From Gary Schmidt’s book, Mara’s Stories: glimmers in the darkness.
Framed within a story of a rabbi’s daughter telling tales in a death camp during WWII, all the tales are a mix flavored by older ideas and images, and embedded in the un-ignorable “now” of Jewish oppression and the camps.
Chiam (whose name means life) had just lost his father, and now his faith. Immersed in the destruction and death of the camps the boy fought to simply stay empty.
This particular morning Chiam had an assignment, and waited in the mud with a line of other boys and old men for his turn to help carry a huge vat of watery soup back to the barracks.
When he stepped forward he saw it was his own rabbi who would be helping him carry the load back through the cold and slippery yard.
Somehow the rabbi knew at once that Chiam had lost faith, and gently probed the boy’s wounded loss, insisting,
“He is the all and ever-present. He is here… even in this place.”
Chiam resisted the suggestion.
“I have seen the world, Rabbi, and I know that God cannot be here.”
“What would God have to do,” asked the rabbi, “to prove Himself to you, young Chiam who has seen so much of the world?”
“He would have to make a wonder, Rabbi. God would have to make a wonder.”
As they talked and walked, the muddy ground grew more and more treacherous underfoot. As they approached the steps of the barracks the old rabbi’s grip slipped and hot soup sloshed on the shins of the guard at the door.
Chiam braced himself for the blows he knew would come next. He knew the old man would be killed for his clumsiness, and maybe Chiam too. The boy felt ready to welcome death in such an empty and meaningless world.
But two heartbeats, then three, passed without the guard looking at them. The rabbi steadied himself and they entered the barracks together and setting down the vat of soup.
Chiam looked up into his rabbi’s face, eyes shining with a new hope. The old man leaned forward, cupping the back of Chiam’s neck in his hand, and drawing the boy forward until their foreheads touched.
“Even here,” the rabbi whispered. “In this place.”