she finished her carrot stick and was about to get up to retrieve Shira from the current crèche-tenders, she felt her mother’s eyes on her.
Looking up she said, “Mashlomaich, ema?”
“Everything’s good, and you?” Her mother responded, also b’ivrit.
“Good.” Finishing with the pleasantries, her mother visibly shifted gears. “Lior, come walk with me?”
Lior stood, dusted off the seat of her pants and walked next to her mother through the crowd until the came to the edge, and went a little way beyond. Lior worried. What could Mom want privacy for? Is something wrong with Dad? Why not just tell me in Hebrew? Surely she knows that no one here understands it, spoken as fast as we do…
“Yakirati, I can’t help but notice how you are glowing — and looking sick every now and then, like a cat about to vomit — and that you are wearing elastic-waisted trousers. How far along are you? And when were you going to tell us? It’s not as if you were an unmarried teenager, to be frightened of our reaction!”
“Oh, Mom!” Lior couldn’t help laughing. “We were going to tell you last week, in fact. At the family dinner after Dad’s lecture. But there didn’t seem a good time after that. Have you told Dad that I’m like a sick cat, as you so elegantly put it?”
“I was afraid there was something wrong since you didn’t tell us… so, no, I haven’t told him.”
“Everything is all right. I’m four months along — well, eighteen weeks, eighteen and a half. I know that’s a long time to wait to tell the grandparents, but since we had to break the news we were expecting Shira over the phone, I wanted to see your faces this time. Naturally, we haven’t told Shira, or anyone else yet, but I think Becca suspects as well.”
“If she doesn’t, she’s either not a very good friend, or very unobservant. Mazel tov, my sweet!” Mazal embraced her daughter heartily. “But maybe don’t tell your father until we are settled. He’d only worry like that poor boy Samuel. There must be other pregnant women on this Exodus, but no one so far along as Tirza.”
“No… I won’t tell Shira, of course, but I worry about her, a bit. At least I probably won’t have to give birth on the road.”
“I nearly gave birth to your sister by the side of the road. No, don’t stop me,” she said, as Lior held up a defensive hand, wincing in pain at the mention of her lost sibling, “I must able able to talk about all my children, even if they aren’t with me any longer. I know I’ve told you that story —”
“Lior!” Looking up in surprise, she had just enough time to stand up before Toby grabbed her, swung her around in a circle, and kissed her soundly.
“What’s this about?” She laughed, a bit embarrassed.
“We found over a thousand bikes, Lior! It was a huge warehouse store! Enough to mount everyone left in the March! And more trailers, carts for carrying supplies! More kid carriers! Even Joel and Davy think we’ll be able to make twenty, thirty miles a day, now! Come, see what I got for us; and I thought, Becca’s family as well —” eagerly, he pulled her toward the side of the March.
As they got to the verge, Lior gasped. “What on earth is that?”
“One of the shomrim, Logan, called it a bike surrey.” Toby answered jubilantly.
The bike surrey was certainly one of the strangest vehicles Lior had ever seen. It looked almost like a weirdly stretched out pedi-cab or golf cart, except instead of an engine or a place for a bike at the front, it had pedals at the base of each seat. It had four wheels at the corners, two bench seats, and a wire seat in front for a pair of small children, with a rack on the back for luggage. There was space for four pedallers, but it looked as if three slim people could squeeze onto each bench.
“It looks so much more comfortable than a bike…” Lior said wistfully. “But, if we can’t teach the ultra orthodox women to ride bikes, we might have to give it them. I don’t think bike riding is one of the qualities that Chaim would have looked for in his daughters-in-law.”
“You never know, they might have learned. Leeba looked like a bit of a rebel to me,” Mazal said.
The image of Leeba sneaking out of her sheltered home in Williamsburg to bike down Brooklyn’s busy streets boggled Lior’s mind for a moment.
“In any case, we found eight of them, and I got special permission from Joel to requisition this one for us.” Toby said. Mincing over to Lior, he whispered, “I had to tell him about… you know — but he promised to keep it a secret. Samuel got one of the others.” Lior frowned a bit. Medically, there wasn’t any reason she couldn’t be on a bike, and she didn’t like the idea of trading on her unborn child for special treatment. Then she looked again at the bike surry and reconsidered. It did look much more comfortable than a hard bike seat; she didn’t even want to think about what one of those would do to her currently oversensitized bottom.
“Well, we’ll see what they have to say,” Mazal continued, still talking about the Greenbergs.
“Hmm. Indeed. Let’s go see that, it sounds entertaining…” Lior tried not to giggle. “I’d better pull out my head scarf.”
Mazal scowled disapprovingly at her daughter. “I know they’re irritating, dear, but teaching a bunch of adults how to ride bikes is no laughing matter. For that matter, some of the older people will probably need a refresher…”
To Lior’s great surprise, all the Greenbergs claimed they could ride bikes, although they hadn’t had much practice since they were children. Fortunately, just like riding a bike turned out to be an apt proverb. Chaim looked a bit wobbly and insisted on a upright model, but he rode with great dignity. He wasn’t particularly happy about it — claiming it was a childish hobby — but didn’t put up any resistance after he was told it would more than double their traveling speed. One of the daughters-in-law, Leeba, even seemed enthusiastic about the notion, and began chatting with Joel about an idea to convert some of the flatbeds into a traveling playpen for the March’s younger children, pulled by bicycles. It took a bit longer for one of the engineers — Lior recognized Peter, one of Jason’s friends — to come by and hook up the Greenbergs’ and the Greens’ shopping carts to four of the bikes, neatly carrying all their possessions and a few pounds of communal potato flakes. But the few minutes Lior had spent laughing with Leeba, holding the back of her bike seat while the woman made a practice ride or two, had helped improve relations a little; at least, among the women. Lior left Leeba happily chatting with Peter about the new idea, feeling like she’d accomplished something worthwhile.
Fortunately, the people who didn’t know how, or weren’t fit enough, to ride were a small enough percentage that they could all be accommodated on the few tandem bikes they’d found or the flatbeds. The Exodus lost about an hour distributing bikes and adjusting the order of the March, but Joel and Davy assured everyone they’d more than make it up with the advantage the new bikes gave them.
Lior took a few minutes while the bikes were being distributed to visit with Tirza, who told her that Heidi had examined her that morning and her cervix was as tight as ever. “I swear, if this goes on much longer, I am going to find a can opener, and cut the baby out myself! I’m walking half the time, but it doesn’t seem to be helping.”
“I hear you. I said pretty much the same thing. But in the end, it will all work out. And I bet you are so sick of hearing that.”
”Actually, yeah.” Tirza managed to laugh. “And it’s worse for poor Samuel. At some point, I’ll go into labor, and my body will take over, and he’ll keep right on worrying.”
“And they say we are the weaker sex,” Lior replied, and took her leave.
Finding Toby, she whispered in his ear, “By the way, my mother guessed our little secret…”
“Oh. Women’s intuition?”
“Something like that.” Wisely, Lior decided not to mention the vomiting cat-face. “She’s not going to tell anyone, though, so we can surprise Dad once we are settled.”
“You know, you are the best surprise I ever had… I always swore I’d never go on a blind date… and the one time I did, look what happened!”
Lior laughed delightedly. They’d been introduced by a then-girlfriend of his; in fact, when she’d had to cancel on a date, and had suggested he ask Lior in her place so their concert tickets wouldn’t be wasted. It had turned out she’d been looking for a way to let him down gently, and had been delighted when he and Lior had obviously hit it off.
Once they got back on the road, Mazal rode with Toby and Lior for the rest of the afternoon. Becca joined them as the fourth pedaller, with Shira tucked into the child seat, and Tamar squeezed between Becca and Mazal while Cyrus followed on his own bike. Bennett was with the shomrim, to Becca’s dismay.
“Finally a chance to spend days on end with him, and instead he’s out learning to be G.I. Joe,” she groused.
“I am with you there.” Mazal agreed. “I finally get Yavin to retire, and we have barely eighteen months before this happens. I can walk — or ride, now — with him all day if I want to, but he is too busy running things to really be with me, and Natan has made friends with Joel and Davy’s boy. It’s more entertaining here with you.”
Yavin’s inattention might be Mazal’s excuse, but it was clear to Lior that her condition had won for her a much greater helping of maternal attention than she had hitherto gotten away with. Now that it was too late, she remembered her sisters Gilah and Rivka complaining about how insufferable Mazal had been during their pregnancies — for Natan, the first grandchild, Mazal had actually moved in with Gilah and Adisu for the last three months. Rivka had been somewhat more resistant — doubtless helped by the fact that she’d lived in Eilat with her husband for both her girls’ births — but had still had to put up with constant visits, despite the six hour drive.
Help! I’m all for building family bonds, but it wasn’t an accident I ended up living eleven thousand kilometers from my mother!
No sooner had the thought left her brain than Lior suddenly doubled over as sorrow struck her. At once, she straightened up, giving a quick wave to Toby and Mazal’s worried glances. She had forgotten, yet again, that she would never see her sisters again. Every time she forgot, the memory hit her in the pit of her stomach like a heavy fist.
“Are you okay?”
Toby and her mother spoke simultaneously.
“I’m fine. Just… a memory. Nothing physical.”
Toby continued eyeing her suspiciously for several minutes, but her mother simply nodded, once, in perfect understanding. Lior smiled at Toby to reassure him that she really was all right. “If we aren’t needed when we get to camp, once our tent is set up, let’s go for a walk, “ she said.
They pedalled on. Yavin didn’t call a stop until the sun began to touch the horizon.
“Finally.” Lior muttered to Toby. “We can’t have more than an hour before full dark — I don’t know what he was thinking pushing it this far. We already made it well past our goal, didn’t we?”
“We did,” Toby agreed. He tended to stay more abreast of their progress hour-by-hour, sending messengers back and forth to the March Headquarters in the center of the column — all part of the duties he’d taken on as de facto Logistics Head of the Shir Chadash contingent. “After we got the bikes, Yavin adjusted the goal to the Senecal Creek Greenway, which on the map, looked suitable — but when the bike scouts got there, they found it was too damp and woody to be a good stopping area. The locals there advised us to head on up a few more miles to this park. Apparently there are fish ponds, and a bunch of open fields all around for us to camp in.”
“Hmmm. Fish ponds… any chance of some food then?”
Toby shrugged as they halted their bikes and he lifted Shira from the child seat. “No clue.”
Lior nodded. Neither of them had ever fished before, but it would certainly make a nice change to their diet. “I think I’ll head up to HQ once they set the boundaries tonight and ask.”
Joel and Davy had streamlined the making-camp process as much as possible, but the chaotic nature of the Exodus meant that it was still an ordeal every night. Once the advance scouts had located the overnight location, they sent just three scouts back to report, while the remainder of the hundred-strong force began dividing up the area. They always started with HQ, which consisted of a fifty-square foot area, as close to dead center of the camping spot as they could manage. Then they dug latrines and cooking pits, and identified the best areas for pitching sleeping tents. Yavin hadn’t assigned the March into even-numbered groups of people, although he’d wanted to. Joel and Davy had convinced him it wasn’t necessary, and would create too many problems as people tried to swap around, particularly as the Exodus’ logistical supplies — tents and sleeping bags, carts, etc. — were just as much of a mishegas as their population. Instead, they’d allowed people to split themselves into groups, then recorded people’s choices and forbade further switching. Thus, the camp was highly uneven — fifty people from HJC and their friends in a clump here, five-hundred from Beth Abraham in rows over there. Nonetheless, after close to a week of practice, the camp organizers had lists of each group, and knew roughly how much space each group needed, and which neighbors they liked.
By the time Lior and Toby pulled into camp, HQ was already a busy hub with paths made of sticks and camping poles attached by string spiraling out in all directions. They merely had to follow the paper signs stapled over the strings to Shir Chadash’s designated area, pitch their tent, drop Shira off in the children’s area they shared with Temple Emanuel, and report in for chore duty. In Toby’s case, that was always the same — receive the list of necessary tasks from Joel and Davy, and divvy it up among Shir Chadash’s able adults and teenagers.
Today, Lior had a roving commission to go out among her congregants and look for problems — fights, hysterics, minor injuries that hadn’t yet been reported, and all other signs of people falling apart — and do what she could to solve the problem or point them in the direction of someone who could help.
After the work of the evening was done, and Shira had been picked up and put to sleep under Becca’s watchful eye — the two families shared a large two-room tent — Toby slipped a hand in Lior’s and tugged her away. They had always enjoyed strolling together under the stars; as a courting couple, then in their first years of marriage, and most recently with Shira either in her Baby Bjorn or stroller.
As they walked through the camp toward the walking trails through the woods around the fish ponds, Toby slipped an arm around her waist, and she leaned into him with a happy sigh. They had to walk through several areas of the camp, doing their best to turn a blind eye to family squabbles, children playing, and all the other business of the camp in their effort to focus on each other. As they reached the edge of the camp, they almost walked into Nathan Feinstein and Abe Green, walking together out of the wooded area and arguing heatedly. Lior didn’t catch any of their words, but their raised voices signaled some anger. The two pairs exchanged apologies and went their separate ways. I wonder what those two found to argue about, Lior mused.
There were a few rocks by the side of the first pool they came across, and in unspoken agreement, they went to sit. It was twilight now, and the small amount of remaining light cast eerie shadows through the thin trees fringing the shallow pond. Leaning back against Toby, Lior looked up at the sky, and gasped aloud.
“Look at the sky.” Even before full dark, there were more stars out than she’d ever seen before, with the milky way a visible haze swimming through the sky. Toby hugged her close, and they sat for a moment in companionable silence, enjoying the peace of the night; then, Lior began singing softly — almost whispering — in Hebrew.
Barukh ata adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam asher bidvaro ma’ariv aravim. Behokhma pote’ah sh’arim uvit’vuna m’shaneh itim umahalif et haz’manim um’sader et hakokhavim bemish’m’rotehem baraki’a kirtzono. Boreh yom v’laila, golel or mipnei hoshekh, v’hoshekh mip’nei or. U’ma’avir yom u’mivi laila, u’mavdil bein yom u’vein laila, adonai tz’va’ot sh’mo. El hai v’kayam tamid yimlokh aleinu l’olam va’ed. Barukh ata adonai, hama’ariv aravim.
“Okay, I recognize that, of course, but I’m going to have be a horrible rebbetizman and admit that beyond blessing the evening, I don’t know what the ma’ariv aravim means…” Toby said invitingly.
Lior smiled. “That happens way too often in the US. Too many prayers we say everyday, you know the gist of, but not the literal translation. This one would go something like… Blessed are you, our God, ruler of the universe, whose word makes the evening fall. Whose wisdom opens the gates of heaven, and whose understanding changes the times and seasons, and orders the stars in their ways according to your will. God creates day and night, moving away light in the face of darkness, and darkness in the face of light, causing the day to pass and bringing on the night, separating day and night. The… hmm, lord of heavenly hosts… is your name. Living and eternal God, rule over us for all time. Blessed are You, Lord, who brings on the evening.”
“Amen,” said Toby.
And they sat in silence a few moments longer. Then, “I know we had agreed on David for a boy or Eden for a girl…” Toby began, picking up some stones and skipping one across the water.
“Yes…?” Lior replied. Baby names had been a point of serious dispute for them; Lior wanted a name she was familiar with, and that had an important Hebrew meaning, while Toby had wanted to name children after characters in his favorite books. So far, they had found compromises; David had fit both their criteria, while Eden and Shira had such beautiful meanings that even Toby had been convinced, as long as he had been allowed to pick the middle names; Shira was Shira Eilonwy. He was still thinking about middle names for the new baby, perhaps Alana or Taran.
“Well, remember your sermon just before we left? About sacred journeys, and how the path taken can be more important that the destination in spiritual terms?”
“Well, You talked about derekh… something… finding the right way, about how it’s not always the obvious, or easy way.”
“Derekh yashar. It’s from proverbs.”
“Right. Well, I was thinking — if it’s a boy — it would be cool to give our child, who’s growing with us on this journey we’re taking, the name Derek.”
“You don’t like?”
“I don’t know… I’ve never heard it as a Hebrew name before… I mean, it’s used metaphorically to mean path, way, yes, but it basically means road. Hey, this is my kid, Street.”
“Actually, I think that would be sort of cool. Street Ziegler. That just sounds so hip.”
Lior laughed. “Well, and he’s never going to be visiting Israel, so I guess I really need to stop worrying about him getting teased in Hebrew.” Although she’d started out lighthearted, she was close to crying by the end of that remark.
Toby put his arms around her. “I wouldn’t bet on that, actually. Have you noticed how much everyone is looking up to you and Yavin, and Miryam, and even the kids are following Natan around like puppies? I’d wager this next generation is going to grow up speaking a lot more Hebrew than you’d think.”
“Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that, but you may be right. And about the names, too, actually… the more I think about Derek, the more I like it. It’s strong, people are familiar with it as a name, and it does link him — and us — to this journey we’re taking. A reminder to always try to choose the right path, never just the easy one. If it’s a girl, we could call her Nesiya, it’s a homonym pair; it can mean journey, but also God’s miracle. Depending on the root, but you can’t really tell the difference in English.” Lior snuggled back against him, her back to his front, and pulled his hand across her front, over the child she was carrying under her heart.
“Perfect for this journey.” Toby affirmed. “It will be a miracle if we all arrive safely; and of course, every child is a miracle.”
“I think it has taken a miracle even to get us started on this journey — even if we do not all complete it safely, dayenu.”
“It would have been enough…” Toby repeated, meditatively. “Funny how many parallels we’re seeing from the Egyptian Exodus story.”
“I think that’s inevitable, somewhat. We Jews live by our stories, our traditions. They’ve become part of our identity, our daily lives. And so we will always see them repeat themselves.”
“Yeah… but life isn’t usually that great for people living in those stories, not just by them. I don’t really care to wander for forty years in a desert, you know.”
Lior smiled. “In Oregon, at least, we don’t have to worry about a desert.”
“No… but lost for forty years in a temperate rainforest might be even worse. Especially if it turns out like that X-files episode with the glowing green bugs…” Toby shivered, and his arm under Lior’s hand broke out in goosebumps.
“I think that was actually set in Washington State. Admittedly, it’s the same forest.” She was unable to keep a certain waver out of her voice, and after a moment, Toby evidently realized she was trying not to laugh.
“Lior!” he protested.
“My heart, we are not going to be eaten alive by glowing green bugs. I can’t promise that lots of horrible things aren’t going to happen; but I truly believe that God would not have sent Miryam a vision, and gotten her to Portland, just in time to lead us all to disaster. You have to trust that there is a purpose in this, even if we don’t live to see it.”
Toby’s arms tightened around her. She leaned her head back on his shoulder, and they kissed.
“You, at least, will live,” he whispered. “God wouldn’t have it any other way.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 6 —
Friday, March 27, 1998. Saint Louis Fish Ponds, Marion County, Oregon
“Mom, you need to tell Dad.” Sophia continued to stare down at the sock she held in her hand for a second, thinking that she really ought to darn it before the hole got any bigger; and also, that in the grand scheme of the whole shitty mess that the world had turned into one sock made not an iota’s difference. Looking up with an effort, she saw Brian, her older son. At seventeen he proudly wore the green armband that now denoted the training cadre of the shomrim. As usual, Rob, his two-years-to-the-day younger brother — who was, thankfully, still armband-less — was trailing him. “And, you know you’re sitting on damp ground, right?” Brian continued.
Ducking into the tent, he came out with a folded tarp which he spread, still doubled, next to her, and, under his relentless gaze, she made the effort and shifted herself, still clutching the sock. “So, are you going to?” he asked.
“To tell Dad?”
“Tell him what?”
Brian gave her a hard look, then softened at the look of puzzlement on her face.”About you and Nathan.”
“What about…?” she began, then trailed off at his look. He was attempting a copy of the hard gaze that she used on children, her boys and students alike, when she wanted the truth out of them.
“How did you know?” she gasped, aghast.
“Oh, c’mon Mom.” Brian groaned. “You used to drop us off at Little League, say you were going to run errands, drive around the corner and get into his car. It wasn’t hard to figure it out. Rob used to see it from the outfield. After a few times he asked me if you guys were having… you know, an affair.” He sat down next her her. “I know that Dad was a jerk sometimes. He was never there for us, either — not really.”
Sophia snorted at that. Three years ago she’d caught him late at night, jerking off in front of the PC, an email from someone who signed herself, “yours forever sexyEmmie” up on the screen. He’d sworn it wasn’t the Emily he worked with online, just someone he’d met in a chat room. But that had been the end of the little bit of their sex life that had survived two pregnancies and her long bout with post-partum depression and sublimation following Rob’s birth. She wasn’t sure if he’d been too embarrassed to approach her after that episode, or had just lost interest; either way, she hadn’t been about to make the first move.
She made an effort to reach out to Brian. “I’m sorry you found out about it… you’re too young to know that your parents have feet of clay.”
He shrugged. “Once we figured out you weren’t going to leave Dad for him, it didn’t really matter. In fact, you both seemed happier… you and Dad didn’t fight as much, and you stopped nagging Dad to come out of his office and do stuff.”
“I wanted him to spent time with you and your brother,” she said defensively.
“Yeah, but he wasn’t going to do that. And it was easier all round when you two didn’t fight about it. I suppose we were a dysfunctional family, but we were a pretty happy one. At least Rob and I were.”
She was astonished at his maturity. Was this the little boy who had insisted on taking his plastic dinosaur to bed to ward off bad dreams? She also knew that she was slipping back into depression, the same black fog that haunted her in the weeks and months after Rob’s birth. Somehow, now that Brian had made the effort to bring up something that was so important to him, she had to keep focused on it, not follow her first impulse; which was to crawl back into the tent and take an after-breakfast nap. She was, she remembered, supposed to be changing into her day-time socks, and breaking down the tent. Mark was off talking to some new friends he’d made, all IT types, who never got tired to hashing over what had caused the Change and what its effects were, and his poor sister and her son had latrine filling in duty this morning.
“Is everything packed up? We’re going to be heading out pretty soon, we can’t hold up the March,” she said, stalling for time.
Rob ducked into the tent to check, but Brian rolled his eyes. “Mom, I’m a teenager. I know all the tactics to get out of talking about something. Like I said, I was happy to let it be, in Portland, as long as everyone seemed happy. But now… we’re all in this together. And you can’t go on sleeping in a tent with Dad with Nathan right next door. Dad’s going to figure it out, and it’d be better if you told him. Especially now that he is spending time with us, whether he wants to or not. And I actually think he’s finding that Rob and I are more interesting now that we are nearly grown up.” Brian glanced behind him, making sure that Rob wasn’t listening in. “Rob still thinks Dad is pretty cool. I think their relationship is… you know… it’s still got a chance. But he’s feeling pretty bad now that he never told Dad about you and Nathan before.”
Sophia felt tears coming to her eyes. “Why didn’t he?”
Brian shrugged. “I told him not to.”
She inhaled shakily, standing up and taking her son in her arms. “I love you, sweetie.”
“Aww, Mom…“ He groaned, like any embarrassed teenager — but he returned the hug.
“I’ll tell your Dad. I… you’re right that I should, and Nathan’s been telling me the same thing. But for different reasons. I’d always meant to, once Rob graduated and moved out. I figured that we’d get a divorce then .” her voice trailed away.
Brian nodded. “I’ve always thought Nathan was a decent guy. He talks to me and Rob like we’re people, you know? But I want you to be happy, Mom. It’s not like we’re going to have to schlep back and forth between two homes now, or have to choose which of you to spend Thanksgiving with!”
She laughed. “No, I think we’re pretty stuck together now. But it’s not just your Dad I need to talk to… I honestly don’t know what would be best right now. It would be pretty awkward to have this out in public right now… with Nathan and I the leaders of the Temple Emanuel group.”
Brian shrugged again, happily indifferent to her political problems. “Mom, I know your shrink didn’t come on the Exodus, but the place is crawling with people saying that ‘if you have any problems, I’m here to talk’ Go and talk to someone.”
It wasn’t quite that simple. No sooner had Brain and Ron left to join the training group and their hangers-ons, and she started to think over the various counselors, LSW and other options; an arguing couple came up to her.
The man began, “We’re divorced, and have shared custody. This is my dinner night with the kids, and I want them now through the morning, because after dinner it’s dark and we just go to bed! It used to be a decent deal because during the day they were at school, but now she gets to spend the entire day with them, and I get nothing!”
Sophia suppressed a grim smile. This was cutting close to the bone.
“Oh right, a decent deal — I did all the work, and then you got to spend actual quality time. Excuse me for taking advantage now that I finally get some good out of it!”
“You insisted on having the days! Plus, I only got two nights a week and alternating weekends — you had plenty of quality time!”
“Because I knew it was the only way they’d get to school on time, fed and clean — and during MY nights, they did their homework and chores, because I know you would never make them do anything!”
“Wait!” Sophia held up her hands. “Doria, Tim. Slow down. Go one on each side of me, and walk with me — we have some time before the March starts. Where are Scarlett, Will and Petra? At the crèche?”
“They’re with my husband.” Doria answered. “Who is more responsible than —”
“Doria.” Sophia cut her off. “Let’s stay away from personal attacks. Use I statements, please.” That particular remark earned her eyerolls and cutting glances from both parties, as it had every other time she’d used it outside of conflict management seminars. She sighed. Why does this stuff never get taught in elementary school when it would do some good? She knew this couple of old. She’d had their poor children in class Aleph of religious school, when they’d had to make two of every project, one for each parent — they’d divorced when the youngest was a newborn. It was written into the custody agreement, and both parents had given her a copy of the relevant pages.
“Now, I think it’s only fair that your custody agreement be revised in light of these very unusual, unforeseen circumstances.”
Tim gave Doria a smug glance, while she fumed.
“As I recall,” Sophia continued, “originally, the idea was that you, Doria, as a married, part-time, work-from-home mother, would take care of logistics, while you, Tim, as a busy bachelor, would get equal quality time with the children by eating a couple meals together at some point in the week. As I recall, it wasn’t Friday since Tim is not Jewish, and Doria wanted to celebrate the Shabbat with her children.” Both parents nodded.
“Perhaps, now that you both have fairly equal workloads, it would be better if you alternated on a standard 2-2-3 day rotation — that way both the work and the quality time would be more equal. But, look, this is a giant group of Jews — there are plenty of lawyers wandering around. Why don’t you each talk to one, and we can arrange some kind of hearing with Yavin to decide a new, fair agreement.” And hopefully, he’ll offer to slice your children down the middle, you’ll both agree, and they’ll finally be taken away from both of you, she thought uncharitably. “For today, Doria, could you agree to letting the children eat lunch and spend a couple of hours afterwards with Tim? You have had them all week, after all. That would also give you some alone time to spend with your husband.”
“I don’t want Yavin —” Tim began
“Yavin isn’t a family judge,” Doria protested at the same time.
“Well, you have found something you both agree on,” Sophia said heartily. “Perhaps you can find a third lawyer to be the judge — one both your lawyers will accept. Now, I think we are about to mount up, so you should get back to your bikes.” Both unhappy — which Sophia took to mean she’d done well — the couple walked away, still bickering. She set a mental reminder to stroll by around lunch to make sure Doria actually handed the kids over to Tim without starting a March-wide incident. Or better still, I’ll send Nathan by. He’ll have a better idea of how to deal with this legally.
She sighed. It was time she got back to her bike as well. No time to track down any of the possible counselors… I should have asked Tim and Doria for a recommendation, she thought facetiously. She knew they’d tried pretty much everyone in the book, through two trial separations and reconciliations, each of which had resulted in another child.
As she walked past the grove of trees screening their campsite, she gave a yip of surprise as an arm reached out and yanked her into the brush.
“What the hell —” she began, and then gasped as Nathan cut her off with a hungry kiss. After a moment of startled resistance, she melted into his arms. They had barely touched in the last six days, since the March began… it was never safe. When she had finished kissing him back thoroughly, she hissed, “Nathan, for God’s sake, anyone could walk by! We have to talk.”
“That’s all we ever do.” He groaned, pushing her back against one of the trees. “Listen, Aaron has fire watch tonight. Sneak out and join me in my tent.”
“No! Are you insane? It’s too dangerous. What if someone wakes up and finds I’m gone and raises an alarm? And then the president of the religious school is found in bed with the vice president of the congregation.”
He sighed, and rested his head against her shoulder blade for a second. “I know. It would shake everyone’s trust in us. But dammit, Sophia, I miss being able to touch you…”
“I’ve decided to tell Mark about us. It turns out that the boys have known about us for a couple of years… all along, I guess.”
Nathan made a valiant attempt to look surprised, but she caught the look of shame in his his eyes.
“You knew!” she gasped accusingly.
“I didn’t know!” he protested. “I just… it seemed likely. That they knew. I thought I saw Rob watching you get into my car once or twice… Brian would always give me these hints when we’d talk… like, Mom is always really happy to see you.”
“Jesus…” She groaned.
“Wrong religion,” he quipped, grinning. She glared at his levity, but he just leaned forward to snuggle her into his arms. “So, when are you going to tell him? Today? We could switch tents tonight…”
“I don’t want Aaron… whatever his name is… whom I never met until last week sleeping in a tent with my children!” she protested. “Not to mention my sister-in-law and her son, and I’m not sending Mark to sleep with Aaron so you can cop a feel with my whole family watching. Besides, we just agreed that telling the entire congregation about us would lower their trust!”
Nathan narrowed his eyes. “So what are you saying? I thought you could tell him and we could announce that you were getting a divorce.”
“On this fucking March through hell? I just… Nathan, I don’t know. Mark has been spending a lot more time with Brian and Rob, I don’t want to tear their father away from them just as their relationships might be starting to heal.”
“Fine, he can have custody —”
“Oh, fuck you, Nathan. I’m not giving up my kids —”
“Well, how long am I supposed to wait!” he yelled.
“I don’t know! I just… I need some time. To figure this out. I need to talk to someone. You just… stay here until I’m clear of this — glen thing —” She began to walk away, brushing impatiently at the tears coming to her eyes. She always cried when she was angry.
Nathan used the technique that had alway ended their occasional spats. He grabbed her arm, swung her back toward him, and kissed her.
She wrenched free, pushing Nathan back into the tree, just as Mark stepped into her line of sight. “I heard you yelling,” he said, dangerously mild. “Are you okay?”
Completely aghast, she could do nothing but stutter in shock. Leaning back against the tree, Nathan took in the scene, then turned on his heel and walked away.
Sonuvabitch! was all Sophia could think at that moment.
“Well?” Mark said. “I’m waiting for an answer, here.”
“Mark…“ She began weakly. “I… I didn’t want you to find out this way.” Then, suddenly defensive, she said, “what about sexyEmmie?”
He glared at her, the trees, the ground — then back at her. “I took from the internet something I wasn’t getting from you —”
“Because you were never there for me, when I needed you! So I took something from Nathan.”
“How long?!” he roared.
“How long have you been sleeping with him? I think I have a right to know!”
“Two years,” she answered defiantly. “Well, not quite two years… we started in June ’96, after that group of people from synagogue took me out for my birthday dinner because you were in Tampa at a gamers’ convention — again — and I got a little tipsy and he drove me home, but we made a stop at his place…” She trailed off as Mark lowered his head staring at the ground. “There, are you happy now?” she asked defiantly.
He was silent a moment and she could hear the March getting ready to go. When he looked up again, she had the satisfaction of seeing in Mark’s face some of the shock he’d given her with his sudden appearance. “Two years… why the hell didn’t you fucking divorce me! I never cheated on you, not really.”
“You did! It doesn’t matter that you didn’t… that you didn’t physically do anything — if that’s even true—”
“It is! I would never —”
“You betrayed me more by abandoning me than I ever did by having another relationship! I wouldn’t have cared if you’d had a dozen rolls in the sack if you’d been any kind of a husband, any kind of a father, not just walked into your damn home office and shut us out, day after day, night after night.” The words just seemed to boil out her, all the anger and betrayal and hatred, that she’d kept bottled up finally exploding to the surface.
Mark laughed sardonically. “Oh please, that’s a load of bullshit. Of course you cared. Things were never the same with us after that…”
“Things were never the same after the kids were born. The cheating was just the icing on the cake!”
“I didn’t cheat, Sophia, I swear to fucking God…” She slapped him across the face. There was a moment of silence. Aghast, she stared at her stinging palm in shock, then transferred her gaze to his face. He seemed suddenly calm.
“I told you you cared,” he said, giving her a half-sided smile. “If I tell you the truth, can we get on our bikes and get going before we are left behind?”
“Yeah, and it’s pretty embarrassing. You know about Emily, who I worked with online —
“I knew it!”
“No, wait… hear me out. I developed a crush on her… I never met her, never saw her. She’d send me the scenarios and I’d code them .but she’d send these funny little jokey emails and I asked once if she had a boyfriend, and she said no, a girlfriend — well, after that I found in one of the gamers’ chat rooms a woman who reminded me of her, in the way she wrote, whose screen name was sexyEmmie — and I asked her if she’d correspond off-line, and well, one thing led to another, but all the while I was texting her and writing to her, and yeah, jerking off, I was thinking about a lesbian I’d never even seen. A woman who wouldn’t want me if I were the last man on earth.”
Sophia was silent.
“And the real truth, Sophia… I felt helpless. I sucked as a father — no, it’s true.” He insisted, as she opened her mouth to interrupt. “You were so much better with the boys then I was… you were better at everything than I was, even when you were depressed. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. So… I figured, I’d do my part by working… supporting us all, like a man is supposed to. But the more I didn’t get involved, the more I wasn’t with you… it seemed more and more impossible that I could ever be good enough for you and the boys. Ever be any good for anything.”
Sophia began to cry again. “You never needed to be better than me, Mark. Just there, doing your best. It’s so damn sad. We loved each other so much.”
“Yeah. And now you’ve found someone else. I get it. I’m too late.” They both stood there for a while, wrapped in their separate miseries.
“Come on, we need to get moving,” Mark said finally. “Let me go get some water so you can wipe your face before we go out there.”
Sophia wanted to say something, but it seemed there was nothing to say. The time for fixing things had somehow slipped away years ago when she was struggling in the fog of new motherhood with a colicky baby and clingy, timid toddler and a blackness that never seemed to lift. If only she’d been able to reach out to Mark somehow then. If only he hadn’t taken her failure to do so as a rejection and a judgment.
Once underway, she didn’t feel any better. Nathan avoided her, and while Mark peddled next to her, he didn’t speak. When they stopped for lunch, she didn’t have the energy to check on Doria and Tim. The blackness had returned, and everything seemed to take too much energy. They had stopped near a creek, too shallow and muddy for drinking or hauling water to be purified, but irresistible enough that two boys and a little girl fell in while throwing sticks and stones into it. Joel posted a guard of trainee shomrim to prevent further accidents.
Sophia walked a little way upstream, trying collected her scattered thoughts, to summon the ability to do something, to take some action. Right now she wanted nothing to do with either of her men. Mark’s confession had spooked her. She’d often thought that his online colleagues, most of whom he’d never met in real life, but whom he’d worried about constantly on the March, were more real to him than his family. And Nathan had just stalked off in a snit, leaving her to deal with Mark, after suggesting that she give up her sons. Nathan could be so self-involved…
She sat down on a rock, still well within sight of the March — they had all been warned against wandering out of sight — but far enough away that she had the illusion of being alone. She wished she was Brian’s age again, though she’d never had his wisdom at seventeen. She’d met Mark then, and he’d been the only man she’d ever dated seriously. Knowing what she knew now, she’d have walked away, explored more, not settled for good enough — except that she wouldn’t have Brian and Rob. Her thoughts tumbled around and around in an endless, vicious circle.
Suddenly she saw a flash on the far side of the stream — sunlight reflecting off something under a bush. She focused in, and realized it was a reflector patch on a small blue jacket. The confusing shapes resolved into a small child, crawling out from under the bush — then a small hand grabbed the toddler’s leg and tugged it back under cover. What. Is. This? Have some children wandered away from the March, perhaps playing hide and seek? Sophia’s temper quickly reared its head again. Everyone knew — or should know — that they had to keep a very close eye on their children. None should be able to make it past the rope boundaries of the children’s crèche without a parent or guardian close by.
About to call out, she hesitated. If these weren’t the March’s children… they’d passed any number of people hiding inside their homes or cars in the last week. There were residential yards backing on the creek — she could see the vague shape of a blue house in the distance
“Yeladim? Yeladim, boim l’oti,” she called jovially. The familiar words from religious school should summon a response from any of the Jewish children… There was no answer. Right. Not our children then. Probably.
“Hello. I can see you there… I’m not going to hurt you. Can I help you…?” And then what she thought would be the magic words, “We have food to share.” There was a moment of fraught silence, then a young girl — around ten or eleven, she guessed with a longtime teacher’s perspicacity — stood up behind the bush, keeping its bulk between her and the strange adult, pulling a smaller child in a onesie up beside her.
“Who are you?” the girl asked hesitantly.
“Cookie?” asked the other child. From his Thomas the Tank Engine jacket, Sophia guessed he was a boy.
“I’m Mrs. Higgins… I’m camping here with some friends of mine. Where are your parents?”
The girl started to cry. “Mommy never came home on the scary night. Daddy went out to look for her and get food, a couple of days later. He said he’d be back in just a few hours, but he’s still gone.” She wiped her jacket cuff across her eyes, and with a wavering voice, continued, “Please… We don’t have any food at all, left. I’ve been giving Oleg our last bits of Cheerios, but I haven’t eaten in forever… I’m so hungry…” Seeming to lose all energy at that last, she sat or fell down — from where Sophia was standing, it just looked as if she’d disappeared behind the bush. Rushing forward, she dodged around the bush. The little girl was sitting in a heap, crying hopelessly, with her little brother kneeling next to her, close to hysterics, pulling anxiously on her shoulder. Close to tears herself, Sophia picked up Oleg. “Can you walk?” she asked the girl.
“I… I don’t know.”
Stifling a sob, Sophia put the little boy down, lifted the older child to her shoulders — she was incredibly light and thin for her height — and then gathered the little boy back into her arms. She wouldn’t be able to carry them both far, but as soon as she got back within sight of the March they could get help.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Maddy — Madeleine Sophie Matthews.”
“Ok, Maddy. You know, my name is Sophia, so we have something in common. Hold on tight — I’m going to take you to get some food.”
Maddy said something that sounded Eastern-European, then said, “I just told Oleg we’d get him some cookies. I don’t really speak Russian, but we — me and my mom and dad — learned a few words when we decided to adopt him last year. He came home a month ago.”
By now the shomrim on guard had noticed her, and two were running forward. One took Maddy from her; and asked perceptively, “Are these our kids, ma’am?”
“No.” she answered. “I found them by the stream — they live nearby, but have lost their parents.”
“Any sign of anyone else around?”
“No, not that I saw,” she answered.
He nodded, not peppering her with further questions beyond “What can we do, ma’am?”
Whatever Nathan says, military discipline has some things going for it… she mused. “We need to find Devra. She speaks Russian, right?”
“Follow me,” said the man carrying Maddy. “Can you manage the little boy? Mike should keep his hands free, just in case.” Sophia glanced over at the large spear Mike was carrying, and assumed hands free was a military euphemism.
They eventually found Devra sleeping in the back of the small first aid tent. It had been added to the Exodus by an SCA chirurgeon, an EMT named Larry Landsman in the mundane world, and was beautifully appointed. Larry and Eyal shared a love of the history of military medicine and were discussing Roman amputation techniques, while Jodi, the nurse practitioner, listened in amusement. Larry sent a runner to bring soup for Maddy while Eyal woke up his fiancee, who took little Oleg on her lap and began crooning to him in Russian, alternatively asking Sophia and Maddy questions about the children’s history in English, most of which Maddy answered. Soon Devra was spoon feeding Oleg, and tentatively said to Eyal, “The children will need a family to stay with… and I do speak Russian.”
Eyal cupped her face tenderly. “We were planning on starting a family soon, anyways. A daughter and a son will be perfect. But I think we need to talk to my father first.”
Sophia glanced quickly at Maddy, but she’d been distracted by the food. “Their father hasn’t been heard from in a week, from the sound of it. Their mother, not since Change day. We can’t just leave them here.”
“No.” Eyal agreed. “But we can’t know that their father is dead, either. Who are we to come in and take his children away?” Maddy glanced up at that last, her face beginning to crease in worry and concern.
“Come on Maddy,” said Jodi, “Let’s go find some hot water so you can wash up a bit. I think Oleg will be happy to stay here. You can have more food in a hour.”
“No, if you are going to decide what to do with us, I want to be here.” Maddy insisted, with an older-than-her-age air of maturity.
The same runner was despatched to find Yavin, with a note hastily written by Eyal. Instead of taking Maddy away, Larry was sent to get a bowl of warm water so that Jodi could give Maddy and Oleg sponge baths in the tent’s other room — and not-so-incidentally, give them a once-over for any other health problems. Fortunately she was able to shortly report that they hadn’t picked up lice or any other pressing hygiene issues, and didn’t have any hidden injuries.
After about fifteen minutes, Yavin ducked into the tent, hand on his sword hilt, keeping it from tripping him. “What’s up?”
Sophia quickly laid out the situation. Yavin nodded thoughtfully.
“Maddy,” he asked, when she returned to the main room, wrapped in blankets,“do you have any other family or friends in the area? People you might have stayed with before when your parents were away?”
She shook her head. “Grandma lives in Eugene; she works in the faculty of history… she says she’s the chief duck herder. Dad would always drive us down there if he and Mom were going to be away for longer than a few hours, or she would drive up. We had a couple of other babysitters, but they were just teenagers. We have an aunt in Maine and an uncle in Florida. Mom’s parents died when I was a baby. Oh, and Grandma said Grandpa took a powder when Dad was a baby and good riddance to bad rubbish.”
“Okay,” Yavin answered, heroically smothering a smile.
“Do you know her address?”
“3361 Antigua Drive, right near Crescent City Park,” the little girl said smartly. >“She said I had to memorize it, in case I ever got lost when we’d go to play in the park.”
“Wise woman, your grandmother.” Yavin said with a small smile. “Do you want to come with us? We’re heading toward Eugene anyway, so we can try to find your grandmother when we get there.”
Maddy nodded vehemently. “Daddy and Mommy can find us wherever we are.”
Yavin shrugged. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough.” He nodded to the girl, then motioned Sophia and Devra to step aside with him. “We’ll leave a note at the house so that their dad will know what’s happened if he makes it back, but honestly, I’d bet a lot of — food, now that money is useless — that those kids are with us for the long haul.”
Devra nodded. “The little boy is a recent adoptee from Russia, so Eyal and I plan to put the children in our household for the time being.”
“Good enough. Make sure it doesn’t interfere with your medical duties, however — you can ask others to help you if you need.” Devra rolled her eyes, and Sophia grinned. While they had more trained medical personnel than they knew what to do with, Yavin had shown a less than lively trust in those he didn’t know well, giving Eyal and Devra more than their share of work. “Sophia, take the child and two of the shomrim to pack for her and the baby. Be quick. We are going to have to delay our departure as it is. And Eyal, Devra, Mazel tov. I look forward to attending the naming and the bris. Are you going to tell your mother, or should I?”
They both glared at this ill-timed levity, then hurried to help Sophia pick up her things.
The three adults and one adolescent made short work of packing up Maddy’s house — they had a few useful items, but most of their things were too bulky or technology-dependent to be worth bringing along.
“Do you have any diapers?” Maddy asked. “I only have three left, and Oleg isn’t dry at night, yet.”
“Yes — we use cloth, reusable diapers; that way we don’t have to carry lots of extra stuff with us.” Sophia replied, and then laughed at Maddy’s horrified and disgusted expression.
“I’m glad Devra’s going to be taking care of that!” she averred.
The March was uneventful until they took the second break of the afternoon, strung out along a natural basin near the edge of the interstate with an overgrown grove of bushes along one side screening them from the wind.
Sophia and Nathan settled the Temple Emanuel group in close to the grove of trees — unlike some of the other contingents, they hadn’t managed to pick up any hanging tarps or travel-pavilions to shelter under while eating. It wasn’t raining at the moment, but the overcast, heavy clouds threatened to break at any moment, and the air was heavy with the smell of water.
Sophia managed to maneuver things so that Nathan was at the complete opposite side of their seven hundred plus followers from her family. She still had no idea what she wanted to say to either him or Mark. Nathan had taken to leading a number of the synagogue’s more energetic and limber members in some low-energy yoga stretches whenever they took a longer break from the March, so this wasn’t too hard. Mark didn’t seem to be eager to talk to her, but rather than awkward silence, there was an enthusiastic discussion of Brian’s training, and Mark’s humorous efforts to remember moves from a Tai Chi class he’d taken in college in an effort to find an easy out for his required PE credit.
“You know,” said Sophia, in an effort to join in the family conversation, “we should see if there is someone who can teach a Tai Chi class. It is supposed to be very good for older people.”
“Yeah, or maybe capoeira.” Mark put in, giving her a half-smile of encouragement. “I’ve heard that it’s easy to do for all fitness levels, and actually prepares you for combat.”
Sophia had just opened her mouth to answer, when suddenly several screams broke out behind her. Turning and rising, she expected to see a fight, or maybe some kind of rodent trying to steal food — both had occurred at least once on the March so far — but the blood drained from her face as she heard a horrible, gutturally distorted child’s voice rise above the general din. A connoisseur of children’s screams after twenty years as a teacher, she was running toward the sound at full speed, shouting for the shomrim, before she even knew what she was doing. That was the sound of a child in genuine, serious pain and terror.
Although it seemed like forever, it was probably no more than ten seconds from the moment she heard the first scream to the moment she dodged past a few people running away, and faced the source of the screams. What she saw brought her to a complete and sudden halt, and she was barely conscious of Mark and the kids coming up behind her.
It took her a moment to understand what she was seeing; at first, it was simply a mask of orange and black, red and green, the smell of bruised plants merging in her nostrils with the smells of rank animal and freshly spilled blood. Then, a painful thrill went up her spine and her bowels nearly loosened as the images and sounds registered in her mind to form a comprehensible scene. There were two bodies already on the ground, blood pouring from deep gashes in the necks and torsos to pool on top of the moss and clover. A huge, striped cat — bengal tiger, panthera tigris, Sophia’s schoolmarm mental voice added almost absently — was shaking a small child as if it were a mouse, and the small girl’s scream ended abruptly.
Driven by desperation and half-forgotten memories of lectures on wild-animal interaction she’d endured while leading yearly field trips to the zoo, Sophia lunged forward, shouting at the top of her lungs and waving her arms around above her head to try and make herself look bigger. Mark and the boys followed her lead just as several shomrim ran up behind her, pole arms stabbing forward at the creature.
The tiger backed up reluctantly, snarling at them. As it stepped back, paw by paw, Sophia darted forward, Brian by her side brandishing a spear he’d picked up somewhere, and pulled the little girl to safety; much too late, Sophia realized almost immediately, as she felt the body flop lifelessly in her arms. Forgetting her surroundings for a moment, she hugged the corpse to her uselessly, beginning to keen in grief.
“Mom!” Brian tugged at her shoulder urgently. She looked up and realized that they were still in front of the shomrim lines — and the tiger was gathering itself for another leap forward. She noticed an incongruous sparkle at its throat as she rolled aside, letting the corpse tumble free. As she pushed herself off the ground, she screamed helplessly as she realized that Brian had jumped the other way out of the tiger’s path — and was now laying directly in front of the tiger, at less than a five-foot distance.
As she struggled to get to her feet, a man leaped forward in front of Brian, holding a torch in one hand and a poleaxe in the other. As he waved the torch wildly in the tiger’s face, she recognized Mark with a start, and realized that the torch was a baseball bat with some kind of fabric wrapped around the top and lit on fire. Mark pressed forward — and tripped over his son’s legs, and fell flat on the ground. The tiger snarled and lunged forward for the kill, as Sophia screamed again, this time in rejection and anguish.
However, other men and women armed with quarterstaffs and poleaxes were rushing in, taking advantage of the opening that Mark had given them. They pressed forward, attacking the cat from all sides, and Sophia crawled forward as they pushed their line past Mark and Brian’s prone forms and the tiger’s snarls of anger turned into squalls of pain.
Confident that the shomrim now had the situation in hand, Sophia ignored the further battle in favor of aiding her loved ones. Crawling forward on all fours as fast as she could, she nearly fainted with relief as Brian sat up, groaning, before she could reach him. Switching her goal to her husband, she felt on his bloody, mud-smeared neck for a pulse, and after what felt like an hour but was probably only four or five seconds, she felt one, strong and steady. Breath, blood, brain, bones, she chanted to herself anxiously, pulling off the remains of his shirt. He was breathing. Pulling off her sweater, she wiped the blood on Mark’s neck and chest, trying to gauge how fast it was coming out. As he began to stir — and then yelp in pain — she breathed out yet another sigh of relief. He was conscious. He had only one long set of scratches, reaching from his upper right to lower left chest — while deep and no doubt painful, they’d not reached the throat, opened any arteries, nor she thought, even cracked any ribs.
“It’s okay, ma’am. Ma’am, we’ve got him.” She felt herself pushed aside by Larry Landsman and another man she couldn’t place at the moment, but whose name was on the tip of her tongue — one of the doctors from Rodef Shalom, she thought.
Brian and Rob came up behind her, Brian sobbing hoarsely and Rob asking again and again, “Is Dad okay? Is Dad okay?”
Shakily, she pulled herself to her feet, and found Brian, still weeping, was supporting her. “Dad’s going to be fine,” she managed to say. “Everything’s fine. We’re all going to be okay.”
It wasn’t that easy, of course. In addition to killing the child and two adults, the tiger had seriously injured three more of the shomrim. She knew the child from religious school; seven-year-old Helena Holtzman.The medics treated the wounded and announced that they were safe to travel. Although they lost well over an hour to this ‘twenty minute break’, the March was soon moving again, with grieving families and lovingly wrapped corpses awaiting funerary rituals. The whole Exodus seem to travel in shocked silence.
After seeing Mark’s wounds cleaned and stitched, a exhausting process for all involved, Sophia left him resting on a flatbed under his sons’ watchful eyes and made her way up the column of the March toward headquarters, wanting to find out which shomrim had saved her family so that she could thank them personally. She found Raffi talking with Eyal, Alon, and Yavin, and caught the latter’s eye. He motioned her to join them.
“— thinking it must have been a pet.” Alon was saying as she entered the circle of men.
“Why else would it have a diamond collar?” Raffi remarked drily.
“But seriously? People are allowed to keep tigers as pets in this country?” Eyal burst out. “I mean… no offense, but I always thought that whole crazy rich American weirdo thing was just in the movies, but this makes it sound like they didn’t go far enough!”
“It was a pet and it escaped, or its lunatic owner turned it free to hunt when she couldn’t feed it anymore,” Yavin summarized briefly. “I hope it wasn’t part of a flock… or a herd — whatever you call a group of tigers.”
“A streak,” Raffi answered absently. As everyone turned to stare at him, he shrugged. “My kid, Eli, went through this phase where he was really into all the names of groups of animals. Tigers, butterflies, and monkeys were his favorites, as I recall. A few of them stuck in my mind.”
“We have the collar — Edward Feldman, who is a jeweler, says it was worth at least a hundred grand — before the Change, that is. I suggest we consider it communal wealth and carry it with the Torahs for now. They are kept at the heart of the camp. It seems the safest place,” Yavin said.
Shaking her head in disbelief, Sophia pulled Raffi to the side for a minute and got the names of the shomrim who had rushed to Mark’s rescue. It took her about an hour to wend her way up and down the March, finding each shomer and giving them her personal thanks, but she finally found them all. That left just one more trip to make — the most painful. She made her way back to the Temple Emanuel section of the March.
Predictably, Nathan met her at the head of the column. “Sophia? Are you okay? I was so terrified when I heard, I —”
“Not now, Nathan.” She blew straight by him, leaving him staring after her, mouth hanging open. That was a bit cruel, she scolded herself briefly, but then pushed the matter out of her mind. She just didn’t have the energy to deal with any complications right now, although she knew she’d pay later for all the emotions she was repressing. Walking into the ranks of her congregation, she looked for the families of the two men and the little girl who had been slain.
The first victim had been an older bachelor, who she’d barely known and who’d left only a brother to mourn him. That conversation didn’t hurt too much. The second, however, had been a young man in his teens, and his parents and younger siblings, a brother and sister who looked about fourteen and sixteen, were in that first intense shock of grief where pain has yet to completely erode denial. They were biking down the highway mechanically, and if it were not for the kindly reminders of their neighbors to keep steering, one or more of them would have ended up crashing into the guard rail.
Sophia was reminded that this period of grieving, between the death and the funeral, was called aninut — deep sorrow. It was a time to offer practical help, not to remind the mourners of their loss nor offer consolation — that was for the funeral and shiva — so she simply asked if there was anything the congregation could do to ease the rigors of the March for them. Her rabbi had once described aninut by saying that the grief during this period was so deep, it rarely showed, save in a sort of blank numbness.
But everyone is different. She reminded herself a few minutes later, as she found the little girl’s family. They were riding on a flatbed with her body. Her father was still weeping uncontrollably, tears running unchecked down his cheeks. His wife leaned against him, looking like a zombie; drawn, pale, lifeless — hopeless. A short distance away Sophia recognized Dalia, who had been Helena’s religious studies teacher in Sunday school the past year, cycling behind the flatbed with the girl’s little brother riding in an infant seat fastened onto the back of her bike.
Sophia halted some distance away, feeling less than useless. What do you say to someone who just lost their daughter that way? No warning, and a horrible, fearful death.
Elias Holtzman looked up, and noticed her. “Sophia,” he managed to croke.”Come over here… please.”
Sophia peddled over.
“I just want you to know that Helena loved the special class you taught last Tu b’Shevat. The one where the whole school planted trees in the park, and…” his voice broke again with new sobs. “Try to remember her… try to keep her memory alive with us.”
Sophia nodded. “Helena was a lovely girl. I used to greet all the children on the first week of school, and I remember that every year she’d find a shy child and take him or her by the hand and lead them to the classroom, chatting all the way.” She found she was blinking back tears herself.
Lena looked up, slowly, and in a voice like ice said, “It’s okay to cry, Sophia. You can cry for me. I seem to have no tears for my daughter.”
“But you grieve for her no less,” Sophia said. “Let us know if there is anything we can do.”
Elias shook his head. “Rabbi Kaplan assured us he will help with the burial. Dalia is looking after the baby for us. We just want to sit… just sit.”
“I understand…” Sophia paused awkwardly, wondering if there was anything else she could say. “If you need anything, or just want to talk, send someone for me.” If they have been walking, she would have hugged Lena, but since that was impossible, she nodded gravely to them both, and turned her bike, heading again toward the center of the column, this time looking for the moving hospital, located just behind HQ.
Brian and Ron were cycling on each side of the flatbed which held their father, a variety of medical supplies, and a nurse she didn’t recognize. The woman was Asian, and Sophia was certain that alone would have made her memorable if she had met her since the Exodus began, although it was certainly possible they’d met prior.
“Hey, Mom,” Brian called out as she weaved her way against the oncoming stream of bikes. “How’s it going?” Sophia grinned at the mundanity of the question.
“Dad’s stable!” yelled Rob. “This is Yoon Jung, his nurse. She’s Dr. Weisman’s wife; the guy who stitched dad up. He’s a plastic surgeon, so she says he’ll look okay, too. Oh, and she says she thinks he’ll avoid any serious infection, even — they’ve got plenty of antibiotics, still.”
“How are you feeling?” Sophia asked, drawing her bike level with Mark’s head.
“Like warmed over cr — crud. I’m just glad you and the boys are okay. And I’m sorry about the little girl; I heard she was one of your students. And the two men, of course. But when I think about what could have happened to Brian, I just start to shake.” Indeed, his hands, folded across his chest, began to tremble as he spoke.
Tears coming to her eyes, Sophia jumped down from her bike, and as the porters peddling the bikes pulling the flatbed glanced back and squawked in outrage, she jumped on, pulling her bike close so she could hold it upright and rolling smoothly next to the cart.
Once next to him, however, she found herself at a loss for what to say. “I never thought I’d be thankful you were a smoker,” she bantered light-heartedly to fill the gap. “But thank heavens you had your lighter with you, even if you’d run out of cigs.” Mark gave her an ironic half-smile, realizing that she had remarked upon his cigarettes as a cover for the boys — he actually carried a lighter more for his pot habit, which he had so far managed to maintain.
“Hey, ill wind and all that.” He winced as they went over a bump.
“Look, Mark, I know we’ve had our… differences,” she spoke euphemistically, even though she was trying to keep her voice down, “but I can never thank you enough for protecting us this afternoon.”
“You know, Sophia, I would do anything for you and the boys. I — I know I screwed up. It started by messing up the little stuff, like not remembering to change a diaper or not being able to get them to stop crying, and then I used that as an excuse to skip some of the other stuff — that wasn’t so little… but when I saw Brian lying there, I knew that I had to do whatever it took. I — I’m just sorry that it took me until it was too late for us to realize that.”
“Mark… you came through when it counted, that’s what matters. It’s never too late for family. Now just rest; that’s got to be good for you.” Sophia brushed back his hair and leaned forward to kiss him on the forehead. He sighed, smiled, and went limp.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter 7 —
Saturday, March 28, 1998. Cascades Gateway Park, Salem, Oregon
Samuel propped his elbow on the camp table and wearily leaned his head on his hand. They had stopped early at Cascades Gateway Park the night before, and each rabbi had held Friday night services independently. Now, they were trying to organize a joint Saturday morning service, and the a debate that had begun the day before during the March had continued over the night and into breakfast. Samuel had thought it a nice community gesture when Lior had brought it up yesterday; by now, he was heartily sick of the whole idea.
“It’s not Shabbat for my people without some singing and dancing!” Lior was insisting. “I’ve already agreed to have a mechitzah between the sexes, I’ve already agreed to lead songs only in close harmony so that no one can distinguish individual female voices, which is absurd by the way. I’m not going to agree to just mutter and daven away the entire Amidah!”
“But my people are accustomed to the traditional way of doing things!” Chaim protested. Samuel exchanged a telling glance with Raffi about Chaim’s possessiveness. If Raffi and I could just sit down and mash this out, we could have finished this argument eighteen hours ago, twenty minutes after it began. With all respect to Lior, how is it that the leaders of the smallest congregations with us are the ones having this fight?
“It’s a big enough concession that we will allow a female rabbi leading services at all, without drastically changing how those services are done,” Chaim continued. “I’ve agreed to have you sing your prayers, in chorus, and the rest can listen. All this bit about doing responsive singing and dancing — we don’t know your songs and dances, so it will just make people feel left out!”
“Why not ask people to join in as they feel comfortable?” Lior asked. “We have newcomers to our services who don’t know the prayers, all the time. I always begin the singing by saying If you don’t know the melody, just speak along, if you don’t know the words, just sing la-la-la, and if you don’t know either, sing loudest of all!”
Chaim looked even more shocked — if that was possible.
“Does anyone know the joke about the two Jews shipwrecked alone on the desert island?” Raffi asked.
“No, tell us,” said Samuel — who had heard it hundreds of times, but was ready for anything that would break the tension.
“They built three synagogues,” Raffi explained.
“Why?” asked Yavin, who was sitting in on the meeting.
“You go to yours, I go to mine, and we both boycott those sons of bitches up the hill.” Raffi finished.
Yavin, who had heretofore been observing the argument without comment, burst out laughing.
Samuel choked a bit. That wasn’t quite the wording he was accustomed to… Raffi had been falling more and more back into the speech patterns of his military youth as the week had gone by.
“I think the idea of a joint service at some point is great idea, but not this morning. There is too much to work out and not enough time,” said Raffi. “It seems to be beyond us.”
“But we already told everyone you’re doing it!” Yavin protested — although Samuel noticed him giving Raffi a slight wink of approval. “If you go back on it now, you send a dangerous message. If you four leaders can’t agree, what hope does that leave for the rest of your congregations?”
Samuel sighed. “Look… why don’t I lead services, the way I normally do at Rodef Shalom? Our Conservative traditions are a good compromise between the two sides, Reform and Orthodox. Then, Lior can lead the assembled congregations in one song — whichever is her favorite — and Chaim can do the aleinu and mourner’s kaddish.”
Lior and Chaim eyed each other for a while, but both eventually, grudgingly, agreed to this plan. Then Chiam opened his mouth, and everyone sighed. “But, Samuel, your mother is your cantor…”
“Lior can work with me in close harmony,” Naomi Kaplan said. “Chaim has already agreed to women singing that way. I’m sure Lior knows most of the melodies Rodef Shalom uses — the two of us can go over the service together now.” She gave at Chaim a sharp-edged smile, as if daring him to go back on his word. He looked tempted, but forebore. Samuel grinned to himself. I’ll bet he only agreed to that to gain some leverage, planning to hold the line of ‘but we don’t know the melodies’ to keep from having to go through with it.
“Very well,” Chaim choked out, “but we will not make a habit of these joint services.”
“Once we’re settled, it won’t be as important to present a united front.” Yavin agreed.
Chaim walked off; looking, Samuel thought with a moment of compassion, rather lonely.
Whatever troubles I have with the man, I cannot forget that he has lost his wife, his partner whom he loved.
Yavin and Raffi’s talk turned to the March. His mother and Lior were humming together, flipping through the scored songbook that his mother had clung to with dogged determination throughout the Exodus.
Samuel returned to his tent. With an effort of will, he did not ask Tirza how she was. She’d been taking that to mean, Aren’t you in labor yet, you stupid woman? and did not respond well.
Auuugghhhhh. Samuel moaned to himself, careful not to let it show in his voice. Everything I do is wrong…
Aloud, he asked, “How was breakfast?”
“Okay.” She shrugged. “How was your meeting?”
“Long. And annoying. I expect any day to get a notice that I’ll be sitting in on Lior’s trial for rabbinicide.”
“For Chaim? Hah! She would get off on the he needed killing defense. Probably wind up with a medal. Where is Naomi?”
“Rehearsing with Lior. I’m going to be leading the service, and they are going to be a duet of cantors.”
“Alright, fine, sounds good. Listen — I want you to talk to Yavin about leaving late tomorrow.”
“What?” he asked, surprised.”What do you need to do?”
“There are geese in this park. Big, fat, geese. Everywhere.”
“I’ve noticed. My shoes have noticed. Sophia Higgins mentioned to me that they want parents to keep their young kids close — apparently she’s worried about attacks.”
“Oh Lord, that’s just what we need, children hurt by attack-geese… How is her husband doing?”
“Better. He’s going to be fine, apparently — just some nice scars.”
“So, geese.” Tirza returned to her point. “They make excellent eating, and they’re not man-shy at all, but they are large and rather vicious. We biked right toward a group of them in the carriage yesterday, ringing our bells and yelling, and they didn’t move at all, they just stood there and hissed at us!” Samuel bit back a laugh at his wife’s indignant tone.
Catching it, she glared at him, then continued. “Apparently people have been trying to catch and kill them since yesterday without much luck — we don’t have many experienced hunters, and the couple we do have always used guns. Quite a few people are nursing pecked hands and arms… but I have an idea!”
“When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to tell me this story of this winter in Massachusetts during the Great Depression. They’d canned these watermelons they’d grown during the summer, but they spoiled, and fermented, so they fed them to the chickens instead; and the chickens started flopping around crazily and eventually fell over, dead drunk.”
“So… you want to get a bunch of geese blackout drunk. Okay. For the sake of argument, how are we going to get the geese to drink alcohol? Do we even have any on hand? We don’t have any handy spoiled fruit we don’t need.”
“Oh, that’s what gave me the idea. One of the shomrim-scouts, don’t remember the name, ran across a liquor store just before we stopped yesterday, a team went out grabbed a bunch of wine for the Shabbat.”
“Right, I know — but I thought they just took the Manischewitz that was distributed… it went pretty fast.”
Tirza looked shifty. “In fact… I asked Joel, the March Warden, at dinner, because it didn’t seem likely to me the store would only have had kosher wine — and it didn’t. They brought back hundreds of bottles — the Reform and secular groups used some of the non-kosher wine for shabbat last night, they just didn’t mention it to the Conservative and Orthodox. There is still more, and Yavin has said we cannot bring it with us. Too heavy and unnecessary. We’ve also got tons of matzah… we can soak it in wine, and feed that to the geese, and then Eli the shochet can cut their throats and do whatever else he usually does… And we will have goose. Delicious, fatty, greasy, goose.” Tirza closed her eyes for a moment, clearly reveling in that idea. “That lamb dinner we were looking forward to last night turned out to be thin mutton soup with tough bits of meat.”
“I know,” Samuel agreed. “I guess Yavin was right about adult wool sheep being pretty different from young meat sheep. Well, I will speak to Yavin about it. I think everyone will bless you, if you can make this work!”
Grinning at him, Tirza waddled off to discuss her idea with others and, presumably, prepare for the hunt the next day. Shaking his head in amusement, he resisted the impulse to shout, “be careful,” after her, and turned his attention toward getting ready for the service.
Now was when he desperately missed his library and computer. He’d brought his annotated Talmud, but he missed being able to look up decades of prior sermons based on the Torah portion to be read, centuries of rabbinical commentary. As was usually the case, the parsha for this week didn’t immediately scream out with relevant meaning and significance; they’d just began vayikra, Leviticus, widely regarded as ‘the beginning of the deluge of boring-ness’ of the Torah. Instructions on sacrifice, Samuel pondered. Just when we have involuntarily sacrificed a lot. I could work in something there, I suppose.
He began going through his notes — he liked to scribble down ideas throughout the week, which he usually put together on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, to become his Friday and Saturday Shabbat sermons. This, of course, had not been a usual week, and he hadn’t been able to spend much time planning what to tell his congregation. The night before, he’d gotten out of giving a sermon, as the service had been led by a young woman of his congregation who was celebrating her bat mitzvah. That, of course, made his job this morning that much more difficult, as he needed to introduce the same Torah portion she had preached on for those who hadn’t attended Rodef’s services, but also not rehash the same concepts for those who had.
For a moment he considered winging it, but he’d never been good at extemporaneous speaking, and he could hardly expect divine guidance like Miryam and Yavin received at times. He took a deep breath and began to order his thoughts.
❀ ❁ ❀
The service began with well over a thousand people sitting on the grass or on upturned buckets or other improvised seats, in a hushed silence. The mechitza, made out of a long stretch of the familiar blue tarps, divided the men and the women — much to many of the more liberal Jews’ dismay: they were used to sitting together as families — but other divisions formed within the ranks, as people gathered with their friends and congregations. Interestingly, on the men’s side the Orthodox moved universally toward the front while the rest moved toward the back, while on the women’s side there was much more mixing.
Sam stepped up to the front and climbed onto the platform Alon had rigged up out of several de-wheeled flatbeds, stacked two high, at the back of which perched the Torahs in their traveling cases. Lior and Naomi had, in the end, decided to enlist several more women of their congregations, both to mollify the Orthodox, and to enable them to be heard clearly across the massive crowd. Samuel, of course, had no such advantage, and was going to have to the project to the best of his ability — although at Yavin’s suggestion, he’d asked several men to stand at the edge of the mechitza, spaced out every hundred feet, and repeat his words down the line.
He opened the service with words of welcome — in English, as befitted most of the assembly.
“Boker tov everyone. And despite what has happened to us, it is a good morning. We are together, ready to celebrate the Shabbat and observe God’s mitzvot with our friends and neighbors. Some, we have known for years, others we have just met; but as this service symbolises, now, as always, we are one People, called to divine service. We begin with the birchot hashachar, the morning blessings. Since not everyone has siddurim, we will be calling people up to read the usual English — feel free to do the responses if you know them — then our cantorial choir will be leading us in the Hebrew. Our first reader will be Abraham Green.”
That last had been partially a sop to Chaim, but Samuel had chosen his readers throughout to be those who had served the Exodus the most, as leaders or as workers. It was a signal honor to be called to read in a service, and, since most of the Exodus was here, would guarantee that those individuals would be recognized in the future. Abe Green, the Exodus’ primary logistician, counted as both a leader and a worker. The middle-aged, fitly muscled and still brown-haired man, ably lifted himself up the platform and took one of the few copies of the siddur Sim Shalom they had brought with them — despite Samuel’s acknowledgement of the foolishness of dragging along several hundred pounds of books, he regretted every one of the thousand or more copies of the siddur that had been left behind in Portland.
“We give thanks for the gift of Torah,” Abe began reading. “Praised are You, Adonai our God, who rules the universe, instilling in us the holiness of mitzvot by commanding us to study words of Torah.”
Samuel slowly relaxed as the familiar words settled over him. By the time that Abe finished and returned to the congregation, he felt much more in the usual swing of things, and smiled as he signaled to Naomi and Lior to begin the morning blessings.
“Barukh ata adonai, eloheinu melekh ha-olam…” They sang, in a harmony so close one literally could not distinguish one voice from the other. After a pause, several of the closest congregants began to join in: Reform and Conservative singing along, although occasionally substituting la, la, la or similar mumbles for the actual words; and Orthodox mumbling to themselves, swaying along with the beat of the music. As the foremost ranks prayed, the prayers spread back toward the rear like a wave, each Jew imitating the Jew before him until all were invested in the service.
They finished the morning blessings and plunged into the pesukei d’zimra, the psalms of praise, with scarcely a pause. After Sam finished reading the final line and waiting for it to echo back to the rear — the traditional ‘ki la’olam hasdo,’ ‘God’s love endures forever,’ response from the congregation coming back to him raggedly — he paused for a while, waiting until his honed senses perceived the moment when as many eyes as possible were fixed back upon him. Then, he stepped forward and, in as loud and carrying a voice as he could muster, began the barchu, the call to prayer, the beginning of the true meat of the service.
“Please rise for the barchu,” he announced, and the request was echoed down the line. Then —
“Barchu et adonai hamvorakh!” he called.
“Barchu adonai hamvorakh la’olam va’ed!” thundered back the massed voices of Lior, Naomi, and the thousand-plus congregants gathered on the grassy lawn. At the exact moment that that incredible response hammered into his ears, the clouds overhead broke for a moment, a sudden burst of sunlight beamed down upon the assembled crowd. Samuel staggered for a moment under the sheer intensity of the experience, then rallied. As the energy of audience poured into him — their sincerity, faith, and belief creating a wave that he could harness and ride — he continued with the shema, that age-old proclamation of their faith, and the audience sang it out with him.
Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu, Adonai ehad, they sang solemnly, and yet joyously.
Hear, O Israel, the lord is our god, the lord is one, Sam translated silently to himself.
There was some confusion then, as the Reform Jews in the crowd continued singing out the next line — barukh shem kevod malhuto la’olam va’ed, may the name of his kingdom be blessed forever — while the Orthodox and Conservative muttered it quietly to themselves. Quickly, Sam stepped forward, holding up his arms. “We will pause now for silent prayer. In Conservative tradition, the amidah, the standing prayer, is said silently to oneself, then repeated by the leader.”
The Orthodox continued davening, muttering the memorized words of the amidah to themselves, the Conservative following silently along, while the Reform milled about uncertainly, some adults quieting children with a few words of explanation. The amidah was one of the cores of the Jewish faith, the nineteen prayers whose daily recital was an essential ritual for observant Jews. Most non-Orthodox Jews, however, said it only when at organized services, and Reform Jews usually skipped the silent, individual recital in favor of a group chanting, usually much more ornamental and tuneful than the simple reading done by Conservative synagogues for the benefit of those who did not have the prayers memorized. They also tended to strip down the amidah down to a minimum few blessings so as to shorten the service — that would not be happening here.
Once the davening began to subside, some of the Jews who had completed their individual prayers sat down once again on the multitude of blankets and tarps spread on the lawn, Samuel began his own recital. Lior and Naomi joined in, echoed by the Reform congregations — many of them now eager to show that they did know the blessings — and slowly, the Orthodox began to chant along as well, carried along by the swell of enthusiasm.
The service continued in interspersed Hebrew and English, until finally Samuel concluded the shacharit with the Reader’s Kaddish. Again, there were differences — the more traditional congregations listened respectfully to his recitation of the kaddish, breaking in only occasionally for an amen, while many of the Reform Jews chanted the entire thing with him.
The heart of the morning service completed, it was now time for the Torah service. There were three young people whose b’nai mitzvot had been originally scheduled for today, and it had been decided — albeit with some arguments and misgivings — to allow them to still observe their rites of passage.
Chaim particularly was not pleased with the notion of two young women reading from the Torah before everyone, Samuel thought resignedly, as he completed his explanation of the service and turned to the traveling arks to carefully remove the Torahs and pass them one-by-one into the waiting arms of those who had been chosen for the honor of carrying them. Chaim and Raffi accepted the familiar weight easily, and turned to walk down into the men’s side. Sophia Higgins and Miryam — especially the latter, who had to duck to avoid getting hit in the face by the Torah’s silver ornaments — took a moment to be sure they had firm hold of their burdens, before carefully dismounting from the improvised bimah and walking down among their fellow women.
The choir’s voices lifted joyfully in words of praise as the Torah bearers walked slowly through the crowd, trying to give everyone a moment to touch one of the Torahs with an outstretched corner of a prayer shawl, or two raised fingers, which they would then bring to their mouths in a reverent kiss.
As they did so, Samuel motioned for the teens that would become adults today, and those they’d chosen to honor with aliyot, to come join him on the platform. It soon became quite crowded, as Alyss Schneider, from Temple Emanuel, Bethany Kupermintz, from Rodef Shalom, and Jonah Katz, from Beth Abraham, and eight blessers — mostly parents, one grandparent, and one older sibling — trooped up to the stage.
They’d divvied up the portion as best possible — unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the kids had mostly chosen the same parts, the opening few readings, to do, although some had learned more than others — so they were all doing fewer verses than they had planned and rehearsed. Bethany, who had only learned the opening six verses, would go first, followed by Jonah, and finished by Alyss, who had learned a staggering nineteen verses and would chant the last seven of them.
Samuel, who could sight-read the Hebrew and so did not need to memorize the portion beforehand, would finish the reading, keeping his tikkun to hand to keep track of the cantillation. Each youth would first say the blessings over the Torahs for themselves — that was the real mitzvah they were participating in, after all, performing the aliyah — read their first verse, and then those they had chosen to honor would say the blessings again before the youth finished their portion. Among the more liberal congregations, it was traditional for the b’nai mitzvah to lead the entire service in a more exacting and difficult rite of passage, and in all — even the Orthodox, who did not allow women to chant Torah — they prepared a sermon in which they shared their own beliefs about their faiths. However, under the unusual circumstances, that part of the tradition had been moved to the Friday night, congregation-separate services, held the night before.
“Ta’amdo, Betania bat Yaakov u’Shoshana, harishon!” he formally called up the first reader.
Bethany stepped forward, face pale, knees knocking together. She had managed to smuggle along her white lace bat mitzvah dress, he noted amusedly, which shimmered gently under her colorful tallit. Samuel smiled encouragingly and handed her the Yad. In their last practice session a few weeks before, Bethany had still been stuttering through most of her portion, and that had been when she’d expected to chant them in front of a few hundred people, all well-known to her, not a crowd of over a thousand mostly strangers. Once she started however, it became clear that she’d been practicing on the March: her pronunciation and chanting were spot on, and by going first she broke the ice, as it were, for the other two, who both delivered credible performances, without a hint of nerves.
Samuel finished the Torah service with a quick internal prayer of gratitude. It was always difficult when the bar or bat mitzvah struggled through the difficult task of reading the ornate, vowelless Hebrew script under the judgmental or sympathetic eyes of the congregation. As he returned the Torahs to their arks, and the congregation sat back down, he took a deep breath, and began his sermon; pausing after every sentence so it could be repeated clearly down the line. He had consciously prepared a very short sermon, for the awkwardness of the logistics did not permit for much finesse of delivery. He’d considered, in fact, doing without entirely; but he could feel the need of the people pulling at him, to be given some new words to take to their hearts, to guide them through the coming challenges.
“My friends, it is often the custom to begin a sermon with a joke, but these days we sometimes find it hard to find laughter and joy. We are far from our homes, many of us have left loved ones behind, and we all face a future that is more uncertain than any of this generation have ever known. However, we are Jews. We are not strangers to hard times, to suffering, to loss. We have survived perilous times before, and will again.
“This week’s Torah portion is vayikra, the first reading of Leviticus. This reading, dealing as it does with the rites of sacrifice practiced in the high temple in Jerusalem, is often dismissed as obsolete, irrelevant to our modern lives as Jews. And I use the term ‘modern’ advisedly; almost eight hundred years ago, Rambam wrote that the sacrifices had been established for the Jewish people as young worshippers, new to our God, before we understood that true faith does not require burnt offerings, but can stand alone on prayer and mitzvot.
“Yet even from portions of the Torah that seem out-of-date and useless at first glance, we learn vital lessons. I want to share two of the lessons that I have learned from this parsha with you today.
“The first lesson we learn is that people need some kind of ritual to bring us closer to God. Thousands of years ago, we used the temple rituals of sacrifice. Today, we do different things… but we are still a people of ritual. What our traditions and ceremonies do, is create a safe, familiar space for us to interact with the divine. That has never been more important than now, when all things safe and familiar seem to have disappeared. Our rituals can bring us back to ourselves, to the core of serenity and strength that is within us all. When everything seems to Change around us, God is still there. The Almighty is our constant shield and protector, and our daily rituals bring us closer to his unchanging presence. One of our names for God is HaMakom, The Place. In enacting this service, performing this ceremony, even or even especially in this patchwork, inclusive way, we are creating and defining a place for God to dwell among and between us, all of us together. Where we are, God is, and where God is, all is not lost. Wherever we go, whatever happens to us, God is there. We bring God with us, with these words and these rituals. And God is waiting for us, in the hope of tomorrow that we celebrate by welcoming three new adults into our community, in the reminder that life is continuing. Even now, there is a future. Even now there is hope. God is with us, even now.
“The second is that being Jewish requires sacrifice. As Jews, we don’t find anything inherently valuable in suffering. Self-flagellation for its own sake is nothing but misery. But sacrifice, enduring great and voluntary pain, giving up something that is cherished and precious because it is necessary — there is great value in sacrifice. The suffering we have been forced to endure has made us stronger, but it is up to us to make ourselves better. The lives we are facing are ones of sacrifice. We will each be called to make difficult choices, to cling to the past or to walk unsupported into the future. There will be hardships and fear. We will each have to choose between ourselves and those around us, between what we have always known and what might someday be. I don’t know which road is the right one. I don’t know which choice will be the better one. But I know that we are a people with a rich history of making sacrifices when we must, who choose what is right over what is easy, who choose bravery over fear, who choose life over death. I know, looking at each of you sitting here now, that we are no less than those who lived in different tents in a different wilderness, fleeing a different danger and heading toward a different promise. It was not only to them that these rules were given, but to us as well. And I know, standing here now, that we are worthy of that heritage.
“That is my prayer for us all: that we know and feel that God is always here, in this place we have made. May the pain that we have suffered and will suffer be turned to the good. May our sacrifices never be in vain. And let us say, Amen.”
As the repeated amens echoed down the length of the crowd, Samuel breathed a sigh of relief that that was over. Hopefully I gave them something to think over, something to encourage and support them. But either way, it’s done now.
“Now, as the Torah is open, we say a misheberach for all those in need of healing, physical, emotional, or psychological. Given the number of people present, we cannot recite names individually, so I invite everyone to join in a circle with those physically closest to them and share the names of those in need of healing.” He paused for several minutes as the assembled crowd followed his instructions, then signaled to Lior and Naomi to begin the beautiful misheberach prayer, as it had been set to music by Debbie Friedman decades before. As always, the line ‘renewal of body… renewal of spirit’ brought an irrational lump to his throat.
As the last harmonies of the misheberach died away, the choir began to sing the traditional tanakh verses and psalms as the next Torah honorees — Devra, Mazal, Alon, and Zach Cohen — came up to dress the Torahs, parade them once again around the congregation, and replace them in their arks. Chaim came back up to the bimah to lead the aleinu and mourner’s kaddish, and Samuel walked back and stood near the rear of the bimah, so as to give his fellow rabbi the stage.
Mmmmmmmm, Samuel thought, in an inarticulate murmur of content and awed reflection. This is my favorite part of being a rabbi; looking out over the congregation, receiving their energy and emotions. All those faces today, more than I’ve ever led before, all sharing in their love and faith in God and their community. I expected so much more awkwardness, more resentment from the different groups, yet today they were able to just be Jews – just people — all together; no divisions, no sectarian arguments. Even now — I know that at least half of the Reform Jews here have particular dislike for Chabad, what with their habits of proselytizing other Jews to be more observant — yet now they are all sharing in the magic of the aleinu.
Just then, they came to the crescendoing line of the aleinu — vankhnu korim u’mishtachavim u’modim, and we bow in worship and gratitude — where the worshippers did literally bow, and Samuel also bent over his knees in a head-spinning dip. Thank you, God, he prayed silently, as he always did during this blessing. For my life, for my family, for my congregation and community — and for the lesson of the Change, whatever it may be.
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❀ ❁ ❀ to be continued ❀ ❁ ❀