The Honey Series is a collection of short stories about a little blind Jewish girl called Malkah and her little cat, Honey - and all that she learns ...

A Rosh Hashanah Story


  A tear ran down Malkah’s cheek, as she sat on the bed with her legs drawn up and her head on her knees.  Hannah and Rachel, the only girls in the orphanage who were her age, wouldn’t play with her.  Because she was blind, they left her alone.  But Malkah didn’t want to be left alone.  It was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  She wanted it to be a new year for her too.

  Malkah’s bed was in the middle of a row of six.  When she slipped down between her bed and Hannah’s, she felt her way to the window.  The shutters were open, and she could hear the wind blowing through the fir trees in the field behind the orphanage. 

  The next minute, she was smiling.  She loved the wind, and every year, on Rosh Hashanah, she could understand it.  “Last year, the wind was just like Schnorrer,” she thought.  Schnorrer was the caretaker of the synagogue.  He was famous for blowing his nose the way he blew the shofar – with blasts of great force and deep feeling.

  “Today, the wind is softer.  It’s not shaking any branches.  It’s just blowing prayers and good wishes from one neighbour to another.”  With her head against the window frame, she could hear the words, “Happy New Year, Papa.”  “Long life, Mrs. Gutman.”  “May God give peace and prosperity to our beloved Rabbi.”

  But Malkah didn’t hear her own name.  The wind knew nothing about her.  Nobody had asked God for any gift for her.

  Then Malkah forgot the wind.  She heard a familiar step at the back door.  It was the rebbetzin, the rabbi’s wife.  The little girl turned away from the window and held out her arms.  Although she was ten, and the rebbetzin was twenty years older, they loved and trusted each other.

  Instead of giving Malkah a hug back, the rebbetzin said, “Wait!”  She reached into her pocket and took out something yellow and not much bigger than her hand.  She put the squirmy something into the girl’s lap, where sharp little claws stuck for a moment.

  As Malkah’s fingers slipped down the soft little back, she cried, “A kitten!” 

  “Your kitten,” smiled the rebbetzin. 

  Bending over the ball of yellow fur, the girl stroked her kitten from head to tail until she flopped over in Malkah’s lap and began to lick her fingertips. 

  “Hello,” she was saying with her tiny pink tongue to Malkah’s thumb.  “I’m yours,” she told the next finger.  “You’re mine,” she said to the middle finger.  “Happy New Year,” she said to the ring finger.  And to the pinkie, she just said, “Sweet, sweet, sweet!”

  After that, the kitten shook herself free and began to climb up Malkah’s shawl.

  While the rebbetzin cut a slice of honey cake for Malkah, she told her about the kitten’s mother and her brothers and sisters as well as her grandmother, the orange tabby who had been a little sister to the rebbetzin when she was Malkah’s age.

  “What a wonderful family!” cried Malkah.  “And now I belong to it.”  She lifted the kitten up and kissed her between her ears.  “You are so sweet, I am going to name you after this cake.  Once you eat these, your name will be officially Honey Cake.”  She swept a pile of crumbs into her palm and offered them to the kitten, whose head eagerly followed the trail of crumbs until they were all licked up.

  Then Honey lifted her little head.  “Meow,” she said softly.

  “She wants some more,” said Malkah proudly.  “She’s a true kosher cat.  She’s knows it’s a holiday, and one pile of crumbs won’t do.” 

  For a few days after that, Malkah forgot about Hannah and Rachel and their coldness.  She just played with Honey.  The kitten went everywhere with her, riding in the pocket of her apron.  At night, she slept on the pillow next to Malkah’s cheek, and when the girl woke up in the morning, she could hear her purring.  “I like having a little sister,” Malkah told Honey.

  Since the weather stayed warm even after Yom Kippur, Malkah took Honey out for a walk beneath the trees.  She stood under the tallest of the firs and felt its friendliness radiating down to her. 

  “Trees are very brave,” Malkah told Honey, who was turning around on her shoulder and sniffing the pine-scented air.  “They have no walls around them to keep out winter.  They have no stove to stand in front of, the way we do.”

  She stroked the little cat’s whiskers.  “When the wind comes roaring down on them, they have to stand still and take it.  And when a snowstorm rides on the back of the wind, it blows a freezing white coat over them.”

  Malkah stretched out her hand and pressed her fingertips into the bark of the fir.  “Do you mind that?” she asked the tree.  “Are you afraid of winter?”

  The sap began to hum beneath her fingers.  “We are glad to see the snowflakes,” answered the fir.  “They are like a flock of little white birds that nest on our branches.  They are like a crop of sparkling white berries that brighten our dreams.  We make good neighbours of everything that comes to us.”

  Malkah kissed Honey’s cold nose and whispered to her, ”Hear how wisely the trees live.  They are kind as well as brave.”

  Back inside the orphanage, Malkah took out from under her pillow a small ball of blue yarn and rolled it across the bed for Honey to chase.  She listened to Honey’s claws scratching against the sheet, but her thoughts were somewhere else.  The words of the fir tree sang in her mind.  If the tree could make good neighbours in a cold world, could she do that too?  Would she know how?

  In a little while, Hannah and Rachel came in together.  As they brushed past her bed, talking and laughing, Malkah spoke up.  “You have a pretty laugh,” she said to Hannah.  And to Rachel, she said, “You have music in your voice.”  Malkah could hear their surprise in the silence.

  Then Hannah asked, “Could we pick up your kitten?”  And Rachel said from her heart, “She’s beautiful.”

  As Hannah took Honey out of Malkah’s hands, Rachel made little cooing and kissing sounds at her.  Paying attention to Rachel, Malkah did not hear the familiar steps coming through the back door.

  When the rabbi’s wife put her arms around her, Malkah took her hand.  She felt such joy streaming out of the rebbetzin’s fingertips that she cried out, “You’re happy about something!”

  As Honey leaped back into Malkah’s lap, the rebbetzin said, “The last time I was in this room, there was one girl sitting here,” she patted Malkah’s bed, “and two girls sitting over there.”  She pointed to Hannah’s bed.  “Now there are three girls, three friends, all together.  That makes me very happy.”

  “You’re wrong,” teased Malkah.  She shook her head, although the white blotches in her eyes shone like stars.  “There are four girls, four friends, sitting on this bed.”  And she stroked the little tail of the closest friend of all. 

© Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2007

In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

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