The Clouds Lift

THE PORTION

By Daniel M. Jaffe

Published June 16, 2006, issue of June 16, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

‘Y know Torah, Leah Kleinbaum?’

“There was a time.” Leah sighs at this Yiddish-speaking stranger on her doorstep. Only three weeks here and already half of Haifa knows she’s a widow just arrived from Kiev. Who is this man? A farkakte suitor? More chins than she can count, and look how he leans on that cane — not exactly an advertisement for manly vigor. Still, he’s company while her daughter and son-in-law are at Ulpan classes. She steps back from the doorway. “Come in, please. Tea?”

He nods, hobbles to the sofa that somebody donated. One of its legs is shorter than the other three, so it wobbles when he sits. “In the wilderness,” the stranger says while she’s in the kitchenette, boiling water, “if you read this week’s Torah portion, Bahaalotekha —”

Oy vey, she thinks, a religious fanatic.

“— Bahaalotekha, you’ll see that the Almighty showed us when to travel and when to stay put. When His cloud hovered over the tabernacle, we rested; when the cloud lifted — His signal for us to move on. Just like He signaled you to leave Kiev and come to Haifa.”

“You’ll excuse me, but my daughter was leaving for Israel, so I joined. Not a cloud in the sky. We wanted Tel Aviv, but they stuck us in Haifa.” She dips a fresh teabag into a white mug for him, a used teabag into a white mug for herself. “Sugar?”

He shakes his head. She hands him his mug, sits on the other end of the sofa. It wobbles.

“You’re originally from Krakow,” he says.

This one’s done his research. Must be desperate for a girlfriend. Nice brown eyes, she’s got to admit. “I was born in Krakow, yes.”

He breathes harder. “And your family was in Krakow when Hitler invaded. You were vacationing with cousins in Lvov, right?”

Leah spills tea on herself, doesn’t feel the burn. How does he know these things?

His voice speeds up. “For decades we’ve been checking the immigrant lists, just in case. Your sisters are in Tel Aviv. Mama and Papa… I’ll take you to the cemetery.” With this he leans forward and embraces Leah. Tears wet her neck.

She shoves him back upright, peers into his face. Those eyes, and now that she thinks of it — something in the voice. Can it possibly be? “Yossel? Yosseleh?”

He nods quickly.

She grabs, clasps him close, as if to keep him from Chagall-flying away. “A miracle,” she whispers.

“The cloud of the Almighty lifted, and it guided you here.”

“No,” she says, laughing. “Like I said, it was my daughter. Actually, it was her husband. He’s the Zionist.”

“The Almighty made him a Zionist. His cloud to bring you to us.”

Leah sits back. Her lost brother has become one of the silver-lining apologists she can’t stand? “This Almighty who brought us together now, Yosseleh… this is the same Almighty who separated us 65 years ago, right?”

“While others stayed in Krakow, Papa rushed us out the day Hitler entered Poland. Papa heeded the clouds of war, Leah. You mystically foresaw the signs and escaped to Lvov.”

“Escaped? I went to Lvov to play with Cousin Rivka and to gobble Aunt Ida’s latkes. Who knew Hitler would invade?” Cold and hunger and terror in the forest. Decades mourning the presumed loss of parents and siblings. Leah controls the volume of her voice. “You’re saying our family is the chosen of the chosen? Then what of those war orphans with no reunions like ours?”

“Perhaps the Almighty never showed clouds to them or their families.”

“Six million clouds short, eh, Yosseleh? Your Almighty doesn’t know how to count?”

“Leah!” he snaps. “We should express thanks, not condemnation. Be grateful for the manna we have, don’t whine about the meat we miss.”

“Meat?” Her voice becomes suddenly shrill. “Meat?!”

“You misunderstand. What’s happened to you, Leah? You used to light Shabbos candles as a girl.”

“Like children know from anything.”

“Leah.” He puts a heavy arm around her shoulder. “Let’s not argue. Not now.”

She forces her voice to lullaby gently. “You’re right. Not now.” She cups his chins in her palm, rubs a stiff finger along stubble that had not even begun to grow when she saw him last. “This present moment — it’s impossible.” As was their past.

He embraces her fully, and again the sofa wobbles. He whispers against her cheek, “I can’t believe we found each other.”

“And I,” she says softly, “I can’t believe we lost each other.”

Daniel M. Jaffe, author of the novel “The Limits of Pleasure” (Haworth Press, 2001), lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.