Paper Chains

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Paper Chains
05 Oct 2006

It is several days before Sukkot in the town of Rechasim. Tobi and Aryeh Miller are packing for their weeklong stay in Yerushalayim, where they are going to spend yom tov with Tobi’s parents.

“What do you think about making yom tov here, Tobi? You know that I enjoy going to your folks, but it would be nice to have our own sukkah. The kids are getting bigger now, also. They would be thrilled to have a sukkah at home.”

“It’s so hard for me to live such a distance from my parents, Aryeh. You can’t imagine how much I look forward to being with them for the chagim.” Her tone was apologetic, yet unmistakably firm.

Moish Blumenthal entered the apartment and placed his tools on the table with a weary sigh. “This is the last time I build the sukkah myself, Malka,” he informed his wife, who had appeared at the kitchen doorway with a tray of iced tea. With a grateful look, he sipped the cool drink, mopping his perspiring brow.

“That’s what you said last year, if I remember correctly,” Malka reminded her husband with a twinkle in her eye. Moish lifted his palms with a rueful shrug, as they chuckled together.

“Mmm, smells good in here.” Moish lifted the lid of a simmering pot and sniffed. “Sweet and sour meatballs… looks delicious.” He eyed the pots on the stove and the steaming pans already crowding each other for space on the counter. “You seem to be cooking up quite a storm. Have we got extra guests coming for yom tov that I don’t know about?”

“No, of course not. You know, it’s just Tobi and Aryeh and their girls. All of the other children decided to stay at home for yom tov this year. ” She laughed when she saw her husband’s raised eyebrows. “All right, maybe I overdid the food a little,” she conceded. “I like to prepare all of Tobi’s favorite foods when she comes home. We see them so infrequently since they moved to Rechasim.” Moish dipped a spoon into the pot and nodded approvingly as he tasted a mouthful. “It’s perfect, Malka, as usual. Why don’t you take a break now before the kids arrive?” Moish suggested kindly. “It should be several hours before they get here.”

“I’ll just tidy the kitchen first,” she said. “I’ll be finished soon.”

Malka Blumenthal hummed softly as she washed and dried the dishes, stacking them neatly in the cupboard. She thought about her youngest daughter, Tobi, who had moved to the community of Rechasim three years earlier. The two had always been close, and it had been difficult for Tobi to live so far from her mother. Aryeh had adjusted easily to the slower pace of life in the northern city, while Tobi found it remote. She missed the bustle and excitement of living in Jerusalem, the charged atmosphere of vitality that permeated the city. She was quick to point out the benefits of living in such a distinctive community and lavish with her praise of her kind-hearted neighbors. And yet…how much she wished she could live near her mother in Yerushalayim.

Wiping the counters with a damp cloth, Malka surveyed the spotless kitchen with satisfaction. “Lovely and clean,” she said aloud. “At least until the kids arrive,” she added wryly.

She was putting fresh towels in the bathroom when she heard the knocking.

“Hello, it’s us,” Tobi called, as she opened the front door. Juggling baby, bags, and stroller, she sailed into the room, dropping her parcels unceremoniously on the floor. Two little girls raced into the apartment, squealing with excitement. “Bubby, Zeidy!” The children hugged their grandparents, chattering about everything they had seen on their drive to Yerushalayim. Aryeh came in, lugging two big suitcases. “Let me give you a hand with that,” Moish said to his son-in-law, striding over to greet him.

It was only after licht bentschen that Tobi and her mother had a chance to speak quietly. The girls were happily playing with dolls in a corner of the living room, while baby Laya napped peacefully in the playpen.

“The children are so sweet, Tobi. They’ve really grown since I saw them last.” They chatted comfortably, their conversation laced with laughter as Tobi shared some of the children’s latest antics with her mother. It was only when Laya woke up crying that the two women reluctantly stirred from the couch.

“Would you feed her some soup now, Ma, while I finish setting the table in the succa?” Tobi suggested. “Come, kids. I haven’t even seen the decorations that you helped Zeidy put up in the sukkah. Let’s go take the grand tour,” she beckoned gaily. Three-year-old Nechama jumped up eagerly. “I made lots of things in gan with Morah Suri,” she said proudly. “Zeidy said they were beautiful and hung them all up.” She glanced at her sister, and added generously, “Also Chavie made a paper chain at home with Ima. Right, Chavie?” The two year old bobbed her head in agreement, chestnut bangs sweeping into her eyes. She pushed them away with a practiced gesture and skipped after her sister out to the sukkah.

Through the open window, Malka could hear the children’s excited chatter and Tobi’s exclamations of pleasure. She offered the gurgling Laya another spoonful of chicken soup, and was rewarded with a wet, toothless grin. “Carrot, sweetie?” Malka deftly cut a chunk of cooked carrot in half and held it out to the baby, who promptly dropped it on the floor. The ten month old gladly accepted a second piece, which she proceeded to smear all over her face and hair. “I guess you’ve had enough,” Malka laughed, as Laya struggled to remove her bib. She cleaned her up and settled her on the floor with a basket of toys.

The rattling of silverware and clinking of glasses assured her that Tobi and the girls had the task of arranging the table well in hand, so she relaxed in the overstuffed armchair, content to watch her young granddaughter at play.

Light footsteps padded softly into the room. Tobi perched on the arm of her mother’s chair, an affectionate smile on her lips. Her green eyes glinted brightly with unshed tears. Malka looked up in surprise.

“What is it, honey? Is everything all right?”

“Ma. The decorations in the sukkah…”

“Yes, they look lovely. Tatty spent hours today putting everything up. What do you mean?” Malka was puzzled.

“Did you notice an old paper chain in the corner, near the window?”

“Certainly. You must mean the one you made when you were in first grade. You were so proud of that chain, you insisted on sitting under it that year to make sure nothing would happen to it,” Malka reminisced. “That was quite a few years ago, wasn’t it? I saved all the decorations you and the other kids made throughout your school years. I have everything in a big box that I keep up in a cupboard. I always give Tatty some of the old decorations to use in the sukkah, in addition to the ones the grandchildren bring each year. It brings back wonderful memories of the times when you and your brothers and sisters were still children.” Malka smiled gently at Tobi, and patted her hand. “Each picture and piece of artwork reminds me of the joy of yom tov when you children were youngsters. I loved those years,” she admitted, a hint of nostalgia in her voice. “Time dances by so quickly, and I suppose this is my way of preserving some of the past.”

“Gut yom tov,” Moish’s pleasant baritone rang out cheerily.

“You’re a marvel, Ma,” Tobi shook her head in wonder, as she rose to greet her father and husband.

“That’s my chain,” Chavie announced, as the family trooped into the spacious sukkah. She pointed to a bright, paper chain dangling over the table. Its shiny paper was dotted with rainbow colored stickers and crayoned scrawls. “See, I picked all the pretty colors and Ima helped me cut the paper.”

“It’s gorgeous, sweetie,” her grandmother assured her, hugging the delighted child.

Over the meal, Tobi’s gaze kept wandering to the faded paper chain in the corner. The once vivid pinks and greens were streaked with water spots; the edges of some of the links were puckered and frayed. Her mood was contemplative as she compared the two paper chains swaying lightly in the night air.

It was while Aryeh and Moish were dismantling the sukkah that Tobi approached her mother. “Ma, is it alright if I take Chavie’s colored chain back with me? I’ve been thinking…maybe I should also start a succos box to save precious memories. After all, my home is now in Rechasim, and I’d like to start collecting those keepsakes while my kids are still young. You created and preserved so many special moments for us. I’d like to do the same for my children. And tell Tatty he can pack his tools away. Next year, I’d like you to be my guests for succos.”

Sheila Segal teaches in a women’s seminary in Israel, where she has been living for the past 23 years. She enjoys writing in her spare time.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.