The sanctuary of the Ohev Shalom synagogue was at least four times the size of the little chapel at Lincoln State. There were three sections of seats- one on the right for men, another on the left for the women, and a third for mixed seating. Sondra and the Katzners sat in the middle section. The services were much longer than the services at home and everything was in Hebrew. In the middle of the haftorah, the reading from the Prophets, Sondra gave up trying to follow and began studying her surroundings.
Across the aisle, in the women’s section sat a blonde girl, about Sondra’s age. She was wearing a powder-blue turtleneck sweater and she had a silver charm bracelet on her wrist that jingled every time she turned the page. Her shoulder length hair was brushed in the classic flip that all the teenage girls who had manageable hair wore. No matter what Sondra did, her flip lasted only an hour, at the most, each morning and then hung down straight for the end of the day.
“Who is that?” She whispered to Rachel.
“Debbie Greenbaum, the cantor’s daughter.”
Aunt Lotte shushed the two of them with a frown, but later, after Joey had sung The Song of Praise at the end of the service, Rachel introduced the two girls and then walked away to join her friends. Debbie and Sondra entered the social hall together, listened to Kiddush, the special Shabbat blessing over wine, filled up their plates, and sat down together.
Debbie, was taller than Sondra, was a quite pretty girl with dreamy green eyes and metal braces on her teeth She moved with poise and seemed full of self-confidence.
“What grade are you in?” Debbie asked, once she learned that Sondra was Rachel’s cousin form Lincoln.
“I’m a sophomore. What about you?”
“The same. Have you started thinking about colleges yet?”
“Not really,” Sondra shrugged. “I know I’ll be going out of state, though. Do you know where you want to go?”
“I’ll probably go to Stern College.”
Sondra’s eyes grew big. “That’s a long way from home!”
Debbie nodded. “That’s the drawback.”
Before Sondra could think of anything to say, they were joined by a teenage boy with a plate piled with gefilte fish balls, herring, and cake.
“Marc,” Debbie made the introductions. “This Sondra. She’s visiting the Katzners.”
“Good Shabbos,” Marc smiled. He pushed his wire-framed glasses back up on his nose where they belonged and began attacking his food.
“Did Debbie tell you about our ice-skating party tonight?”
“Give me a chance.” Debbie laughed. “Our youth group will be having a party tonight. Would you like to come?”
“That would be nice,” Sondra’s eyes sparkled at the idea, “If my aunt will let me.”
“She will. I’ll call you tonight, motza’ei Shabbos, when Shabbos is over.”
Just then Uncle Manny motioned that they were leaving.
“My father is ready, too,” Debbie announced. “I’ll walk out with you.”
They both said goodbye to Marc. When they got outside, though, Debbie and her father did not go to the parking lot as the Katzners did. Instead they left the shul grounds walking.
“They don’t drive on Shabbos?” Sondra asked once she was inside her cousins’ station wagon.
“Of course not,” Aunt Lotte answered. “He’s our cantor. He’s shomer Shabbos, he has to keep Shabbos.”
“Oh,” Sondra nodded. She knew her parents had kept Shabbos in Germany but she didn’t know anyone in America who did.
“Did you like shul?” Joey asked.
“Yeah,” Sondra hesitated. “It was longer than I was used to, but you sang very nicely.”
Joey beamed at the compliment.
After lunch Sondra played a marathon Monopoly with her cousins. They stopped only when Rachel had a phone call from a school friend asking her to go bowling. Once she left, Joey turned on the TV. There was a show about fishing that did not interest Sondra at all, so she went to her room and curled up with a book. She must have fallen asleep because the next thing she knew her aunt was knocking at the door.
“You have a phone call, Sondra.”
Lotte was happy to give permission for her niece to go to the skating party.
“We’ll pick you up at eight,” Debbie instructed. “Be ready.”
At eight o’clock a horn honked in front of the house. Rachel looked out the front window and announced that Brian Cohen was the driver. Sondra said her good-byes and raced out to the yellow Mustang that idled in the driveway. Debbie was already in the back and Sondra squeezed in next to her. She was introduced to the Goldstein twins and to Brian. Marc, Brian’s brother, was sitting in the passenger seat. As they got out of the car at the skating rink, both Mark and Brian reached into their pockets to pull out skullcaps and set them on their heads. It was the first time Sondra had ever seen anyone with a yarmulke outside home or shul. She was surprised they weren’t self-conscious.
The lights were bright inside the crowded rink and Sondra easily spotted eight more boys with yarmulkes. With them were a dozen more girls and they were all gathered around a middle-aged man with a black hat and beard. Debbie introduced him as Mr. Marcus, the youth group director.
Since there were no skating rinks in Lincoln, it was Sondra’s first time skating. Gliding across the frozen pond in her boots was not the same thing, at all. She lost count of how many times she fell down during the first fifteen minutes, but Marc and Debbie always came to her rescue. Each of them took one of her hands and taught her the ropes. In no time, she was skating in rhythm to the Beach Boy tunes blaring over the loud speaker. By the time The Mamas and the Papas record was on, though, she needed to stop and catch her breath. She joined Mr. Marcus at the little table he sat at next to the rink. Scattered across the table were bottles of soft drinks and a stack of Dixie cups. He motioned for her to help herself and Sondra took some 7-UP.
“Kansas City must be a lot different from Lincoln,” Mr. Marcus commented as Sondra swallowed her first sip.
Forty years old, with more than a few gray hairs and middle-aged paunch, Mr. Marcus seemed a most unlikely youth group director. Yet there was something in his manner that made him easy to talk to. In just a few minutes Sondra was describing some of her problems growing up Jewish, problems that she had never even discussed with Howie.
She had just finished confiding how much she hated the December holiday season at school when Debbie left the rink. Fanning herself with her hand she came to their table.
“Can I join you, or are you having a private conversation.”
“No,” Sondra grinned. “Sit down.”
“You know, Debbie,” Mr. Marcus said, “Sondra and I were discussing how difficult it is for her to have almost no other Jewish students in her high school.”
“I know,” Debbie nodded. “In my biology class there is just one other Jewish girl. She did not take off for Sukkos, and I don’t think the teacher really believed that I was missing school for religious reasons. She seems to have had it in for me ever since then.”
Debbie paused to pour herself some Dr. Pepper.
“Debbie,” Mr. Marcus said, “do you realize that in Sondra’s whole school there are only two Jews? Forget about how many are in her classes.”
“Oh,” Debbie put her hand over her mouth in embarrassment, “I guess everything is relative.”
Just then Anna Goldstein fell on the ice and cut her knee. Mr. Marcus left the two girls and went to take care of Anna. It didn’t take long before Sondra found herself confiding in Debbie everything about Roger and the prom.
“My parents don’t let me date either,” Debbie told Sondra. “Not even Jewish boys, but I have a lot of fun with all the activities Mr. Marcus organizes for us. Maybe you can come for some of them.”
“Maybe,” Sondra smiled at the idea. She wondered if her parents would allow it.
“Okay, boys and girls, it’s time to choose partners!” The record had stopped and the manager was now using the loud speaker. “We’re going to square dance on the ice!”
“Come on, Debbie!” Marc called. “You’re my partner.”
Sondra watched her friend take Marc’s hand. “She may not be able to date,” Sondra thought, “but I bet Marc considers her his girlfriend.” She settled herself down ready to watch the others, when there was a tap on her shoulder. Brian was standing behind her.
“Be my partner?”
Aunt Lotte was up waiting for her when she came home.
“Did you have a good time, dear.”
Sondra smiled at her sweet-faced aunt who looked so much like the old pictures of her grandmother. “I had a great time. No one treated me like I was a stranger or different. I felt like I really belonged.”
“I’m glad,” Lotte replied. As she watched her niece leave the room she resolved to invite Sondra often. Like Irene, she thought her brother should move his family to Kansas City, but not so much for Helga’s sake as for Sondra’s. There was something unique about her niece that made it hard for Sondra to fit into an all-American crowd. It had not really been a problem for Bernice or Howie and most likely would not be a problem for Lisa. Perhaps the fact that Helga was a survivor was what made Sondra different. Well, Lotte thought, her mother would be coming this year for the Passover Seders. Maybe Sondra could come with her.