Ilona, please give the class a
review of our science lesson,” Marika and Ilona’s teacher said.
Fifteen-year-old Marika’s fears
were coming true, but not for herself.
After months of silence on the
subject, the teacher was again giving a lesson on evolution.
Marika watched the teacher’s
expression as Ilona bravely stood up. She knew he expected Ilona to describe
the earth as being billions of years old, populated at one time with cavemen
and strange creatures. Marika held her breath. What will he do when Illona does
the opposite? she wondered.
“Sir,” Ilona spoke up, timid yet
determined, “my family and I don’t believe the evolution theory. We believe
what the Bible teaches. God created the animals first, and then made Adam from
the dust of the earth and Eve from Adam’s body.”
Marika watched in awe as her sister
bravely kept standing while the teacher stared at her with eyes like ice, cold
and hard. After a long pause Ilona slowly sat down.
The teacher raked his fingers
through his hair that stuck straight up out of his scalp like pointy needles,
and then looked around the classroom.
“Students, please disregard what
you’ve just heard from Ilona. She’s gravely mistaken. What I have taught about
earth and its creatures is correct.” He turned to Ilona and added, “Miss
Kovács, I’ll see you after class. Now, everyone turn to today’s math lesson.”
When he faced the chalkboard,
Marika caught Ilona’s eye. Marika offered a sympathetic smile, and then opened
her math book.
That afternoon Ilona waited in the
hall while the teacher loudly scolded Ilona behind closed doors, warning her
not to speak against his teachings in class again. When they came out, his angry
glance made Marika feel like a bug about to be squashed.
“That goes for you too,” he said.
“Now go tell your parents what I’ve said.”
A few weeks later the teacher
handed out report cards. Marika inspected hers with dread, knowing the grades
wouldn’t be what she wanted. All her marks were fours or below, except one:
math, her very worst subject, was an unbelievable five, a perfect score! It
wasn’t possible. It must be a mistake.
After class, she ran to her sister,
excited to show off the five. Instead, she stopped short. Ilona’s eyes brimmed
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
Ilona held out her card.
Marika saw Ilona’s usual high
grades, and then noticed something odd. In math—her best subject—she’d received
a two, nearly a failing grade. It couldn’t be. Something was wrong!
“Come on,” she said, grabbing Ilona
by the hand. “That can’t be your real grade—maybe our teacher can fix it.”
The teacher listened with an
insincere smile as Marika showed him the two cards. He nodded at her words and
took them, pretending to have a better look. Then he shook his head and
“It looks like I may have
accidentally switched your grades . . . sorry,” he said sarcastically. “I would
change them, of course, but I’m afraid it’s too late now.”
“But, sir, this means I won’t be
allowed into high school next year,” Ilona said desperately. “Please change
“I told you. It’s too late. Those
grades are already in your official records. Now, I have paperwork to do.” He
dismissed the girls with a wave and another awful smile. “You both need to go
Minutes later the May sunshine
warmed their backs as they walked home. Ten-year-old Erzsébet had skipped a few
yards ahead of them and was unaware of the crisis.
“Do you think he did that to punish
you for challenging him in class?”
Ilona, who’d stopped crying by
then, kicked a pebble and sent it bouncing down the cobblestone street.
“I think that’s exactly what he
did!” she grumbled. “He’s such an old porcupine, with that pointy hair of his!
Oh, what will Papa say when he finds out? What if he gets mad and yells at the
teacher? Then there’ll be even more trouble.”
“It’s not your fault, Ilona. You
only did what Papa told you to do—you spoke the truth.”
“Yes, and now I’m being punished.
It’s not fair!”
Marika squeezed her sister’s hand.
It really wasn’t fair. Besides ruining Ilona’s school plans, the switched
grades did Marika no good—she’d never planned to attend high school! In fact,
all she’d ever wanted was to attend a trade school for hairstyling. Poor Ilona,
who wanted so much to learn science and electronics, would have to go to trade
school now too.
That night the family had another
quiet dinner. (Papa didn’t allow talking at mealtimes.) But after dinner the
girls explained what had happened in class.
“I’m proud of you, Ilona, for
standing up for your faith. That was a very brave thing to do.” Papa gave her a
gentle pat on the hand. “I know it hurts now to suffer the consequences of your
bravery, but in the long run you’ll be glad you did the right thing. I’m sure
God is pleased too.”
Marika could tell her sister was
trying not to cry again.
“What trade school should I choose,
Papa?” Ilona asked.
He looked to Mama for help and
“Well,” Mama said, sighing at her
daughter’s new future. “I’ve always thought seamstress school offered the best
opportunity for a young girl wanting a good job. Papa, what do you think?”
He nodded his approval. “I think
that’s an excellent idea. She and Marika could go together. Wouldn’t that be
“But, Papa,” Marika looked at him
beseechingly. “I want to go to hairstyling school. I like doing hair.”
“Yes, I know. I see you doing your
sisters’ hair all the time. But you know, hair salons are owned by the
government. They’re always open on Saturdays. That means you would never be
allowed to observe the Sabbath. You don’t want that, do you?”
“Seamstress shops are open on
Saturdays too,” she said stubbornly, wishing his words weren’t true but knowing
“Marika,” Mama interrupted gently.
“What Papa means is that most seamstress shops are privately owned. If you find
work with a Jewish owner, you may be able to have Sabbaths off. Understand?”
She thought over her parents words.
They were right; seamstress school was the wisest choice. But, oh, how she
loved doing hair!
“Listen, girls,” Mama offered. “You
know trade schools have their students work in shops as part of their training.
Well, tomorrow night there’s a meeting downtown to let girls who’ll be starting
trade school in the fall meet the owners from several seamstress shops. It’s a
way for owners to choose who they’ll have in their shops next year. Would you
like to go and see what they have to offer? You might even get chosen.”
Marika took a moment, and then gave
the only possible answer.
“OK, Mama. I’ll go.”
“And what about you, Ilona?” Mama
asked. “Will you go too?”
Ilona shrugged. “Why not? If I
can’t attend high school, then seamstress school is as good as anything, I
Papa smiled. “You won’t be sorry,”
he said. “You’ll see, Ilona, God will bless you for this.”
That night Marika lay in bed
thinking about the meeting. Would they find a good shop? Would they be chosen
as a pair, or would she and Ilona be separated after years of never being