Shoshana knelt by the stream, lifting up the water to her mouth with her cupped hands. She re-adjusted the knapsack on her back, wincing at the pain in her shoulder blades. She could feel the warmth of the crusty bread through the worn cloth the bag was made of. One more gulp of water, a refreshing splash on her face, and she once again began walking along the stream.
She followed the nearly invisible path leading to the hidden caves that housed her father, older brothers, cousins and neighbors. They were living in the caves, following the leadership of the great Yehuda and his brothers, training in mind, body and spirit to battle the enemy. Shoshana froze as she heard a twig crack behind her. She moved silently behind a tree and held her breath. She breathed a sigh of relief as she saw a tiny animal move past her and go to drink from the stream.
She moved back into the path and kept walking.
Shoshana was trusted with this task by her entire community. She appeared to be much younger than she was, giving her an air of innocence. Twice a month, she would make this trek, bringing the men some fresh food, more for the message of support and love than actual nutrition. The wives and children worried back home. Once a man became a Maccabee, there was no saying when and if he would ever return.
On Shoshana’s feet she wore specially crafted shoes made by Tzippa, the old woman down the street. They left almost no footprints in her path, ensuring that no Greek or Hellenist could follow them.
Shoshana’s mind wandered as she walked, following the path from memory.
There had been a fight once, already. The army had been frightened away, and Yehuda and his brothers were taking advantage of this time to better train their soldiers for the next inevitable battle.
Shoshana shifted the bag again.
She thought back to the stories her grandmother shared with her as they kneaded the bread.
Savta had told her about the days when the Beit Hamickdash was fully in Jewish ownership, and the Kohen Gadol was a respectable, G-d fearing, beloved man.
It was hard for Shoshana to imagine a world like that. A world empty of fear, a world full of community. Today, it was dangerous to assume anyone was a friend. Even within your own family, you must first view everyone as a traitor.
Just a few weeks ago, one of Shoshana’s cousins that she had grown up with had confided in her that he was considering joining the Hellenist movement. He said he hadn’t been keeping Shabbat for months anyway, and that his friends from school had joined.
She cried for hours with him, begging him to re-consider. “Don’t keep Shabbat, I don’t care!” she whispered behind her house, “but don’t join the traitorous, evil-doers. We are your people, Shimon. Don’t turn your back on us!”
Shimon had scoffed, flexed his arm and threw a rock into the darkness. It made a muffled sound as it hit the next house.
Shoshana’s heart cracked as she watched her cousin saunter away from the house. She fell to the floor, sobbing as the night slowly turned to day. The very next morning, Shoshana was awakened by screams coming from her own home. Bones aching from a night spent on the cold ground, she leaped up and ran into her home. Her aunt had fallen onto the ground, wailing.
Immediately, Shoshana knew that her aunt knew. She had discovered her eldest son missing.
In times as cruel as these, there were only two possibilities when faced with a missing child. They were now on the Greek or Hellenist side, either by force or by choice.
Shoshana wiped her tears as she climbed over the rocks, the memory of that awful morning sitting heavy in her stomach.
She had been the one who had to deliver the news to her uncle. Her uncle sacrificing his life, living in a cave. She had had to tell him that his only and eldest son, whom he had let stay back to take care of the home, had given up everything. Even more than giving up everything, he had chosen to join up with his fellow Jews who had only one aim – to destroy every Jewish community.
Times had become unbearable. Even Shoshana could remember when Shabbat had been a joyful time. Now, it had to be done under the cover of darkness. She missed having her family together at home, safe under one roof. Her heart ached during late nights, imagining her father and brothers uncomfortably laying on the cave ground. She remembered falling asleep to the sound of her parents laughter in the other room, her brothers joking around.
She was nearing the caves, but one unfamiliar with the terrain would never have known. She counted the trees from the stream. Number 6. She pushed through the tiny opening in the leaves, ducked under the boulder leaning against another, lifted up the tree branch and finally caught sight of the cave opening. She took a deep breath. She moved forward, slipping into the heavy darkness of the cave. Using her feet as sight, she maneuvered carefully in the wet cave. Finally, she heard the low murmur of voices.
“Shalom!” She called out quietly.
“Come!” was the response she received. She walked towards the voice, and found a group of men huddled over a small book. Among them was her father and brother Yonatan.
Her father jumped up as he saw her and enveloped her in a tight hug. She squeezed him, as she felt her brother pull on her braid, with a wide smile on his face.
“Shoshana, our little rose. You bring so much light to these caves,” her father kissed her forehead as she slipped her knapsack off of her back.
“How are you feeling? Where is Choni?” Shoshana asked as she pulled provisions from her bag.
Her father took the warm bread and homemade jam from her. “Choni is practicing his sword skills. We are doing fine, thank the Lord above. How is everything at home, Shosh? How is your mother? Your sisters?”
The small, disjointed family settled down on the side of the cave to catch up.
After just twenty minutes, Shoshana knew she had to go. With tears in her eyes, she stood up, embracing her father and brothers once more, holding them more tightly than before.
With each goodbye, the fear grew. They had been so lucky thus far- but war could break out tomorrow. They tried to have as much faith in G-d as their fearless leaders, the sons of Matisyahu had, but it was so, so difficult. With so much real fear and danger all around them, it was almost impossible to imagine a reality in which they could trust completely in G-d.
Her father squeezed her shoulders, tears falling from his tired eyes.
“Send my love to everyone back home, Shoshana. Believe in G-d. He is the only one powerful enough to protect us from our enemy, and our brothers and sisters who have chosen to become the enemy.”
Shoshana bowed her head, the image of her cousin Shimon’s last cruel glance lingering in her mind.
She kissed them all goodbye, put the empty knapsack on her back and left the cave.
It had gotten darker, but she knew this path so well. She knew exactly how much time she had before it became completely dark.
As she neared the village, she could almost imagine that things were back to normal. Lamps were lit, the village was quiet. She slipped into her home almost silently, leaving the worn knapsack on the hook for its next trip.
Her mother looked up from corner where she had been murmuring prayers for Shoshanas safe return. She jumped up and hugged her daughter warmly, grateful to have her back in the safe walls of the home.
“How was your Abba? Your brothers? Did they look okay? Did they seem strong?”
“Ima, they are doing just fine. They are strong, they are healthy. They have G-d watching over them.”
Her mother covered her eyes with her hands, breathing deeply, holding in her tears. It had been three months since she had seen her sons and husband. These moments of Shoshana’s return felt like the closest she could get to them.
Shoshana sat with her mother, sharing the stories and bits and pieces of information she had been able to get from her family in the caves.
Her mother soaked up every word, dreaming of the day she would be able to hear the voices of her sweet children and beloved husband again.
The silence in the kitchen was suddenly interrupted by the sound of Shoshana weeping.
“Shoshana, my love, what is it?” her mother asked, laying a gentle hand on her daughters heaving shoulders.
“Why did they do it?” Shoshana gasped between her tears. “Why did our own brothers and sisters betray us?”
Her mother sighed deeply.
It was so devastatingly painful to think about, let alone discuss.
The entire mess they were in would have been conquerable if it was merely an enemy nation against the Jewish people. Their history was pock-marked with enemies rising up against them. But this time, it was the unimaginable. It was also their own people, brothers against brothers, sons against fathers, mothers against daughters. It was the ultimate betrayal, and that is what made it so terrifying, and so, so hard to bear.
Shoshana’s mother took her hand and cried with her. For in times of searing pain, words of comfort are hardly welcome.
Finally, Shoshana’s heaving sobs faded away. She wiped them with her sleeve, and in a shaky voice she turned to her mother and said:
“When this is over – and it will one day end, for we believe in G-d – I only pray that there will never be a time again that each Jew sees another as an enemy. I pray that the Jewish nation will forever be a family that loves each other so much that the idea of hurting another one is as painful as hurting oneself. That it won’t matter what level of observance one keeps, what name one carries, which ancestor one comes from. That the memory of this painful time keeps them from fighting each other. I pray that they look into each others eyes, remember the destruction they cause when they are divided, and recognize the strength they all carry when they stand as one.”
Blog Post: 14/52
Featured Photo by Ksenia Kudelkina on Unsplash