“Have a pancake,” urged Mrs. Szabo.  She was one of three widows from the little Polish village who visited the orphanage on Hanukkah.  Speaking to Malkah, the only blind child in the Girls Room, she held out a plate of latkes, potato pancakes sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.


As Malkah reached for a pancake, she said, “Thank you, Mrs. Szabo.” 

“Oh, don’t thank me,” answered the widow in a booming voice.  “Charity is a great deed.  It always gives back to its giver.”

Charity!  The word fell like lead on Malkah’s heart. She wanted to throw the pancake on the floor.  And she didn’t feel any better when Mrs. Szabo did her second charitable deed for the evening.  She grabbed Malkah’s hand and counted ten pennies – loudly -- into her palm.  “. . . Eight, nine, ten! Now you can play dreidel,” she boomed. 

The other girls were already spinning the dreidel, the little square top, and making bets about which side it would fall on.  Malkah could hear them clustered around the table, laughing and pushing pennies over to the winner.

But Malkah didn’t join them.  As soon as the widow turned away, the girl slipped outside the back door.  Dropping most of the pancake into the snow, she clutched her kitten, Honey, and waited in the bitter wind for tears to come.  She wanted to cry without the visitors – or the other children – seeing her.  She didn’t want to spoil Hanukkah for them.

“I don’t want charity,” she whispered to Honey, who was like a little sister to her.  “Do you know what I really want?”  She held out a tiny piece of the pancake to Honey, but the kitten paid no attention to it.  Honey put her little pink nose right up to the nose of her beloved Malkah.  She was saying in cat-language, “Tell me.”

“I want someone to be my father,” Malkah whispered.  The rabbi’s wife, who had given her Honey, was like a mother to her.  Could God find her a father as well?  “I want to belong, to have a family, a family for both of us,” she explained to the kitten.  And at those words, two tears fell from her eyes and rolled down Honey’s fur.

Suddenly, the bone-chilling wind died down, and a warm breeze began to blow.  In the harsh Polish winter, the soft, friendly little breeze was like a miracle.

Then a second miracle occurred.  The breeze blew away Malkah’s blindness.  She could see!

Instead of shivering in blackness, she was looking into sunlight.  Still hugging Honey, she saw that she was standing in the mouth of a cave.  The ground in front of her was a rocky ledge that sloped down to the valley of a broad river. 

Two blackbirds flew down from a nearby tree and began to peck at the thin soil.  Although Honey jumped down out of Malkah’s arms, she didn’t try to chase the birds.  She put her paws against the rough wall and stretched – front end, back end and middle – and flopped over on her side.  She was completely at home.

At a sound from the back of the cave, Malkah and Honey both turned to see a tall man in a brown robe walk towards them.  Lean and sunburned, with a short brown beard, he smiled at Malkah so warmly she thought he must be mistaking her for somebody else.  “I’m Malkah,” she said, “and this is Honey.”

“And I am Elijah,” he told her. 

Malkah staggered backwards.  Could this be the great prophet who was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire?  The magical man who comes back to earth whenever poor Jews are sad or in trouble? 

Elijah saw her stagger, and he put his hand on her shoulder.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said kindly.  “Sit here.”  As soon as Elijah’s legs were stretched out in front of him, Honey leaped into his lap and kneaded him with her claws.  Malkah leaned against Elijah and even burrowed herself into his side, the way Honey did to her sometimes.  Happiness filled her to the brim, and a cheerful little tune that didn’t need any words began to play in her heart.

After a nice, long, comfortable time, Elijah got up and held out his hands.  “I want to show Honey something,” he said.  Hearing her name, the kitten jumped from Malkah’s hands into his. She crawled across his chest and climbed onto his shoulder.

When she began to lick his neck, a thunderous noise, like lightning out of a clear blue sky, shattered the calm of the day.  Malkah’s face went so pale that Elijah cried out, “Nothing here can hurt you.”

Just outside the cave, four white stallions were stamping their feet and blowing steam out of their nostrils.  As they tossed their manes, Elijah led Malkah past the giant horses to the gold and silver carriage behind them.  With Honey clinging to his neck, he lifted Malkah in, got in himself, and picked up the reins.  When he clicked his tongue, the horses took off.

The carriage balanced for a second on its rear wheels, then sped away into the air, high over the river and over the tops of palm trees.  The horses galloped through a sea of purple clouds, past the sun, which gleamed like the golden heart of a daisy, and into a dark sky, where the silver flames of the stars flashed forth. 

When the last star disappeared, there was only darkness.  But out of the darkness came the most beautiful sight Malkah could ever have imagined.

The whole Garden of Eden, thickly planted with trees and flowers, was stretched out beneath them.  And in the middle was the tallest of the trees, the only one that shone with a green light, as brilliant as Honey’s eyes.  “That is the Tree of Life,” said Elijah.  “God put it in the centre, so everyone could reach it.”

The horses brought the carriage down to the Garden as lightly as a bird’s feather falls to earth.  As Malkah and Elijah stepped onto the grass, the animals grazing around them stared at the newcomers.  But Honey jumped down and dashed past the animals.  She darted under the cows, around the pigs and chickens, and sped off beside a stream where lions and deer were lapping the water side by side.  Soon she came back to Malkah, restless and mewing. 

Elijah explained, “She’s looking for cats, and she can’t find any.”  Pointing to the Tree of Life, he said to Honey, “Look this way, and you’ll see your family.”

Down the Tree floated an angel, whose body was a golden shimmer.  When she reached the ground, she bowed her head and held out her arms.  Behold!  From her hands came two beautiful cats.  Their faces and bodies were filled with spirit, and as they dropped onto the grass, they moved with grace.  But there was still one thing lacking. 

The angel stroked the two little backs, and the lines that her fingertips traced in the air became two tails, waving with excitement.  As the cats ran up to the angel, rubbing themselves against her ankles, Honey fixed her gaze on them and purred loudly.

“Honey,” said Malkah breathlessly, “those are your First Parents, your Adam and Eve!”

Unexpectedly, there came a blast like the blowing of a thousand shofars.  As Malkah picked up Honey to reassure her, the kitten’s green eyes grew so dazzlingly bright that Malkah had to blink.  And when she opened her eyes again, the world was dark, and an icy wind told her to put on her shawl.  They were back in Poland again.

Shivering, Malkah put Honey in the centre of her chest and pulled her shawl tightly around both of them.  At the same time, she felt a warmth in her heart that no wind could freeze.  Elijah had loved her and Honey like a father, and that kind of love is so powerful that once it is given, even if that’s only for a brief time, it lasts forever.

“We’re all one family,” she told Honey happily.  “We all came from the same hometown.”  She giggled, thinking that was a funny expression for the Garden of Eden, but she couldn’t think of a better one.  “And now we know where we belong.  We belong to everybody everywhere, and everybody belongs to us.”

Welcoming the snowflakes that were blessing her face with soft kisses, Malkah stretched out her hand.  She found the latch of the door and shoved it wide open, so that the laughter of the dreidel-players and the fragrance of cinnamon spilled out into the night.  And the two orphans, who weren’t orphans anymore, ran inside to stuff themselves with as many pancakes as their tummies could hold.

© Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2007


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