Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 15 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
“My daytime fears have invaded my dreams at night,” Elisheva told Eliyahu, who had gotten up to prepare her a cup of tea.
“I can call the bank line again if that will calm you down, so that you can hear the recording that there is one hundred and eighty thousand shekel in the account.”
“I know it was deposited.” She shook her head. “I know it for a fact. But…”
In the dark, she stared at her palms, but couldn’t find the words to express herself.
“We’ve checked into this story from every angle.” Eliyahu sat down on a chair that someone had left near the door of their room. “The millionaire exists, Rosenblit is a lawyer with a paper trail, receipts and everything, and the first installment of the money is already in our bank—or rather, it’s flowing freely out of the bank, baruch Hashem.”
“And we’re flowing along with it.” Her smile was a bit crooked. “Yes, with all this running around and shopping, I’m getting very used to this new reality. But apparently, somewhere inside me, there is anxiety lurking. I guess it’s only natural.”
“Very natural,” Eliyahu said, looking at the cup of tea he had made for his wife, which she still had not touched. “I feel that way, too. When someone tells me that there are two million shekels waiting for an apartment for my daughter, and all I have to do is find the apartment, I feel a bit uneasy about it. But I don’t know if it’s disbelief or the discomfort of needing money from other people.”
“It’s not a donation, Eliyahu!” She was indignant. For him. For herself. For Tzippy. “It’s like a grant of sorts, like what you get from your kollel.”
“Right,” he said slowly, “but…” Now it was his turn to be at a loss for words.
“You’re even clarifying if we have to give ma’aser from it…”
He smiled. “Actually, a poor man also has to give ma’aser from the tzedakah money that he gets.”
She didn’t react.
“But I didn’t mean that it was a donation; I also realize that this is something very different,” he hastened to explain. “I agree with you on this point. It’s just that the whole thing is a little hard for me, personally.”
“So you could have said you didn’t want to accept the money.”
“Me?” Eliyahu enunciated the word slowly. “The money wasn’t given to me, even though I am probably the primary beneficiary of it… It was given to Peretz and Tzippy.”
“I almost forgot that.” She smiled wryly.
“What about invitations? Shouldn’t we be sending them out already?”
“What about a hall?” Elisheva countered. “First we need to know what’s with a hall. The mechuteiniste hasn’t yet found a normal hall that’s available on this date.”
“We need to look into the smaller halls. What about Be’er Miriam, Mishkenos Yaakov, or the Reb Chaim Ozer one?”
“She’s never going to agree.” Elisheva finally picked up her tea, made a brachah, and took a sip. “She wants a fancy hall.”
He spread out his hands. “Just tell her that if that’s the case, she should also take care of the invitations and sending them out,” he advised. “I don’t think that two weeks before the wedding, on this type of schedule, you also have to worry about sending out invitations. What will be if they get lost in the mail or something?”
“First of all, in the worst case, we can print an invitation in the newspaper. There are people who do that in the first place. Then we just have to make sure that all our relatives are updated. We can also send the invitations with express mail, which takes only two days.”
“And it’s all paid for, of course.” He smiled. “Well, if Hashem has gotten us this far, He’s not going to let us down when it comes to a hall and invitations…”
The next day they signed a contract, and bought an apartment for Tzippy, without an agent. It was a charming little place on Nechemiah Street, newly renovated, with three large bedrooms and a small sunroom. It had windows on three sides and a spacious sukkah porch. And they even had a bit of change from the two million shekel.
The orphanage in Pressburg woke up to a new, bright clear morning. A figure stood in the doorway of one of the rooms, casting a long shadow on the floor.
The children were cowed by the man’s somber expression, but when they saw Rabbi Walken, the director, join him, they went back to their regular morning routines, ignoring the visitors.
The director and his companion entered the bedroom and began surveying the children. Every so often, the man stopped and fixed his gaze on one of the boys. He didn’t say a word, not even to Rabbi Walken.
From the first bedroom, they moved on to the next one, and then on to the third.
“That’s it,” Rabbi Walken said courteously. “You’ve seen all our charges.”
“Yes,” Theodore Heinke said darkly. “You showed me all the ones that were in the rooms.”
“You can open any door that you want,” the director replied.
The guest stared at him for a long moment, and then opened a closed door and peeked inside before closing it. “Well, that’s enough,” he said. “Thank you for your help.”
“If I’d come to your institution, would you let me in to see the children?”
“If you would be looking for certain children, then yes, absolutely.” Theodore turned to the Russian policeman waiting for him in the office. “Let’s go,” he said. “It doesn’t look like they are here.”
The policeman stood up and escorted him out to the street.
Rabbi Walken watched the two for a moment and then went back to his office. It was only then that he realized that he had been holding his breath.
“Should I tell Janek that he can send the children here already?” One of the counselors appeared next to him.
“No, absolutely not. This man might be back. We can’t take the risk.” He shook his head. “This is the first time we’ve gotten involved with children who were smuggled from within the city, and it’s not so simple. There’s no choice; we need to get them away from here, together with Emil himself.”
“Emil left early this morning on a train to Vienna.”
“I know. I mean that they should get to him there, and he’ll take care of them until we get visas for them.”
“One who starts with the mitzvah…” the counselor murmured, and peeked into the noisy corridor.
“Indeed,” Rabbi Walken agreed. “I want you to speak to Janek at lunchtime, and tell him to think of a way to get the kids out. But don’t go to his house. It’s possible that the police are keeping an eye on anyone who leaves this building, and following them to see where they are going.”
“So I came to you here instead,” Janek’s voice interjected.
The director turned to find Janek standing right behind him. “We had a visit this morning,” he said to Janek, getting right to the point.
“A visit?” The man put his bag down on the nearby desk. “From who?”
“The assistant director of the orphanage where Gustav and Edo were.”
“They knew where to go, didn’t they?”
“Yes. Actually, the man did not seem anti-Semitic, but he gave me the impression of someone who doesn’t give up so fast. He was here bright and early, with a policeman, and asked if we know someone by the name of Emil. Then he looked over all the children here, one by one.” The director sat down. “We need to get Gustav and Edo out of the city.”
“I don’t think it’s safe yet for them to go out onto the street; their orphanage may even have someone posted at the train station.”
“We’ll wait a few days.” The director remained alone with Janek in the room; the counselor went back to the children. “Meanwhile, you shouldn’t be coming here. I don’t want them to see you. I think you should also minimize your visits to the Agudah.”
“I’m just on my way there.” Janek leaned on the wall. “I promised Gustav that I’d try to find out some information about his family.”
“How?” The lone word bounced around the room.
“I don’t know. I don’t even have where to start, but maybe, if I see that someone is looking for a child about this age, we can try to see if it fits.”
“Don’t go,” Walken urged. “I’ll ask someone to look into it for you. Go home. Spend some time with the two boys, and think of how we can safely send them further. In the meantime, try to awaken their memories. Do they remember Shabbos? Kiddush? Something?”
“We haven’t had much time to speak. Only Gustav was awake when I left, and it’s safe to assume that the younger one doesn’t remember anything anyway. How old was he when he arrived at the orphanage? Two?”
“What did the form that Emil took say?”
“That in 1944, at the age of two, he was placed in the orphanage due to ‘his parents’ death in the bombardments.’ That either did or did not happen.”
“Hmm. The year 1944…that was very close to the end of the war. The question is what they know about him, besides for what they wrote on the official documents…Wait a minute, how was Emil so sure that the boy was Jewish?”
“The older one insisted he is, and besides, there was a little J on the bottom of the page, and that only appeared on the forms of these two boys.” Janek passed a hand over his forehead. “It’s true, we have to find a way to get the real information about Edo out of there.”
“And any information about Gustav.”
“He said that the assistant director of the place found him, and that no one knows anything about him.”
“That’s what they told him.”
“Yes… So we need to try and get information about both of them. But I can’t take the risk of doing it.” Janek was worried. “You realize, I’m not the only one who helped kidnap them; my wife was also actively involved…”
“I’ll try to contact them,” Rabbi Walken said. “I’ll tell this Theodore that the fact that the first thing he did, after discovering two of his boys missing, was come and look for them here, makes me assume that the boys are Jewish, so perhaps they have relatives here. And maybe the relatives will be able to offer some helpful information…”
“And you think he’ll give you details then?”
“But it’s also likely for him to realize that if you are inquiring about their identity, then you must have an idea about where they could be now.”
“I’ll explain to him that as Jews, we care about every Jewish child, especially as today, they are such a rare commodity… And we are ready to send volunteers to help with the search.”
“And who will these boys belong to, after they are ‘found’? Them or us?”
“We’ll reach an agreement ahead of time. Maybe we’ll pay him and we’ll get them like that… In any case, I’m not planning to ‘find’ them.”
“That’s an idea,” Janek said cautiously.