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The Manger
by Julie Michaelson
12/05/12
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And she brought forth her firstborn
son, and wrapped him
in swaddling clothes,
and laid him in a
manger.
[Luke 2:7]
******************
A.D. 70, Bethelem
The Innkeeper's grandson, Jacob'ah, is packing up his two donkey carts. He is shouting commands to his wife and children to grab whatever they can, and throw it into the heavy wooden carts. Not far away, in Jerusalem, the Temple has been destroyed, and the Roman army is laying seige upon the Jewish city: killing, and starving thousands of people. Those who are lucky enough to escape the slaughter, are running for their lives. Jacob'ah knows his family does not have long before the Romans will descend upon their small town, just as Herod did, 70 years before, when soldiers came to slaughter all Jewish
babies under the age of 2. Jacob'ah, paused a moment to look toward his young wife carrying their two-year-old daughter, Elenia; then he ran toward the old barn that his grandfather, and father had once used keeping his sheep in winter and was now just an old shed for storing farming tools, and seed supply, Jacob'ah was becoming a successful farmer, and had
planned to tear the old shed down and build a bigger one,
when news of the Roman persecution had reached their
small town several months earlier. Now it was time to
leave, and move: north.....far north, perhaps into the barbaric lands far to the north and west. Jacob'ah sighed; he had reached the shed, carrying lengths of rope and sackcloths for making bundles for travel; irritably
shook his head in frustration: what could he TAKE? Immediately, he got to work:
pulling out sacks of supplies to store in the two donkey carts, and dragging out tools
and other farming implements
that would be sorely needed
for their new home.......wherever that would
be.
"Don't forget the MANGER!"
Dorothea's soft voice penetrated the musty air of
the old barn.
Jacob'ah impatiently turned
his head; he was squatting on
the dirty floor of the shed,
still covered with years of straw that had once fed his
grandfather's sheep and cattle. Jacob'ah's face was covered in sweat and dirt: his voice was unusually irritable: "WHAT?"
Dorothea was leaning against
the wide door of the old barn;
she was already showing the
baby that would be born in their new country: away from
Bethlehem and the only life
they had ever known. On Dorothea's hip was little Elenia: whimpering, and hanging onto her mother's ample breast. Dorothea gently pushed a soft lock of
curls away from Elenia's little damp forehead; "Don't forget the manger, Jacob! It still looks like NEW.......as if your grandfather made it YESTERDAY.......TAKE it! Perhaps we could sell it.....or..."
Dorothea shrugged her plump
shoulders. ".....or, POLISH it
up....and use it for a cradle for
the new BABY......!"
Jacob'ah let out an exasperated sigh; he swatted at a fly with the back of his
hand which was covered in dirt, soot, and some blood where Jacob'ah had scratched it, hurrying to bundle up heavy bags hurridly with the coarse rope. "Oh.....DOROTHEA! It's nothing but an old FEEDING
TROUGH! For the ANIMALS!
What are we going to DO with it? It's too HEAVY, and CUMBERSOME!"
"But, Jacob! It still looks
brand NEW! Not a MARK on
it.....after all these YEARS! It's amazing! No, no! Let us
TAKE it.....to sell, or USE ! We can carry it for the trip....for STORAGE!"
Jacob'ah had been a married
man for almost 8 years: each
year had brought a new baby,
and even newer wisdom.
He nodded his head; straw
was sticking to it, and flies
were buzzing around it: he
just nodded, ......and groaned.

1910; Lithuania.
"Cecilia! CECILIA! Are you
COMING?"
Cecilia poked her head out of
the kitchen. "WHAT, Nathan? WHAT? What are
you YELLING about? The SHIP doesn't leave for another six HOURS!"
Nathan stomped back into
their little stone house; he
was not going to miss it much:
the roof leaked when it rained, and the little windows
rattled and creaked with each
chilly breeze blowing in from
the nothern hilly slope. The
government officials, who were in the throes of persecuting the Jewish ghettos again, could have the
falling-apart house for all
he cared. Nathan glanced out
at the wagon he and his wife
and children had filled to the
brim with their belongings: it
would be crowded and uncomfortable on the ship: that was for sure. But there
was no choice: they had been
lucky to purchase tickets in
time ......and, escape to America. Nathan grumbled
to himself, and shouted toward the kitchen.
"Cececlia! ENOUGH packing!
We will BARELY be allowed to
take all of our belongings on
the ship, as it IS!"
"I'm just STANDING here,
Nathan!" Cecelia's loud, motherly voice shouted back.
"I'm TRYING to DECIDE
WHETHER OR NOT TO TAKE THIS LOVELY OLD CRADLE.......IT WAS MY
GREAT-GREAT-GRANDMOTHER'S! ELENI'KA BROUGHT IT WITH HER FROM THE
OLD COUNTRY!"
Nathan mumbled a Yiddish
curse under his breath. WHAT old country? And,
when was THAT? Nathan cursed again: putting his
his hands on his waist,
and shouting: all of his busily
packing neighbors could probably hear him. "Are you
MESHUGUNAH? CECELIA!
That THING weighs a TON!
HOW WILL I EVER GET IT
INTO THE WAGON? AND
WITH MY BACK?"
Cecelia's voice grew louder,
and more persistant. "SAUL
will HELP YOU! Your new
SON-IN-LAW! IT WILL BE
A CHANCE FOR THE TWO
OF YOU TO TALK!"
Nathan closed his eyes, and
groaned. His oldest daughter,
Natalia, had just married the
town's shoemaker's son: Saul was plump, and squinted a lot, and didn't have a brain in his head. The only thing he knew
how to do was make shoes.....
he couldn't make conversation
at all, and his constant squinting drove Nathan crazy. What his daughter had seen in the boy was a mystery beyond all mysteries. Nathan had hoped to arrange a marriage for Natalia with the Rabbi's middle son, but Natalia couldn't stand him; she said
he was too arrogant for her.
Oy vey z'mir! CHILDREN!
"CeCELIA! The boy doesn't
TALK! And, what do you want
with that old block of wood.......ANYWAY? We are
DONE with having babies!"
Cecelia's heartily loud voice
screeched out of the kitchen;
"This is an HEIRLOOM,
NATHANIEL! From my great-great-great-GRANDPARENTS! It looks as NEW
as the day it probably MADE!
Not a SCRATCH ON it! STILL BEAUTIFULLY POLISHED! There
will be nothing LIKE THIS,
in AMERICA! NO! And, what
about our GRANDBABIES?"
There was a pause of silence
while Nathan groaned again.
Oy vey. Little SAULS running
around? With squinty eyes,
and a plump belly, and nothing
to say except 'What size is
your foot?'........? Nathan closed his weary eyes again,
and groaned louder.
"It's a piece of JUNK! LEAVE IT FOR THE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS!
THEY'LL PROBABLY LUG
IT OUT OF THE HOUSE,
AND USE IT FOR FIREWOOD!"
Cecelia stomped out of the
kitchen; she was wearing a
big apron over her faded house dress, and her thick
dark curls were spilling out
around her plump face: only
slight twinges of gray touched
her still beautiful hair. Cecelia's massive bosom was
heaving with the heaving breathing of exasperation,
and anger; her pretty, plump face was splotched with red. "We are NOT going to leave my GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GRANDMOTHER'S CRADLE, NATHAN! AND THAT IS THAT! I DON'T CARE IF
YOU AND SAUL HAVE TO
SWIM WITH IT, YOURSELVES, OVER THE
ATLANTIC OCEAN TO AMERICA! I'M NOT LEAVING THIS BEAUTIFUL,
WONDERFUL CRADLE! IT
HAS BEEN A BLESSING TO
EVERYONE IN OUR FAMILY! ALL THE GENERATIONS HAVE HAD MANY,
MANY HEALTHY BABIES!
Not ONE MOTHER HAS DIED IN CHILDBIRTH! And
I THINK IT'S BECAUSE OF
THIS CRADLE! I'M NOT
LEAVING IT! WE'RE TAKING IT TO AMERICA!"

Nathan sunk down on the
little upholstered stool that
was generally reserved for
anyone's foot that Saul wanted to have lifted for measuring. Whomever came
to this house, be it friend
or neighbor or mailman or
government official in search
of causing for trouble for the
Jews, was prodded into removing their shoe, and lifting their stocking'd foot
to be measured by the plump
shoemaker's son. Nathan groaned loudly, and put his
craggy head in his hands. He
closed his eyes, and pictured
himself: swimming in the cold
North Atlantic, toward America, with the heavy, cumbersome, solid-wood, though well-polished cradle strapped to his aching back.
"Oy vey z'mir........"

December 15, 2012; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
"CELIA, DEAR? What time is the PLANE?"
Celia poked her dark head
out of the bedroom; she was
busily talking to her grandson,
Saul, on her cell phone. Ever
since her beloved Martin had
passed away, several months
ago, it was Saul who had given
her the greatest comfort; Saul was helping his father,
Jacob, take over the chain
of shoe stores since his grandfather's death; it was
Saul who seemed to have inherited the business genius
from his great-great-grandfather, Nathaniel Jr.
"Hold on Saul! It's your MOTHER!" Celia put her fingers over the tiny mouthpiece of the cell phone, and yelled toward the livingroom of her condo:
"FIVE O'CLOCK, Janelle!
Don't WORRY! I'M ALL
PACKED!"
Silence.
Janelle's voice shouted back
through the empty condominium: echoing against
the uncovered windows, and
walls bare of picture frames
and shelves.
"Well, we need to get GOING!
JACOB'S gotta park the CAR! YOU KNOW HOW BAD
THAT TRAFFIC IS, THIS TIME OF DAY, CELIA!"
Celia just frowned, and rolled
her pretty dark eyes derisively. She shook her
thick, dark curls, and put her
mouth again to the tiny phone.
"Saul........your mother is driving me CRAZY. I gotta
GO! And, don't work too HARD! I KNOW how meshuga that STORE gets....
this time of YEAR! OKAY?
LOVE YOU! OH, DID YOU
EAT ENOUGH FOR LUNCH?
I KNOW HOW YOU.......OKAY! OKAY! CALL
YOU FROM THE PLANE.....
OKAY? LOVE YOU!"
Celia carefully put her
cell phone back in her black leather,
traveling fanny pack. She
moved gracefully over the
carpeted hallway, despite
her cane. She frowned at
her daughter-in-law; Janelle
was a good person, though a
bit too bossy for her liking; her son Jacob seemed to like it. Well.....whatever made HIM happy....that was the
only important thing.......
"What is Jacob WORRIED
ABOUT? Why don't you just
drop me OFF? The airlines
are so STRICT, nowadays.....
anyway! It's not like you'll
be able to walk me to the
WAITING AREA, or anything!"
Janelle sighed, as though she
were carrying the weight of
the world on her slim, lovely
shoulders. Her wide, blue
eyes looked up at the egg-shell-white ceiling as if
she were searching for patience.
"CELIA! DEAR! You
don't know what these AIRPORTS are like, nowadays! It's been a long
time since you and Martin
TRAVELED! And, I STILL
don't understand why you've
suddenly decided to move to
ISRAEL.......of all things! This
time of your life, you should
be with US........!"
Celia just shook her head,
firmly; she sat down on the
only piece of furniture left
in the room: one of the blue velvet, cushioned window seats; her new hip was feeling
a little not-so-new, today.
"I've ALREADY made my
DECISION, and that's FINAL. My SISTER lives
over there now, and I want to
spend what time I have left....
with HER. The family, here, is young and busy, now, and it has been very lonely for me, Janelle.....
I don't expect you to understand it. It's what I
WANT to do, and I've always
wanted to go back to Israel:
Martin and I had the most
wonderful trips there, before
he became so ILL......." Celia
sighed. "Yes......it is what I
want to do, now......"

Janelle just nodded. She was
unusually silent for a moment,
and came over to sit down
next to her unbelievably stubborn mother-in-law. Suddenly, she laughed. "And... WHY...of all THINGS...
did you INSIST on MOVING.....with that AWFUL........CRADLE? I thought you had SOLD most
of your furniture......and, were
just shipping over your most
precious MOMENTOS....or
given them to US?"

Celia laughed too, and then
her dark eyes stared though a
glaze of tears as if looking at
a memory. "WELL....."
She smiled, and shook her head: putting an age-softened hand over her
daughter-in-law's long, slim
fingers. "I don't expect
anyone to UNDERSTAND....."
For a moment, Celia's small
chin quivered. "Martin and
I got that as one of the wedding presents from my
parents......my mother's family
had brought it over from the
old country.....and it's been
kind of an heirloom.....I know
I should give it to Saul to keep for HIS family.....one
day.....but I can't just part with it, for right now.....there
are too many lovely memories
attached to it.........our first
HOUSE together.....a sweet
TIME...for me......YOU know."

"Yeah......I GUESS.....it's just..
it's such a big, HEAVY thing
of solid WOOD! CENTURIES
OLD, maybe! Why didn't you
just DONATE it to some MUSEUM.....or something? I
mean, it was still in incredibly
good SHAPE! Not a SCRATCH on it! And, is it true it's never been re-POLISHED?"

Celia nodded; a rueful smile
on her brightening face. The
sad memories had retreated,
if only for a moment. "Yes...
yes! At least that is the....
I suppose....LEGEND...in our
family.......I don't know.....I
just felt some.....NEED....to
take it to Israel with me....
as if it BELONGED there,
or something.....?"

Janelle stared at her mother-
in-law with wide blue eyes. "What are you going to DO:
take it to some BARN....in
BETHLEHEM?" She laughed.
"WE don't believe that old
story, ANYWAY! That's not
our FAITH!"

Celia looked away for a moment: she had always squinted, even with her heavy-looking glasses, all her
life. Now she stared out the
picture-window, gazing down
at the lovely-manicured lawn
of her condominium; Mrs.
Kendleman was pushing her
new grandson in his stroller,
along the sidewalk.
"I don't KNOW.....Janelle....
maybe I WILL......afterall,
it is a very OLD.........very lovely.......STORY."
***********************
Ye shall find the babe
wrapped in swaddling
clothes, lying in a
manger.
[Luke 2:12]

Copyright 2012.

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