Illustration by Paul Rogers

“Papa!” cried Salo in terror.

In no particular hurry, Yosl trudged over to find out what his son was squawking about this time. “Gevalt,” he exclaimed upon seeing the thing the boy had accidentally discovered, “it’s the rebbe!” Shaken to the core, Yosl slapped his own face to collect himself, then rounded up the other boys (his own was too slow) and dispatched them to the Chasids’ study house with the news. The rebbe’s disciples came running, arriving breathless to find that Yosl Cholera had already set about excavating their long-lost leader. The ice mensch, his jaw working like a whiskered feedbag as he labored, was dragging a large block of ice containing the rebbe onto the shore of the lake with his rope and grappling hook.

Then the Prodigy lay before them on a mound of snow, and his gathered disciples, puffing like steam engines, were at a total loss as to what to do next. It was surely a blessing to have their tzaddik back in their midst again, apparently intact even if frozen stiff, but what now? In former days it was the rebbe himself to whom they would have applied for advice, but he was unavailable for comment. There were the texts of holy writ to consult, though even the most sedulous scholars among them—those who prescribed what portions of Torah one should consider during intercourse, or whether it was permitted to pee in the snow on Shabbos (which was tantamount to plowing, which was work, and so forbidden)—even they knew of no passages pertaining to the current quandary. Then one of their number, Fishel Ostrov, the shovel-bearded yeast vendor, proposed that they light torches to thaw the holy man on the spot. His theory was that Rabbi Eliezer, during his raptures, was proof against the depredations of time and the elements, and that once the ice was melted, he would be restored to them in all his prior vitality. There was a thoughtful buzzing among them until a wiser head prevailed.

“Know-it-all,” accused Berel Hogshead, the teamster, insisting that the risk was too great, since, once thawed, the rebbe might begin to putrefy and his bones become—God forbid—food for the worms. Better they should put him somewhere for safekeeping, so that at least he would remain in one piece until he chose to burst forth from his repose of his own accord. More buzzing in the affirmative as Yosl King of Cholera, neither Chasid nor mitnagid but simple opportunist, stepped forward in his capacity as proprietor of the Boibicz icehouse: “Your honors, for a nominal fee . . .”

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