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What About the Daughters?

by Doug Lipman

The Rabbi saw the portent in the sky - again. It was midday, but the colors of a blood-red sunset streaked vertically toward the earth.

He ran to the corner of the old stone wall, near the gate. He dug frantically with his hands, stopping a moment to look over his shoulder at the sky. Then he dug again, his fingers scratching into the dry earth. He was an old man, accustomed to measured movements. But now he moved quickly, desperately.

At last, he found what he had been digging for. He held it in both his hands, then spoke a blessing before unwrapping the cloth and opening the wooden box inside. Carefully, he removed the parchment and unrolled it. He checked every letter of the prayer he had written. No, there were no errors.

He closed his eyes for a moment. Had his intention been holy when he wrote these letters? Yes. He had had no impure thoughts at the moment of writing. But then why was the warning still in the sky? He looked up once again at the unnatural sky, then gathered the parchment and box, and hurried into his study. There, he wrote on the back of the parchment the verse from the Torah, "What can I do today about these daughters?"

He buried the box again in the corner of the medieval wall. He looked up. There, in the middle of the bloody streaks, there shone a little opening of blue.

The terrible event - whatever it would be - was sure to happen at this very spot. He only hoped that the opening he had created might lessen the carnage. He knew he could do no more.

[small decorative rule]

Over a century later, the young woman said to the young men in front of her, "No! This is what they WANT you to do!"

Grimly, they took another step toward her. She stood fast, between them and the tiny store. "Think," she pleaded with them. "If you kill him, what will they do? If he does not return from the ghetto at the end of the day, what will they do to all of us?"

She looked at each of their faces, gaunt with hunger. Their eyes were hollow with hopelessness. Their necks and foreheads shone red with a desperate rage.

"He comes in here every day, and steals from us," one said.

"He is one of them," said another.

"We'll show them," added a third. "They can't just come in here and do this to us."

The others echoed, "They can't!"

She looked behind her. Inside the little store, she saw the old man trembling. It was true, he was not a Jew. And he had complete control over all their material lives. Everything except permission to leave the walled ghetto was up to him: how much food came in, what was paid for it, who could receive it. And he had not been fair. He had not been a friend to them.

Now the young men had raised their homemade weapons. One had a board with a nail through it. Another had salvaged part of a charred, wooden beam from a burnt house. Others just carried sticks or paving stones.

She could not stand alone against them. "If you're going to kill him, I can't stop you," she said. "But will you give him five minutes to speak before you do?" They hesitated. She went on. "Do you have that much humanity left in you?"

The one wielding the beam said, "All right. Five minutes."

Her face against the glass of the little window, she yelled to the old man inside, in German. At last, he came out, trembling. She took his arm. "They have agreed to listen to you for five minutes," she said. "You have a chance to tell them the truth."

"What?" said the old man, still speaking German. "What truth? I am an old man. Don't kill me."

This wasn't working. Where was there help for her? For all of them? She looked up at the sunless sky. Nothing.

Then her eyes lit on the ground at the corner of the ancient wall. Suddenly, a question flew into her mind. Having no other recourse, she spoke it aloud. "What about the daughters?"

The old man moaned. "I have only one daughter," he cried. "And they have her! They said they would not hurt her if every day I brought out more of your money. But if you kill me, she will have nothing!"

"Who are they?" she said.

"The soldiers. Can't you hear them outside the wall? They heard the commotion. They have been waiting for an excuse like this, to burn the ghetto and kill you all. Their rifles are already pointing at you through the gate!"

The young woman turned him so they both faced the young men. "We can't help your daughter. That's not in our hands. But if, in this sea of killing, there is one death that we can prevent, it's yours."

She looked beyond the young men. They looked over their shoulders at the moving shapes, dimly seen through the narrow slats of the gate.

One young man climbed into a tree, peered over the wall, then shouted down, "They're out there! Hundreds of them!"

The young men turned and left. After a while, the soldiers outside grew tired of waiting and dispersed. The crisis was over. As it happened, this ghetto was never destroyed.

Years later, she would say to her granddaughters, "I never knew if I had found the young men's compassion or their fear. But the strangest thing is this. The moment the soldiers left, I was seized with a desire to look up. And there I saw a little gleam of sunlight, shining through a blue hole in the steel gray sky."

New! This story will be recorded on Can You Hear the Silence? - Hasidic Stories for the 21st Century, a recording of new Hasidic stories and songs that speak to the joy, humor, mystery, and wisdom we've come to love in Jewish mystical stories - presented in a form that's accessible to listeners of any background. Pre-order in the next 7 days, and save up to 34%! Buy three (great gifts!) and save up to $22.20! Read more at http://storydynamics.com/cyhs.

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