“Aren’t you a bit premature?” Chana wryly commented.
“I might be too busy when she’s older – with her future siblings, all 12 of them,” he said gleefully, laughing at the shocked look on his wife’s face.
Six weeks later, Dov burst into their home, his face ashen and distressed. It was Yom Kippur, and Israel was being attacked – again.
Chana watched with heart-hammering dread as Dov hurriedly collected his gear and prepared to join his troop. Wordlessly, her eyes pleaded, begged and entreated him to come back to her whole and intact – both in body and mind, so that they could continue the “happily ever after” they had been blessed with.
“I promise you, Chana, I will sing at Matana’s wedding!”
Chana Bendiner shut the album, her throat constricting as she again swallowed a bitter brew of grief. Her Dovi had returned in a body bag, a hero blown up by a mine as he and another medic had left the safety of their foxhole, crawling on their bellies to rescue a wounded comrade. Dov had taken the brunt of the blast – and was killed instantly. The other medic had been critically injured, but alive. Chana, too numb and mentally anesthetized to function, had allowed her distraught parents to take care of all the details as they helped Dov’s devastated family bury half her soul. Her family then moved her and the baby to New York, where they could watch over them and hopefully help their shattered daughter rebuild her life.
Three years later, Chana married a young attorney whose wife had tragically succumbed to leukemia. Like Chana, he was blue-eyed and fair-haired. They made a striking couple. He was also studious, serious and dependable and he adored little Mati. When she turned five and the first of her siblings arrived, Mati was formally adopted by her stepfather so that her last name would match her parents and siblings, ending the intrusive questions that had followed her whenever her mother had registered her for pre- school/camp.
Thus Mati Walbrom became Mati Bendiner.
Now 21, Mati, a high spirited seminary graduate and a junior in college – was getting married. In two days, her chatan, Avi, a med student, was having his aufruf. Her parents would finally meet Avi’’s extended family and were especially looking forward to meeting his Israeli uncle, a decorated war hero and world-renowned trauma surgeon, and his wife, an ICU nurse. While Avi was learning in yeshiva in Israel, he had been inspired by his brilliant uncle to become a doctor.
While Mati did not attend the aufruf, she met her future aunt and cousins at her Shabbat kallah party. Later that evening, while shmoozing, Avi’s uncle suddenly asked his nephew if Mati had been adopted. Before a startled Avi could attempt an answer, his uncle pointed out that anyone who took high school biology would know that it was genetically impossible for a blue-eyed couple like the Bendiners to produce brown-eyed offspring. Avi explained that Mati’s biological father had died in the Yom Kippur War when she was a baby. Avi’s uncle listened intently as he heard the circumstances of Mati’s father’s death, but became highly agitated when his nephew mentioned that Mati’s birth name was Walbrom, and that Mati’s aunts, her father’s two sisters, were attending her wedding. Sadly, her paternal grandparents were no longer alive. The death of their only son had in turn it seemed, shortened their lives.
Was his first name Dov, his uncle whispered urgently? Puzzled by his uncle’s behavior, Avi affirmed that it was. The doctor sat in stunned silence, trying to absorb the miracle he was experiencing, one that meant a 20-year quest, whose elusive resolution had tormented him, would finally, blessedly, come to an end.
During the Yom Kippur War, he had shared a tent with a fellow medic from another brigade, an American gingi who had feverishly written words and musical notes in a pad and had sung into a tape recorder he lugged with him. “It’s for my daughter’s wedding,” he explained. Confused because his tent-mate did not look a day over 25, he asked how old she was. Under a year, was the answer, but I promised her mother I would sing at her wedding, he answered, with a sad but determined look in his eyes. “One way or another, I will sing my song to her…”